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What Is a VPN on iPhones? Why You Need It, How To Enable It

Private Relay won’t solve all of your privacy problems, but an iPhone VPN can fortify your entire online experience. But that’s not all it can do.

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      Does Apple Provide a VPN?

      A virtual private network (VPN) makes browsing safer by hiding your online identity, data, and traffic. But a VPN on iPhones goes beyond privacy to offer other benefits such as access to high-speed streaming — without hefting premium subscription costs.

      Since a VPN relies on additional device resources to encrypt and decrypt data, it can overburden your phone’s battery and processor. This is where disconnecting from the VPN when not in use (or a more efficient VPN protocol) can help.

      If you have iCloud Private Relay as part of your Apple subscription, neither Apple nor a network provider can access both your location and browsing history. While Private Relay protects your privacy on Safari, its limited functionality disqualifies it as a full VPN substitute. 

      While an iPhone VPN won’t solve all of your privacy problems, it can fortify your entire online experience. But that’s not all it can do.


      What Is a VPN On iPhones?

      A virtual private network or VPN on an iPhones cloaks your IP address, location, device identifiers, and other online activity by encrypting your internet traffic. With a VPN, you can protect your online privacy, bypass internet censorship, and access geo-restricted content.

      This added privacy helps iPhone users browse, shop, bank, and communicate with greater security around their personal data — and more control over the content that they share and access while on their devices. 

      Anytime you connect to public Wi-Fi, like at a coffee shop, your privacy and data are at risk. Hackers snooping on unsecured networks watch you while you’re shopping or banking online. Should such malicious actors ambush your traffic, you could become a victim of identity theft. 

      Here’s how a VPN works:

      • Your VPN provider offers hundreds of potential servers located around the world. The VPN hooks you to one of these servers using a secure encrypted connection.
      • This VPN tunnel encrypts and scrambles your data traffic, rendering it indecipherable to your internet service provider (ISP). 
      • Your data travels from your device through the tunnel to the remote VPN servers, where it gets decrypted. 
      • The VPN server then sends the data to the website you want to connect with, where it arrives in its unencrypted form. 
      • Because of the encryption and IP masking used with a VPN connection, hackers can't make a beeline between your traffic and actual IP address.

      With a VPN on your iPhone, you have additional protection against prying eyes and identity thieves. But you should be aware that VPNs do not make you completely anonymous.

      Take action: Aura's advanced encryption technology and lightning-fast servers ensure a seamless, secure browsing experience no matter where you are. Try Aura’s VPN today

      What does a VPN hide (and from whom)?

      • IP address. By masking your IP, a VPN stops advertisers, hackers, and government entities from tracking your online activity. 
      • Geolocation. The VPN disguises your location to make it seem like your internet traffic originates from the location of the VPN server.
      • Downloads. As VPNs hide your IP address, all your downloaded files are encrypted. However, VPN hosts may have automations that detect illicit activity — such as downloading copyrighted material — and can resort to terminating your account.
      • Some search history. It’s almost impossible for governmental entities or cybercriminals to see your browsing habits. Your default web browser will still see your online searches and record cookies where you browse online.
      • Data-intensive activities. Streaming and gaming consume a lot of data, which impinges your network. You can use a VPN to stop your ISP from throttling the bandwidth (more below), leaving you free to enjoy data-heavy activities. 
      • Personal data. VPNs can’t replace antivirus software and, thus, your exposure to malware or other social engineering attacks. It does however, prevent third parties from accessing any content you enter on websites while using the VPN.
      • VPN activity. Many governments and paid content providers try to block VPN traffic. VPN hosts with strong obfuscation methods can cloak your internet traffic source, so providers can’t detect that you are using a VPN.

      ⛳️ Related: [Solved] How To Check For Viruses on An iPhone

      What does a VPN not hide?

      • Cookie information (especially tracking cookies). A VPN does not change the cookies that are stored on your devices. Even if you use a VPN to change your IP address, some websites will recognize you and your real location because of the cookies from your previous visits.
      • Your account activity. Once you log in to registered accounts, the platforms can see what you do on their websites or apps. Although your spoofed location gives you some anonymity, anything you do on a specific account will be visible and recorded.
      • Your device from online threats, viruses, and infections. If you click on a phishing link or download ransomware, your VPN won’t help. For real-time scans of every new file added to your device, consider using Aura’s antivirus.
      • Your entire online identity. What you share on the internet helps others piece together a profile of you — from images to social media content to fingerprint IDs. Remember that a VPN will not give you complete anonymity if you have an unrestrained online footprint

      ⛳️ Related: Is Roblox Safe For Kids? 2023 Guide For Parents

      Is a VPN Better Than the Tor Browser?

      If a VPN uses intermediary servers operated by the VPN provider itself, Tor (The Onion Router) uses a random sequence of servers that are volunteer-run. 

      This innately makes a VPN faster (and more expensive to maintain) than Tor. ISPs can also recognize Tor activity because its traffic passed through public Tor entry and exit relays.

      And if a VPN prioritizes privacy, Tor promotes free and anonymous internet usage. Needless to say, malicious online actors who want to obfuscate their identities rely on Tor over a VPN. A vast majority of the Dark Web — including illicit marketplaces, for example — is only accessible using the Tor browser. 

      A VPN is a better alternative if you simply want to access location-blocked content or public Wi-Fi. ISPs can sometimes throttle internet speeds while you attempt to stream videos or torrent. Network congestion or billing cycle limitations could spur this throttling. The workaround is to use a VPN to mask your connection.

      ⛳️ Related: Pros and Cons of Using a VPN – Do You Need One?

      Do You Need a VPN on Your iPhone?

      So long as your iPhone isn’t jailbroken, it offers fairly robust malware protection. This is because jailbroken iPhones allow you to download apps from third-party app stores and not just Apple’s App Store. 

      Malicious apps can contain malware that can then commandeer your device and steal personal information. So while an iPhone may be more secure than Android devices, you’re still vulnerable on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. A VPN on your iPhone can:

      1. Increase safety on public Wi-Fi networks

      You already know that a VPN encrypts all data between your device and its servers. Even if you use an unsecured public network, your data remains safe. 

      By comparison, Apple’s iCloud Private Relay only protects your Safari browser traffic. So, you’ll still be at risk of phishing attacks on unprotected Wi-Fi hotspots.

      ⛳️ Related: Does a VPN Protect You From Hackers?

      2. Prevent IP-based tracking

      Your city, zip code, associated area code, and device identifiers are mostly what an IP address can give away. Without a VPN, any website or app and your ISP can record your IP address. 

      This numeric tag on its own is not personally identifiable information (PII) and can’t be used to impersonate you. But a data breach at your ISP, for example, could potentially reveal more information about you.

      3. Help avoid price discrimination when shopping online

      Advertising companies use tracking cookies and data analytics to tailor offers, prices, and content to you. Since a VPN lets you choose your geolocation, you could circumvent any location-based price discrimination. 

      Private Relay on the other hand, only lets you choose a broader location for your IP address within your country and time zone.

      4. Stop speed throttling

      In 2022, the state of California won a legal battle to successfully uphold its net neutrality law — preventing providers from blocking or throttling web traffic to encourage paid subscriptions [*]. 

      While this landmark victory is great for California, throttling remains an issue elsewhere. If you watch content from other states or countries, a VPN enables gaming and streaming at higher speeds.

      ⛳️ Related: Is Discord Safe for Kids? A Quickstart Guide for Parents

      5. Facilitate location-agnostic streaming

      Streaming platforms like Netflix use geo-blocking technology to restrict access to content based on a user's physical location. Such restrictions help streaming companies honor copyright agreements.

      A good VPN can circumvent geofenced content, allowing you to watch your favorite shows or sports from anywhere. However, some countries have tougher defenses. The Chinese government and the Great Firewall of China for example, do not outlaw VPNs but require hosts to relinquish user data [*].

      6. Help access blocked websites

      Some employers may enforce website-blocking policies to reduce workplace distractions and security risks. Examples of blocked content can include not suitable for work (NSFW) websites, online gaming, video streaming, social media, and dating sites. Although not recommended, a VPN can help unblock these sites.

      ⛳️ Related: How To Block Websites on iPhones and iPads [4 Ways]

      7. Prevent ISPs from selling your browser history

      ISPs in the United States can sell your data, and have been doing so since 2017 [*]. Websites and apps that you use, alongside how much time you spend on them, can all  be monitored, logged, and sold. This harvested browsing data is especially valuable for advertisers that want to target you.

      A VPN makes it much harder for ISPs to understand your internet use, so it's less likely that your personal data and internet history will be sold online.

      ⛳️ Related: 12 Reasons Why You Should Be Using a VPN

      How to Choose Your VPN Provider

      Now that you know what a VPN on iPhones offers, you will want to pick the right one. Here are nine things to consider when choosing a VPN.

      Connection security

      The stability and security of VPN services are determined by rulesets known as VPN protocols. There are six main VPN protocols: OpenVPN, PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, IPSec, SSTP, and WireGuard [*]. These protocols determine how a VPN establishes a secure connection online. 

      VPN encryption, on the other hand, defines how your data is encoded as ciphers carry out the encryption. Aura’s VPN uses military-grade encryption — specifically AES-128 to transmit data.

      ⛳️ Related: The 10 Latest VPN Scams (Read Before Buying!)

      VPN data logs

      Most VPNs maintain some type of a log to track the time spent on the VPN. This is more commonly seen with VPNs that impose a cap per user per month. Before you make a purchase, do your due diligence about what logs are maintained and what they will be used for.

      Subscription-based VPNs vs. free VPNs

      A free VPN usually comes with ads, slower speeds, and limited features. The company might also sell its user data. A paid service should offer advanced features, better security and privacy policies, and reliable customer support.

      ⛳️ Related: Free VPN vs. Paid VPN — What's The Difference?

      Connection speeds

      The encryption in VPNs, a server’s bandwidth capacity, and the distance between you and the server location can slow down your internet connection. 

      The best VPNs have fast servers which help negate this problem. Test a few VPNs on a free trial to see how their servers perform for your needs. Aura’s 14-day free trial also includes its easy-to-use VPN. Start your free trial today

      Server numbers (and their proximity)

      In general, a VPN with more (quality) servers is likely more reliable. Review the complete list of VPN servers from each provider and their server locations. If the VPN you’re looking to purchase has high-performance servers near you, you may only experience negligible speed drops and buffering.

      ⛳️ Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your IP Address? (10 Risks)

      Usage limits

      We’re all used to unlimited data and uninterrupted browsing — but these conveniences aren’t guaranteed with every VPN. Some services have data limits that could cause frustrating delays or error messages when you try to use them. Other free VPN services may use third-party servers that can further impede speeds.

      Device compatibility

      Cross-device compatibility ensures that your online security remains intact as you travel from device to device. 52% respondents in a 2022 study reported using a VPN on their iOS devices (iPhone and iPads) [*]. Desktop users were few and far between with only 3% using a VPN on MacOS devices.


      Additional features

      Before you pay for a VPN, check its website to see what additional features the service offers. It’s optimal to have features such as ad blocking, anti-malware to protect against phishing, and a zero-logs policy.

      Other important features to look for include a kill switch and split tunneling. The former disconnects devices from the internet should there be an outage, while the latter divides traffic between your VPN and open network.

      ⛳️ Related: How To Get Rid of Viruses on iPhones and iPads

      Free trials

      The average monthly cost for VPNs like ExpressVPN and NordVPN hover around $12. Aura’s individual digital safety plan starts at $12 per month and includes antivirus software, password manager, email aliases and much more, on top of a VPN.

      Since free-forever services come with their own disadvantages, testing paid VPNs using a free trial is helpful before committing to multi-year plans. Sign up for your Aura free trial today

      Setting Up a VPN on Your iPhone

      Before configuring a VPN on your iPhone, ensure that you have the latest iOS version. To check your operating system version, navigate to iPhone Settings and select General and then About

      If there is a pending update available, download it before following the instructions below.

      1. Download your choice of VPN app. Search the App Store to find the VPN you want, and tap Install to get the app on your device.   
      2. Set up your account. Once the download is complete, open the VPN iOS app and follow all prompts to create your new account. 
      3. Add a VPN configuration. A pop-up will ask you if you wish to get the VPN automatically configured on your iPhone. Tap Allow. The VPN app will complete the setup and activate the VPN.
      4. Enter your passcode. You can use a code, Face ID, or fingerprint ID to access the app or make changes to your settings. 
      5. Connect to a VPN server. For optimal performance, select a server that's geographically closest to you. Once you choose a server, tap the Connect button (which often looks like a computer power button).
      6. Monitor VPN usage. The VPN will remain active unless you disconnect from the server or uninstall the app. Remember to turn it off when idle to avoid draining your battery or data if you’re on a limited plan.

      Instructions for a manual setup

      If you need to connect to a private VPN at your workplace or school, you might have to manually configure the VPN settings before it works on your iPhone. 

      Here’s what to do:

      1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
      2. Navigate to General > VPN > Add VPN Configuration > Type.
      3. Select the type of VPN protocol that you’d like to use. 
      4. Enter the Description, Remote ID, and Server for your VPN.  
      5. Follow up with your username and password.  
      6. Choose between Manual and Auto to enable the proxy server (if you’re using one) and then tap Done.
      Take action: Every Aura plan comes with a fully featured 14-day free trial — giving you access to all feature you would enjoy as a full-time member. Start your free trial today

      Keep Your Internet Activity Private. Aura Can Help.

      Even the best iPhones are not immune from the online dangers that can needle your privacy. Whether you’re using public Wi-Fi or streaming online, VPNs present a firm stumbling block for scammers.

      Having said that, a VPN shouldn’t be your sole online defense against ill-intentioned internet strangers. Aura’s online safety solution includes 24/7 Dark Web monitoring, robust identity theft protection and insurance coverage, and advanced security tools including a VPN and antivirus.

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