Is It Safe to Use Airport Wi-Fi? Complete 2024 Guide

Tyler Cross
Tyler Cross Senior Writer
Updated on: May 29, 2024
Fact Checked by Kate Davidson
Tyler Cross Tyler Cross
Updated on: May 29, 2024 Senior Writer

Taking advantage of airport Wi-Fi comes with certain risks. It’s awfully convenient, but accessing public networks like those at airports opens you up to criminals out to steal your information, hack your device, or even transmit malware right into your phone or laptop.

The good news is there are things you can do to protect your data. I covered all of them in-depth in this article — and I can vouch that all of them are reliable, as I’ve been successfully using them to secure my Wi-Fi data on airport networks for years.

I personally think using a VPN is the best approach. I find this to be the most efficient way to protect all of your Wi-Fi data. I like using ExpressVPN the most, as it provides high-end security and privacy, and it has the fastest speeds on the market.


What Are the Risks of Using Airport Wi-Fi?

There are lots of ways cybercriminals can exploit airport Wi-Fi to harm innocent users. All unsecured public networks have similar vulnerabilities, but because airport networks are used by so many people from all over the world, they’re a particularly attractive target for hackers. Here’s an outline of some of the primary risks involved:

  • Phishing scams and fake login pages. Hackers can create false login pages that mimic the airport’s actual Wi-Fi login portal, tricking users into entering personal information.
  • Data sniffing and unencrypted connections. Without proper encryption, personal and financial data, including bank logins and card numbers, can be easily intercepted and stolen. Hackers have access to tools that can quickly capture unencrypted data.
  • “Evil Twin” attacks. These involve the creation of a Wi-Fi network with a name similar to the official airport network. Unsuspecting users may connect to this false network, giving attackers access to their data.
  • Man-in-the-Middle attacks. Attackers can intercept and alter communications between two parties without their knowledge. In an airport Wi-Fi setting, this might involve stealing login credentials or personal information.
  • Malware distribution. Hackers can use airport Wi-Fi to spread malware to connected devices, allowing them to control or monitor the infected device.
  • Exposure of sensitive information. Personal emails, passwords, and other sensitive information can be exposed if not encrypted.
  • Tracking and invasion of privacy. Connecting to any public Wi-Fi network runs the risk of being tracked, and airports are a popular target. Governments and criminals alike have used airport Wi-Fi to ensnare innocent people and trawl for information.

5 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airport Wi-Fi

1. Use a VPN

5 Ways to Protect Your Data While Using Airport Wi-Fi

VPNs are the best way to protect your data while on a public network. Install ExpressVPN (or any other top VPN) and connect to a server of your choosing. Once connected, all of your data will be encrypted, meaning that no one, including the administrator or anyone else monitoring the network, can see what you’re doing online. They might be able to tell that you’re using a VPN, but that’s about it.

Quick summary of the best VPNs for airport Wi-Fi in 2024:

  • 🥇1. ExpressVPN — Best VPN for use at airports in 2024 (advanced security & privacy + really fast speeds).
  • 🥈2. Private Internet Access — Flexible VPN settings with great security features for going online on airport Wi-Fi.
  • 🥉3. CyberGhost VPN — Reliable VPN with advanced customization options & a big server network.

2. Use a Reputable Antivirus and Password Manager

Antiviruses like Norton 360 provide you with real-time protection against malware as well as excellent web protection. If a hacker is able to get control over the network you’re connected to, this will prevent them from transmitting any malware to your device. A good antivirus will also block phishing sites and other dangers encountered on the web.

On that note, a password manager like 1Password will keep your passwords secure, which is another important protective measure against hackers.

3. Don’t Automatically Join Networks

Make sure your device isn’t set to automatically join Wi-Fi networks, as this presents a major security risk. It’s easy to change this setting — you can find the option under your device’s Wi-Fi settings. Keeping it off minimizes the risk that you’ll connect to rogue networks that will steal your information.

Carefully select the legitimate airport Wi-Fi when needed. It’s a good precaution to ask an airport employee the name of the Wi-Fi network to make sure what you’re connecting to isn’t a malicious “Evil Twin” network in disguise.

4. Avoid Entering Sensitive Information

When using airport Wi-Fi, resist the temptation to access sensitive information like banking or credit card details. If it’s really necessary to do so, ensure your connection is going through a secure VPN. If a hacker is watching you through a compromised network, typing in passwords or banking information is a surefire way to give them everything they need to rob you blind.

5. Use the Mobile Hotspot Feature

As an alternative to public Wi-Fi, consider using your phone as a mobile hotspot. This creates a Wi-Fi network powered by your phone’s cellular data. However, this may not be feasible for everyone. Data limits, phone plans, and provider policies can sometimes get in the way, but it’s certainly worth looking into.

If you use an iPhone, open up Settings, tap Cellular, and then select Set Up Personal Hotspot. From there, you just follow the onscreen instructions to get connected.

On Android devices, open Settings, tap Connections, then tap Mobile Hotspot and Tethering. You’ll be able to toggle it on from there.

What to Do if You’ve Been Hacked While Using Airport Wi-Fi

If you believe you’ve been hacked, don’t panic or give the hackers any money or additional information. If hackers have a way to steal your money, they’ll do it without contacting you anyway. If you’re receiving odd messages or seeing other suspicious signs, take these steps immediately:

  • Cut connections. Immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and disable any Bluetooth connections. This stops potential ongoing access to your device.
  • Notify financial institutions. Contact your bank and credit card providers to alert them about potential unauthorized access. They can monitor or freeze accounts as needed.
  • Reset passwords. Update all your passwords, particularly those for email, banking, and social media accounts. Use a quality password manager (I recommend 1Password) to create and store strong and unique passwords.
  • Install updates. Ensure all software, apps, and security utilities are up-to-date. This is important to do as it fixes possible security gaps.
  • Run security checks. Perform a full scan of your device with reputable antivirus software (like Norton 360) to locate and eradicate any malware.
  • Download a VPN. Use a trustworthy VPN, like ExpressVPN, for future public Wi-Fi connections to enhance security and privacy. They encrypt your data so hackers can’t read it.
  • Monitor activity. Regularly inspect your bank and online accounts for any unfamiliar transactions or activities. Remember that sometimes hackers leave behind a “ticking time bomb” that stays dormant before activating and stealing your data when you least expect it.
  • Utilize 2FA. Implement two-factor authentication on your accounts to bolster security, making unauthorized access more difficult.
  • Examine installed applications. Inspect your device’s applications and uninstall any that seem odd or unrecognized.
  • Adjust network preferences. Reset your device’s network settings to erase stored Wi-Fi credentials, avoiding unintentional connections to unsecured networks.
  • Consult with a professional. If in doubt or after a major hack, consult with a cybersecurity expert to assess and rectify any lingering vulnerabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a VPN slow down my connection?

VPNs can cause reductions in connection speeds. This is an inevitable result of the process of encrypting and sending your data through a secure server. With a quality VPN, though, this impact is minimal, and by selecting a server close to your location, the speed reduction is almost negligible.

What is the fastest VPN to use at an airport?

The fastest VPN for airports is ExpressVPN. It’s known for its superior speeds and high level of reliability even on public Wi-Fi networks. Plus, since it has a global server network, you’ll be able to connect to a nearby server for the best speeds, regardless of where you are.

ExpressVPN uses its proprietary Lightway protocol to ensure the fastest connections — so whether you need to stream, download, or work, ExpressVPN offers quick and secure connectivity, preserving your online experience while waiting for a flight.

Is airport Wi-Fi always unsafe?

Airport Wi-Fi isn’t inherently unsafe, but like all open networks, it’s prone to certain vulnerabilities. Hackers can easily take advantage of the open network to steal your information, tap into your devices, or even obtain your financial information and passwords — and airport networks are a particularly appealing target because of the large number of people from all over the world who connect to them.

A reliable VPN can provide the necessary encryption and security to keep your data safe. Even on public networks like those in airports, a VPN shields your information, meaning it’s vital to use a VPN during travel to ensure your online security.

What is a kill switch and do I need one at the airport?

A kill switch immediately cuts your internet connection if the VPN drops, preventing accidental data leaks. It adds an extra layer of security to your online activities, especially in public spaces like airports.

I recommend always using a kill switch when connecting to airport Wi-Fi, as it will ensure that your personal and sensitive information remains protected. It’s a critical feature that provides peace of mind while connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.

Best VPNs for Airport Wi-Fi in 2024 — Final Score:

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About the Author
Tyler Cross
Tyler Cross
Senior Writer
Updated on: May 29, 2024

About the Author

Tyler is a writer at SafetyDetectives with a passion for researching all things tech and cybersecurity. Prior to joining the SafetyDetectives team, he worked with cybersecurity products hands-on for more than five years, including password managers, antiviruses, and VPNs and learned everything about their use cases and function. When he isn't working as a "SafetyDetective", he enjoys studying history, researching investment opportunities, writing novels, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends."