How to configure VPN access on your iPhone or iPad

Connect to IKEv2, L2TP/IPSec, and Cisco IPSec VPNs in iOS

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While it's possible to get a VPN for free , most free services either put a draconian cap on bandwidth or serve up ads. Download one of those great apps, install it on your iOS device, and open it. Once you've connected with a hotspot, your iPhone's default behavior is to connect with that same hotspot automatically next time it comes in range. Fastest Mobile Networks A drag on download speed, on the other hand, will probably draw your attention. Don't forget to turn it off, especially if you're on a free, limited plan.

What is a VPN?

The Best VPN Apps for the iPhone

A virtual private network, or VPN, is a service that creates a direct connection from your computer to another network. Some businesses have an internal intranet that can only be accessed while you are on-location. A VPN can create a secure connection by rerouting the connection to that location. It is often used when logging onto a public Wi-Fi. It will redirect you to a different end-point so you won't be seen as using the public network. It is also regularly used to make an iPhone look like it is physically in a different location.

This is useful if you want to access regional services or content that isn't available in the country you are currently in. All you will need to get started with one of these services is to download the app onto your iPhone or iPad. You will need the setup information before you start, like the server, remote ID, username, and password. If you don't have this information, ask your system administrator or tech support for your company, or contact your VPN service for help. Download one of those great apps, install it on your iOS device, and open it.

After signing up or signing into your account, you'll be prompted to give permission to add a VPN configuration to your iPhone. Enter your passcode, or activate Touch ID. Once the VPN is enabled, you can select and connect it at any time without having to open the app again use the app to change location and adjust other settings.

PureVPN offers servers all over the world. The iPhone app helps you choose servers based on your purpose, and it scores well in our speed tests. However, its security add-ons didn't work in TorGuard's VPN service is among the most comprehensive in terms of server locations, and it earns decent scores in our speed tests. Its user interface could use an update, though. With affordable and flexible pricing, an attractive app, solid speed test performance, and advanced features, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited for iPhone has it all.

Golden Frog VyprVPN offers advanced features, a robust service, and a friendly interface, but it doesn't offer as many licenses per subscription as the competition. It does log more user info than most, though, and its reliance on virtual servers is concerning.

Microsoft keeps tightening up security, and the bad guys keep finding new holes. The same is true of Android, especially in countries that don't allow the official Play store. Apple developers baked security into iOS from day one, and they seem to be staying ahead of the bad guys.

A malware infestation on your iPhone is highly unlikely. However, the minute your data leaves the phone, headed for the internet, all bets are off. Unprotected web traffic can be snooped, sniffed, hacked, or modified. That's why you need to install a VPN, or virtual private network , on your iPhone, as well as all your other devices. It's true that modern cellular communication is thoroughly encrypted, not easily tapped unless you have access to police-level tools like the Stingray device, or data dumps from cell towers.

Oh, it's possible for bad actors to jam the secure 4G and 3G channels, forcing nearby phones to connect via insecure 2G to a briefcase-sized cell tower called a femtocell. In that scenario, the attacker has full access to all communication. But the likelihood you'll suffer such an attack is vanishingly small. The real problem is Wi-Fi.

When you connect to the free Wi-Fi at the public library, airport, coffee shop, grocery, or wherever, your security is in the hands of the hotspot owner. A crooked network owner can sift through all your communications, hoovering up credit card numbers, passwords, and more. Other users of a nonsecured network can also find ways to track your network traffic, if they're clever. Even your own ISP can now aggregate and sell nonpersonal information , thanks to the current administration's steady dismantling of online security.

It's a jungle out there! Once you've connected with a hotspot, your iPhone's default behavior is to connect with that same hotspot automatically next time it comes in range. However, there's no verification other than the SSID network name of the hotspot, and your iPhone broadcasts the names it's looking for. It's easy for bad guys to obtain a portable hotspot that listens for those broadcast queries and mimics every network name requested by nearby devices.

Note that the same dangers apply to that lightweight MacBook you're carrying around. When you're connected to Wi-Fi, you're vulnerable. Be sure to install a Mac VPN before you head for the coffee shop. When your VPN is active, all your network traffic, whether from browsers, apps, or iOS itself, gets encrypted before it leaves your phone.

This encrypted data stream travels to a server owned by the VPN company, where it's decrypted and sent on its way. Encrypted web traffic isn't the only reason you need a VPN. With a direct, no-VPN connection to a website, your IP address not only identifies you to that site, but it also identifies your geographic location. Ad-trackers, snoops, and government agencies can use that IP address to track what you do online.

The best VPN companies maintain servers all over the world. On one hand, that means that when you're traveling you can find a nearby server, and nearby typically means faster. On the other hand, you can spoof your location by choosing a server in a faraway country. Try doing that and visiting the Google website; you'll find that it comes up in the language of your apparent location.

Journalists embedded in repressive countries and political activists working against those repressive regimes have long relied on VPNs to communicate safely with the outside world. Of course, you may be breaking local laws just by using a VPN. For example, Russia has banned the use of VPNs , c laiming a need to block terrorist activities. China announced plans to block all VPN usage by February , a nd China's internet censors recently displayed their power by blocking use of the letter N.

It's not uncommon for online streaming services to offer content in one region, but not another. Offerings from Netflix and Hulu differ by country. Spoofing your location with a VPN can get you access to shows not normally available to you.

Location spoofing may violate your terms of service. In addition, companies like Netflix are cracking down on VPN users. More often than not, streaming isn't an option when your VPN is running. Despite Wi-Fi and cellular security issues, privacy concerns, and the other potential benefits of location spoofing, too few people protect themselves and their traffic with a VPN.

If you fall into that group, don't worry! We've got a whole feature on how to set up and use a VPN. The connection from your device to a VPN server is totally secure, but the same can't always be said of the connection from the VPN server to the website you're visiting. If it's a plain old HTTP website, the back-and-forth between the site and the VPN server isn't protected, and might conceivably be intercepted. While the data going to and from your VPN server is encrypted, using a VPN doesn't get you the level of anonymity obtained by connecting through the TOR network , nor the concomitant ability to dive into the scary depths of the Dark Web.

It's true that iPhone users have less to worry about when it comes to malware but don't get too complacent. However, you can still be duped by a phishing website into giving up your security credentials.

A few iPhone VPNs promise to strip out fraudulent sites, malicious sites, and in some cases advertising from the data stream that pours into your iPhone. Just don't rely too strongly on these, as in most cases they do the job using a simple blacklist. Phishing websites come and go ephemerally, and often vanish before they ever get blacklisted. One word about net neutrality: Yes, the Senate voted to save net neutrality , but the future is still uncertain. Without those rules in place, your ISP could require that you pay for plans to access services like Netflix or Twitter, or they could simply throttle the speeds of companies that don't pay extra for so-called "fast lanes.

If this is a major concern for you, calling your senators and representatives in the US Congress is the best thing you can do. Suppose your business involves shipping goods back and forth between City A and City B. If you add a requirement that they go off to City C for a security check in the middle of each run, the trip will naturally take longer.

The same is true when you stick a VPN server in the middle of your connection to a website. Things almost always take longer. We have observed a few exceptions, however. The fastest VPNs running on Windows make downloads faster, probably due to their own high-speed connections. It's as if the goods shipped from City C went via bullet train instead of slow freight. In our latest iPhone-based testing, just one product seemed to speed up the connection, though the rest didn't slow things as much as in previous testing.

Before starting our VPN speed tests, we disable the cellular data network by putting the phone in airplane mode and then enabling Wi-Fi. The cellular connection isn't as stable, and it's also much more difficult to attack than Wi-Fi, as mentioned earlier. For testing purposes, we use Ookla's internet speed test tool. We average a series of tests, discarding the lowest and highest results. Then we immediately enable the VPN, connecting to whatever it recommended as the fastest server, and repeat that test.

By comparing averages with and without the VPN active, we derive a score based on the percent change. Ping latency is the time it takes for your device to query a server and receive a response. If that query must go through the VPN, latency typically increases, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.

However, we measure latency in milliseconds. Unless you're playing a fast-paced online game where extra milliseconds of lag can get you fragged, you won't notice a modest increase in latency. A drag on download speed, on the other hand, will probably draw your attention. If downloading a new app takes twice as long, that's not good.

And slow download speeds can cause streaming videos to pause or stutter. Fortunately, few of the iPhone VPNs we've tested had a big impact on download speed. In fact, one of them actually sped up downloads in testing. When's the last time you uploaded a big file from your smartphone? Right, it's not a common activity. A drag on upload speed due to the VPN isn't likely to bother anybody. In truth, while all the iPhone VPNs we tested had some effect on upload speed, even the worst of them wasn't bad.

For this batch of reviews, we performed all the iPhone speed tests on exactly the same device and network, over the course of just two days, but that doesn't mean we'd get precisely the same results on a different day, nor that you would get the same results on another network. The extremes would probably remain extreme, but other results could well vary. In addition, for most people, speed shouldn't be the only factor in choosing a VPN.

A convenient interface, a wide selection of servers, useful advanced features—these are also important considerations. If you're using a service to route all your internet traffic through its servers, you have to be able to trust the provider. It's easier to trust companies that have been around a little longer, simply because their reputation is likely to be known. But companies and products can change quickly.

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