Hack VPN apps into a smartphone

The best VPN apps for desktop and smartphone

The web technology VPN (Virtual Private Network) is valued by office workers, surfers in Internet cafés, film fans and investigative journalists alike. As different as the users are, they all have the same reason: A VPN tunnel protects your communication from the rest of the Internet like a protective layer. Instead of connecting directly to a company server or the CBS homepage, a so-called VPN server is connected in between. Bloggers can communicate undisturbed, TV junkies can watch US series protected by country restrictions and company employees have encrypted access to company data.

The basic problem that the VPN services want to solve: Every surfer can be identified by his IP and other browser data. The Internet provider can identify the user via the IP address, the server operator finds out where they live, operating system and browser model. Since the connection with the VPN server is encrypted, nothing can be "recorded".

VPN for company employees

In order to be able to access company data from the home office, company users usually use a company VPN server. In principle, the individual user does not need his own access software to use VPN. Every modern system such as OS X and Windows, but also Android and iOS support the most common VPN protocols. Windows 10 offers a new settings app, iOS and Android understand each other, for example, on PPTP (which is considered to be insecure), L2TP / IPSec, iOS can also use Cisco IPSec.

Apple's iOS VPN actually supports excellent support, but the latest update to iOS 9 seems to have caused some problems with VPN servers. The VPN service providers in the app store, which are more aimed at private individuals, are less affected by this.

Tip:You can recognize an active VPN connection under iOS 8 by a VPN symbol next to the Bluetooth symbol; under Android this is indicated by a key symbol.

VPN tools such as Viscosity or VPN Tracker become interesting when a company uses special VPN servers or wants to ensure more convenience and security. Although there are cross-platform standards, the configuration can be a problem - for example if the open source version OpenVPN is used or the VPN gateway responsible for the VPN connection requires special configuration settings. Tools such as VPN Tracker, which offers configuration profiles for many manufacturers and VPN gateways, promise a remedy on the Mac. The freeware Tunnelblick also offers good OpenVPN support. A paid software is also the Shimo software, which also offers more convenience. The shareware Viscosity is also available in versions for Windows and Mac-OS X. The Microsoft SSTP protocol, which is only supported under Linux and Windows, is a special case. Tools like EasySSTP promise a remedy for Macs.

VPN for home users

Strictly speaking, VPN offers like Okay Freedom or Steganos Online Shield are less programs than server services. They offer encrypted access to their servers, which they usually pay for with a monthly fee. In addition to protecting against hackers and governments, this ensures fewer data traces. Since the Internet is accessed via a different server, your own IP address remains unknown. This means that advertising companies can no more determine the location than public authorities.

The option of using servers in other countries is aimed at film fans. You can usually choose from several countries via a selection menu, for example if you want to watch BBC series, you choose a server in England. For example, the US version of Netflix offers far more films and series, but is not available to German Netflix subscribers. But access to German TV channels is often not possible from the holiday destination without a VPN server. However, this is questionable in terms of copyright law. Private access to foreign live streams is not prosecuted, but its use is legally controversial. Although this is currently not being prosecuted, Netflix specifically prohibits the use of VPN servers and well-known VPN providers are apparently blocked from time to time.

In practice, fans of US TV or BBC series are obviously the largest user group. Many VPN services even advertise quite openly with it, without much consideration for users, or alternatively offer a cheaper proxy server service without encryption. The principle is very similar with all providers: You install a client on your computer or mobile device and can easily switch a VPN connection on and off. The technical basis is usually OpenVPN, encryption takes place via AES 256. The client is also important for billing.

VPN costs at a glance

The old principle “There is no free lunch” applies to VPN services. The operation of a powerful server is expensive for the operator because the resulting traffic has to be paid for. A few chats are not a problem, but streaming series can quickly amount to several gigabytes per day. There are free services, but they are often very slow or limited to low data rates. After all, some are designed by their operators to enable the free exchange of information in dictatorships - not to stream US series for free. By the way, many VPN services are unusable in China because VPN services are blocked at the national level, which is also known as the Great Firewall.

Some commercial providers offer a freeware version, mostly with a limited data rate. With Cyberghost, Steganos and the PC-Welt offer anonymous surfing, 500 MB of traffic per month are free. The 500 MB is completely sufficient for reading blocked blogs or websites. Cyberghost also offers a selection of free servers, but these are often overcrowded and inefficient. In terms of functionality and operation, the providers are very similar. When it comes to data security, you should also pay attention to the company's headquarters - the VPN servers are in the respective countries, but a central server of the company takes care of the switching. US firms and companies in England, for example, are under strong state control, and this also applies to German providers. It is not without reason that Cyberghost has relocated its headquarters from Germany to Romania. The Finnish company F-Secure also attaches great importance to data protection.

The performance of the server is important. With some inexpensive providers on our test connection (VDSL), the download rate quickly drops to a twentieth if a US VPN server is selected. The reduced latency is also disruptive in practice. Since this often drops to very low values, online games, for example, are hardly possible, but the operation of websites is also sometimes very slow. If you choose a server that is closer to your own location, the performance remains almost the same. If you measure the download and upload values ​​with a tool like Internet.io, you have to be prepared for large fluctuations in the measurements - depending on the connected server.

More security when surfing

If you frequently surf in open or poorly protected WLAN networks, a VPN service is also interesting. Not all email services or purchases are encrypted using SSL (HTTPS). Theoretically, hackers can record the data traffic in an unprotected WiFi network and thus learn credit card details or passwords. There is an impressive number of VPN apps in the app stores of Android and iOS for a reason, as you cannot always choose which one to use when you are out and about in a WLAN network. Almost every major VPN provider now offers apps for Android and iOS in addition to Mac and PC versions. Online banking or Ebay shopping are then no security risk even in an unprotected WLAN café.

Tip: Owners of a Fritzbox can also use their home router as a VPN server. Internet access then takes place via the router and is reliably secured.

The best VPN tools for PC and Android

Conclusion:

Just a few years ago, only paranoid people used services like Cyberghost, today the use of VPN has almost become an everyday issue. What we find striking is the large number of VPN service providers; the services we have mentioned are only a small selection. It is no coincidence that more and more manufacturers of antivirus software have recently started offering a VPN service - after all, a VPN service makes more sense than any virus scanner, especially for Android and iOS users.