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What is a VPN?

Apart from having the right mobile phone insurance in place there are plenty of ways to keep yourself safe when using your mobile phone. While we know all about keeping passwords secure and our operating systems up to date, what other tips are there?

One popular, high-tech solution is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But what exactly are they? Why do you need one? And which are the best providers in the UK? We answer all these questions and more in our Gadget Cover guide to VPNs. 

What is a VPN? And why do you need one?

As the name 'virtual private network' suggests a VPN essentially creates your own private network from a public internet connection. When activated the VPN software masks the internet protocol (IP) address used by your mobile phone or other device. This extra layer of security makes you virtually untraceable when using your gadgetry to communicate or surf the web.

In this era of internet snoopers and phone hackers, online security and privacy are more important than ever before. Whether you’re reading sensitive work emails from the comfort of your favourite café or checking Instagram while waiting at the bank, you could be vulnerable to attack. Unless you’re using a private Wi-Fi connection with a strong password, anyone else using the same public network could be eavesdropping or even stealing your personal data and information.

As our mobile phones get smarter and we use them for everything from online banking and shopping to sending emails and taking photos, VPNs are becoming more common than ever.

Keeping your communications and web browsing private while on public Wi-Fi or when travelling overseas is vital. Here’s just some of the information a VPN hides from prying eyes.

Browsing history

We should all know by now that it’s very difficult to keep a secret on the internet. From mobile service providers and web browser companies to the websites you visit – there are many places where your search history will be noted down and tied to you through your IP address. This is often done in our own interests but sometimes we want to keep what we’re doing private. 

For example, if you’re searching the web for information about a private medical matter you might not then appreciate receiving targeted ads that could draw attention to it.

IP address and location

Once someone has your IP address they can tie your internet searches to your device and location. A VPN masks your IP address to preserve your online privacy and lets you search the web almost anonymously.

Streaming location

If you’ve paid for a sports or entertainment streaming service you’ll probably want to use it even when you travel abroad. However, for many reasons it might not be available in the country you’re visiting. Having a VPN means you can continue to use your streaming service wherever you are. Be aware this may not be legal in the country you’re visiting!

As well as staying on the right side of the law it’s also important to have the right mobile phone insurance when travelling abroad. Insurance policies arranged through Gadget Cover are also automatically extended to include use of your phone anywhere in the world, up to 180 days in any one year.

Your devices

When you’re using a public Wi-Fi network, any device you’re using, be it a mobile phone, tablet or laptop, can become a target for a cybercriminal. A VPN helps protect your data from hackers and other criminals.

How does a VPN work?

Without going into the high-tech intricacies of VPNs, a VPN essentially creates a secure connection between you and the internet. By routing all the data you send and receive through an encrypted virtual tunnel it makes your data unreadable to anyone other than the intended recipients. It also prevents anyone from eavesdropping on your internet activity and makes you almost invulnerable to external attacks.

At the same time, by disguising your IP address anyone snooping on your activity will be unable to work out where you are in the world. The VPN service provider does this by replacing your IP address with one of the VPN server’s own IP addresses. With VPN service providers having thousands of servers around the globe there would be no way to tie your search activity to you.

While in the UK this might seem of only limited benefit, in many areas of the world this can be an invaluable protector of online freedoms. After all, online privacy can be a matter of life and death in some countries.

Will a VPN make me entirely anonymous?

Even the most privacy-hungry and tech-savvy of users will have a hard time achieving the dream of an entirely anonymous online life. In view of our deeply interconnected world and the sheer power of some of the government agencies and companies involved, it’s almost impossible.

A decent VPN is a great place to start but to get as close to anonymity as possible you’ll want some other things, too. A secure browser is a must have while installing some decent ad-blocker software will also help.

If you want to stop your mobile phone apps from tracking you then we’ve got some helpful advice and some suggestions on the best ad blocker apps  worth downloading. Whether you choose AdBlock Plus, AdBlock or Wipr there are some great apps to put a stop to unwanted ads and snooping from those oh-so-inquisitive services.

Laptop VPN

What should I look for in a VPN provider?

Just like shopping for any product or service there are always going to be several factors, beyond price, that you’ll need to consider when looking for a VPN. Here’s a simple and straightforward rundown of what to look for in terms of features.

  • Number of servers
    As we’ve already explained, a VPN works by providing users with an encrypted data tunnel using the provider’s servers. This means they need to be able to handle a mind-boggling amount of data. With a larger number of servers, the provider can handle more data and should be able to provide you with faster speeds.
  • Location of servers
    Do you know the countries where your VPN servers are located? Ideally, you’ll want servers nearby so you can enjoy a fast, responsive connection (say while online gaming). However, if you want to get around restrictions on content in some countries, you’ll want servers located elsewhere.
  • Number of connected devices
    Many VPN users will want to be able to connect using multiple devices. However most VPN services restrict simultaneous connections. So, if you’re planning to connect using your computer, phone and tablet then check the terms and conditions before signing up.
  • Additional devices
    It’s also worth remembering not all VPN providers will support all devices, for example gaming consoles. So, when picking a VPN, be sure to examine the list of devices it supports, and ensure your needs are met in this department.
  • Data caps
    We all know how important data is to enjoyable internet usage. While some VPN providers give you a free service in the hope you’ll sign up for a paid one, this often only offers a limited amount of data.
  • Privacy

While users of VPN services will be looking for anonymity and privacy, the truth is many VPN providers will still keep some logs and user data. After all, they won’t want to become a way for criminals to operate. While this information will be limited and may not be kept for long, it’s still important to carefully read the terms and conditions before signing up.

Who are the best VPN providers in the UK?

With the continued growth in appetite for VPN services, there are many hundreds of free and paid-for VPNs on the market today. But they’re not all as good as each other, indeed many are ad-supported and some might even be re-selling your browsing data. To help you with this conundrum we’ve taken a look at some of the best VPN providers operating in the UK market today.

Whether you’re looking for one for your iPhone, Android device or desktop computer there’s bound to be one just right for you and your budget.

  • NordVPN – Supporting up to six devices and with over 5,000 servers in 59 countries it’s one of the most reliable VPN providers on the market. It doesn’t keep user logs and has one of the best reputations for security.
  • ExpressVPN – This is a great overall VPN supporting a long list of devices and operating systems. Perhaps pricier than the competition, it’s so feature-packed that you can see the value. It’s got a nifty split tunnelling feature that lets you route some of your traffic through the VPN while other devices are using the internet directly through your internet service provider.
  • ProtonVPN – If you’re looking for a free VPN service to see whether you want to make the investment then ProtonVPN might be the one for you. The free version might not be feature packed, and the speeds aren’t super-fast, but if you want private and secure browsing then it really does the job.
  • Surfshark – Supporting unlimited devices and from just £1.82 a month this is a great VPN for mobile phone users. It does a great job at unlocking content from other regions.

How do I set up a VPN on my phone?

Scratching your head over how to set up a VPN on your mobile phone? It's actually pretty easy to do. If you choose to download one of the great VPN apps then it will take you through the set up quickly and simply. However, if you’d prefer to do it yourself, we'll take you through each step of the process!

For Android:

  • Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Advanced > VPN and tap Add +.
  • Enter the VPN name, type and server address and click on Save.
  • Return to the VPN screen and tap the VPN you want.
  • Enter your username and password and tap Connect.
  • To disconnect tap the Settings button next to the VPN you’re using and choose Disconnect. Here you can also tap Forget to forget the VPN network.

In view of the tweaks different phone manufacturers make to Android, this process might vary between devices.

For iOS:

  • Go to Settings > General > VPN.
  • Tap on Add VPN Configuration and then Type to select a security protocol.
  • Return to the Add VPN Configuration and add in the VPN’s description, server, remote ID and local ID.
  • Enter username and password and tap Done.
  • Go back to the VPN screen and switch Status to On.

Depending on the level of control you want over the VPN you can use pre-set protection profiles immediately. If you have particular requirements as to location or services, you may need to tweak your VPN app settings.

Mobile phone insurance from Gadget Cover

Using a VPN is only one tip we recommend if you want to make using your mobile phone safer. Another is to invest in the right mobile phone insurance. Whether you’ve chosen an Apple, Samsung, Huawei or any other handset, the helpful team at Gadget Cover can set you up with mobile phone insurance cover that’s tailored to your device, needs and budget.

Policies arranged through us include protection for accidental damage, liquid damage, theft, breakdown and unauthorised usage. And for an extra premium you can be covered against loss, too.

Choose a policy from Gadget Cover and it can also be extended to your immediate family. So, if your loved one loses or damages your phone you’re also covered.

And we don’t just cover the phone itself. If your gadget is accidentally lost or stolen, we will refund the cost of unauthorised transactions made using your e-Wallet facility up to a maximum of £500.

Mobile phones we cover include:

  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X Insurance
  • iPhone 8 Insurance
  • iPhone 8 Plus Insurance
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 6
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S20
  • Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S10e
  • Samsung Galaxy S10
  • Samsung Galaxy S9
  • Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Samsung Galaxy A70
  • Samsung Galaxy A40
  • Samsung Galaxy A20e
  • Huawei P30 Pro
  • Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Call us for a quote for mobile phone insurance today and get protected.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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