Android is now the most popular way to get online in the world, so it is not surprising that there is considerable interest in using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) for Android to protect life private.
The National Security Agency (NSA) and the British government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spy on just about everyone. The US government simply gave Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to sell customers’ web browsing history. The British government has recently promulgated the most “extreme” surveillance laws in the history of modern Western democracy. All over the world, similar stories are playing.
The best VPN for Android
The public who uses the ordinary Internet is right to be concerned about privacy. Fortunately, there is a technology that can greatly improve this privacy. This technology is called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). I will discuss precisely what a VPN is later in this article.
As an Android user, you should be pleased to note that virtually all VPN services support the Android platform. Less pleasant to know is that the recent increase in interest in VPNs has resulted in an outgrowth of the Android “cowboy” VPN apps that hit Play Store. At best, these are poorly designed and little will help protect your privacy. At worst, they will actively jeopardize your privacy and security online by following your activities by browsing the web, accessing sensitive data stored on your device, installing malicious software and more. For full details, see here.
Considering VPN for Android, it is therefore essential to choose a reputable VPN service that is recommended by a reputable source (like BestVPN.com, of course!). This almost always involves using a paid VPN.
Best Android VPN: Considerations
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to connect to the Internet via a server managed by a VPN provider. All data moving between your computer, your phone or your tablet, and this “VPN server” are encrypted securely. As a result of this configuration, VPNs:
Provide confidentiality by hiding your activity on the Internet from your telecommunications service provider (and your telecommunications service provider).
Allow yourself to escape censorship (by school, work, your ISP or government).
Allow “geo-spoof” your location to access services unfairly denied depending on your location (or when you are on vacation).
Protect yourself against hackers when using a public WiFi hotspot.
Allow P2P to download securely.
To use VPN, you must first sign up for a VPN service. This usually costs between $ 5 and $ 10 per month, with discounts for the purchase of six months or one year at a time. A VPN service contract is required to use a VPN.
Please see my detailed VPN guide for beginners for a detailed discussion of VPN in general.
How does VPN work on Android?
VPNs work fine on Android devices. They encrypt your data and hide your IP address for all Internet connections. When you access websites via your browser for P2P download, you are fully protected when using a VPN.
But (and it’s a big but) … Although all data can go through the VPN, individual Android applications can and return a large amount of highly personal data to their publishers. This may include the unique International Mobile Equipment (IMEI) number on your phone, Global Positioning System (GPS) location data, your contact lists, Google Play ID, and more.
Unlike Android VPN applications customized by many vendors, OpenVPN for Android provides IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) leakage protection, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) leakage protection, and Web leakage protection WebRTC). It can also be configured to act as a destruction switch. Please refer to a complete IP Leakage Guide for information on these features.
There is nothing that a VPN can do to stop this. This information is obtained through the permissions you grant to an application and is sent directly to the publisher. The Android 6.0+ versions allow you to reign in the permissions an application can ask for, but this will often lead to a termination of applications.
This situation is even worse by the “leaking applications”. Many applications, even if they are not malicious in themselves, are poorly designed. They undergo “overrun” permissions, and then do not secure the information they collect properly.
Image Credit: Rovio Entertainment
Much of the advertising around leaked applications focused on mobile games, and Angry Birds in particular. However, all kinds of applications collect too much information about you, and social media applications are among the worst offenders. The Facebook application, for example, collects detailed location data and requests permission to access your Short Message Service (SMS) messages.
Organizations such as NSA and GCHQ usually contain information and use it to identify targets.
So … Is there a point in using VPN for Android?
Yes indeed. However, to take full advantage of using a VPN on an Android device, you should avoid using custom applications as much as possible. This is especially true for publisher applications that you have no reason to trust. Is this mind-level application, funded by advertising funding, that you downloaded for free? Ditch it.
The most secure and private way to access online services using a VPN on your Android device is via their web page or web interface using your browser. I recommend using the open source source and the all-full browser compatible with the Firefox protection for Android.
Android Marshmallow (6.0) + gives users a much greater control over the application’s permissions, but by denying an application, the permissions it requests
Additional privacy tips for Android
Private browser extensions
I recommend installing the following exceptional Firefox browser extensions. All these work the same way in Firefox for Android as they do on the desktop:
UBlock Origin – an advertising blocker (FOSS) without lightweight and free software that doubles as an anti-tracking add-on.
HTTPS Everywhere – developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), this ensures that you always connect to a Web site using an HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) connection, if available.
Self-destructive cookies – automatically removes cookies when you close the browser tab that defines cookies. This offers a high level of protection against tracking via cookies, without “break” sites. It also provides protection against Flash / Zombie and Etags cookies, and cleans the Document Object Model (DOM) storage.
Note that using any browser add-in makes you more likely to be tracked by the browser footprint.
De-Google Your phone
Probably, the biggest threat to your privacy when using an Android device is Google. After all, it is a business whose complete business model rests on the compromise of your privacy.
The Google Play Services framework is considered a particularly important threat to privacy. This proprietary software gives Google the ability to perform low-level, low-level monitoring on user devices.
A guide to disabling the default system applications (including Google’s) is available here. Root access is not required for this. Disabling Google Play services (in particular) will likely prevent many other applications from working properly.
F-Droid allows you to download many apps without the Google Play Store (or services).
See here a few suggestions on how to go without Google apps (Gapps).
Custom CyanogenMod ROM
The default LineageOS 13 home screen is a dropped CyanogenMod 13 clone.
The actions described below require you to create a root of your Android device:
Titanium Backup can be used to completely remove any app that came with your device (including all Google apps).
You can completely replace the regular OS (OS) operating system with a custom ROM (ROM) that is not shipped with Gapps. Good examples include LineageOS and (for the Copperhead truly aware of privacy).
Encrypting your Android phone
Google has broken its promise that all new Android devices would be delivered with full disk encryption. Fortunately, it is simple to manually encrypt Android devices (Gingerbread 2.3.4+) and all Secure Digital (SD) cards they use.
For more information, see How to Encrypt Your Android Phone for a complete guide on how to do it. The guide also provides an in depth discussion on the pros and cons of doing this.
You suffer from a loss of performance of about 10% (which in real-life use I do not notice), your device will take much longer to start and there are problems if you use A password to secure your phone.
Android Phone Encryption
On the other hand, you will have a much more secure phone!
Use Signal Instant Messaging
Your cell phone provider, anyone using a stingray device, hackers, etc., can easily intercept your phone and SMS messages. The signal is widely regarded as the most secure means of communication to communicate that does not involve a whisper in person in the ear of another individual.
In the past, one of Signal’s main criticisms was its reliance on the Google Play Services framework. This has already been discussed. You can download the .apk for Signal directly from Whisper Systems here.
How to set up a VPN for Android
Custom VPN applications
By far, the easiest way to set up a VPN for Android is to download a custom VPN application from the Play Store. This works just like installing another Android application. You may be able to sign up for the service (often after a free trial) through purchases in the app, or you may need to visit the supplier’s website in order to do so.
Do not forget, however, what I said at the beginning of this article. There are many cowboy apps available through Play Store. Even more worrying, many of them have favorable reviews of ordinary users who are not qualified to assess their privacy implications.
I will repeat it: download only applications that have been recommended by a reputable source! Free applications, in particular, should be strictly avoided.
Configure your VPN manually (PPTP and L2TP / IPsec)
Most Android device manufacturers are trying to improve the operating system with their own custom skins. In addition to this, there are many versions of Android to be found in nature. The details may vary depending on the device, but the instructions below should be close enough for most Android users:
1. Go to Settings -> More Networks -> VPN. Note that you must configure a lock screen to do this. If you have not already done so, follow the instructions.
2. Press + to add a VPN network. Enter a name for your VPN connection, choose Type and enter the details provided by your VPN provider.
The PPTP configuration is ridiculously easy, but is horribly unstable, so do not bother.
The installation of L2TP / IPsec is still quite simple, but it is much more secure. You usually need to enter a long pre-shared key.
3. Verify that you are logged in.
The icon on the taskbar lets you know that you are connected to a VPN server.
Manual configuration of OpenVPN
OpenVPN Connect is a perfectly good application, but in this tutorial I will use OpenVPN open source more comprehensive and open source for Android. Starting with version 2.4.0, this feature includes full IPv4, IPv6, and WebRTC protection. As stated above, it can also be configured to act as a destruction switch.
1. Download the OpenVPN configuration files from your VPN provider’s website. Unzip them (if necessary) and transfer them to a folder on your Android device. Otherwise, download them directly to your Android device and unzip them with an application such as ZArchiver.
2. Download, install and run OpenVPN for Android (if you do not already have it). Tap the + icon at the top right of the screen to add a profile. Give the profile an appropriate name and press “Import”.
3. Navigate to the folder where you saved the unpacked OpenVPN configuration files and choose a server (.ovpn file). Once imported, touch the ✔ icon to continue.
4. When finished, you will see the server name on the Profiles tab. To launch the VPN, just touch it. You can import .ovpn files for as many servers as you want, and they will appear here.
Many providers include all necessary keys and account information in custom .ovpn files, so no further configuration is required. Other people may require you to enter your account information and other details. Consult your supplier’s documentation for specific instructions.
The best VPN for Android: Conclusion
Using a VPN on your Android device can provide all the superb benefits of using a VPN on your desktop system. Keep in mind that your apps can (and probably) hold you, so make sure you do things through your browser (just like you would on your desktop!).
Most “appropriate” VPN providers allow you to use two or more devices simultaneously with their service. So if five concurrent connections are allowed, you can use the same subscription with your Android phone, Android tablet, Windows desktop, MacBook and partner’s iPhone!