Dear Lifehacker, does a VPN app on a phone make all internet traffic go through it? I'm heading to London and Iceland and want to use unsecured Wi-Fi for banking and email. Do the VPNs push Safari as well as things like the Facebook app through them to be secure? Cheers, Mickus.
Yep! A VPN on your smartphone will entirely take over its network connection — whether that's Wi-Fi or mobile data — and will send all data through that. All apps and background services will run via the VPN's network connection.
You can either set up a VPN through your iPhone's settings — I'm guessing you use an iPhone since you mentioned Safari, but the same is true of Android — by heading to Settings->General->VPN and entering the details there. Alternatively, you can use a standalone app. Some of the more premium VPN services out there have name-branded apps — I'm thinking of Private Internet Access, which I pay $US40 per year for to dodge government spooks — that you can use.
I'd only do banking through a VPN that you trust and have thoroughly researched, though. It's hard to establish the authenticity of any of the hundreds of different VPN services out there, but you can at least read their terms and conditions, understand where their servers are located, and whether they actually take responsibility for the data that passes through. A paid VPN, too, is universally a better idea than a free one. Almost anything will be better than unsecured Wi-Fi, though — better the devil you know.
When you've settled on a VPN that you like, and have signed up and installed the app or input the appropriate details into your phone's settings, you just have to remember to use it. VPNs don't switch themselves on automatically, especially if you're regularly switching on and off your phone — like when you're travelling around the world — so a little bit of extra vigilance will go a long way.
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This article originally appeared on Gizmodo.