What Are the Best VPNs for Public Wi-Fi Hotspots in 2020?
NordVPN is the best VPN to use to protect your computer or mobile device while you’re using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
The provider’s speedy connections, great customer support and adequate global server coverage all add up to a great way for road warriors to protect their internet connection and related personal and business-sensitive information from those who would seek to steal it for their own nefarious uses.
About Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are locations where a merchant or even local governments offer access to a convenient Wi-Fi connection to the internet. Hotspots can be found in coffee shops and restaurants, hotels, airplanes and even at street kiosks, such as those provided by the city government in New York City.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots are a convenient way to access the internet when you’re out and about while not using any of your precious cellular data. However, hotspots also have a dark side. Your personal and business-related information is at risk every time you use one.
When you connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, you may have noticed that you usually don’t need to enter a password to join the wireless network.
While this makes things more convenient, it also leaves everyone who uses the hotspot open to monitoring by third parties. No password equals no encryption, which, in turn, equals a connection open to monitoring.A May 2016 report from a newspaper columnist revealed how he found out he was now a member of the mile-high hacked club. USA Today’s Steven Petrow used the Gogo in-flight internet service while on an American Airlines flight. While getting off the plane, a fellow passenger dropped this bit of knowledge on him:
“I hacked your email on the plane and read everything you sent and received.
I did it to most people on the flight.”
The man then shared the details of an email Petrow had received during the flight.
While the Wi-Fi network at your home or place of business is password-protected, and therefore encrypted (it is, right? Right?), most public Wi-Fi hotspots are not encrypted.
Your favorite coffee shop is more interested in allowing customers to connect quickly and then hang around for awhile, perhaps ordering a scone to go with that coffee they’re drinking. Encrypted protection for your internet connections is not the top concern of Starbucks.
Top 5 VPNs for Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots
Why Do You Need a VPN for Public Wi-Fi Hot Spots?
If you connect your laptop or mobile device to your local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi hotspot, you are setting yourself up as an enticing target for hackers who would love to steal your personal and business-related information.
Public Wi-Fi hotspot users are subject to a number of attacks by hackers, including man-in-the-middle attacks, phishing attempt and more. In addition to hackers, your own government may be monitoring your online activities, and an unprotected hotspot is a perfect place for them to eavesdrop.
By taking advantage of the protection offered by a Virtual Private Network (VPN), computer and mobile device users can keep their internet activities safe from prying eyes. A VPN encases a user’s internet connection in a layer of encryption, keeping a user’s activities, which can include information about bill-paying, banking and shopping, safe from detection and misuse.
In addition to providing cover for your online antics, a VPN can also increase your global outreach by providing access to content and services that might normally be geographically blocked from access in your area. A VPN can make it appear that a user is connecting from another location. The new location can be down the street or on the other side of the globe.
Choosing the Best VPN for Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
When searching for a VPN to protect your device’s internet connection while using a Wi-Fi hotspot, there are a large number of factors to keep in mind.
In order to make it a bit easier for you, in this section, I will list each feature you need to consider, explain why it’s important and then list my top 10 VPNs, ranked according to how well each performs in each category.
I would never wish any technical issues on my readers. I believe in good karma all around.
However, chances are good that you will need to contact your VPN provider’s customer support team at one time or another. This is especially true of road warriors who will likely use their VPN on open Wi-Fi hotspots while away from the comfortable confines of their home or office.
Most VPN providers offer 3 types of support. Generally, these include live support chat (text), a trouble ticket submission system and a searchable support library. None of the providers I’ve reviewed offer phone support, making quick replies all the more important to road warriors who are using a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The table below shows my top 10 VPN services, ranked from best support to worst. Their ratings were determined by what types of support they offer, as well as the promptness and accuracy of their replies.
While a fast internet connection is always a plus, it takes on extra importance when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot, where you have no control over the quality of the internet connection. You want to find a VPN provider that offers as small a speed penalty as possible.
Road warriors require a connection that provides enough speed to reliably use cloud storage, online apps, sharing apps, video and audio conferencing apps, streaming and much more.
In the list below, you’ll find my top 10 VPN providers, ranked in order of their connection speed, fastest to slowest.
Results were calculated by first measuring my usual, ISP-provided connection speed, then connecting to each VPN provider and running the speed test again. Speed percentage was calculated by comparing the two readings for each VPN service.
All tests were performed by visiting the Speedtest.net website.
If your connection to your VPN’s server is interrupted, there is a chance of your internet being laid bare to prying eyes. This is an especially bad thing if you’re connected via a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
Hackers monitoring other users’ connections to the hotspot could attack your connection, stealing your precious personal data. This scenario is why it’s important to only use a VPN provider that includes a kill switch function as part of their apps.
A kill switch will automatically kill your internet connection if you do lose connection to your VPN provider. No connection at all is preferable to one that is laid open to monitoring by third parties.
Kill switch is a binary, “yes/no” type of designation, so I’ve listed the providers in the table below alphabetically.
Global Server Coverage
Global server coverage should always be a consideration, no matter what the intended use.
A VPN provider that has their server farms located strategically around the globe allows users to unblock streaming and gaming content that might normally be unavailable from their current location. The screenshot below illustrates what excellent global server coverage looks like.
The table below ranks VPN providers by server coverage, best to worst.
Other Factors to Consider
Money is no object, and you can subscribe to any VPN provider, no matter how high the price. Plus, you drive a Tesla, and it has 5 brand new, top-of-the-line MacBook Pros in the trunk, and, “Wake up, Dorothy, wake up!”
That was a really pleasant dream, wasn’t it?
Unfortunately, outside of our dreams, we have to watch how much we spend on most things, VPN service included. Luckily, it’s easy to find champagne-level VPN services, even if you only have a beer-level budget.
While you may want to keep your expenses low, don’t fall into the trap of believing cheaper is always better. Always investigate to make sure any “budget” provider you might consider isn’t cutting corners in important categories in order to offer that bargain-basement price.
Most VPN companies offer special deals on a regular basis. If you think car dealers wheel and deal, you haven’t seen anything yet. Visit the website of each VPN provider you’re considering to find out if they’re currently offering a deal of some sort.
While you’ll save money from these deals, you’ll usually have to subscribe for an extended period of time, often for two years or more.
Shoppers on a tight budget can opt for a month-to-month VPN subscription, but be advised that the monthly payment option will likely cost you more in the long run.
The providers listed below are ranked according to their monthly price (their annual price divided by 12), and the price listed is what passes for their “regular” price. Be sure to check their websites for more pricing options.
*The prices in the table reflect the monthly cost when paying for an annual subscription. (Annual Subscription Price / 12 Months.)
Always opt for a VPN provider that provides optimal privacy protections. While any VPN provider will protect your internet connection, only the best providers will protect the records of your online activity and your payment information.
Take a close look at where a VPN provider is located. Is the country privacy-friendly? Does the provider keep logs of your online activities? If so, what type of information is saved in the logs? Last but not least, are privacy-friendly subscription payment methods, such as Bitcoin or merchant gift cards, available from the provider?