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What is an iOS VPN?

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An iOS VPN is a software tool that you install on your iOS device which allows you to protect the valuable information and data that travels to and from the rest of the internet.

A standard connection on your cellular network or a local WiFi hotspot will use what’s known as an IP address to help the internet identify your device. This helps it do everything from helping to secure your banking login to presenting more annoying issues like blocking content streams when you’re in the wrong country, so while it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have your IP address public, it’s certainly not great either.

When you install a VPN on your iOS device it routes your traffic through a second intermediary server, which can be located almost anywhere in the world depending on the provider you choose. It also encrypts your traffic at the same time through what’s known as a “tunnel”, which prevents any hackers or malware distributors from being able to steal your information while it’s in transit.

This means that the next time Netflix or Google asks where you are in the world when you’re connecting from an iPhone or iPad, instead of showing your real information it will only display the IP you want it to. VPNs give you a greater level of control over your online identity and allow you to only show what you want to the apps and services who are trying to get into your data every day.

Why use an iOS VPN?

Whether you’re a longtime iOS user or the iPhone X will be your first foray into the Apple life, you’re probably like the millions of people around the world who think to themselves “Apple devices don’t need extra protection, right?”.

And if you looked at the statistics alone, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that either. According to the most recent annual threat report from AV-Test.org, Android alone accounts 85% of all mobile attacks while the number for iOS is so small it doesn’t even register as a fraction of a decimal point on the same scale.

So what’s the big deal then? Well it’s all about the transmission of your information, because even though iOS is about as tight as a drum on its own, the security levels of other websites, app domains, app servers, and even the WiFi hotspot in your home are where the problems really begin.  

In a recent study commissioned by White Hat Security, researchers found that upwards of 30 percent of applications on the iOS App Store communicated cookies without the necessary “Secure” flag, which meant they could pass to and from an iOS device without using the HTTPS channel. Not only that, it was found that another 19 percent of apps sent data to and from their own servers with no form of encryption at all, which poses a huge security risk for nearly a fifth of the entire iOS userbase.

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So what does this mean for iOS users?

Every device is vulnerable on bad Wi-Fi

When you browse the internet or use apps without the security of a VPN, anyone who happens to be listening on your local WiFi would not only be able to see that traffic, they’d also be able to decrypt the contents of that traffic and use it to scrape your vital details like a home address, your phone number, or even a social security or credit card number if they dug around long enough.

The biggest misconception that most people have about hackers is that all of their job is spent sitting behind a keyboard trying to create some super password-cracking code, maybe on a black screen with green text. In actuality, much of what a hacker does to get into an account or steal your identity involves something else known as “social engineering”. Social engineering relies on what the star of the hacking show Mr. Robot calls the biggest exploit of all: people.

Unlike passwords which can be encrypted (and therefore 100% protected from the eyes of a hacker), people themselves are fallible. They click on the wrong link, open the wrong attachment - or in the case of cafes and iOS devices - sign onto the wrong WiFi network.

Because people immediately expect there to be WiFi whenever they go to a coffee shop (I mean what civilized cafe doesn’t, am I right?), that expectation can be exploited by hackers who know how to use it to their advantage. By creating a dummy WiFi hotspot with a similar name to the WiFi at your cafe (Joes-Coffee-WiFi vs. JoesCoffee-WiFi, for example), they can fool unsuspecting people into signing over their information to a network that was made to spy on any data streams which pass through it.

That’s not all though. Packet sniffers are another popular tool that can yield huge results for hackers if they deploy it in a crowded enough place. Hackers use packet sniffers to launch what’s known as a “man-in-the-middle” attack, which basically skims all the information transmitted from your device to the cafe’s wireless router and back again.

The packet sniffer runs from the hacker’s computer (or more likely laptop, in this scenario), and silently scopes out the channels of traffic that are connecting to and from any given router. Although the process is probably a bit slow to capture anything meaningful from people who are in and out in five minutes or less, where hackers make their big money is the people who stick around. Those who like to make a day of going to the cafe, and may spend hours at a time browsing from their laptop or iPad.

If person signs into any online banking tools, social media, or enter more sensitive data like their home address or social security number during these browsing sessions, it may only take as long as your double latte takes to cool down before the hacker’s got your identity hijacked and all your accounts drained to the bone.

With the help of a VPN, you can 100% guarantee that none of your valuable information gets stolen while you try and decide between a croissant or a banana for breakfast. This is because every connection sent through VPN.com’s servers are protected by a 256-bit military grade layer of encryption, which essentially jumbles up all your data while it’s on your device and sends it on its merry way.

This completely disables any man-in-the-middle attacks in their tracks, rendering the effort useless and giving you the peace of mind to connect to any public WiFi hotspot without fear

Who needs an iOS VPN?

Everyone who owns an iOS device should be using a VPN. Even though the platform is considerably more secure than Android, that doesn’t mean it’s completely impenetrable and whenever you’re talking about the safety and security of your data online it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

To get specific, anyone who travels often or finds themselves racking up a lot of mobile data (and therefore hops around to any public WiFi they can get to try and save on their limits) should without a doubt be using a VPN for iOS. As we’ve already mentioned, even though Apple does a lot to secure its own platform, once your data leaves the device it’s up to the wireless router manufacturers to keep you safe from the hackers of the world and according to recent reports they’re not exactly suited to the task.

Similarly, anyone who handles sensitive information for work or enterprise purposes on their iOS device needs to have a VPN equipped with 256-bit AES encryption to guarantee that they keep their company’s data secure.

Finally, we know that iPads are a hit among kids and a VPN is one of the best ways you can sleep safe knowing that your child isn’t giving away identifying information on themselves to the rest of the internet. With a VPN installed on their favorite devices, you’ll know that no matter which sites they visit or what information they type in while you’re not looking, none of that data will end up in the wrong hands thanks to kids’ trademark inability to protect themselves on their own.

What does iOS do to protect connections on its own?

As we’ve already shown, when it comes to security and privacy it’s difficult to find a company more dedicated to both than Apple. Sure their Terms of Service on iTunes might be a little dodgy when it comes to how they use your music preference data when selling to advertisers, but from an encryption standpoint their flagship mobile operating system sets the gold standard in personal protection.

From iMessage to Safari Apple leads the way in incorporating advanced encryption techniques that are almost completely invisible to the average user, keeping them safe without over-complicating the issue at the same time. And to prevent us from over-complicating this article we’ll just link you to the company’s own explanation of how these systems work, but the long and short of it is that if you’re on an iOS device you can expect that much of your activity is already being protected in one form or another.

That said, all the protection you get ends where the iOS device connects to the internet. Sure your local files and messages are encrypted, but the second they’re off and into the world of the internet you can never be quite so sure where they’re going unless you have the guarantee of security that a VPN provides.

How does an iOS VPN work?

A VPN on iOS will work with the platform in one of two ways, either through a third-party application or via the native VPN option inside the iOS Settings app.

If you’re using a third-party application, once installed from the App Store and you’ve logged in using your subscribed credentials the app will put a layer of encryption on top of your cellular or WiFi-based connection.

This encryption works via a “tunnel” which re-routes your standard traffic path through an intermediary server to verify that both the sender and the receiver are the only two people in the equation who have access to the information contained inside.

Tunneling Protocols for iOS VPN

The native encryption methods available in the iOS Settings app are LT2P, IPSec, IKEv2 and OpenVPN.

iOS VPN Not Working?

Network limitations

iOS users in the United States who belong to the Sprint Network might notice reduced speeds while connected to their VPN using the mobile hotspot feature. This is because the company automatically diverts any encrypted mobile hotspot traffic over to their older 2G network, rather than the updated 4G LTE which maintains normal speeds.

Sprint hasn’t explained why this limitation exists nor have they announced any plans to lift the limitation in the future, but if you’re having issues in that specific instance this could be what’s causing it.

Expired account?

Unlike the Android app ecosystem with Google Play, Apple is much more strict about which apps can make it onto their app store and how well they should function before they’re allowed to go public for download. This means that for the most part nearly every iOS app works just the way it should, which is why one of the only other technical issues we could think of that you might run into is not being able to login.

This might happen because you’ve lost your password, but it’s also possible that your account has expired without you realizing it. To check if you’re still subscribed to your VPN service through your iOS account, navigate to Settings > iTunes & iCloud, and tap on your preferred email account.

From here you’ll be prompted for your iCloud password. Type this in and tap the Subscriptions button. If you don’t see the subscription to your VPN provider listed here, it may have not been set to renew or could have been accidentally canceled. Simply renew your subscription from here and you should be good to go!

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