As regular readers here know, I have used and advocated for Private Internet Access for quite some time. A couple of months ago my subscription was nearing its end, and I wanted to shop around a bit. While I don’t have a single complaint about PIA, I have recently come to the realization that I need to stay flexible in my choices. I don’t want to be scrambling for a replacement if the day comes that PIA is no longer trustworthy or no longer meets my needs. This is part of a larger push to have pre-selected alternatives to the apps and services that I rely on for privacy and security. With this in mind I headed to https://www.privacytools.io/ and began my search for an iOS-friendly VPN.
I used Privacy Tools as a starting point because of their reputation for being unforgiving of lax security practices and ambiguous privacy policies. The VPN criteria for inclusion at https://www.privacytools.io/ is pretty simple. The services listed must be located outside the US, use encryption, accept Bitcoin, support OpenVPN and must not keep logs. I agree with all of these criteria, but I had an additional one that is important to me. It is very likely important to many of the readers here, as well. Any service I consider must have a native application for iOS.
iOS-Friendly VPN Criteria
There are several extremely reputable VPNs (including AirVPN [one of my favorites], Mullvad) that get high marks elsewhere but don’t currently offer native iOS support. With all of these (and many more) you can use OpenVPN configuration files in conjunction with the OpenVPN Connect app. I wrote about this process here. The problem with this is that the OpenVPN app cannot be configured to maintain an always-on connection.
This may not matter to mainstream users, but it is extremely important to me. Smartphones pass massive amounts of data behind your back, even when the screen is locked. Much of this data is likely sensitive, and there is no guarantee that apps are transmitting it securely. In fact, government surveillance agencies have capitalized on this by collecting data from “leaky” apps. For this reason, I require a VPN that attempts to maintain its connection. If it cannot maintain the connection, it will break connectivity, preventing unprotected information from being sent. Unfortunately, this requires an application. Beginning next week I will review a few of the VPNs I have tried. Some of them worked extremely well, and some I have serious doubts about and would not recommend.
A Couple More Thoughts
On VPN Reviews: I do not intend for Operational-Security to become a VPN review site. I’m not going to offer connection latency numbers, attempt a rating scale, or anything of the sort. All of the VPNs I will write about here must work well with my two primary (for now) host operating systems: iOS and macOS. The VPNs I’ve chosen to review have already been well-documented elsewhere. I am just offering a slightly different perspective on them.
On PIA: In the meantime, I still strongly recommend Private Internet Access. I have personally used it for over two years. Though readers here may have elevated threat models and a deeper understanding of VPNs, most people do not. For the average individual, Private Internet Access is still a fantastic option. It is affordable, user-friendly, and reasonably secure and private. It is also a very iOS-friendly VPN. For this reason I still recommend PIA as an entry-level VPN.
Please see my followup reviews on: