Do I need to download a VPN app for my iPhone?

iphone vpn
(Image credit: Primakov /

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are increasingly becoming a common part of the digital world - and that includes on your Apple iPhone. The best VPNs allow you to keep your data safe, access blocked websites, watch the latest TV shows wherever you are in the world and more.

You can find plenty of the best iPhone VPN apps available in the App Store. But do you actually really need one? 

Plug those iOS encryption loopholes

The first thing everybody knows about Apple products is that they're basically invincible to data hacking, right?

Well, not quite. If you have any iPhone model that was manufactured from 2014 onwards (i.e. one that runs iOS 8 or later), your device has “always-on” encryption. This means if someone steals the device while it’s still locked, it’s extremely difficult for bad actors to access any data on the phone without the correct passcode. 

Apple also carefully reviews any apps contributed by developers for the iOS App Store. As their experts carefully review the code and by default apps can only be installed through the Apple app store, this makes it very unlikely that malicious apps can harm your device. 

However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily impenetrable and that your data is always safe. In fact, Apple has been known to provide third-party developers with access to certain data. 

And although Apple has tried to insist that all iOS developers use end to end encryption in their programs, reports in 2019 suggest  that 68% of developers still aren’t doing this in their apps. 

Using end to encryption means the keys used to encrypt a conversation or other type of web session never leave your device. This is the basis of the Signal Protocol, on which Signal Messenger is based for instance, meaning even the developers themselves or anyone with access to their servers can’t read your messages or spy on video calls. The data is encrypted, so cannot be read by anyone except the person with whom you’re communicating. 

Apple’s policy of using end-to-end encryption also doesn’t extend to web browsing. You can use it to protect passwords, things saved on your device and data sent to Apple’s server but not to protect your traffic when accessing other websites. .

So using an iPhone VPN app from a top provider like ExpressVPN or NordVPN will certainly add an extra layer of security to your iPhone. 

When you use a VPN with an iPhone, the app establishes an encrypted tunnel between your device and a VPN server. This means that as far as the Internet is concerned, your IP address matches that VPN server. This makes it much harder for bad actors to know your location or target your iPhone.  

 Avoid geo-blocking

There are few things more annoying than trying to access a website or movie that isn’t available in your region. However, one of the great things about VPNs is that they allow you to get around these annoying restrictions. VPNs conceal your IP address, meaning you can access services wherever you are in the world - getting a VPN for Netflix so that you can stream exclusive content from other geographic locations has helped make these apps surge in popularity.

What’s more, if you visit a country where certain content is blocked or if you’re living somewhere with these restrictions, downloading any of the best mobile VPN apps means you can access anything that has been blocked. Once installed, just select a server in a country where you know the show or movie is available, and away you go.

Naturally some online services like Netflix don’t want people to access them via VPN in this way and have measures to block or restrict VPN use. Sometimes this is done through blocking the IP addresses of known VPN servers : so long as your provider has enough alternative servers, this shouldn’t be a problem as you can just switch to one of these.

If you want to use a VPN in this way though, consider finding a provider who offers a free trial or a money back guarantee on your first month’s membership so you can check their claims of bypassing “geo blocking” restrictions. 

Bypass censorship

If you’re in a country which restricts or blocks certain websites or services, using a VPN can help you get around these restrictions.

VPNs encrypt all your traffic making it almost impossible to detect which particular app or protocol you’re using. As you’re connecting to the internet via a VPN server, it’s also much more difficult for your ISP to block you from using certain services.

For example, using a VPN is a great way to use WhatsApp in China

Securing your web history

Many people use public Wi-Fi when they’re out and about, but these networks are often insecure and represent a major red flag.

In the first place, unless you’re an experienced network administrator it’s very easy for other devices connected to the public WIfi network to intercept your data. Some hackers even deliberately set up fake “honeypot” WiFi networks to deliberately steal your sensitive information. 

Cyber criminals can use this as an opportunity to infect your device with malware and steal data like logins and credit card details. Using a reputable VPN app for your iPhone will hugely increase your protection : as all data is encrypted before leaving your device an attacker won’t be able to read it, know what apps you’re using or what websites you’re accessing. 

...but VPN apps aren’t perfect 

There's no doubt that VPN services are incredibly useful, but that’s not to say they’re without any flaws. 

If you pick the right one, you can actually improve your internet speed. This is because many ISP’s practise “bandwidth shaping” : in other words they deliberately slow down certain types of internet traffic like streaming video on your iPhone. By using a VPN all your traffic is encrypted, so your ISP won’t know what kind of content you’re accessing. 

Still in the nature of things, using a VPN means you’re routing all your traffic through a server instead of accessing the internet directly. If you pick the wrong VPN, they can actually slow down your internet speed significantly, particularly if they use an older, less efficient VPN protocol to encrypt your data. 

Some of the less effective VPN providers also may not offer servers close to your location. This will increase ‘latency’ (the time it takes for data to go back and forth between your iPhone and their server), so will slow your connection down. 

Another setback for VPNs, as you’ve learned is that many content providers, including Netflix, are developing effective VPN blockers. So there’s a chance that one day you’re able to watch a TV programme that isn’t available in your region, and then the next, it’s once again unavailable. Nevertheless VPN providers are creating new servers all the time and researching ways to stay one step ahead of VPN blocking software. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider how they do this before you subscribe. 

Of course, if you’ve never used a VPN before, setting one up may be confusing to begin with. Even the term “virtual private network” sounds like something only technology professionals should know. If you're still wondering: "But what is a VPN?", there’s plenty of reading material and video guides out there to make things easier. 

Your VPN provider will also have support pages on the type of VPN service they offer, as well as how to get started using their Apps for your iPhone and other devices.

While reputable VPN providers will do everything they can to protect your data online, bad actors will sometimes pose as VPN services to steal your information.

In September 2022 for instance, spyware linked to the Iranian government was discovered in supposed “free” VPN apps offered for download via the Internet and chat programs like Telegram.

The problem doesn’t lie with VPN’s themselves: properly configured they can protect your privacy. The problem is with us flawed human beings who sometimes click on things we shouldn’t.

As an iPhone user your first line of defence should be only to use programs available by the Apple App Store. Do not jailbreak your device under any circumstances, as this often removes many of the security safeguards Apple’s already installed.

Second, be very suspicious about any offer of a “free” or extremely inexpensive VPN service. Setting up thousands of servers and offering that amount of bandwidth costs a lot of money. 

If your VPN provider isn’t making it from subscriptions, then they may be making it by selling customer’s personal information. Some VPN services are open about doing this. Others may do it without telling you.

When choosing a provider, always check the provider's VPN privacy policy to see what personal information it records. 

Not all VPN providers use their own DNS servers. In plain English this means that while your web traffic might be encrypted, anyone with access to your ISP’s records can see which websites you’ve been visiting, as your DNS requests are still going via your ISP. This is known as DNS Leak and puts your privacy at risk.

A good VPN service will route your DNS requests through their own servers, keeping all your traffic safe and averting DNS leaks.  

The bottom line

VPN apps for the iPhone offer many benefits. Fundamentally, they’ll help you to protect your data and give you access to even more content. If you're a privacy conscious Apple user, then it’s definitely worth downloading a VPN.

There are downsides in terms of reducing speed and possibly even installing malware on your iPhone. The answer is to make sure you use a reliable provider.

Nicholas Fearn is a freelance technology journalist and copywriter from the Welsh valleys. His work has appeared in publications such as the FT, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, The Next Web, T3, Android Central, Computer Weekly, and many others. He also happens to be a diehard Mariah Carey fan!

With contributions from