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Does a VPN protect you on public wifi?

Using public wifi is undeniably comfortable, but it can also be dangerous. Cybercriminals often target public wifi hotspots because they attract a lot of users or have weak cybersecurity configurations. Using a public network without any protection puts your personal data and devices at risk.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) can significantly improve your safety on public wifi.

A VPN encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address, making it much more difficult to execute various cyberattacks over open wifi networks. VPN popularity spiked during the Covid-19 lockdowns to unblock more streaming content and protect home Internet connection while WFH. However, it's also the number one go-to software for public wifi security.

In this article, we explain in more detail why you should use a VPN and how it protects you on public wifi.

How to protect your device on public wifi with a VPN in 5 steps

vpn protect on public wifi
  1. Subscribe to a reliable VPN service. We recommend NordVPN, now 72% off.
  2. Download the app and install it.
  3. Log in with your credentials.
  4. Choose a VPN server and connect to it.

Most common threats on public wifi that VPNs can prevent

VPNs improve public wifi safety by obfuscating the user's original IP address and applying advanced encryption to their online data traffic. Furthermore, quality VPNs provide additional features that protect against cyber espionage, viruses, and data leaks.

Most public wifi hacks target user data, like passwords or credit card details. However, sophisticated cybercriminals can use them for more nefarious reasons, like ransomware or virus infection. Below are some of the most common threats that VPNs help prevent.

Malware infection

Malware infection is extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Hackers can exploit unpatched public wifi vulnerabilities to infect user devices with malicious software.

Depending on the end goal, they proceed to install spyware, trojans, or ransomware. The viruses can remain dormant until the hacker decides to cause damage to the unsuspecting user.

The best VPNs offer real-time malware protection, like the NordVPN Threat Protection feature. It scans the incoming traffic for malicious code elements and denies access upon detection. VPNs neutralize the infection before it reaches user devices, significantly improving public wifi safety.

Password theft

Password hacking is still alive and well, with many Internet users having the same weak passwords for their online account protection. There are a few ways cybercriminals exploit public wifi to extract user passwords.

A hacker can use online espionage software to monitor wifi users' activities. If a user types the password over an unencrypted channel, the hacker can catch it and use it for unauthorized access. Installing spyware or keyloggers on user devices is also a common practice. This method allows catching the passwords even when the device is disconnected from public wifi.

A VPN protects against these attacks by encrypting online traffic and neutralizing spyware with anti-malware features. You can also combine it with a password manager to really up your game.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack is used to intercept or alter the communication between two unsuspecting parties. The attacker places themselves in the middle and extracts valuable information like passwords and private conversations.

Public wifi is an excellent spot for MitM because the attacker can pretend to be the network administrator and reroute the data flow through their device. Moreso, they can reroute the user to a fake website to get more data or infect them with a virus.

Because VPNs apply advanced encryption to all online traffic, cybercriminals cannot use MitM attacks for cyber espionage. All they see is senseless gibberish, making VPN one of the most effective anti-MitM tools.

Evil Twin attacks

Evil Twin (also called wifi Honeypot) is a popular wifi hacking method because it is extremely easy to carry out. Hackers set up a fake wireless access point disguised as a legitimate network. You can find 'Free_bus_stationWiFi' networks while traveling and immediately consider them legit.

In reality, hackers set up such points to lure unsuspecting users. Then they steal their information or reroute them to fraudulent websites asking to input banking details or other confidential information.

Reliable VPNs have vast databases of such websites and deny access before the user can input any details. Moreso, the most advanced VPNs will inspect the website and alert the user if there's anything out of the ordinary.

Ransomware attacks

Ransomware is one of the deadliest contemporary hacking tools. It can paralyze a nation's healthcare sector or halt private business operations until the hefty ransom is paid. And it all can start with careless public wifi browsing.

Hackers use Man-in-the-Middle or Evil Twin attacks to infect user devices with ransomware. Moreover, it can be designed to stay dormant until the user connects to the workplace network. The virus then activates and spreads throughout, causing tremendous damage. A VPN protects the user from both hacking methods.

Online account takeover

Hackers use public wifi to catch account credentials or redirect the user to a mirror website, for example, an Instagram clone. Logging in on a cloned website sends the credentials to cybercriminals.

Online accounts are worth much more than they were a decade ago. Hackers can make hundreds of dollars stealing them, whether it's a widely followed Instagram or full of games Steam account.

A VPN reroutes all user traffic through an encrypted private tunnel, making it impossible to extract user passwords using online surveillance software. It will also block access to cloned websites and other virus-ridden domains.

Snooping or sniffing

Public wifi networks often lack the resources to implement sufficient cybersecurity protocols. For example, their routers prioritize speed over security and sacrifice advanced encryption to allow more users without a speed decrease.

Hackers use these deficiencies to bombard public wifi with online surveillance software that's extremely easy to come by. That's why data gathering over public wifi is popular among senior hackers and script kiddies alike.

A VPN applies additional encryption to online user traffic, neutralizing all espionage attempts. Even if you browse over unencrypted HTTP protocol, the hackers cannot penetrate VPN encryption that provides privacy over public networks.

How does a VPN protect me on public wifi?

VPNs have several features for protection on public wifi. Furthermore, reliable VPN developers continuously upgrade the software to defend against the most recent cyber threats. For example, the WireGuard protocol provides better encryption with lower resource consumption, perfect for mobile device safety – a frequent guest on public wifi.

Here's how a VPN protects you over a public wifi network:

VPN hides your IP address

A VPN encrypts user online data flow and reroutes it through a secure server. It obfuscates the original user IP address and replaces it with an alternative, preventing numerous IP tracking methods.

Hackers cannot associate a particular user with a specific IP address because all they see is that the traffic goes to a VPN server. It's especially important to pick the best VPN that doesn't have IP or DNS address leaks that could be traced back to the original user.


VPNs apply additional encryption to protect users' online privacy. Even if cybercriminals hack a public wifi network and force an unencrypted HTTP protocol over it, a VPN will use its own encryption protocol to guarantee safety. Breaking VPN encryption with current technology is nearly impossible and would take decades even for an extremely fast computer.

No-logs policy

A genuine no-logs policy is what separates professional VPNs from make-beliefs. Reliable VPNs do not store user online activities on their servers but wipe them clean after the browsing session is done. It significantly boosts online privacy because no one can inspect activity logs and extract valuable information from them.

When you browse over public wifi, you trust your information with an unknown third party. They might log your activities or even sell them for ad targeting. Look for a VPN that provides an audited no-logs policy and a RAM-based server structure that guarantees the safety of your data.

Anti-malware features

VPNs are continuously evolving, and right now, they are incorporating advanced cybersecurity features usually attributed to antivirus software. Malware protection is essential for public wifi safety because these networks are often used to deliver infections to user devices.

Because VPNs take over all online traffic, they are perfect for malware inspection. They scan the traffic for suspicious elements and alert the user of possible danger. This way, VPNs neutralize the threat before it reaches the user's device.

VPN safety limits on public wifi

There's no single software to provide 100% online protection. Knowing the limits of your cybersecurity software gives you a better idea of how to use it efficiently. Here are a few online threats that VPNs do not protect from:

  • Unpatched software. Software updates often include fixes for known security vulnerabilities. If you don't apply them on time, hackers can exploit these vulnerabilities by bypassing the VPN protection.
  • Brute force attacks. Hackers use this straightforward password-hacking method to gain unauthorized access to online accounts. If you use the same easy-to-guess password, hackers can break it via automation software that targets accounts with the most common username-password combinations.
  • Browser fingerprinting. Although a VPN is an essential anti-tracking tool, you must combine it with other software to maximize online privacy. Advanced online tracking methods use browser fingerprinting that captures your unique browser setup and follows it online.
  • Human error. No cybersecurity software will protect you if you don't remain vigilant online. Hackers use social engineering scams to extract passwords or other confidential information during emails or chat room conversations. It's essential to remain cautious and not overshare personal details with unknown parties.

How to choose a VPN that can protect the device on public wifi

We have gathered several key aspects you must consider before subscribing to a VPN for wifi safety:

  • Advanced encryption. Make sure your VPN uses sufficient encryption algorithms to protect your traffic from online espionage.
  • Anti-malware feature. Fully-developed VPNs offer virus protection, which is essential on public wifi networks.
  • Fast servers. Public wifi is often laggy, so your VPN should have ultra-fast servers so as not to slow the network even more.
  • No-logs. Your data can end up in the wrong hands if you trust it with a public wifi service provider. A no-logs VPN will erase your online activities after you're done with the browsing session, preventing possible data leaks.
NordVPN for protection on public wifi
NordVPN is the best VPN for public wifi safety. Advanced next-gen xChaCha20 encryption, proprietary NordLynx protocol, and an independently audited no-logs policy make it one of the most secure VPNs overall. Its Threat Protection feature successfully blocks ads, trackers, and malicious websites at once, as well as protects your downloads from malware.
cybernews® score
4.9 /5


There's no need to avoid public wifi networks, but using additional cybersecurity software on them is essential. A Virtual Private Network is an effective public wifi safety tool that neutralizes several threats that could have disastrous consequences.

A VPN will simultaneously strengthen your online privacy and identify viruses or block potentially harmful websites. MitM, Evil Twin, and online espionage will hit an unbreakable wall of advanced encryption that repels most hackers.

Remember that cybercriminals will always look for the easiest grab. Upon noticing you are using a VPN for protection, they will switch to another target that doesn't.


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