Best VPNs for iPhone of 2022
Why should you get a VPN for your iPhone?
You’re allowed to get a little conceited about your iPhone, because Apple has already done a good job protecting its mobile platform from the worst kind of malware. But don’t be too arrogant. A VPN or Virtual Private Network bypasses malware protection by making it more difficult for advertisers, ISPs, and hackers to monitor your online activities.
It is true that modern cellular communications are fully encrypted and cannot be easily exploited without police-level tools such as the Stingray or data dumps from cell towers. However, there are well-documented attacks that can intercept cell transmissions and fake cell towers could be a bigger problem than you think. There are also fake Wi-Fi networks that mimic networks your iPhone already trusts, prompting them to connect without your knowledge. We’ve seen this attack in action – it’s a staple of security researchers’ showcasing their tricks.
The real daily problem is companies going out for your data. Advertisers track your movements across the web and can create detailed records of your preferences that they can monetize using the dark chemistry of targeted advertising. Facebook, Google, and other big-name companies have led an industry built on highly specific ad targeting. Even your ISP can now collect and sell anonymous information.
Encryption and Site Spoofing
When your VPN is active, all network traffic — whether from browsers, apps, or iOS itself — is encrypted before it leaves your phone. This encrypted data travels to a server owned by the VPN company, where it is decrypted and sent on its way.
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Encrypted web traffic is not the only reason why you need a VPN. With a direct connection without a VPN to a website, your IP address not only identifies you to that website but also identifies your geographic location. When you use a VPN, the IP address others see is the VPN server you are connecting to, not your own server.
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In addition to protecting your traffic, VPNs can also let you spoof your location and bypass local internet restrictions. Journalists and political activists working against repressive regimes have long relied on VPNs to communicate securely with the outside world. Of course, you may have just broken local laws by using a VPN. For example, Russia has banned the use of VPNs, citing the need to prevent terrorist activities. China has also banned most VPNs, although some are still able to connect.
Spoofing your location can also get around restrictions of another kind. It is not uncommon for online streaming services to offer content in one region, but not in another. Shows from Netflix and Hulu vary by country. The British can watch BBC programming for free, while the same shows require a subscription in the US. Spoofing your location with a VPN can enable you to access offers that are not normally available to you. But be aware: Site plagiarism may violate your Terms of Service. Additionally, companies like Netflix are cracking down on VPN users. Streaming is often not an option when your VPN is on.
What can’t iPhone VPN do
The widespread adoption of HTTPS means that most of your traffic is already encrypted. This makes it more difficult for anyone snooping on your activity to see beyond the websites you visit, but your ISP still has great insight into your online activities and there is a benefit in masking your IP address with a VPN. We still believe that there are privacy benefits to using a VPN, but it is important to avoid relying on fear, uncertainty, and doubt to make decisions. Not using a VPN does not necessarily make you a duck.
But using a VPN doesn’t make you invincible either. We highly recommend enabling where possible, creating unique logins with a password manager, and using antivirus software (although this may make less sense on an iPhone). We also recommend enabling multi-factor authentication wherever it is, as this is the best way to prevent bad guys from accessing your accounts.
Although a VPN makes it difficult to track you online, advertisers have many tricks to collect data about your activities. A VPN alone won’t hamper tactics like browser fingerprinting. Your mobile browser’s privacy settings can also go a long way toward keeping advertisers ignoring your activities. For desktops, we highly recommend using a tracking blocker like EFF’s Privacy Badger.
While the data traveling to and from your VPN server is encrypted, using a VPN does not give you the level of anonymity you get by connecting through the TOR network, nor the attendant ability to dive into the frightening depths of the dark web. On the plus side, some VPN services include TOR-specific servers as an option.
Does using a VPN slow down your internet connection?
The short answer is yes, a VPN will almost certainly increase your internet connection latency and reduce your upload and download speeds. As per anecdotal evidence, it appears that already limited mobile speeds are particularly negatively affected by VPNs. We’ve also noticed, but not confirmed through testing, that VPNs drop and reconnect more frequently with mobile devices than with desktop devices.
To get a sense of the potential impact of a VPN on your Internet connection, we compare results from a series of Ookla speed tests with and without an active VPN. Network speeds can vary greatly depending on the time of day, network conditions, and where you happen to be at that time, so we consider our results a snapshot for comparison rather than the final judgment on service performance.
(Editors’ note: Speedtest by Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, publisher of PCMag.)
We measure speeds on the PCMag Labs network using the Windows desktop. Prior to 2021, we tested VPN products back-to-back, but COVID-19 restrictions limited our ability to test VPNs in PCMag Labs. We are now using a rolling model and will release new results throughout the year. The latest data is in the chart below.
We rely on a Windows desktop and wired connection to test because we found it more reliable than testing on individual mobile devices. But as we said above, there seem to be at least some unique issues with VPNs on mobile. Also, not all VPN providers use the same protocol on every platform, which may affect performance.
Can you trust your VPN service?
If you are using a service to route all your internet traffic through its servers, you should be able to trust the provider. We are not experts in cryptography, so we cannot verify all encryption claims made by crypto providers. Instead, we pay special attention to the privacy practices of VPN companies and not just the technology they provide. In our testing, we read the privacy policies and discussed the company’s practices with VPN service representatives. What we are looking for is a commitment to protect user information, and to take a hands-off approach to the collection of user data.
As part of our research, we also make sure to know where the company is located and under what legal framework it operates. Some countries don’t have data retention laws, which makes it easy to fulfill the “we keep no logs” promise. It is also useful to know what personal information the VPN collects and under what circumstances the VPN company will hand this information over to law enforcement authorities.
We also loved seeing the policy backed up by some verifiable efforts. Transparency reports and audits are imperfect tools, but we prefer services that have made an effort to at least try to prove their value to the public.
VPN Features & Extras
The features to look for in a VPN depends on how you intend to use it. If you’ve never traveled abroad and don’t feel the need to pretend you’re browsing from Amsterdam, the most important features for you are a convenient interface and a large selection of servers in the US. Conversely, if you are roaming and need a secure connection from almost anywhere, you will look for a VPN provider whose server locations cover all continents.
It’s easy to overlook the protocol a VPN service uses to make its secure connection. There are several protocols available to protect the VPN connection, and our favorites at PCMag are OpenVPN and newcomer WireGuard. Both are open source protocol, so many experts have checked its security. For a long time, few iPhone VPNs offered OpenVPN because Apple required additional auditing for any app that included it. If OpenVPN isn’t available, IKEv2 is a solid, modern option.
Finally, there is the success factor. While it is possible to get a VPN for free, the best free services do carry some restrictions, such as a strict bandwidth cap. The average paid subscription price among the services we evaluated is around $10 per month. These typically offer five simultaneous connections, which would cover most individuals and some families. If the service you are looking for costs a lot more or offers a lot less, it is important to make sure that it justifies its value in some other way.
Get the right iPhone VPN
Using a VPN is not about protecting your device; It’s about protecting your privacy and your network connections. This means that any type of device can take advantage of a VPN, which makes it a hugely versatile tool in your privacy toolkit. Read our reviews, check our reviews and choose the best VPN for you. Once you’ve chosen a service, be sure to read our guide on how to set up and use a VPN.
(Editors’ note: While they may not all appear in this story, Encrypt.me, IPVanish, and StrongVPN are owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company.)