Wi-Fi VPN: Security tips for free public networks

Public Wi-Fi at hotels, airports, and cafes exposes you to real privacy and security risks. Learn how ExpressVPN keeps you safe, even on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Stay safe on public Wi-Fi: using a laptop in a coffee shop.

6 types of public Wi-Fi security risks

Using the internet over unsecured, public Wi-Fi networks puts you at risk of specific types of cyberattacks and other criminal acts.

A laptop giving data over Wi-Fi to another laptop with a skull and crossbones.

Packet sniffing

A hacker records all the data that passes between you and the unsecured Wi-Fi router by examining data packets. Generally, network administrators use packet sniffing tools to monitor and protect network traffic. However, hackers use these tools to steal information.

A router with skull and crossbones stealing data from a laptop over Wi-Fi.

Rogue Wi-Fi networks

A hacker sets up a fake network that masquerades as a legitimate one to steal information from unsuspecting users who connect to it. This method may also be used to infect a user’s device with malware and viruses.

A laptop giving connecting to the cloud with a skull and crossbones laptop intercepting it.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

A hacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communication between two parties who believe they are directly communicating with each other. There are several types of man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. The most commonly used MITM attack is IP spoofing, where a hacker tricks unsuspecting users into thinking they're interacting with a website, hoping they'll give up personal information that could be stolen.

Identity theft

Using man-in-the-middle attacks, hackers can steal personal information found on a device connected to public Wi-Fi. Identity theft usually involves stolen information that hackers can then use to impersonate a victim. With enough financial information, a hacker could withdraw money and make purchases in their victim's name.

Data breach

A hacker uses an unsecured Wi-Fi router to illegally access personal information from unsuspecting users. Personal data like photos, videos, and credit card information might be at risk during a data breach.

Malware infection

A hacker could distribute malware or viruses to unsuspecting users on any device connected to an unsecured router through Wi-Fi. If on public Wi-Fi, avoid clicking on pop-up ads or videos as they might harbor dangerous viruses that could infect your devices.

How a VPN stops hacking through Wi-Fi

Let’s suppose someone is trying to hack your phone through Wi-Fi with a packet sniffing program. If the Wi-Fi is unsecured, this public Wi-Fi hacker may be able to read your traffic directly. A VPN can help secure an unsecured Wi-Fi.

ExpressVPN prevents this kind of Wi-Fi hacking by creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and a secure VPN server:

What is a VPN? image.

Is it safe to use public Wi-Fi with a VPN?

Public Wi-Fi hackers will be unable to read any data inside this encrypted tunnel.

Now let’s say you’re trying to connect to hotel Wi-Fi, but you accidentally connect to a hacker’s rogue Wi-Fi network instead. Without any additional security, the hacker can read and alter any unencrypted communication, or even inject malicious code onto your device.

With ExpressVPN, however, the encrypted tunnel prevents hackers from reading, injecting, or altering any data.

Wi-Fi hackers can also use a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack to break encryption and impersonate sites you are visiting so they can intercept your traffic without your knowledge.

Wi-Fi security protection on every device

VPN for Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android, and routers.

ExpressVPN has apps for every device you connect to Wi-Fi, including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux, and more.

Looking for VPN Wi-Fi security on your router? The ExpressVPN app for routers protects every device on your home or office Wi-Fi simultaneously.

FAQ: About public Wi-Fi security


Ready to try the best VPN for public Wi-Fi?

A VPN is essential protection when using public Wi-Fi. Give ExpressVPN a try. You’re 100% covered by our 30-day money-back guarantee.