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The objective is to connect a laptop to the internet through a VPN via a mobile phone's hotspot or USB cable.

Should the VPN be activated on the laptop, on the phone, or both?

Secondarily, is using a USB cable substantially safer than a password-protected hotspot?

OSX and Android.

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    To accomplish what exactly? – Steve Oct 5 '17 at 21:36
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    Primarily to safely connect to the internet via VPN on the laptop. – Norbert Oct 7 '17 at 22:04
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Depends on the device you want it to cover. If you activate it on the phone, it will route your phone and your computer’s traffic through it. If you set it up on your computer it will only route your computer’s traffic. If you activate the VPN on both devices, it may cause interference.

Using a USB cable to share internet is substantially safer than setting up a WiFi hotspot, but the latter can also be safe if you set a strong password, and use strong encryption, such as WPA2.

  • Thank you. I noticed that when setting up the VPN on the phone, the phone's internet speed is affected drastically, by about a 90% drop, but the connected laptop only suffers a 30-50% loss of speed, and a much smaller reduction in ping. That's why I'm unsure whether the phone's VPN is indeed active through the laptop. Are these numbers reasons to worry or is an active VPN on the phone definitely enough to cover both the phone and laptop? – Norbert Oct 5 '17 at 21:50
  • I’d say those numbers make sense, since you’re phone’s connection is slower than that of your home wifi, and you are adding extra load on to it by setting up an encrypted channel. A simple test to check if your VPN tunnel is working correctly is to check your external IP, it should match the one provided to the other end of the VPN connection. (I am by no means a VPN expert) – Bashtheparty Oct 5 '17 at 22:01
  • Also bear in mind that when you set up a VPN connection on a device, if implemented correctly, it will route all traffic through that encrypted tunnel, so if your phone’s traffic is being routed correctly, so should your computer’s. – Bashtheparty Oct 5 '17 at 22:06
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By using a usb cable you will bypass a potential security hole (if there is any). Also performance will increase because of the direct connection (battery life also). The only downside of using a USB cable is a potential driver issue (very unlikely)

If you want to connect both your phone and laptop, activate the VPN on your phone, if only one of the devices, do it on that device.

There is something to be said about DNS leaks and general traffic-leaks but that is a something about the implementation of the VPN and will be device-specific. This is change the principle of which of the 2 to be the entry-point of the VPN

  • Depends on the devices in question. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple didn't support anything but Apple devices to use USB tethering with their Apple phones, as that's kind of their MO. If you have an iPhone and a Windows or Linux PC, you may just not be able to do USB tethering. I'm not sure how widely compatible Android is, but I know I've had only minor issues with it on any PC I've used, either Windows or (consumer) Linux. At worst, I've needed to install a new driver; at best, it works out-of-the-box. iPhones might just not have a publicly available driver to install. – Nic Hartley Jul 8 at 14:08
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It is not true that when you use a VPN on your iPhone, your hotspot traffic is sent through the VPN. iOS separates traffic from your iPhone and your hotspot, so when you ask for your public IP, the iPhone gives you your IP of your VPN router, while your computer gives your your iPhone's public address.

  • This answer could be greatly improved if you added a source for this. – Nic Hartley Jul 7 at 21:51

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