Privacy is an often forgotten element of online life. We’re usually reminded of its importance when there’s a high-profile data breach or when we find out that a company such as Facebook has shared our data with third parties without our knowledge. While we don’t have full control of our online privacy, there are ways to keep the most sensitive information out of the hands of a would-be hacker, such as using a VPN or virtual private network. A VPN protects your data when you’re using Wi-Fi and is especially important when you’re connected to an insecure network.
Many of us live our lives on the go — checking in from our smartphone during a commute or plugging in at a coffee shop to get some work done — and that means we’re spending a lot of time connected to unsecured Wi-Fi networks and putting our personal information at risk. It’s possible that even your home or work network isn’t completely secure.
The risks can be devastating (identity theft, exposed passwords) or simply embarrassing (the leak of personal photos or questionable web searches). In 2016, a reporter for USA Today was hacked on a flight from Dallas to Raleigh. He found out after the flight landed and the man sitting behind him confessed that he had read all of his emails — and in fact, had spied on nearly everyone using the in-flight Wi-Fi. In another case, a seven-year-old girl was able to hack a public Wi-Fi hotspot in just under 11 minutes when participating in an ethical hacking demo. She used an online tutorial to set up a Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack, which would allow her to steal data from other users connected to the network. That’s how easy it is.
It’s also easy and inexpensive to protect yourself using a mobile VPN. There is a range of apps available for Android and iOS that can place you in a private network safe from hackers. A VPN creates a private connection and anonymizes and encrypts your activity. It can also protect you from ad tracking software that follows you around the web after you search for or purchase a product or service. VPNs also disguise your location, which means you might be able to access regional content not available in your area.
There are several free options that you can try out and paid options that include more features and unlimited bandwidth. Here are some of the top VPNs that offer solid mobile protection for both Android and iOS devices:
- NordVPN has paid plans that run as low as $3 to $5 per month; a two-year plan includes a 30-day money back guarantee. You can connect up to six devices at a time, convenient for families and multi-taskers.
- The aptly named Private Internet Access VPN is a good alternative, with a monthly fee under $7 per month (under $3 if you sign up for two years), and a 7-day money back guarantee.
- Finally, Avira Phantom VPN has a free plan (500 MB of data per month) that’s a great way to dip your toe into encrypted waters. Paid plans include unlimited data and start at under $7 per month, and the VPN’s annual plan can be paid for with Bitcoin, for the utmost privacy.