What Are VPN Apps & Why You Need Them

Posted on Jan 29, 2024 by Alyssa Navarrosa

The internet is an essential part of our lives, but being constantly connected makes retaining your privacy a challenge. Ever seen an ad encouraging you to download a VPN app to protect your online privacy? If that left you wondering what a VPN app does, you’re not alone. 

If you want to take control of your online privacy and limit how much of your activity and information outsiders can see, using cybersecurity tools like VPN apps can help you achieve these goals. If you’re planning to use a VPN but you’re not quite sure where to start, we’re here to guide you on the uses of VPN apps, how they work, and why we need to use them. 

What Are VPN Apps?

VPN apps provide a user-friendly way to access VPN services. These apps simplify the process, making it easier to manage your VPN connection. VPN apps encrypt your internet connection, which adds a strong layer of security to your online activity and data. This means your information is concealed from snoopers and potential threats like cybercriminals who carry out cyber attacks to steal your sensitive data. 

Encryption masks your online activity — your data is scrambled up and wrapped in layers of code to make it unreadable. VPNs also mask your real IP address and cloak it with a different one by rerouting your connection through one of its servers.

With VPN apps, you don’t need to set up a VPN manually; the app does all the heavy lifting for you. Many VPN apps come with extra features and options that let you customize how the VPN works. 

Why Use VPN Apps?

There are many reasons why you might want to use a VPN app. Here are some of the most common ones:

    👉 You want to protect your online privacy and security. A Forbes study revealed that 40% of users experienced a data breach when using public Wi-Fi. This means that their sensitive info, like passwords or personal details, was accessed by unauthorized parties. To stay safe, use a VPN app when you’re using public Wi-Fi to protect yourself from cyber threats. 

    👉 You want to access different platforms without any restrictions. These platforms could be for online entertainment, social media, or staying updated with trends and results from other regions. VPNs let you safely use the streaming libraries you prefer from abroad, bypass network blocks like at school, and see a variety of websites and services from different countries.

    👉 You want to find better deals when shopping online. VPNs let you change your virtual location which helps you find different pricing and regional deals. This is useful when you’re booking flights or hotels, or want to avoid price discrimination. 

How Does a VPN App Work?

When you connect to the internet without a VPN, your unprotected traffic contains data about your IP address and online activity, allowing snoopers and cybercriminals to identify you or commit fraud using the information they discover. The websites you visit also sneak in tracking cookies to spy on your browsing habits for profit but this isn’t something a VPN can control. 

So, what can a VPN do? It can help prevent various cyber attacks, including DDoS, Man-in-the-Middle attacks, and cookie hijacking. By masking your IP address and encrypting your online activity, a VPN makes it much harder for cybercriminals and other third parties to access your online traffic and personal data.

After you connect to the VPN from your app, it will automatically reroute all your network traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a secure VPN server. VPN apps usually let you choose which VPN server you want to connect to from a list of countries, and many will find the best server for you. Keep in mind that not all VPNs offer the same country options, and some might have servers in fewer places. When you connect to a different VPN server, your IP address and virtual location change, making it look like you’re in another country.

Some VPNs come with extra features you can turn on and settings that let you customize your VPN app and connection. As an example, PIA has a feature called MACE that blocks DNS domains used for ads, trackers, and malware.

How to Download and Install a VPN App

To get started, simply:

1. Choose a trusted VPN provider

2. Download the VPN app for your device from your app store, or get it straight from the provider’s website.

3. Launch the app and create an account.

4. Choose your server then hit the connect button. If you connect first, no worries — it’ll auto-select a server for you. 

How to Use a VPN App

Using a VPN app is incredibly intuitive. For example, with PIA, you simply open the app on your device and tap the Connect button – the app will automatically select the best server for you. You can also choose a specific server location if you prefer. Once connected, you can immediately start browsing with peace of mind, knowing your connection is private and secure. 

With a VPN, your online activity is shielded from certain eyes like your ISP, government, cybercriminals, and network owners/admins. It won’t totally conceal everything, though. Websites, browsers, and apps can still track you using cookies or information you choose to input. VPNs also can’t shield you from phishing, malware, and viruses.  

If you need more information or need help setting up PIA VPN, you can contact PIA’s 24/7 Customer Support experts any time.

Which Devices Support VPN Apps?

VPN apps can work with a bunch of different devices, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Compatibility really depends on the VPN provider you’re using and which operating systems it chooses to support with native apps. Not all devices are ready to run VPN apps straight out of the box, either.

You can typically find compatible VPN apps for popular operating systems like Windows, Android, MacOS, iOS, and Linux from premium VPN providers. If your device doesn’t support dedicated VPN apps, no worries! You can set up the VPN on your router or use features like PIA’s SmartDNS. This lets you change your IP address on devices like consoles and Smart TVs that don’t support VPN apps. Keep in mind that while SmartDNS changes your IP address, it doesn’t encrypt your connection, which can have its downsides.

Some VPNs put a cap on how many devices you can connect at the same time. PIA doens’t limit your connections so you can secure all your gadgets at the same time.

Do You Need an App to Use a VPN?

While a VPN app makes it easy to connect to a VPN, it’s not the only way. You can also manually configure a VPN connection in your device’s network settings — if it supports VPN configuration. 

Here’s a thing, though: going manual requires some tech know-how and, if you mess up, it could put your privacy and security at risk. 

Using a VPN app is usually more convenient and comes with extra features, but if you go for manual setup, your connection still gets encrypted. You’re still using a VPN provider to direct your traffic through a secure server, just without their app. 

Alternative Options If You Can’t Install a VPN App

Here are alternative options to get VPN protection on your devices if you can’t install a VPN app:

Install the VPN Manually on Your Device

If you can’t install a VPN app, consider setting up the VPN manually on your device. This involves entering the VPN’s server address, your username, and password into your device’s network settings. While this method requires a bit more effort, it gives you the same level of protection as a VPN app if you do it correctly.

Before you start, you need to pick a VPN service provider and sign up. Once that’s done, get your VPN configuration files from them because you’ll need these when setting up the VPN manually.


Android devices can vary based on the manufacturer, so the steps may differ. In general, here’s how you can setup a VPN on your Android device:

1.  Open your device’s settings menu and tap Network & Internet or Connections.

Screenshot of Network Settings on Android

2.  Select More Connection Settings

Screenshot of Connections settings menu on Android

4.  Tap VPN and add a VPN profile.

Screenshot of Connections settings menu on Android

5.  Enter the VPN details provided by your VPN provider.

6.  Save the settings and toggle the VPN switch to connect to the VPN server.

VPN manual setup settings on Android


1.  Open the Settings app on your iOS device.

2.  Tap General and then VPN

3.  Click Add VPN Configuration

4.  Enter the VPN details provided by your VPN provider.

5.  Save the settings and toggle the VPN switch to connect.

Windows 10 & 11

1.  Press the Windows key on your keyboard and type VPN settings.

2.  Click Add a VPN connection

Windows VPN network settings menu

3.  Enter the VPN details provided by your VPN provider.

Settings to manually configure a VPN on Windows

4.  Click Save and then click Connect under the VPN connection you just created.


1.  Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences.

2.  Tap Network

3.  Click the + button to add a new network connection.

4.  Select the VPN interface and enter the VPN details provided by your VPN provider.

5.  Click Apply to save the settings

6.  Select the VPN connection you just created and connect.


1.  Install the OpenVPN client using your Linux distribution’s package manager.

2.  Copy the VPN configuration file provided by your VPN provider to the appropriate directory.

3.  Use the OpenVPN command-line tool to connect to the VPN server using the configuration file.

Configure the VPN on Your Router

Setting up a VPN on your router lets you connect every device on your network to the VPN. This means all your devices get the VPN’s protection — even the ones that don’t support VPN apps. 

PIA offers a comprehensive guide to help you configure our VPN on your router using flashed firmware. Remember, the setup process may vary depending on your router model and the VPN provider you choose.

Install a Browser Extension

If you’re mainly concerned about protecting your web browsing, consider installing a VPN browser extension. This will secure your browser traffic, although it won’t protect other apps on your device. PIA also offers browser extensions that are easy to install and use.

How to install a VPN browser extension:

1.  Open the relevant browser on the device of your choice.

2.  Visit the download page for the browser extension, like Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

3.  Click Download

5.  Wait for the installation to complete.

6.  Select a VPN server and click Connect.

Use a Proxy

Using a proxy server is another way to change your IP address. A proxy server acts as a digital middleman that routes your requests to the internet, which can change your visible IP address. This can make your online activity harder to track, giving you a level of privacy. 

While a proxy can hide your IP address, it doesn’t encrypt your internet traffic like a VPN does. This means your online activity could still be visible to others. That’s why it’s important to know what a proxy does and the security risks you might face when using one.

How to Choose a VPN

Not all VPNs are the same. Some are free, some are paid, some servers are fast, some are slow, some are secure, and some are not. But when looking for a VPN, these are some key factors you can consider.

    ✅ Understand your needs — Identify why you need a VPN. Are you looking to secure your data? Bypass geo-restrictions? Maintain anonymity? Your specific needs will guide your choice.

    ✅ Research the VPN’s features — Take a good look at what the VPN offers.For instance, PIA provides split tunneling, leak protection, and built-in ad blocking. These features enhance your online experience, that’s why it’s important to consider them when choosing a VPN. 

    ✅ Look at the pricing — The cost of VPNs can vary quite a bit, so think about your budget. Some VPNs, like PIA, offer a great service without making your wallet cry. 


What is a VPN app used for?

A VPN app makes using a VPN service on your device a breeze. It gives you an easy way to connect to VPN servers, creating a safe path for your data to travel through the internet. People generally use VPN apps to encrypt their traffic and change their IP address, making it look like they’re browsing from a completely different country or region. 

If you’re looking for a smooth VPN experience, you can try out PIA VPN. We take privacy seriously, offering strong encryption, a court-verified No Logs policy, leak protection, and even ad-blocking.

Should VPN be on or off?

Generally, you should keep your VPN on when you’re online to protect your privacy. However, there might be times when you want to turn it off, like when it’s slowing down your connection. PIA is a fast VPN with high-speed connections and support for lightweight VPN protocols, so you won’t have to worry about this too much.

How do I know if I have a VPN?

While some devices and operating systems come with built-in VPN support, it doesn’t mean they have a built-in VPN service. This support simply allows you to connect to a VPN service manually.

If you’re wondering whether your device has a built-in VPN, check your network settings. If you see options for a VPN, that means your device can support a VPN connection. To actually use a VPN, you’ll still need to subscribe to a VPN service like PIA.

Setting up and managing a VPN manually can be a bit tricky, but when you use a VPN service with native apps, it makes things a lot simpler. PIA has native VPN apps for a wide range of devices and operating systems including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. This means that no matter what device you’re using, PIA has got you covered.

Are VPNs free?

While free VPN services exist, they often come with limitations and might not be secure. Some free VPNs lack robust encryption standards and may even infect your device with malware. You also put your personal information at risk as many free VPNs will sell your activity data to make money. Free VPNs also have small server networks that can quickly become overloaded and most apply bandwidth and data caps.

In contrast, premium VPNs like PIA offer a more secure and feature-rich service. PIA not only protects your privacy, but it also offers some standout features that enhance your online security and experience. PIA comes with a court-proven No Logs policy, advanced features, a massive 10-Gbps VPN server network, and military-grade encryption.

Is it safe to let an app use a VPN?

Yes, it’s generally safe as long as the VPN provider is trustworthy. For instance, PIA is trusted by millions for our court-tested and independently verified No Logs policy. This means PIA doesn’t keep any records of your online activities, making sure your data remains private. 

Can I use a VPN on multiple devices?

Yes, you can use a VPN on multiple devices. Most VPN providers limit the number of devices you can connect at the same time, but others don’t. For instance, PIA allows unlimited device connections with a single subscription whereas most VPN providers limit you to a handful of simultaneous device connections. This means you can secure all your devices without any extra cost.

Does VPN impact internet speed?

Using a VPN can sometimes slow down your internet speed, as your data needs to be encrypted and then sent to the VPN server. 

Here’s the good news. Not all VPNs are created equal, and some are better at handling traffic than others. PIA is a fast VPN and our network is built to support high-speed connections. So, you can enjoy a secure connection without having to compromise on speed.