In this day and age, no one should need convincing that security, privacy, and anonymity online are virtues. Between data breaches, hackers, malicious state actors, companies dropping the ball on protecting your information – there’s no shortage of reasons to protect yourself.
Many of us take measures to protect our home networks, our laptop or desktop computers, and so forth. But few of us extend any kind of protection to our smartphones. What do you need to protect against on a smartphone? And how do you go about protecting a smartphone? A VPN might be the perfect option.
What are VPNs?
VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are services (usually paid subscription services) that offer clients and apps to users. With these clients or apps running, a user’s internet traffic routes through a “tunnel” to the VPN server.
The traffic is encrypted during this trip, and it bypasses any kind of government or ISP monitoring – they can’t decipher the traffic, and only see it going to the VPN server.
From there, the VPN decodes the traffic, assigns an outbound IP address from its pool, and passes the traffic on to the final destination server. The process runs in reverse for the response from the destination server, and gets it back to your system.
This mechanism offers several advantages over a regular internet connection without a VPN. For one thing, the encrypted traffic between yourself and the VPN server greatly decreases the ability of anyone to read or monitor your data.
At the same time, the anonymity of your IP address being obscured means destination server activities and traffic cannot be ostensibly linked to “you” by way of your real IP address. And, what’s more, VPN services have servers in a number of different countries, which allow you to spoof your location as being in one of those countries, thereby accessing geo-restricted content, or bypassing restrictions on content, that are based on country or region.
Why You Should Use a VPN on Your Phone
Of course, the reasons to use a VPN on a computer and your phone may be somewhat different, though the principles are the same. First, you gain security through the encrypted data tunnel. You gain anonymity through the IP address-obscuring function of the VPN server as an intermediary.
Any, you can gain access to geo-restricted content, like unblocking a different country’s version of Netflix, or bypassing censorship blacklists on certain sites and content.
For smartphones, one of the most important elements of using a VPN is the advantages you gain in protecting your connection and files from local threats, such as when on public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Because your traffic goes through an encrypted tunnel to the VPN server, you’re effectively shielded from local attacks on the same network or access point.
At the same time, many VPN service providers include robust security measures in their VPN apps for smartphones. These augment the native benefits of a VPN, by providing additional functions such as proactive Wi-Fi security, software firewalls, kill switches to keep
your information from leaking if your connection drops, connection monitoring, and other features.
The net result is you have a much more secure connection and experience with any internet-enabled services on your smartphone. Whether internet browsing, e-mail, or using an app or service, it’s far less likely that your data or connection will be compromised. You gain the anonymity to avoid government, ISP, or malicious actors from monitoring you, protection against simple hacking techniques, and the freedom to browse or use services you like without leaving digital traces that track back to you.
VPN Providers – Apps vs. No Apps
Most of the top VPN providers offer downloadable apps for smartphones, both iOS and Android-based, that take a lot of the work out of setting up your VPN on your smartphone. Almost all VPN providers require you sign up and pay for a subscription account in order to access their services.
You simply then download the appropriate app from their site or the Google Play app store, input your account information, and you’re good to go.
This certainly makes the VPN easy to use. It generally runs in the background and has a simple interface (varying from company to company, of course) that lets you change servers/locations, change basic settings, and monitor your connection.
Unfortunately, not every company that has a good VPN service also has an app for Android, or an app at all. You can still use these providers and their services on your Android smartphone, however, it just takes a bit more work to get things set up, as we’ll discuss below.
For more information on finding a suitable VPN provider, and whether or not they offer an app for Android devices, check out these VPN reviews. You can compare costs and features, as well as compatibility, before testing out VPN providers with a free trial or a paid subscription.
Setting Up a VPN on Your Phone with No App
For VPN providers who don’t provide an app, users will have to do a bit of manual setup to get the service to work on their Android phone. As long as the VPN service supports one of the connection protocols that Android uses (most do), either PPTP, L2TP, or IPSec, then there should be no issues. Just follow the guide below!
- Turn on or unlock your phone.
- Access the settings application.
- Find the section labeled “Wireless and Networks,” and choose the “More” option.
- Select “VPN.”
- In the upper right, you should see a plus icon, which is used to add a new VPN and associated information to your settings. Press it.
- Now, fill out the requested information for your VPN. This should all be readily available from the VPN provider, and their website documentation. Almost all have good guides to setting up their VPNs on iOS and Android phones, especially when they don’t provide an app.