Are you giving away too much information when you use public Wi-Fi? You might be, but there is a way to protect your privacy in public, with a VPN. ProtonVPN is a free VPN to secure Wi-Fi. (Updated)
A VPN app on your Apple Mac, Windows PC, phone or tablet makes the internet more secure and more private by encrypting the connection between you and a VPN server. The server then connects to the web and online services you need and it acts as an intermediary, passing information between you and the web. The advantage is that websites and services can only see the VPN server and not you, which increases privacy and security.
It is especially useful when using public Wi-Fi hotspots because it means that other people using the Wi-Fi network, possibly a hacker or troublemaker, cannot see what you are doing. Also, the hotspot operator cannot see your activities either. Public Wi-Fi hotspots often have very strict filters that limit what you can do and a VPN can unblock them and enable access to everything you need online.
A VPN is especially useful for services you sign into, like email, online accounts at websites, banking and shopping. Activities where you don’t want someone watching.
There are many paid VPN services and a few free ones. I have looked at iTop VPN (Looking for an alternative VPN? iTop offers something different), PrivadoVPN (Easy free VPN for PC, Mac, Phone. Even a newbie can use PrivadoVPN), Hide.me VPN (Install Hide.me free VPN on Mac and PC for internet privacy) and other popular services. ProtonVPN is worth considering and it has both paid subscriptions and completely free accounts.
As with all free VPNs, there is a limited selection of VPN servers to connect to, just 24, and they only located in the US, Netherlands and Japan. However, paying subscribers have access to around 1,500 servers in 63 countries. Let’s have a look at the the features of the VPN.
Sign up for ProtonVPN, sign in
The best way to get ProtonVPN is to visit the website (protonvpn.com), go to the Pricing section and click the Get Free button. You will be prompted to create an account. It is especially easy if you already have a ProtonMail email account because you can use your email address and password.
There are apps for macOS, iOS, Windows, Linux, Android, Chromebook and Android TV. ProtonVPN is everywhere. If you plan to stick with a free ProtonVPN account you must choose only one, but with paid accounts you can have install apps on up to 10 devices. I am using the Mac app here.
Run the app and sign in using the username and password you create when signing up. You might see various permissions pop-ups appear, depending on the device you install it on. You can’t do anything these days without half a dozen security popups asking for permissions. It only happens once and from then on you are straight into the app.
Secure Wi-Fi hotspots with a free VPN
Using ProtonVPN is very easy and the Quick Connect button at the top secures your internet connection and makes it more private. This is useful for those occasions when you are not bothered which server you use. You just want security and privacy. It will either choose the fastest connection or a random one as you prefer.
The Countries tab has a long list of countries around the world and subscribers can connect to any of them, but only three countries are for free users.
Expand a country and the servers located there are listed. You can see the server load as a red, orange or green circle and clicking the i in the middle displays a server information panel. It is easy to see if a server has a high load and you can browse the servers and find one with a lighter load.
Free servers have a higher load than ones for subscribers, but there are still green-rated ones with spare capacity to be found.
The server features are listed in the information panel, such as P2P, Tor, Secure Core and so on. Not all servers have all features.
In the top left corner of the app is your IP address, which is replaced by a different one when you are connected to a VPN server. Your real IP address is hidden for privacy and security. You can see upload and download speeds and the server load.
There is an option called Secure Core for paying subscribers, which routes traffic through only the safest and most secure servers in the ProtonVPN network for extra security.
Create VPN profiles
On the Profiles tab is a button to create a profile. This is basically a shortcut to a specific VPN server with specific settings and you can have any number of them.
If you always connect to a specific country to stream TV or movies, or access certain websites and services, you can create a profile for it. The features can be selected, such as a standard VPN, Secure Core, P2P or Tor, and the protocol. You can select the country and the server within the country to connect to.
Profiles are your favorites and one click connects to them without having to search through countries and servers.
Protocols and preferences
There are four protocols to choose from: IKEv2, WireGuard, and OpenVPN with TCP or UDP. WireGuard is becoming popular because it is modern, simple, fast and possibly harder to block than other protocols, which might be useful if you find the Wi-Fi hotspot is not letting the VPN connect.
ProtonVPN is a good free VPN. There are no connection limits, no data limits, no logs and so on. If you don’t mind being limited to just three countries, ProtonVPN free is a good choice.
The price for subscribers is a bit on the high side and cheaper deals are available elsewhere. However, the software is good and being based in Switzerland, the company is covered by Swiss privacy laws. All ProtonVPN servers are encrypted and there are no logs. The Secure Core feature increases security and privacy, and there is ad and malware protection.
ProtonVPN is well worth a close look if you are looking to change VPN provider.