Updated: Mar 16
You're allowed to feel just a tiny bit smug about your iPhone because Apple has done an excellent job of protecting its mobile platform from the worst kinds of malware. But don't get too complacent. A VPN, or virtual private network, goes beyond malware protection by making it harder for advertisers, ISPs, and snoops to monitor your online activities.
It's true that modern cellular communication is thoroughly encrypted and not easily tapped without police-level tools like the Stingray device or data dumps from cell towers. That said, there are well-documented attacks that can intercept cell transmissions, and phoney cell towers may be a bigger problem than you think. There are also fake Wi-Fi networks that mimic networks your iPhone already trusts, enticing them to connect without your knowledge. You might see this attack in action—it's a staple of security researchers showing off their tricks.
The actual day-to-day problem is companies out for your data, and the best VPN for iPhone can save you from that. Advertisers track your movements across the web and can build up detailed records of your preferences that they can transmute into cash with the dark alchemy of targeted advertising. Facebook, Google, and other big-name companies have driven an industry built on hyper-specific ad targeting. Even your ISP can now aggregate and sell anonymized information.
Encryption and Location Spoofing
When your VPN is active, all your network traffic—whether from browsers, apps, or iOS itself—gets encrypted before it leaves your phone. This encrypted data travels to a server owned by the VPN company, where it's decrypted and sent on its way.
Encrypted web traffic isn't the only reason you need the best VPN for iPhone. With a direct, no-VPN connection to a website, your IP address not only identifies you to that site but also identifies your geographic location. However, when you're using a VPN, the IP address that others see is that of the VPN server you're connected with, not your own.
Beyond protecting your traffic, VPNs can also let you spoof your location and tunnel past local internet restrictions. Journalists and political activists working against repressive regimes have long relied on VPNs to communicate safely with the outside world. But, of course, you may be breaking local laws just by using a VPN.
Spoofing your location can also get around restrictions of another kind. It's not uncommon for online streaming services to offer content in one region but not another. For example, offerings from Netflix and Hulu differ by country. As a result, spoofing your location with a VPN can get you access to shows not usually available to you. But take care: Location spoofing may violate your terms of service. In addition, companies like Netflix are cracking down on VPN users. As a result, streaming is often not an option when your VPN runs.
It's also helpful to know what personal information the VPN collects and under what circumstances a VPN company will hand over that information to law enforcement.