Public Wi-Fi can be dangerous. Here’s how VPNs keep you safe

Public Wi-Fi hotspots can be dangerous. And they’re everywhere! From coffee shops and airports to supermarkets, you’ll need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to protect you on public Wi-Fi.  But how does it work, and what are the security benefits? Let’s dig deeper.  

How a VPN protects you

A VPN protects your internet traffic on public networks and Wi-Fi hotspots. How? A VPN encrypts your data so that anyone spying on the network will only see scrambled nonsense. This way, you can always be confident that you are secure when using public Wi-Fi!

Table of contents

    How to stay safe on free public Wi-Fi with Surfshark VPN

    What are the risks of public Wi-Fi?

    When using a public Wi-Fi network, you never know who could be monitoring the internet connection. For example, data traffic on public Wi-Fi connections is usually not encrypted, so network security is easily compromised. This makes snooping a walk in the park for any lurking hackers. Let’s go over some of their tricks.

    The major threats on public Wi-Fi networks

    • Man-in-the-middle attacks 

    Attacks that set up a “secret agent” between you and what you are accessing. This allows hackers to “eavesdrop” on your network connection and see what you are doing.

    • Evil twin attacks

    Networks that impersonate legitimate hotspots. For example, if you’re in Starbucks and see two Wi-Fi networks, one named “Starbucks” and the other “Starbucks-for-customers,” you might believe they are both legitimate. In reality, one of them is set up by a hacker. 

    • Cookie theft

    An attack that allows hackers to hijack your active sessions. They can post on your social media and see what you’ve searched for. 

    • Computer worms

    Malware that doesn’t need you to download anything to infect your computer. It can compromise your private information as well as spread to other devices. 

    • Wi-Fi pineapples

    A device used to perform network attacks. It works by presenting itself as a Wi-Fi network known to the device and tricking you into connecting. Connecting to a network a hacker controls puts you at risk of losing your data. 

    These and other tactics used by hackers make it hard to feel safe when using unsecured networks.

    What personal information is at risk on public Wi-Fi?

    Eavesdroppers on public networks can monitor network traffic and even steal information you enter on your device. For example, this data can include:

    • Credit card and bank account details;
    • Social media passwords;
    • Email login credentials;
    • Any other personal information that you input.

    Fortunately, by encrypting all activity on your device, a VPN service can prevent people from snooping on you and stealing your data. For this reason, a VPN connection is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself on public Wi-Fi.

    How to minimize security risks on public Wi-Fi

    How does a VPN protect you on public Wi-Fi?

    Now, I’m not telling you to stop using public Wi-Fi altogether. Everyone loves free connection. So how can you protect yourself when public Wi-Fi is your only option? 

    • Use a VPN – a VPN provider encrypts your data. This means that anybody snooping on a public Wi-Fi connection will only see jumbled, unusable information. This way, you can ensure that your data is safe every time you use a public network.
    • Disable file sharing – whatever device you’re using, there will be an option to disable file sharing. Choosing this, and avoiding AirDrop on iOS or printer sharing, will block possible routes that hackers can use to steal your sensitive data and personal information.
    • Disable Wi-Fi auto-connect – sometimes, hackers will use fake networks with the same name as a trusted network. If you disable auto-connect on your device, you won’t automatically connect to any fake networks.
    • Avoid using login details – if you’re not using a VPN, avoid logging into your online accounts and inputting passwords when using a public network. This includes using passwords for online banking, email accounts, social media, and more.

    Can public Wi-Fi block a virtual private network?

    Yes, public Wi-Fi networks can block you from accessing them with a VPN. Whoever is hosting the connection gets to choose the terms of use, so occasionally, they will block them.

    However, anybody who intentionally blocks you from using a VPN is generally only doing it so they can track your online activity.

    If anyone’s blocking your VPN connection, try using a different port! With Surfshark, you can switch between OpenVPN TCP and UDP under Advanced Settings.

    Why use a VPN for public Wi-Fi? 

    There are a lot of risks on public networks, but what are the exact benefits a VPN will provide

    Stay secure on public Wi-Fi networks
    Trust that your banking is encrypted
    Share sensitive information without worry
    Forget hackers and relax whenever you use free Wi-Fi.
    Hide your transactions behind the best encryption on the market.
    Send private files without the fear of them being intercepted.
    Access content on any network
    Work from your favorite coffee shop
    Check social media anywhere
    Get unrestricted access on any network, anywhere.
    Feel as secure as you do on your work network in any place.
    Post pictures of cute dogs wherever you are.

    In conclusion: use a VPN to stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks

    It’s important to understand the dangers of public networks and take proper action to protect your sensitive information when using them. Unless absolutely necessary, we recommend avoiding public Wi-Fi. But if you want to work from a cafe for a day, use a VPN. 

    A VPN like Surfshark ensures high-level AES 256 GCM encryption for all your activities. It is also one of the most accessible ways to stay secure on public Wi-Fi. It’s affordable, easy to install, and you don’t need any technical knowledge whatsoever to use it, so it’s the perfect way to protect your data and get that extra peace of mind when using public networks.

    Stay safe on public Wi-Fi with a VPN

    And get a 30-day money-back guarantee

    Get Surfshark


    Is VPN free Wi-Fi?

    No. Although VPN protects any network, it isn’t a network itself and will not provide you with an internet connection. 

    What VPN gives free Wi-Fi?

    None. VPNs are additional tools that protect you and your devices. They do not provide Wi-Fi. However, they make it safe to use free Wi-Fi, which makes them an essential tool if you want to use the internet for free. 

    Can we use a VPN on Wi-Fi?

    Yes. And not only that – you are encouraged to use a VPN connection on public Wi-Fi networks, so your data is secure and encrypted.