When it comes to security, everyone is now a security expert. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been keeping a close eye on their digital footprints as never before. According to a 2020 Harris Poll, 71% of Americans are more concerned about security than they’ve ever been before. And it’s not just the number one issue on everyone’s minds—it’s also the top priority of nearly 40% of respondents.
If you’re reading this, I assume you’re either a cybersecurity professional or someone who owns, operates, or administers a network or security system.
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a tool that allows you to connect to a private network through a public one. A VPN can be configured on just about any device without needing specialized hardware or software.
It does this by using encryption to secure your connection and authentication to ensure that only authorized users can access the protected content or network.
In simpler terms, a VPN creates a secure tunnel through which all your online activity can be transmitted and accessed by multiple devices.
Why you need a VPN
To provide some context, let’s examine why you would ever need a VPN.
Firstly, if you’re accessing the Internet from a public place or an unsecure network, such as a coffee shop or airport WiFi, you need to be using a VPN to protect your personal information, credit card details, and other sensitive data. This is commonly referred to as ‘sensitive data’ and it would include things like login credentials, email addresses, and physical location (if you’re logging GPS coordinates, you’re going to need to ensure the person you’re communicating with is actually who they claim to be).
Secondly, you need to be using a VPN to access content – both online and on your mobile device – that you would normally not be able to access securely, due to its restricted geographic location or legal status, for example.
This content might be considered ‘legitimate’ or ‘authorized’ for your personal use, but it could also be malware or contain viruses which could contaminate your device or network. Using a VPN ensures you’re not exposing yourself to any such risks when using these services.
Even if the data you’re accessing is just for your own personal use, you might not want to put it all on the same device or in the same network, especially if they’re unsecure. For example, if one device is compromised, the entire network could be at risk.
In this case, you would want to keep your personal data separate from the rest by using a VPN.
How to take a VPN out of your iPhone settings
There are a few ways to remove a VPN from your iPhone—and the simplest methods are usually the ones you’ll want to use. (Of course, there’s always a ‘pro’ method for doing anything, but these are the easiest, most common ways things are done.)
If you’re running iOS 12 or later, you’ll find the VPN toggle in the Settings app. Simply switch it to OFF and you won’t have to worry about it again. (If you’re on an earlier version of iOS, you can use a third-party app to block the VPN or turn it off manually at any time you like.)
If you’re still using iOS 11 or 12, you can follow these steps to remove the VPN toggle from the Settings app. Open the Settings app on your iPhone and click on the ‘Privacy’ button to view all the settings. Find the section titled ‘Your VPN’ and click on the toggle to switch it to OFF. You can also set a passcode to prevent anyone else from accessing your VPN settings.
What else should you know about VPNs?
To further protect yourself on the Internet, you should know that no matter what type of VPN you use, there are a few things you should avoid. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind when using a VPN.
Always use a VPN with a dedicated IP
A ‘dedicated IP’ is a special IP address that is specifically assigned to you, and only you, by your VPN provider. It is not shared with any other user or device. Your dedicated IP address is what makes your VPN and your Internet traffic untraceable and unidentifiable. If you use a public WiFi hotspot, this address may be shared with other users and, in some cases, may be logged by the hotspot owner.
The best VPNs will assign you a dedicated IP address automatically, but if you use a third-party VPN that you downloaded from the App Store or Google Play, you’ll have to assign one manually. (You can always purchase a dedicated IP from your VPN provider directly, if this is a concern.)
Use a VPN that is designed for mobile
For the best possible speeds, you should use a VPN that is specifically designed for mobile. When you are connected to an unsecure WiFi network, such as at a coffee shop or airport, the encryption required to provide secure connections slows down your Internet connection dramatically. (This is why you should generally avoid using WiFi at busy locations or places with a lot of people around—they might see what you’re doing and judge you by it.)
The great thing about VPNs is that they are extremely easy to use. Even if you have never configured a VPN before, you will immediately be able to use public WiFi safely and privately.
If you do end up connecting to an unsecure network, such as a coffee shop or airport WiFi, simply disconnect from the network and reconnect using the VPN. Your traffic will then be encrypted and secure, preventing others from snooping on your activities or stealing your personal information.
VPNs can also help to protect your physical location. If you’re in London, but browsing from New York, the location of your VPN will determine where you actually are. If you use a free VPN that does not require registration, you can ensure the location of your IP is that of a user in England, thus masking your true physical location. (This is important if you’re located in one of the locations that the United Kingdom government has legally sealed off to non-residents.)
Use a VPN that is compatible with your router’s firmware
All your Internet-connected devices – including your phone – need to be compatible with your router’s firmware in order to connect to it. You can check the firmware of your router to see if it’s compatible with all the VPNs you’ve tried, or if it only supports a select few. (Make sure to update your firmware to the latest version for the best connection speeds.)
If you’re not sure which router to buy or which firmware to update, it’s best to ask your Internet provider for guidance. They will be able to tell you which model they support and can help you find the best possible solution for your needs.
Use a VPN that is free
There are numerous reasons why you might want to use a VPN free. Maybe you want to try out the service to see how it works or to see if it’s worth paying for. Maybe you want to do some research on a particular topic and you don’t want to pay for the data you need. Maybe you want to do some ‘white-hat’ hacking and you don’t want to use a paid service. (This last one is particularly interesting for journalists and bloggers, as it allows you to access sources and facts that you might not otherwise be able to.)
Whatever your reason for wanting to try out a VPN free, make sure to be safe and to take advantage of all the features that the service has to offer. If you’re worried about your personal information, you can set up a profile with a fake name and email address. (Remember: your VPN is completely separate from your Internet connection and no one will ever know you’re using it unless you tell them. If you’re feeling extra creative, you can even set up a WiFi password that nobody will be able to guess.)
Once you’ve tried out a free VPN and found it to your liking, you should consider upgrading to a premium plan as it’s the only way you can get the benefits of a VPN. However, if you use a public WiFi hotspot, make sure you’ve secured it with a VPN.
If you’re a business owner or an information professional, you might also want to consider subscribing to a VPN that offers a business plan. This is a great way to protect all of your company’s sensitive data and ensure your employees can get to work safely and securely when they’re out of the office.