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VPN needed for mobile devices?

I'm going on a Rick Steves tour of France and wanted to find out if anyone has had trouble with hacking when using public Wi-Fi in the hotels? I never use airport Wi-Fi, and I'm going to get an International Plan for my cell phone, but planned to use the hotel Wi-Fi to use my iPad.

Has anyone had any problems with hacking? Should I get VPN for my cell phone?

Posted by
4957 posts

When you view a website, make sure in the top bar of the browser it says SECURE next to the website address. If so, then the connection between your device and the website is encrypted and should be protected from hackers, even on public WiFi. Most websites are SECURE (SSL encrypted or "https") now. This is especially important on any page on which you type a password, enter a credit card number, or view financial info. (On pages without any passwords etc., probably not a big deal whether a page is encrypted or not.)

If you open a website and things start acting "funny" - weird pages popping up, messages about pages you normally view not being secure? Then I would stop using that WiFi.

If you use your phone's mobile data and not WiFi, there is no need for a VPN at all.

I do use a VPN when I travel - one I set up at home, to connect my devices to my home network while I travel. I also do this so I can access computers at home while I travel. I assume this is not on of your needs, but it also gives me a little extra browsing security I probably don't need most of the time.

Posted by
8997 posts

If I were traveling for business and had send and share sensitive business documents regarding business deals, personnel data, and proprietary information I would use a VPN to encrypt.
On vacation it is overkill. Most websites that require a password (including this message board) are encrypted these days, and that's good enough me.

Posted by
9 posts

Okay, so sounds like it's safe to browse websites.

But, if I DO use Wi-Fi in public places, can they hack the "contacts" on my iPhone?

Thanks from this non-technical person.

Posted by
4957 posts

CAN they hack your contacts? It's POSSIBLE. What you need to ask is, how likely is it?

It's possible your contacts could be hacked in numerous other ways - but unlikely. In my opinion, using public WiFi doesn't increase the risk much if at all.

Posted by
31524 posts

marian,

It should be safer to use the WiFi at your hotel than using public sites such as those located at McDonalds, Starbucks or similar places. I normally use LTE for anything sensitive, such as checking bank account balances or whatever. I also prefer to use LTE in public locations, but will use WiFi at my hotels for non-sensitive things.

Posted by
2526 posts

For non-technical readers folks, LTE means using cell service. To use LTE, arrange an international plan through your cell phone carrier in advance of your trip or visit a cell phone shop in Europe and plead for help to buy and install a SIM card giving you such service but with a new phone number.

Posted by
3493 posts

I have been going to Europe for over 15 years now racking up over 50 trips (sounds better than it is as most of those were for work with very little free time). Not once have I ever had any internet hacking issues or viruses or any other problems of that type. And this goes back almost to the beginning of the internet where we had to use internet cafes because WiFi didn't exist like it does today.

While I am not going to say you absolutely don't need a VPN or that you absolutely will never be hacked, the chance is very minimal due to advancements in web technology over where things were back when the net started. Winning the Power Ball Lottery has a higher probability than having your WiFi signal hacked. Almost every web site you will visit will be encrypted (the "https:" in the web address) which significantly increases security by default. Even email on an iPad is encrypted between the iPad and the Apple email system by default. If you want to you can use your cell phone set to cell instead of WiFi to do things like check your bank balances which provides an even greater level of security due to the nature of the connection.

If you do choose a VPN product, avoid the free ones. While they may be just as good as the ones you pay for, I am a strong believer in you get what you pay for, so if you are paying nothing you get nothing. One thing to consider is the extra encryption and security provided by VPN comes with slower data through put. Given that many European hotels (and US hotels) struggle to provide fast internet as it is, the VPN may make the internet unusable in those situations.