Public WiFi Security: Is Free WiFi Really Free?

Public WiFi Security: Is Free WiFi Really Free?

What are the different risks in using free WiFi and how you can eliminate them with a VPN?

Offering free WiFi has become a staple of any good service, regardless of the sector, making public WiFi security one of the biggest concerns today when it comes to our privacy and cybersecurity.

It is always nice to go somewhere and know that you are not wasting your mobile data plan, especially when it comes to social media and video calls. And the same way you look if someone is glancing at your screen or listening on your conversation, you should protect yourself from people who want to snoop on the connection itself.

Having a VPN is the obvious choice, as it will encrypt your entire connection, even from the WiFi router you are connecting to.

Thankfully, premium VPN providers have this issue in mind, and companies like Le VPN have not only developed military-grade encryption VPN for your desktops and laptops but also apps that work on smartphones and tablets.

Finally, if you want to make your guests feel safe, they also provide a VPN router that protects all devices that connect to it.

Public WiFi Security: Is Free WiFi Really Free? | Le VPN

What is ‘’Free WiFi’’?

There are three types of ‘’free’’ internet access, and we should all be aware what we are giving instead of money for that access.

First, there are bars, pubs, and hotels. While cybersecurity here is the best of this bunch, it is still far from being considered safe. Even if the WiFi is only for our room, you are still not the one in control of the router.

Then there is the ‘’service’’ internet that is free only if you enter your information to log in. You will usually see this type in airports and bus stops. Unless you are allowed to log in with a fake name and email, and you have a premium VPN, you should avoid connecting.

Finally, there is the open WiFi that can be seen in most urban places and public buildings. This is a huge gamble if you don’t have a VPN, as it can be just an innocent free WiFi paid by the taxpayers or a MitM attempt that wants to both steal all of your private information and infect other devices you will later come into contact.

Public WiFi vs. Service WiFi

If we want to be conscientious about our cybersecurity, we will need to differentiate between different types of free WiFi.

In some cases, we would maybe even be willing to share some of our information with the provider in exchange for internet access, as it may improve our overall service, or is the type of data that the router owner already has.

In other cases, and especially if we don’t know who is the owner of the connection, we should avoid connecting.

Additionally, aside from cybercriminals lurking behind certain connections, there is the issue of negligence.

Public institutions usually have no incentive to make their complimentary internet secure, as it is not the connection that they use themselves. They might not be out to get you, but they are not out to get data thieves and hackers as well.

Public WiFi Networks

While any wireless internet connection that is outside someone’s home could be technically considered a public WiFi network, this category is mainly focused on the networks that are made specifically for the general public to connect to.

A public WiFi can be inside a school, hospital, or library if the taxpayers sponsor it, or can be sponsored by private businesses or individuals that want to provide others with internet for whatever reason.

The only type of public WiFi that even has a chance of being relatively secure is the one financed by a private individual, as they could be an IT enthusiast that had cybersecurity in mind when setting up the connection.

Government institutions don’t actively try to steal your information, but don’t do much against it either. Not only are these networks vulnerable to hacks and similar attacks, but there is also a chance that they will disregard the procedures and still collect private data and browsing data from their visitors.

On the other side of the fence there are the companies that officially provide ‘’free internet’’ but with a caveat; you will need to leave your name and email to log in. As you might imagine, leaving private data to big corporations is not a smart thing to do, as it can be very dangerous for your cybersecurity, not to mention annoying when the ads start reeling in.

Service WiFi and Hotspots

If you are at a bar, or some other place that services customers, you will often see a ‘’Free WiFi’’ posted somewhere. This has become such a regular thing that some places even try to do publicity stunts by declaring that they don’t offer it.

In general, especially if we are talking about small businesses, these connections are safer than public WiFi and usually don’t have a lot of issues when it comes to your local bar trying to steal your private info. Probably because the bartender already knows more than they will ever need.

But, if you are in a large chain that tends to sublet their internet setup to smaller companies, you might find yourself exposed to hacking, snooping, and data collection, as public WiFi security is not a significant factor in the operations of these businesses.

If you are often in this type of venue, it is best to have a hotspot app with a VPN connection. Professional VPN providers like Le VPN provide access to mobile devices on all platforms, including Android and iOS, which is easy to use and might just save your identity.

Business WiFi

The WiFi provided to employees is a very tricky category, as it could be the safest and the least safe option from the bunch, depending on the company.

Officially, it is illegal for a company to spy on their employee’s private browsing and communication. But, many companies break this rule in fear of espionage or malpractice.

Additionally, some companies will ban the use of VPNs when it comes to their wireless network, which you should see as a red flag.

If that is the case in your workplace, just narrow down your private communication, including social media, to a bare minimum, and use your data plan for that as well.

Dangers of Free Internet

As the old saying goes: ‘’There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’’

The best analogy to free internet is that it is bait. It is up to the user to know what is on the other side of the line and if they are willing to get hooked or should they better leave the enticing offer.

For places where you already plan on giving your information away, such as hotels or membership clubs, using the internet doesn’t change your security situation.

But if you plan on connecting to unknown and untrusted wireless networks, then you should be very frightened about the state of your cybersecurity. Devices that are not secured by virtual private networks, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware programs should avoid these networks at all costs.

Authorized Data Collection

Depending on the region of the world you are currently in, different types of data collection can be perfectly legal.

While the European Union doesn’t look kindly on institutions and companies collecting and analyzing private data, short of strict research purposes, the US doesn’t have such legislation, and companies are relatively free to keep records on your person.

And the easiest way for a company to collect data on you is for you to give it willingly. By offering you access to their public network, they will ask for your name and email in return, enabling them to collect even more data about your living and buying habits as the time goes on.

Unauthorized Data Collection

When discussing public WiFi security, most people don’t realize that the majority of unauthorized and illegal data collections comes from the same sources that are authorized to do some data collection.

Companies and institutions are all made from people, and people may be corrupted for different reasons. One company that collects emails for medical patients may have an internal security breach with one of their employees stealing the data and selling it as marketing leads.

Finally, a company might want to increase its purchase value by having more customer information and start collecting data from their WiFi hotspots and customer login credentials to increase their value to a buyer that is interested in that type of data.

Man in the Middle Hacking

All public hotspots are in danger of being replaced by MitM attacks by an individual hacker, or even an organized group of hackers.

If you are in a place like Starbucks or McDonald’s, you will never know if ‘’Starbucks Free 2’’ network is a connection provided by the company or by a hacker hidden in the crowd.

Man in the middle, or MITM, are deceptions made by hackers where they mimic a public hotspot or a free WiFi network. Once people connect to it, they can monitor both their connection and their devices, and even send malicious software.

As most mobile devices don’t have different security protocols for untrusted and public connections, your smartphone and tablet are exceptionally vulnerable to this kind of attack.

Protecting Your Device with a VPN

Public WiFi Security: Is Free WiFi Really Free? | Le VPN

Anyone who has ever attended high school will tell you that abstinence doesn’t work.

Asking people not to connect to free WiFi would be just shouting into the void, even when it comes to those who are knowledgeable about cybersecurity and public WiFi security concerns.

The best option is to use a premium virtual private network that will keep all of your browsings and messaging encrypted and anonymous.

While the primary use of a VPN is to provide an anonymous proxy to your device and mask your IP address when browsing, the cybersecurity and encryption aspect is just as important.

Even in the case of sustaining a MITM attack on a free network, the hacker will not see your data but a scrambled mess. While connecting to untrusted free hotspots is still not advisable even with a VPN, having a premium VPN service will protect you on almost all devices.

Premium VPN providers like Le VPN will have mobile apps with security protocols that prevent wireless router access to your device apart from the data sent by the VPN server.

Encryption Tunnel

Often called the VPN tunnel, this is the main security feature of a VPN when it comes to snooping. The VPN app will encrypt all of the data being sent out, with only the server having a decryption key.

The tunnel not only protects your device from outside hacks but also protects your personal information and makes the VPN protect your entire identity.

As even simple encryption can have trillions upon trillions of combinations, it is near impossible for an outsider to hack your device when you are using a premium VPN.

P2P Chatting

The same way your VPN service encrypts your browsing data, it is capable of encrypting chatting services and social networks, making only you and the person you are talking with able to read the conversation.

Just remember that this kind of service will only work on systems that don’t have a centralized server that holds chats. If you are using Facebook Messenger or Skype, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates will still be able to laugh at your memes, if they want to.

Mobile Device VPN

For most people, especially younger ones, their mobile device is their main communication tool and often their daily driver when it comes to computing.

Because we usually have all of our private information, including our banking data, on our smartphones, we need to have a reliable VPN app that will protect these devices.

In the last few years, cybercriminals have managed to figure out the patterns on where we use our devices. This includes public places like bars and restaurants but also places that you wouldn’t think of, like public toilets and food trucks.

Finally, protecting our privacy when we are away from home and our primary cybersecurity system will ensure that we don’t infect other devices when we return.

Smartphone WiFi VPN Apps

As your public WiFi security heavily depends on the quality of the VPN you are using, there are several features that you should look for in your mobile VPN.

First of all, it should be a premium VPN that is specialized in cybersecurity. Using a free VPN is a huge gamble, especially in the wake of several free VPNs owned by large corporations having leaks.

Second, it should have a military-grade encryption capability. These encryptions make WPA2 codes on the router look simple.

Finally, a good VPN should have a kill-switch that will disable your internet when you are not using a VPN, ensuring that you don’t expose your device by accident.

Making a Safe WiFi Hotspot

If you want to create a safe wireless network, either for your customers or your family members and guests, there is no better way than having a VPN WiFi router.

Even premium VPN providers like Le VPN will only give you licenses for five devices, but if you install one router, you will be able to connect your entire business or the whole household including all IoT devices.

This way, you will reinsure your peers that you are not providing them with an unsecure Wi Fi. You can even ask them to use the ‘’Test My VPN’’ option and see that they have moved to another country.

Business Advantages

There are significant business advantages in covering all of the inside connections with a VPN, either through a company server that is connected in this way, or a VPN router making a secure wireless network.

The primary advantage is your cybersecurity and the safety of your professional data any company secrets, as well as personal data, both you and your employees bring to work.

Additionally, by using a VPN, you can gain other advantages of a VPN, such as access to content from another country. Often public data is only accessible for persons with that countries IP address, which you would have using this method.

Finally, the safety and wellbeing of your employees should not be disregarded. While it is probable that increased security would improve productivity, having a perk of public WiFi security at work is not a bad thing on its own.


Public WiFi security will always be tricky due to the amount of traffic that those routers receive.

While you know that they are bait, that doesn’t mean that you mustn’t ever take it, but with some precautions.

If you are using the service from Le VPN, you will have a reliable VPN service on all of your devices, both mobile and grounded. With their encryption will be secure at all public places, provided that you don’t give your private information directly and willingly.

Finally, if you are a business owner or just a good host, you can provide public WiFi security for your guests and patrons and arguably improve your service by doing so.



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Written by Vuk Mujović @VukMujovic

Vuk Mujović is the founder of MacTíre Consulting, an analyst, data management expert, and a long-term writer on all things business & tech. He authored blogs, articles, and opinion pieces aimed to help both companies and individuals achieve growth without compromising their security. Vuk is a regular guest author to Le VPN Blog since January 2018, where he gives his expert opinion on the topics related to cybersecurity, privacy, online freedom, and personal data protection. He also often shares his tips and best practices in relation to internet security and digital safety of private individuals and small businesses, including some additional applications of using a VPN service.

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