Virtual private networks (VPNs) are direct connections that you can make between your computer or mobile device and another network. VPNs prevent people from tracking your activity. They create a secure tunnel, using an encrypted connection making your activity nearly impossible to see by third parties.

They are particularly useful for keeping your information private. Beyond that, many businesses prefer to use VPNs to protect company secrets and to make sure that information shared with employees remains secure.

There are a number of ways to get set up with a VPN. You can either set it up manually or use an app to handle the process for you. In this guide, we will walk you through both approaches for setting up a virtual private network using your iPhone.

Reasons to Access a VPN on Your iPhone

There are many reasons why you might wish to use a VPN. These can include preventing advertisers from tracking your activity when accessing the web. They help to protect business secrets. A VPN can also provide a method for getting online where public internet access is restricted, such as in countries where the public is restricted from accessing the totality of the internet and where much content becomes censored.

If you’re doing numerous financial transactions using the internet or are in a public place, such as an airport, you could be putting yourself at risk. Public Wi-Fi connections are, by nature, insecure. Anyone connected to these networks can steal the traffic that comes through the airwaves. It makes a lot of sense to ensure that all traffic you send back and forth across the internet is encrypted and, therefore, much more difficult for snoopy people and bad actors to take advantage of you.

You don’t even need to have a bulky laptop with you. You can make a connection directly to the devices that you already carry around with you in your pocket.

However, there are some drawbacks to using a VPN. First, it will slow down your connection speed.  Second, connections can drop at any time. Thirdly, some sites or locations use anti-VPN software. VPNs can also be somewhat complicated to configure if you’re not familiar with your device’s inner workings. However, that’s what this guide is for, so let’s get started.

What You Need to Get Started

Before you begin configuring your iPhone to run a VPN, you need to select either a VPN app or service. You’ll need to understand something about the different protocols involved to be able to select one that will best meet your needs.

Choose a VPN App or Service for iPhone

There are a wide array of different services you can use for getting set up with a VPN. Typically, if you’re working from home, your employer will provide you with a specific business VPN, and that is the one that you should use. They will maintain a secure method of communicating with you, and it’s up to them to select which method to use. However, there are many cases where you might need to choose an app on your own to handle the process.

Selecting a VPN Protocol

Before we begin, let’s cover the differences between different types of VPN protocols. VPN protocols specify exactly how data is to be tunneled between devices. They are all fairly solid methods but, as for which one to choose, you need to be able to assess your circumstances to determine which ones are the best to use for your purposes.

Here are the most common protocols used for iPhones:

  • Layer 2 tunnel protocol (L2TP)/internet protocol security (IPsec): L2TP was created to replace point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP). It does not come with any out-of-the-box security, so it often needs to be paired with IPsec for security, which makes it extremely secure. Its only real drawback is that, because it relies upon a single port, it is easily blocked.
  • OpenVPN: This is an open-source protocol that uses 256-bit encryption, 2048-bit RSA authentication, and a 160-bit SHA1 hashing algorithm. Because of this, it is one of the most secure you can find but also suffers from speed problems.
  • Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2): IKEv2 uses secure key exchange sessions, making sure that both ends of the VPN communication are well-verified with each other. It’s particularly good at re-establishing a link if there’s a connection loss. It’s good for working with both Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

It’s worth noting that not all of these services will work with an iPhone, but the others are quite common and all have excellent uses, depending on your individual needs.

Of course, this may all seem somewhat complicated. The easiest way of setting up a VPN is to use an app for this process. There are many services available for handling each of these protocols. Below is a brief selection of some of the best choices for these protocols. Of course, you can always read more in-depth to make a decision on the best VPN services.

VPN Protocol Best For Our Pick
L2TP/IPsec Where speed and security is of highest need, where the connections are known and not controversial IPVanish
OpenVPN If security is more important than speed. CyberGhost
IKEv2 Excellent choice for mobile networks CyberGhost

Connect to a VPN on iPhone: Step-by-Step Guide

Of course, some of you might prefer to go with the manual method. This has the advantage of giving you a more intimate understanding of how your iPhone works and may make it a little easier to troubleshoot any problems that occur in the future. For those who prefer to get their hands dirty,  dig around on an iPhone, and set up a VPN manually, this guide should help.

The first thing that needs to be done to begin configuring an iPhone for connecting to a VPN manually is to go to “Settings.”

iphone settings

After this, tap “General” and then find the “VPN” toggle and turn it on.

general settings

Next, add a VPN configuration. This can be done  by clicking on “Add VPN configuration.”

After this, you will need to tap “Type.”

Here is where you will be able to choose which type of VPN protocol, based on the information we chose above. Remember, different protocols have distinctive purposes, so you need to plan this out and choose wisely. With this device being an iPhone, your choices will be limited to IKEv2, IPsec, or L2TP.

Note: if you wish to use other protocols, such as OpenVPN, you will need to use an app as mentioned in the previous section. There are good reasons for doing so but, for now, you can pick one of the protocols listed here.

Of course, you can always change your mind regarding which protocol to use by clicking “Cancel” on the upper left-hand side of the screen.

At this point, you will need to enter all of your VPN settings information, depending on which machine to which you wish to connect.

Enter:

  • Server
  • Description
  • Remote ID

Then, you will be prompted to enter your authentication information. You can use your username and password or a certificate if this is a method you prefer to use.

If you’re using a proxy to connect to the internet, you need to enable it by clicking on “Manual” or “Auto,” depending on what your personal preferences are.

Then, tap “Done.”

Finally, go back to the “VPN Configurations,” and toggle the status switch so that it is on.

After you have finished using a specific VPN, you will need to go through the same steps as above to turn it off. Anytime you need to set up your VPN connection again, you have to go through the same process. After you do this several times, you will get used to the process, and you won’t need to use this guide. You will soon be switching between VPNs or turning them on and off like a pro.

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