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How to Use Your Smartphone as a Wi-Fi Hot Spot

To help keep your online activity secure, many newer mobile phone plans allow this option

spinner image Mobile hotspot, wifi, smartphone concept
Dmitrii Melnikov / Alamy Stock Photo

While free Wi-Fi is available virtually everywhere these days — airports, coffee shops and hotels — you may be unaware that you’re putting your information at greater risk when you use these public internet connections.

Whether you’re on your laptop, smartphone or tablet, fraudsters can easily access your data when you’re using shared Wi-Fi than they can when you’re on a private network at home. Hackers can also use an unsecured Wi-Fi connection to distribute malicious software, better known as malware, and computer viruses.

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But one of the safest ways to connect to the internet is through something you’re rarely without — your smartphone. By creating a “personal hot spot” on your iPhone or Android, you can allow Wi-Fi access to another device, such as your laptop or tablet.

Using your 4G or 5G smartphone network is safer than a Wi-Fi network that’s not password protected, says Iskander Sanchez-Rola, director of privacy innovation for Norton.

“Personal hot spots are much more difficult to hack, and attackers typically focus their efforts on exploiting people who are unprotected on public Wi-Fi networks,” he says. “Because public Wi-Fi networks are inherently less secure than a personal hot spot, you could also be exposing yourself to identity theft.”

How a personal hot spot works

Essentially, you’re using your smartphone’s cellular data to connect to the internet. This means you’ll need a healthy data plan to avoid a nasty surprise on your monthly bill. When in doubt, ask your mobile phone carrier how many gigabytes of data you’re allowed to use each month.

A personal hot spot is ideal only when you want to use another device to access the internet. If you’re using your smartphone to go online, you don’t need a personal hot spot. You simply use your data. But for a device like a laptop or tablet without cellular capabilities, a personal hot spot is a safer way to get online than using public Wi-Fi.

How to create a personal hot spot on an iPhone

1. Go to Settings | Cellular | Personal Hotspot. Newer operating systems will also let you go straight from Settings to Personal Hotspot.

2. Tap the slider next to Allow Others to Join. If it’s green, you’re all set.

3. Your Wi-Fi password will show underneath the Allow Others to Join option. If you want to change the password, tap it and create a new one.

4. Now on another device such as a laptop, go to the Wi-Fi section and search for nearby networks. You’ll see the name of your phone, which by default contains your name, like “Marc’s iPhone.” You can change that in Step 6 if you desire.

5. Once your device connects to your phone as a personal hot spot, type in the password in Step 3 just once to get online. Remember to turn off the personal hot spot when you’re done.

6. To maintain your privacy, changing the name of your hot spot is a good idea. When you turn on your hot spot, by default its name will be the name of your iPhone, so anyone around you searching for a wireless network will see your name.

  • Go to Settings.
  • Scroll down and tap General.
  • At the top of the General page, tap About.
  • Select Name at the top.
  • Type in a new name for your iPhone and tap Done.
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If you have more than one iPhone on your account, Apple also lets you set up Family Sharing so your family can join your personal hot spot automatically without needing to enter the password.

On your iPhone, go to Settings | Personal Hotspot | Family Sharing. Tap the name of each of your family members. You can set whether they need to ask for approval to join your hot spot or allow them to do so automatically.

How to create a personal hot spot on an Android

If your phone is a Google Pixel, Motorola, Samsung or any other Android, you can easily create a personal hot spot. The setup may vary, since phone makers sometimes tweak the way Android looks and operates on their device, but this walk-through should work. If not, do a web search with the name of your phone and how to set up a personal hot spot.

1. Open the Settings app.

2. Tap the Network & Internet or Connections option.

3. Select Mobile Hotspot & Tethering.

4. Tap on Wi-Fi Hotspot or Mobile Hotspot to enable the personal hot spot.

If you’re not prompted to name the personal hot spot and create a password, tap Wi-Fi Hotspot or Mobile Hotspot once again.

5. Under the network name, the name of your phone that you can change, you’ll see Password. To share the hot spot on other devices or with friends or family, type in that password.

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6. On another device, such as a laptop, go to the Wi-Fi section and search for nearby networks. You’ll see the name you gave your phone. Tap to join it and type in the password. You’ll do this only once.

7. You may see other options on this page, such as Auto Hotspot, which lets you share the phone’s internet connection automatically with other devices you’ve approved in the past.

Again, expect some variations among Android devices. For example, to enable the personal hot spot on a Samsung Galaxy phone, select Settings | Connections | Mobile Hotspot and Tethering.

More tips to protect your data

“Cybercriminals like to target public Wi-Fi networks, so try to avoid them if possible,” says Michael Jabbara, vice president and global head of fraud services at Visa. “But if you have to use free public Wi-Fi, try running a VPN [virtual private network] and refrain from inputting personal information, such as passwords and usernames.”

Also recommended:

  • Disable auto-join on networks that are free and not password protected, such as an airport’s public Wi-Fi, so your device doesn’t inadvertently join a free hot spot without your knowledge. 
  • Update passwords to make them unique to each business you register with. 
  • Install good antivirus software and ensure it’s up to date. 
  • Opt for multifactor authentication if the app or website offers it.  

“Even if someone gains access to your credentials, they still won’t be able to access your accounts,” Sanchez-Rola says, because cybercriminals won’t receive the one-time code sent to your mobile device. Anyone else also has to have it to log in.

And make sure the website itself is secure, Jabbara says.

“When online shopping, always check the URL before entering payment details and be sure the URL begins with https. The ‘s’ confirms the site has a secure connection,” Jabbara says.

And one last piece of advice: Beware of email and phone phishing and smishing scams, such as one-day-only deals from brands that look real or delivery tracking emails that are fake.

This story, originally published March 29, 2021, has been updated to reflect smartphone operating system updates and other developments.

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