Is 4G more secure that WiFi?Updated: August 12, 2019
You can get access to Internet in almost every corner of the Earth, but have you ever thought about security? Is it safer to connect through 4G, or through a Wi-Fi?
Connectivity nowadays is not a thing of the future anymore. Even though, around the world, the data plans and the prices for Mobile Data Plans differ so much, we still have access to it almost wherever we go. And Wi-Fi? It's even more accessible, despite the fact that the speed can be a bit problematic in some areas of the world.
In this article we are going to answer the question above. And we are also going to talk and learn about 4G connectivity and about Wi-Fi. To be clear from the beginning, nothing is safe 100%, but we'll delve into this later.
For how long do you have a phone that is able to connect to the Internet? It's been a while now, even though it still seems so close. Technology has evolved so fast in the last couple of years that we didn't even had the chance to fully understand and appreciate the way we are accessing the Internet today.
I remember having a semi-smartphone back in 2010, with which I was able to connect to the Internet via E data. Did you have something like this? After that, there was the 3G one, around 2012 - quite fast. And I honestly can't remember when was the first time I saw 4G written in the corner of my phone. It all happened so quickly. I have to mention that the timeline presented is according to my experience with network communications.
The 3G actually appeared in 2001, being preceded by 2G and 1G, which appeared in 1981. These technologies weren't available across the world, especially in 1981-2000. Even though they might have been used for other types of communications, mobile phones and smartphones didn't appear until long.
It is true, there are still some areas of the world don't have access to 4G connectivity, and your phone automatically switches to the one available (3G or E). The main difference is in speed. With E there's not much you can do nowadays, as every phone app and every website requires a big package of data to be downloaded. You would either wait for hours, or most of the time you'd get an error.
The 3G one is way faster than E, but it still lacks the power of downloading information fast.
As we are a society that's always looking for more, and the big companies usually take this opportunity to create bigger and more advanced things, the 4G connectivity appeared. You can now watch movies on your phone way more easily, you can download almost anything in no time. There's even the 4G LTE, which is a newer version. Something similar to iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6S. We'll see more about this later.
Therefore, 4G is just the latest version of the communications technologies; as it actually is the short version for 4th Generation Technology. Very soon, as we are in 2019, there will be the next one - 5G.
I mentioned above the 4G LTE, and I said it is a newer version of the fourth generation technology. "LTE" stands for Long Term Evolution. To be honest, I'm not quite sure why this name and why this association with 4G, but alas.
The fourth generation has made possible for anyone to have the data speed it had at home, right on their smartphones. And for the 4G LTE, the download speeds are of at least 5Mbps (the minimum), but they can go up to 86 Mbps and 26 Mbps for upload. It all depends on the carrier network, the area you're in, etc.
Some carriers offer unlimited Internet data, but they specify that just a portion will be available in full speeds; once you reach that, the speeds may (will) be lower.
The difference between 4G LTE and 3G is quite notable, as the speeds are much higher. In comparison to 4G, you should know that in big cities, the speeds are high either way; it would be a bit difficult to see which technology is faster. But in other area (that of course support these technologies, you might be able to catch some differences).
It is worth mentioning that even though the 4G was released around 2008, it took a while until the networks to upgrade. Even though LTE is very close to 4G, it also takes time to implement, and some countries don't even have it yet. And we are already waiting for 5G.
WiFi is the way things that don't have 4G connect to the Internet - it's a way of saying. Actually, Wifi is used by many devices, because it it based on radio waves. Your computer needs it, your TV needs it and many more other devices that you use around the house or outside, devices that let you connect to the Internet (to browse, to watch movies, to download photos, to upload documents, to say "Hey, Alexa!" and more).
For a WiFi connection to happen, you need a router. That router connects to wireless adapters which are placed in the vicinity, and these adapters are connected to the network. Of course, this isn't a process that is always happening. For example, at home you have a router that has an Internet cable plugged in; that router just makes it possible for you to connect to the network without additional cables; the router it's like an amplifier.
Putting a pause on how the WiFi works, let me tell you somethings interesting. Did you know that WiFi is abbreviated from Wireless Fidelity? This is the definition that's the most accepted in the tech world.
Now let's go a bit deeper into how a WiFi works. As it works with radio waves, don't assume that the computer simply knows how to read a radio wave of that kind. It needs to be distinguished aka decoded. That is why the computer has a wireless adapter. Of course, not only the computer, but any other device that has WiFi.
The wireless adapter wasn't always implemented by default in computers. First of all, before the adapter, the computer was connected to the network through the cable. After that, there was a period of time when there were external wireless adapters available on the market. You could buy one, connect it to your computer though a port, and enjoy the WiFi connectivity.
As I said, the adapter transforms the radio waves into something that the computer will "understand". Obviously, the computer emits signals, too, which are decoded by the router.
WiFi is available almost everywhere: from your home, to the airport, there are even hotspots throughout the town, in restaurants and hotels, at work, and in many, many other places. One of the main advantage of this type of connectivity is that it is compatible with a lot of devices: TVs, printers, computer, smartphones etc.
I used the term "hotspots", hence I should let you know about these, too. There are not spots that releases heat, they represent areas where there's WiFi signal. These hotspots can be provided either by the local administration - for people to easily connect to the Internet whenever they want, or they can be provided by the private companies, such as restaurants, hotels, shops and all.
On a side and personal note, I've noticed that outside my country, the speeds are much lower than what I'm used to. In Europe I can test this even with the data plan form my carrier - sometimes I don't get the 4G, and I get stuck to 3G. For Wi-Fi, there a big difference, even compared to USA.
Even though in this article we are talking about connectivity to the Internet, I thought it would be good to inform you about the different types of Wireless signals. You may not realise it, but every connection that is made without wires is "wire-less".
Now that I've said this, what comes to your mind?
- Radio (AM and FM);
- Two way radio such as walkie talkies.
Obviously, all of them are differentiated by a number of characteristics: frequency, modulation (the way the information is carried), signal, receivers, and so on.
I would love to be able to present you all the details about each characteristic, but it would deviate the article a bit. In case you want to find out about these, I invite you to take a look at the Commotion Wireless article about Wireless Basics. Here we will focus only of WiFi.
The frequencies for wireless technologies vary from 10 MHz to 5000 MHz (or 5 GHz). The frequency for WiFi is either 2.4GHz, either 5GHz.
The 2.4GHz frequency is the most common. Many devices are using it, and because of this, the signals transmitted through it can interfere with each other, not to mention that it can be over crowded. The reason why it is still mostly used, it is because it can pass easily through walls and windows; once single router can be used with no problem in an office or a bigger home.
The 5GHz frequency is, by comparison, less crowded. It's like a city that isn't popular yet, and tourists don't over crowd it. Similar to the previous frequency, this one uses channels; but these are more and they don't overlap. You can get even higher speeds. Everything is much more organised. Still, the fact that the 5GHz can't pass through walls as good as the 2.4GHz one, makes it an unpopular choice - its range is smaller, and you'd have to use signal amplifiers or just multiple routers.
I have experienced them both, and I can say that I saw some improvement in speed and connectivity while using the 5GHz. With the 2.4GHz, it happened quite often that some neighbour's WiFi signal would accidentally and without his knowledge change to a channel I was using; this caused me a slower connection, even periods of time when the network wasn't available at all. With the 5GHz I didn't encounter these problems, but as soon as I get out of office, the signal is gone.
As I said right from the beginning, nothing is 100% safe (especially when we talk about the Internet). Still, there are some major differences between these two technologies, making one of them a bit more secure than the other. Can you guess? Obviously, we are referring to browsing or surfing the Internet using one of these two. And we are pointing out the flaws that become great opportunities for hackers.
Regarding your own online behaviour, none of these technologies will "save" you. If you're browsing the Internet not caring about the possible threats out there such as malware or phishing, then it's on you if something happens. You online behaviour should be based on alertness and skeptical thinking at all times. You can read more about tips for your online security in the article below or you can browse our articles from our website - there if information about smartphone security (iOS and Android, malware, firewalls, passwords, and much more)
We'll now focus on security in terms of technology flaws. Which technology can be more easily cracked by a hacker and why?
The answer for the question is: WiFi. A hacker can crack a WiFi connection in no time, especially if that one is a weak one - non encrypted (even though it's kind of default these days) and a weak or no password at all. You might have encountered a great number of no password WiFi or some that just use the name of the hotel/restaurant that has it.
If a hacker has access to that WiFi, he will have access to all of your data; this means even credit card data, personal information and more. That is why I always said that if you really need the WiFi, a public or even a private one, limit yourself to use it only for browsing. Don't ever make online payments, and try to stay out of emails and other accounts.
How can a hacker get access to a WiFi network? The person doesn't even have to be real hacker. There are tutorials on YouTube that teach you step by step how do it it. So you can be the victim of someone who wants to play a joke.
Getting to the 4G technologies, their connectivity is different than the WiFi. With the WiFi, when you want to connect to the Internet, you are asking for data to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). With 4G you are asking for signal the cellular company directly; there is no router, only antennas. The data is encrypted, of course, in comparison to the Public WiFis.
Right now, there are only researchers that are trying to find ways of compromising the cellular network - they are called white hat hackers. Still, there have been a few cases when some network has been hacked; the method used was Man in The Middle, which you can read more about in the article below.
To make a small description of the man in the middle attacks used for hacking a 4G technology, I'm going to ask you this: do you remember the movies when someone managed to interfere and listen to call between two persons? Well, it is quite an accurate depiction of how someone can be in the middle of the signal and hear what you are talking, even maybe seeing what information you're sending.
Even though 4G can be compromised, too, it is much harder than compromising a WiFi connection. That is why, (personal decision) I always try to use the cellular data whenever I go abroad or whenever I go to a place that has a weak WiFi. Unfortunately, there are many persons who can't do this (because of what they can in their data plans or because their cellular data plan isn't available all around the globe), hence they have to rely on WiFi.
As there are less people who can afford to use cellular data at all times, many should take into consideration other means of "protection" while surfing. Of course, I strongly recommend that even those who use the 4G should use an extra layer of protection.
The best way to protect all of your data while browsing and surfing on the Internet, no matter if you use a smartphone or a laptop, and no matter if you use WiFi or 4G, is a VPN.
Besides the fact that a VPN will make your life easier in many ways, its primarily function is to protect you. It does this by changing your IP, hence the service that gets your signal (ISP or cellular provider) will not be able to trace the traffic back to your original IP, hence to you.
It is a fairly easy process which is described in details right in the article below
Besides the online anonymity that you'll get, you'll also be able to connect to those public or weak WiFi network. This will help you de-stress about possible hackers that want to access your data. Let's not forget about encryption - the VPN encrypts all the data being transferred between your device and the page you want to access, making it almost impossible to be deciphered (read more here)
Specifically for WiFi connections, you can read the article below
And leaving aside all the security related benefits, there are also some fun ones, let's call them that. Basically, you can bypass a lot of websites. You'll be able to get access to the content you wanted to see (that is location restricted), you can get better deals, you can bypass restrictions in schools or at work (even though you should go by the rules), or you can solve some issue while travelling (like transferring money or paying with a PayPal account). All of these benefits are described right in the article below
Therefore, even if you're using a VPN for 4G or for WiFi, the benefits are notable. The most important is, of course, the one related to your online security. Of course, there is also your responsible online behaviour, meaning that you should avoid opening suspicious emails, you should be careful to use only secured websites (https), and so on.
Also, it is truly important to mention that you should be careful in choosing your VPN. You should try to use a paid one, from a verified company, or you can use a free version of a paid one (those usually have some limits, but they are good to have for urgent cases). For more about free VPN, you can read our article: