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How to connect VPN on iOS devices

VPN support is strong on modern iPhones and iPads. The protocols L2TP/IPSec and Cisco IPSec are combined. 

You can use third-party applications to connect to other types of virtual private networks.

FYI, before iOS 8, when an iPhone went into sleep mode, it automatically unplugged itself from the VPN. Even when the screen is turned off, iOS devices will remain connected to the VPN. You won’t need to rejoin the dedicated VPN all the time.

As told in the previous blog, the easiest and quickest method would be to use a dedicated VPN. StrongVPN is good for advanced users, whilst ExpressVPN and TunnelBear are more user-friendly. Although ExpressVPN offers relatively faster connections, TunnelBear offers a free tier for people just getting started.

TunnelBear Interface
Interface [2] – peek-a-boo!

Please NOTE that we do NOT endorse any third-party applications. This is for educational purposes and Efani will not be liable by any means.

Configure iOS built-in VPNs

In iOS, you can connect to IKEv2, Cisco IPSec, and L2TP/IPSec VPNs. If your preferred VPN doesn’t have an iOS app, you can use iOS’ built-in settings to set up a VPN. On your iPhone or iPad, tap the Settings app, select General, and then VPN [check image below for illustration]. To add your first VPN configuration to your phone or tablet, tap “Add VPN Configuration.” You can also add several VPNs from this screen if you need to do so.

Navigating VPN

Depending on the type of VPN you wish to connect to, choose IKEv2, IPSec, or L2TP. To connect, enter the connection details for your VPN on this screen. If your workplace provides your VPN, it should be able to give you these details.

IKEv2

FYI, iOS 10 has abandoned PPTP VPN support. If possible, opt for a VPN of your choice and avoid using PPTP, not only because it is old but an insecure protocol as well.

Certificate Files

If you need to connect to the VPN using certificate files, you’ll need to import them when you’re setting up your own VPN. If the certificate files were delivered to you through email, you can open them in the dedicated email app, click on the attachments, and subsequently import them. You may also use Brave or a similar browser to find them on a website and tap them to import them.

Let’s dig further … Psst, grab a cuppa in the meantime of tea if you’re from Europe?

Certificate files in the PKCS # x (possibly in these formats .cer,.crt,.der) and PKCS#12 (.p12, .pfx formats) are supported by iPhones and iPads. If you really need these certificate files to be accessed, the company that provides you with the VPN server should provide them and include them in the VPN setup instructions. If you wish to get rid of any certificates you’ve installed, go to Settings > General and search for Profiles.

Organizations who want to control their iOS devices from a central location can use a mobile device management server to transmit certificates and VPN settings to their devices.

How to disconnect VPN?

ICYMI, in order to connect to or disengage [disconnect in the simplest terms] from a VPN, visit the Settings window and toggle the VPN slider near the top of the screen. When you’re connected to the VPN, a “VPN” icon will appear in the status bar at the top of the screen.

If you have numerous VPNs set up on your iPhone or iPad, you may choose between them by going to Settings > General > VPN — the same window where you added these VPNs in the first place.

Toggled ON i.e., connected

Remember OpenVPN Connect?

Let’s test your knowledge. In our previous blog, we spoke about OpenVPN Connect. If you want to connect to an OpenVPN server, skip the entire procedure stated above. This section is dedicated to OpenVPN Network only. Keep in mind that OpenVPN servers are handled differently.

Import File

In the case of OpenVPN, you can download the official OpenVPN Network app. Install the app, launch it, and connect to an OpenVPN network. You’ll need to import a profile (.ovpn file) into the OpenVPN Connect app to configure your VPN server. Connect your iPhone or iPad to your computer, open iTunes, and choose the linked device if you wish to do it manually.

Authentication Process

They establish a VPN connection at the system level, which means that all of your device’s apps will connect to it—just like VPNs you connect to using the built-in Settings app. You can copy the .ovpn file, as well as accompanying certificate and key files, to the OpenVPN app under the Apps area. You can then use the app to connect to the VPN. The OpenVPN Connect app, like others, isn’t just another app you use.

Connected

That’s all there is to it for the average home user. Large enterprises that manage iPhone or iPad deployments centrally will want to avoid per-device settings and instead use configuration profiles or a mobile device management server to specify a VPN server.

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