What Are VPN Apps and How Do They Work?

A surge in censorship and other cyber threats means that VPN apps are more popular than ever. They’re also a key tool for anyone seeking online freedom because they unlock access to websites and platforms beyond borders. If you’re unfamiliar with VPNs, you might be wondering: what exactly are VPN apps, how do they work, and why do people use them?

Dive into our guide below and learn the ins and outs of VPN apps, including installation tips, troubleshooting, and more.

Want the Best VPN App? Install CyberGhost VPN in 3 Easy Steps:

  1. Create an account. It’s fast and easy.
  2. Download the related app for your device.
  3. Select a server, connect, and start browsing!

What Is a VPN and What Does It Do?

A VPN is a service that offers online privacy and security by encrypting your internet connection and masking your IP address. Encryption essentially scrambles your data by wrapping it in layers of indecipherable code, making it unreadable to any unauthorized parties who might try to intercept your information as it travels across the web. This ensures your sensitive data remains private and secure.

When you connect to a VPN server, it doesn’t just encrypt your data. It also changes your IP address to one associated with the server’s location. This process, known as IP spoofing, allows you to appear as though you’re accessing the internet from a different location than your actual one. As a result, you gain the freedom to bypass geo-blocks and ISP restrictions, granting you unrestricted access to content and services regardless of your physical location. In essence, VPN apps empower you to browse the web with enhanced privacy, security, and freedom.

When you connect to a VPN, the service runs in the background, automatically encrypting and rerouting all your web traffic. Your data is simply traveling through a protective tunnel that keeps your online activity hidden from prying eyes. 

An illustration that demonstrates how a VPN app works.
VPN apps protect your data by providing a safe passageway for travel.

What Are VPN Apps?

A VPN app seamlessly connects you to your  VPN provider’s servers. Instead of manually configuring a VPN setup through your device’s network settings, which can be complex, a VPN app does most of the work for you. It even lets you connect to a different VPN server with one tap instead of having to reconfigure your VPN settings. You also get more control over your VPN connection, with extra features and advanced options.

In a crowded landscape of VPN apps, making the right choice can be overwhelming. It’s crucial to prioritize the features that align with your needs when choosing the right VPN provider. Consider what matters most to you in terms of security, speed, and usability. 

At CyberGhost VPN, we believe in simplifying this process for our customers by providing the best of the best. Our app stands out for its top features, including:

How to Install a VPN App

Once you’ve subscribed to your VPN service, setting up your VPN is a fairly straightforward process. Here are some general guidelines for installing a VPN app on your computer: 

  1. Sign up for a VPN service.
Screenshot of CyberGhost's desktop app home screen.
  1. Log in, download, and install your VPN app/software.
Screenshot of CyberGhost's account hub page.
CyberGhost has desktop apps for the most popular operating systems.
Screenshot of CyberGhost VPN's desktop installer.
  1. Log into your VPN account.
Screenshot of CyberGhost's app login.
  1. Accept any necessary permission requests.
Screenshot of CyberGhost's VPN profile installer.
You’ll need to accept these permissions before activating CyberGhost.
  1. Once in the app, choose a VPN server or skip this step to let the app automatically choose the best server option for you.
Screenshot of CyberGhost's desktop app home screen.
Now, you’re ready to use the CyberGhost VPN app!
  1. Finally, turn on the VPN to connect.

What Can You Do with a VPN App?

Using a VPN app opens up a world of secure and unrestricted browsing, streaming, and gaming across multiple platforms. It also gives you access to a range of special features that let you customize how you use the VPN.

VPNs also act as your digital passport to the world. CyberGhost VPN boasts an extensive network of VPN servers in 100+ countries, giving you the flexibility to choose your virtual location and ensuring that you can appear to be browsing from anywhere in the world. This feature doesn’t just help protect your digital privacy; it also allows you to bypass geo-restrictions and access content that may be blocked in your region. 

Premium VPNs often come with advanced privacy and security features as well. We offer token-based dedicated IPs that are unique to your account, split tunneling (which allows trusted apps and websites to bypass your VPN), automatic Wi-Fi protection, and more.  

If you’re using a VPN app for a specific purpose, some providers even offer features that cater to those needs. CyberGhost VPN has specialty servers that are optimized for streaming, torrenting, and gaming.

Think your VPN is just for privacy? Think again! Take a look at some exciting ways you can use VPNs to inject a dose of digital freedom into your everyday browsing:

    • Access geo-restricted content while traveling
    • Protect your connection against cyber attacks
    • Steer clear of content-based throttling enforced by your ISP
    • Get better deals when shopping online
    • Lower your ping or change your region while gaming
    • Outsmart firewall blocks on restricted networks (like at school or work)

Which Devices Support VPN Apps?

You can install VPN apps on most computers and smartphones. You’ll find VPN apps for a variety of operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. It mostly depends on which VPN service you use, and which platforms they support. Some devices (such as consoles, IoT devices, and most smart TVs) don’t support native VPN apps at all, but a good VPN provider may have workarounds for this problem.

If you have a device that doesn’t support VPN apps, you can configure your VPN on your router instead or use a VPN with a Smart DNS feature. You’ll find more information on those options below.

Do You Need a VPN for All Your Devices?

Whether or not you need to install a VPN on all your devices depends entirely on your digital habits and priorities. If you prioritize bulletproof security and privacy, then robust VPN protection on all your devices is a must-have. For a gamer using a VPN to play on servers in different regions, on the other hand, installing a VPN on all your devices might feel like overkill. 

While securing your online activity with a VPN is a smart move for many, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are plenty of valid reasons why a VPN might not be the right choice for all your devices, and that’s perfectly okay!

Sometimes, you’re not allowed to use or install VPNs. One example is when you’re using a laptop provided by your school or workplace. Don’t feel pressured to install VPNs on every device you own. Consider your unique circumstances, prioritize your needs, and choose the security solutions that best empower you to navigate the digital world with confidence.

Still, using a VPN on all your devices helps keep your data secure and is better for your overall digital security. Skipping a VPN on some devices might seem like a harmless shortcut, but it can have real consequences. Without one, snoopers and cybercriminals could exploit your connection and even target your other devices.

You’ll also need to think about how many devices you’d like to connect to your VPN with one subscription.

Consider VPN Device Limits

VPN services typically set caps on the number of devices you can connect simultaneously under one subscription. CyberGhost VPN lets you connect to up to 7 devices on one account. While the limit is high enough for the average person, installing a VPN app on every device you own can feel overwhelming. If you want to easily protect all of your devices in one go, you can configure your VPN on your router. If your VPN service supports that option, it automatically protects all your devices at once.

How to Pick the Best VPN for You

Choosing the right VPN for your needs can feel like navigating a digital jungle. While the endless features and options can seem overwhelming, remember to identify your priorities first. 

Think about your biggest online concerns. How would a VPN best help you solve them? 

Are you mainly:

    • Interested in overcoming geo-blocks? Look for a VPN with a large network.
    • Trying to stream or game without restrictions? Focus on server speeds and no bandwidth or data limitations.
    • Concerned about your online privacy and security? Find a VPN that uses a strong encryption standard and has a proven no-logs policy.

Once you’ve figured out what your main concerns are, you can compare specific providers and features with these considerations in mind. 

CyberGhost VPN checks all these boxes and more, with robust security, a global network of super-fast 10-Gbps servers, and useful features built into our user-friendly apps.


What to Do If You Can’t Install a VPN App

Can’t seem to install your VPN app on your device? From device limitations to software quirks, you’ll find many reasons why VPN installation might hit a snag. We’ve got straightforward answers to help you tackle some of the most common issues you might run into.

Need a little extra guidance? No problem! Our Support Center comes stocked with an extensive FAQ and step-by-step troubleshooting guides tailored for most scenarios. If you need a helping hand, our customer support team is available 24/7 via live chat or email.

Troubleshoot Common VPN App Installation Issues

First, make sure your device meets your VPN app’s technical requirements. If you’re using CyberGhost VPN, head over here to see if your device is compatible before installing.

Once you’ve confirmed your device’s compatibility, give it a quick reboot and ensure your internet connection is stable. Make sure your browser or device settings allow downloads from your chosen VPN app’s website, and double-check if your VPN app download was successful.

If you’ve managed to download the app but can’t seem to unzip the folder, try downloading the file again. Downloads can sometimes become damaged, preventing them from opening.

Keep running into issues? You can temporarily disable other software (like your antivirus program or firewall). Once you’ve turned them off entirely, try downloading the file again. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you can also try restarting your device and clearing your cookies/cache. 

Install the VPN Manually

If you’re comfortable with technical tasks, consider manual VPN installation as an alternative self-help option before contacting support. While you might think a manual VPN setup puts you in the driver’s seat, it could actually mean less control than you bargained for. Unlike user-friendly VPN apps, configuring settings manually can be a clunky affair, and you often miss out on handy features like split tunneling, kill switches, built-in advertising blockers, and more.  

When you’re manually installing a VPN, you’ll need to have a couple of things set up beforehand. Create an account with your VPN provider and purchase a subscription if you haven’t already. You’ll also need to download a VPN protocol. OpenVPN is our top pick for secure and reliable VPN connections.

Instructions will vary depending on your operating system, but most manual installations follow a similar structure. Here’s a quick overview of the steps involved:

  1. Sign up for a VPN service
  2. Log into your online VPN account and find the manual installation options.
  3. Configure your device’s network VPN settings.
  4. Download and import the VPN protocol configuration files.
  5. Connect to your VPN provider’s server.

That’s it! Remember, this is just a simplified walkthrough. For the full scoop on manual VPN installation, check out your provider’s support center. CyberGhost VPN offers step-by-step manual VPN installation guides for Windows, Android, macOS, and Linux.

Configure the VPN on Your Router

When you set up your VPN on your router, you won’t need to do it separately on all your devices. Plus, it keeps things secure for you and everyone on your Wi-Fi network.

If your router supports VPNs, the process is pretty simple. But if your router can’t do that, you’ll have to flash your router with VPN-friendly firmware (like DD-WRT or TomatoUSB) before you can get it working. Our support center has step-by-step guides that take you through the entire process. 

  1. Sign up for a VPN service
  2. Download your preferred VPN configuration files.
  3. Access your router’s control panel.
  4. Update your router’s VPN settings.
  5. Activate your new VPN connection.

Consult your VPN provider for more specific instructions. You may also need to check your router manual or manufacturer’s site as well. Now you can safely surf the web on any device connected to your router! This includes your phones, laptops, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and other smart devices in your home.

Use Smart DNS

ISPs, government bodies, and other parties often use DNS poisoning to block websites. Third parties can censor websites by “deregistering” their domain, which prevents your devices from accessing a DNS server. When this happens, your device is unable to obtain the IP address of the website you’d like to visit. Using a Smart DNS helps you circumvent those restrictions.

A Smart DNS service lets you access restricted content by replacing your ISP-assigned DNS address with its own, acting as a middleman between your device and the internet. This lets you bypass geo-restrictions and access content that would otherwise be unavailable in your location. While a Smart DNS doesn’t protect your data as much as a VPN would, it offers a few unique benefits.

Some premium VPN providers offer Smart DNS services in addition to their typical VPN services, so you can have your cake and eat it too. If you’re looking for an easy option, you can use CyberGhost VPN’s Smart DNS feature. CyberGhost VPN offers a safe, private, and fast Smart DNS that’s quick and easy to set up


Use a VPN Browser Extension

A VPN browser extension gives you a taste of online privacy and security without the commitment of a full VPN app install.

These lightweight add-ons encrypt your browser traffic and mask your IP address, providing a layer of privacy and security for your online browsing. That being said, VPN extensions only protect traffic within your browser. Streaming platforms and other apps won’t benefit from their protection.

On the fence about purchasing a VPN subscription? Consider experimenting with a VPN browser extension. These browser tools enhance your digital privacy but offer limited features and server access. 

When you’re ready to upgrade to a premium VPN subscription, CyberGhost VPN seamlessly picks up where the extension leaves off. You can enjoy the same digital privacy, but amplified across all your browsers, apps, and devices. Plus, you’ll gain access to exclusive features like a large server network, advanced security features, and ultra-fast speeds. 

Unlock Digital Freedom with VPN Apps

VPN apps serve as invaluable tools in today’s digitally connected world, allowing you to have more privacy and control over your online activity. However, they may come with limitations like device compatibility and installation restrictions. When choosing a VPN provider, be mindful of the app’s compatibility with your devices. You can also opt for a VPN that supports manual installation on your devices or router.

Ready to take the leap? Try CyberGhost VPN risk-free with our 45-day money-back guarantee.

FAQ

What is a VPN app used for?

A VPN app protects your online traffic, bypasses geo-restrictions, and can help you avoid bandwidth throttling imposed by your ISP. It’s an essential tool for safe & free internet access. VPN apps take care of the technical stuff, so you can connect instantly and enjoy secure browsing. 

Is it safe to let an app use a VPN?

Yes, it’s perfectly safe to let an app use a VPN. Using a VPN while you’re on an app actually provides an extra layer of security by encrypting your web traffic and masking your location. However, it’s important to choose a trustworthy VPN provider that won’t log your data or significantly reduce your connection speeds. You’ll also want to verify that the app itself only requests reasonable data and device permissions.

Do VPNs cost money?

Yes and no. While there are various free VPN app options out there, they often come with limitations and lack advanced features compared to paid VPN providers. You can get a CyberGhost VPN subscription at a competitive price — we also offer a 45-day money-back guarantee.

Our VPN provides the best possible experience with ultra-fast connection speeds, unlimited bandwidth, servers in 100+ countries, and 24/7 customer support. 

Is there a downside to always using a VPN?

While we recommend using VPNs whenever possible, there are some potential downsides. Encrypting your data can sometimes cause reduced speeds (this is most noticeable when using a free or low-quality VPN). VPNs can also cause increased data usage since encryption adds additional overhead to your data traffic. 

Some services are also incompatible with VPNs or block them entirely, which can cause issues when you’re trying to access these resources. In these instances, you can turn off your VPN and then reactivate it once you’re finished. 

Who can see if I use a VPN?

VPNs encrypt your connection, so third parties can’t track your web traffic. However, VPNs don’t stop website trackers from accessing your activity. That’s because VPN encryption can’t interfere with browser, extension, website, or app functionality. If a VPN scrambled your data, you wouldn’t be able to access the next page you clicked on because websites need to “read” the information that tells them what action you’ve taken on a page.

Although VPNs don’t completely hide your identity, it does give you a shared IP address. This increases your privacy by letting you join a crowd, instead of standing out with a unique IP address. 

Where is the VPN on my phone?

Mobile devices don’t normally come with pre-installed VPNs, so you’ll need to purchase and install a VPN yourself. While Android and iOS devices offer manual VPN configuration in their network settings menus, these aren’t actual VPNs. That means your mobile device has built-in VPN support if you want to manually install a VPN without downloading a VPN app. 

Manual installation requires you to have some technical know-how to fully secure your mobile devices, though. Mobile VPN apps simplify the set-up process, making installation a breeze for even the least tech-savvy people.
 
If you’d like to set up a VPN on your phone, we recommend downloading a reputable VPN app through your mobile device’s app store. 

Do I need a VPN on my phone?

We strongly recommend using a VPN on your phone. Connecting to public Wi-Fi leaves your data exposed to anyone else on those networks. They often have limited security, and cybercriminals can potentially use these connections to infiltrate your devices. If you regularly connect to public Wi-Fi on your mobile device, mobile VPN apps keep your online activity safe from cybercriminals and other unsavory digital parties on the same network.

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