Ipad VPN - WIFI encryption in public places

10 Jan 2014
Posted by Laptop Junction

The power of an iPad Mini is it's portable size and big enough screen for internet browsing on the go.
However, roaming open public WIFI networks without encryption exposes your internet traffic to packet sniffers connected to same WIFI hotspot. Specially if it's a popular unencrypted WIFI hotspot with seating area's and power outlets. Here's an example of VPN connection encryption to hide your traffic from preying eyes with a few other benefits. 

Open public WIFI hotspots - Sniffer Territory

Those familiar with IP packet sniffing know what can be found while sniffing the WIFI waves of a popular open public WIFI hotspot. It's a treasure trove of personal information such as chat conversations, pictures, browsed websites and sometimes Usernames / Passwords flying through the air unprotected.

And you don't have to be a rocket scientist, just a copy of the open-source Wireshark network analyzer and a popular USB WIFI b/g/n adapter with a good antenna.

Wireshark network traffic analyser

Although much has happened on the internet regarding information encryption, like most webforms being protected using HTTPS encryption, there is still lots to be discovered by the experienced packet sniffer roaming a popular public WIFI hotspot.

The best counter measure is to encrypt your connection with a VPN. It acts like a  tunnel which encapsulates your internet traffic from your iPad to the other end of the VPN node.Others can still see there is traffic, but can no longer see what is being transported.

iPad VPN connection encryption

An active VPN connection on an iPad looks like this;

iPad VPN connection activated logo

In this case an iPad connected in Greece has it's traffic encapsulated by an encrypted VPN tunnel. This network traffic encryption is commercially available and doesn't require additional software on an iPad.
It can be switched On and Off using the VPN slider at the bottom left corner in the above image.

The encrypted VPN tunnel in this example ends in the Netherlands. For outsiders it seems like the iPad is connected to the Internet in the Netherlands, while in reality the iPad is connected to a public WIFI hotspot in Greece.

All traffic from the iPad upto the end of the VPN tunnel is encrypted. In the Netherlands the iPad traffic becomes visible again and goes on the internet through a local ISP. No one at the public WIFI hotspot in Greece or anywhere along the the route to the Netherlands can read the network traffic from this iPad.

Nice side effect? Any local internet filter is bypassed in countries where internet censoring is part of state policy.

iPad VPN speed test

Needless to say, the internet speed is affected with this VPN tunneling and encryption. Here's a measurement with Speednet;

iPad VPN WIFI encryption speed test

In this test - on the 10th of January - the ping time and upload speed are affected when the VPN connection is active. The ping time is merely a measure of distance, not of actual speed. The upload speed has halved, while the download speed is almost the same.

Nice detail - the Speedtest sees the end of the VPN tunnel as a cellular connected device (as a cellphone, mobile phone) - see the antenna logo next to the test result at the 10th of January 13:20.

iPad VPN connection settings

How is this all done? Quite simple, the VPN settings dialog in General - VPN is set with the VPN connection details;

iPad VPN settings dialog

In this case a commercial VPN encryption providers node in Amsterdam is used with IPSEC encryption.

That's all - in a following article more about what can be done with a VPN connection like this.

VPN encryption providers can be found with a search query for "VPN providers".