How to Set Up a VPN on Your Phone

Many people are turning to their mobile phones to access the Internet these days. Not only are they more convenient than a laptop or a desktop computer, thanks to the small form factor, but they’re also more private. After all, nobody but you and the person on the other end of the line can listen in on your phone conversation.

While there are apps that offer secure shell access and encrypted connections natively within the Android and iOS platforms, setting up a VPN on your mobile device isn’t as straightforward as plugging in a cable and logging on to a Wi-Fi network. Here’s how to get started.

Why You Need A VPN On Your Phone

Whether you prefer to keep your personal data private or just want to keep out of the reach of corporate snoopers, you’ll likely agree that protecting your Internet connection is a good idea. When you’re online, you’re vulnerable to hackers and government spies who could potentially track you or steal your personal data.

Since the threat of losing your personal data is a very real possibility, using a VPN to secure your network connection when you’re online is a necessity.

If you’d like to learn more, Forbes wrote an excellent article summarizing the different types of VPNs and what you should look for in a provider.

Setting Up A VPN On Your Phone

To set up a VPN on your phone, you’ll need to do a little bit of research first to know what kind of VPN is best suited for your needs. Then, you can begin the process of installing the app that will allow you to connect to a VPN server. In this section, we’ll discuss what you should know about VPNs before you begin the process of installing the app.

Types Of VPNs

VPNs are broad categories of network security technology that are commonly used to encrypt and secure data while it’s being transferred over a network. There are two broad classes of VPNs–IPsec VPNs and L2TP/IPVPNs. You’ll typically need to install and use both, but you can have a server in the middle that supports only one of them.

An IPSec VPN, also known as a IKE (Internet Key Exchange) VPN or a ‘secure’ VPN, uses Security Associations (SAs) to establish a secure connection between you and the server. IPSec VPNs are typically faster than their L2TP/IPVPN counterparts, as they don’t have to negotiate with each other on a one-by-one basis to establish a secure connection. However, they are more complex to set up. In addition, IKE VPNs are not compatible with all routers and devices. Lastly, IKE VPNs require a steady internet connection to function properly. If you’re looking for a free VPN that you can use on any device, an IKE VPN may be your best bet.

An L2TP/IPVPN, or a “regular” VPN, only needs to have a pair of cryptographic keys (one client and one server) to function. The keys are generated and exchanged during the process of connecting to the VPN server. Once a connection is established, you can start using the service as usual. The L2TP/IPVPN protocol is compatible with many different devices and does not require as much maintenance as an IPSec VPN. In addition, L2TP/IPVPNs are much easier to set up, as all you need is a pair of smartphones or tablets to have a working connection.

Security Assurances

Just because a VPN is ‘secure’ does not mean that it’s completely safe to use. If you’re truly worried about your personal data, you should look for a VPN that offers additional security assurances (aka, ‘fortress’ VPNs). Typically, these types of VPNs will encrypt your data twice, both at the point of collection and then again at the point of transmission. The first encryption ensures that your data is secure while it’s being stored on the server. The second one, called perfect forward secrecy, prevents anyone listening in on your connection from decrypting the data should they gain access to the encryption key. While this might seem like a hassle to you, at least you’ll feel more secure knowing that your data is protected twice. Some VPNs might also offer additional security features, like a kill switch that will terminate your connection if the device is ever compromised. In case you’re wondering, a VPN with a kill switch is pretty much a best practice these days.

Features You Need

Apart from the type of VPN you’ll need to choose and the level of security you’re after, you’ll also want to look for a VPN that has all the features you need. When choosing a VPN, make sure you consider the various types of connections you’ll have access to (eg, mobile data, Wi-Fi, etc), the number of devices you’ll have connected to the VPN (eg, mobile, tablet, laptop, etc), and the type of content you’ll be accessing while connected to the VPN (eg, streaming Netflix, downloading large files, etc). When it comes to security, make sure you’re aware of how many security holes are in the default Android and iOS software (eg, Heartbleed in 2014, etc). Remember, any default software contains vulnerabilities that could be exploited by a skilled hacker. Having more holes than software patches means your data is more likely to be breached. Lastly, make sure you’re aware of any known bugs in the app before you download it. You could potentially end up with a faulty product that won’t allow you to connect to a VPN. As you can see, features and security go hand-in-hand. The more features a VPN has, the safer it generally is. Since most people use their phones online these days (and hence the importance of protecting your mobile connection), most VPNs focus on what’s important to you–features and security.

The Best VPN For Your Phone

Now that you know what kinds of VPNs are available and how to set them up, it’s time to choose the best one for your phone. In order to do this, you’ll want to know what you need in terms of security and features. Once you know that, it’s just a matter of choosing an app that supports the type of VPN you need and has all the features you require. With that, let’s have a look at some of the best VPNs for Android and iOS devices.

OpenVPN For Android

If you have an Android device, you can opt for the OpenVPN app, which is one of the most popular choices among users. OpenVPN is a very secure and popular VPN provider that was established in 2001 and is based in Switzerland. The company was established by “security, privacy, and free expression activists” who wanted to provide a safe space for people around the world to connect. It’s most famous for having one of the largest VPN networks in existence.

Apart from providing a safe space for users to connect, OpenVPN is also a great choice for people who want additional security assurances. Not only does the app support OpenVPN’s secure AES-256 cipher, but it also has a built-in VPN client that will encrypt all your traffic as you go online. This means that even if your device is not connected to a VPN at the time (which you must have the app configured to do), your data will still be encrypted as it travels to its final destination. This is crucial as it means even if somebody were to intercept your data while it’s being sent (which is a major security risk), they would not be able to read it without the decryption key. Unfortunately, OpenVPN can be somewhat tricky to set up–especially if you’re a beginner. To begin with, you’ll need to know how to connect to a VPN server, which you can learn from the manual. Once that’s done, you can begin configuring the app.

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