The Best VPNs For Public WiFi Security

There are a number of potential security exposures associated with the use of the free connectivity that seems to be all around us.
The availability of free WiFi hotspots in public spaces can be a great convenience for individuals with mobile devices or laptops. Many businesses such as restaurants and coffee shops offer a free WiFi connection to their patrons as a marketing tool. While you are waiting at an airport or relaxing in a hotel room, the odds are good that you can get a wireless Internet connection for free.

It might have become your morning ritual to enjoy a hot beverage and check your email at the local Starbucks. But as with many free things in life, public WiFi is not without its downside. Navigating the world of free WiFi requires you to take some protective measures.

The Dangers of Public WiFi

According to, these are the major dangers of using free WiFi:

  • WiFi Snooping — Through the use of software or specialized hardware, hackers can tap into the signals flowing between your device and the wireless router.

  • Rogue WiFi Networks — Cybercriminals may have set up networks to entice the unwary mobile user. The free WiFi that you just connected to at your local Panera may, in reality, be a malicious network designed to steal your information.

  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks — This type of attack is related to snooping in that hackers are gaining access to your data by locating themselves between your device and the network access point. They get a chance to intercept and read the data as it is being transmitted.

  • Exposure to Malware — Malware such as viruses and worms can be introduced to your device through various software security vulnerabilities. Destructive malware can cause data loss and the potential exists for your device to be compromised.

  • Lack of Data Encryption — The free WiFi network that you are using may not have been set up to enforce encryption on data transmissions. This oversight allows hackers to easily steal valuable information such as login credentials and sensitive data.

Protecting Yourself When Using Public WiFi

Concerns over the safety of free WiFi networks encompass all users of mobile devices. According to, over 60% of companies have employees who are connecting company devices to free WiFi while on the go. Personal data is certainly important and having it compromised can cause serious repercussions for the victim. Exposing corporate information can lead to ramifications that affect a business, its employees, and potentially its customers.

There are multiple ways to minimize the potential danger to your data and device when considering the use of free public WiFi networks. According to, following these guidelines can help you keep your information safe. Both business and private mobile users can benefit from taking these steps.

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN). While there are a number of other privacy reasons that might warrant the use of a VPN, the primary benefit for users in the public WiFi space is the encryption capabilities that are built into VPN software. A quality VPN service will ensure that your data is securely encrypted to make it impossible for anyone to see the data you are transmitting when you are online.
  • Turn off auto-connect capability in mobile devices. Automatically connecting to networks poses the risk that you can be hacked when you don’t even think you are online. You want your device to ask you before it connects to any public WiFi network.
  • Consider using your own mobile hotspot available from your carrier rather than accessing public networks. There is a cost involved and another device to carry around, but it does negate the risks of public WiFi.
  • Install anti-malware software on all mobile devices and make sure that you have a secure firewall enabled on the equipment.
  • Avoid using public WiFi if possible. You may need to ask yourself if it is worth the risk of using the free WiFi or if you can wait to connect until you are at a more secure location.
  • Refrain from performing online activities such as banking or shopping which may expose sensitive data when connected to a public WiFi network.

If you think that you might want to use public WiFi in the future you absolutely need to have a VPN set up on your laptop or mobile device. Failure to do so entails the same sort of risk as driving at night with no headlights. You may make it to your destination safely, but it will be the result of dumb luck. Trying to keep your data safe on public WiFi networks without a VPN is just as crazy.

The Best VPN Services

Most people don’t drive without headlights as they are aware of the risks that this involves. You should feel the same way about using a VPN when you access a public WiFi hotspot. You can find free VPNs, but in general, you will get better performance by going with a paid product. Most work on a monthly subscription fee that decreases based on the length of service you select.

Since we are focusing on protection when using public WiFi, the encryption capabilities are critical in the VPN you choose to employ. Here is a quick look at some of the best VPNs available.

choice #1

Military-grade 256-bit AES encryption will keep your data safe with this VPN. NordVPN can be tested with no commitment with a 3-day free trial. There is a kill switch built into the software to terminate your online connection if the VPN service fails to make sure your security is maintained.


A single account lets you protect up to six devices at once. You can block malware and pop-up ads and the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee if you find it’s not right for you.

choice #2

ExpressVPN is another high-quality VPN service that securely encrypts your data with 256-bit AES protection. Your purchase is protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee and you can connect up to three devices simultaneously on one account.


If the VPN connection drops, a kill switch shuts down your Internet connection immediately to protect your data.

choice #3

Employing bank-grade encryption, Avast VPN protects your valuable data from unauthorized access. You can use the service on up to five devices simultaneously and try the product for free for seven days. A 30-day refund is available but only if you have not used the software above a certain threshold for connection attempts and data downloads.

Avast VPN
Avast VPN

Some reports of adware bundled with the software may make some users nervous about this product.

choice #4

Connect up to seven devices simultaneously and enjoy the data protection offered by 256-bit AES encryption with CyberGhost. You can try the service free for 24 hours and they offer money back guarantees that vary based on the plan you select.


Protect your connection with a kill switch to disconnect you if the VPN fails.

choice #5

VPN Unlimited provides strong 256-bit AES encryption to keep your data secure. They offer a number of different pricing plans, including a lifetime subscription. Potential problems with this tool include less than stellar download speeds and the logging of some user information that is usually restricted to the free VPN services.

VPN Unlimited
VPN Unlimited

You can protect up to five devices at once and there is a seven-day trial and money-back guarantee with this service.

choice #6

Here is another VPN that offers secure encryption and the ability to protect up to five devices on a single account. It offers a risk-free three-day trial, but you need to enter your payment details in order to access this feature.


A distinguishing quality of this service is that they own and operate all of their own hardware, eliminating any third-party concerns.

choice #7

Rounding out our overview of VPNs is IPVanish. As its title suggests, its primary purpose is to keep your online activities private by hiding your IP address. It also provides the encryption that you need if you are attempting to use public WiFi.


Test it out with a seven-day money-back guarantee. This VPN allows you to connect up to ten devices at the same time.

Now you are aware of the potential risks involved with using the free public WiFi that seems to be everywhere for the taking. You should be convinced that you need to add an extra layer of protection to keep your devices and data safe. That’s what a VPN service will provide for you. Don’t use public WiFi again without installing a VPN on your device. And please, turn on those headlights!

Have more questions?
Submit a request or write a couple words.

Read next in Wi-Fi Security

How to keep your wireless network safe, plus tips on which encryption to use, how to know who is connected to your network, etc.
Get NetSpot for Free
Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting runs on a MacBook (macOS 10.12+) or any laptop (Windows 7/8/10/11) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax wireless network adapter.
Free WiFi Analyzer
NetSpot for iOS
Heat Maps & Speed Test