Of all the different ways to get Wi-Fi on the go, using a mobile hotspot is arguably the most convenient, although there are risks of interception when you leave your connection unprotected.
What is a mobile hotspot?
The term refers to a compact device that acts as a mobile internet network. There are two main types:
- A portable router, which is a palm-sized device that you carry with you and connect to as you would any other Wi-Fi network. You pay for the data upfront and can top up by credit card as you go.
- If your phone (or the phone of someone you’re traveling with) is using data for internet access, it can double as a mobile hotspot to connect other devices. It just takes a simple setup.
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Just as public Wi-Fi comes with security risks, using a mobile hotspot isn’t all that safe either. Read on to find out how to set it up on your phone and all the things you can do to improve your mobile hotspot security.
How to turn your smartphone into a personal hotspot
As long as you’re using an iPhone or an Android smartphone, you should be able to set up your phone into a mobile hotspot with just a few taps:
Known as Personal Hotspot on iOS, simply go to Settings > Personal Hotspot > tap Allow Others to Join after setting a password.
Head into Settings > Wireless & Networks > Tethering & Portable Hotspot > Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot > toggle on Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot after setting a password.
Once you’re done, you can connect any Wi-Fi-enabled device to the phone’s hotspot in the same way you’d connect to any new Wi-Fi network.
Hotspot protectors: How to boost your hotspot security
Keeping your hotspot secure is a must, as attackers may be able to see what you’re doing online or obtain your personal information using a packet sniffer. Others may also be able to tether to your hotspot without your knowledge, which can result in hefty bills for excessive data usage. Whether you’re using a portable router or tethering to your smartphone, there are several ways to bolster your mobile hotspot’s security.
Set a strong password—and change it frequently
The first line of defense is in setting a strong password—one that’s lengthy and unique, ideally with an amalgamation of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. If you share your password with others who want to tether to your network, it’s also a good idea to change up your password often to limit who has access. The quickest and easiest way to do so is by using a password generator.
Change your SSID (hotspot network name)
Change the name of your mobile hotspot (SSID) if you’re able to. Not only does this help you easily identify your hotspot network when connecting a device, but it can also protect your login in the event that an attacker cracks a large database of pre-generated usernames and passwords for portable routers. This applies to hotspots on Android phones, too.
Use the strongest possible encryption type
Your mobile hotspot should by default have some form of encryption set up. However, encryption strengths vary depending on the encryption standard—outdated ones such as WEP are far less secure than WPA2, which is currently the most secure and most widely supported encryption type available. As such, always ensure your encryption type is set to WPA2.
Use a VPN
Just like using any other Wi-Fi network, you can protect yourself by using a VPN on your device. By sending your traffic through an encrypted tunnel, a VPN keeps your online traffic private and secure. If you’re connected to a phone that’s been turned into a hotspot, use a VPN on both the phone and the device you’re connecting to it—for example, use the ExpressVPN iOS app to secure your mobile hotspot. (Easily done, with ExpressVPN’s five simultaneous connections under one subscription.) You could also use a VPN router to secure all of your devices when you’re at home.
Besides its security and privacy benefits, there are also numerous other advantages to getting a VPN.
How do you use mobile hotspots? Let us know in the comments!
FAQ: About mobile hotspot security
Can someone hack my phone using my hotspot?
Yes, it is possible for someone to hack your phone using your mobile hotspot. While mobile hotspots are usually protected by some form of encryption, easy-to-guess passwords can provide easy access for hackers.
What security do mobile hotspots use?
The first line of defense mobile hotspots use to protect the host device is something you have complete control over—a strong password. Anyone accessing your mobile hotspot will be prompted to enter this password. Make sure it’s long and complex.
Your hotspot should also be protected by some form of encryption by default. Always make sure your encryption is set to WPA2 (a secure and widely supported type of encryption) or WPA3 (most secure but not widely available yet).
Can people steal info from a mobile hotspot?
If an attacker manages to gain access to your phone via its mobile hotspot, they can deploy packet sniffers to seek out and steal information stored on your phone, including personal data and login credentials. There’s also the risk of an attacker simply using your data via your hotspot, potentially running up hefty bills for you to pay at the end of month.
Is a hotspot more secure than Wi-Fi?
It depends on whether you are comparing the security of a mobile hotspot to either a public or home Wi-Fi network. Let’s start with the former.
Public Wi-Fi is notoriously unsecure, exposing you to all manner of privacy risks. A mobile hotspot is more secure than public Wi-Fi as long as it is encrypted and you have set up a strong password. Only those who know the password can access your hotspot, as opposed to public Wi-Fi, which anyone can use.
When it comes to your home Wi-Fi, it is more secure than a mobile hotspot. But as always, ensure it has a strong password—don’t use the default one.
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