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Using a VPN app for MacOS

Mac users have always been far less likely to become victims of malware and virus infections for a few reasons. The first is that traditionally, the Mac OS market was far smaller than the Microsoft Windows crowd, and in the past, the Linux OS took away further market share from Apple.

Gradually though, as the company became more capable and competitive, it saw massive growth. There are a plethora of devices for tech-savvy Mac OS users to choose from, such as the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, and more. The popularity of the Mac OS, in turn, has led to more malware infections and hacking and phishing attempts for Mac OS users. Users that want to secure their online activities, mask their current locations, and frustrate would-be hackers are now turning to VPN services. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are available from different providers, each using a preferred protocol and tunneling method. Each protocol type has its own pros and cons, and finding the right choice for your purposes is easy. Simply take a look at our recommended Mac VPN providers in our recommendations table as a guide.

Sometimes we require an extra layer of security when using the internet, and a VPN service is one such method of achieving this additional protection. Using an app that has been specifically written to install and run perfectly on Mac OS, therefore, makes the most sense for beginner-to-intermediate VPN users on Mac OS.

Other reasons why you might consider using a Mac OS VPN app include:

Privacy

Many people use the internet via the services of a VPN, and this gives them additional privacy when conducting their business online. VPNs encrypt all of their traffic, sometimes even in multiple protocols, so that the data that travels within their VPN tunnel remains secure and unreadable to outside parties.

Censorship

As open as the internet is, there are many groups that decide what content is suitable for specific regions around the world. This can be determined by government agencies, schools, or distribution companies, depending on why the content is being censored. Using a VPN is a good way to deal with this issue.

Manage WiFi Security Problems

Many security breaches originate from within your very own local area network (LAN) via wireless connections, making internet cafes and public hotspots especially dangerous for unsuspecting patrons and visitors to use. Accessing the internet using a VPN encrypts all of your traffic, ensuring that your data is safe and unreadable to anybody that is trying to get into your system.

View Content

Some services charge the same amount for subscriptions to all customers but limit the content that they can legally receive by blocking access. Users with VPNs are able to enjoy legal content by connecting to a VPN that is in a suitable territory. Users that wish to do this must make sure that it does not affect the terms and conditions of their service agreements.

How to Choose a VPN for Mac

Most, if not all, of the deciding factors of choosing a VPN for Windows will also apply for a Mac OS user. The VPN applications themselves work remarkably similarly to the Windows options that are available from most providers, which means that using a VPN on your Mac OS device is very easy.

Factors that should help you to decide which VPN for Mac to choose include:

Speed

A VPN with quick speeds is critical, especially if you are hoping to do more than browse the internet with your VPN, so make sure that the bandwidth allocation on the connections is as high as possible. Speed will affect latency, for example, making some games run with less than desirable pings and causing a gamer’s experience less than optimal.

Server Choice (Location & Specialty)

If you are going to be accessing content on servers that are hosted abroad or on another continent, then it is sometimes advisable to connect to a VPN server that is located within the same territory as the service that you are trying to access. This means that when selecting a VPN provider, you should ensure that they have servers in all of the countries that you require. Similarly, if you are planning on connecting to a specific type of service, such as a legally-streaming video content platform, then you should make sure that the most suitable protocols for your intended use are available.

Encryption Levels

Your information is important, so taking risks with security levels and the encryption types that your VPN provider offers is not an option. Always make sure that the VPN provider that you are with offers secure encryption for your connection. There are many different standards to choose from, but the rule of thumb is that the more secure the protocol, the slower it is likely to be. This is because encrypting and decrypting data adds additional time requirements to your transmissions, creating slowdowns, which are not as noticeable on fast internet connections.

Privacy

Having your data encrypted by your VPN provider is almost pointless if they are keeping logs on your internet browsing, network connections, and online habits. When you are considering  VPN providers, always ensure that they have a zero logging policy in place. If a data breach occurs and their logs are stolen, then you are at risk if you can be identified via those logs. Though this may be difficult to do, is not impossible for a team of hackers to achieve.

Torrenting

P2P (Peer-to-Peer or Point-to-Point) software has gotten a bad reputation over the years, with torrent technologies taking the brunt of this criticism. The concept of torrenting is a good one: teams of people with the same file or content on their computers are able to seed content for people that wish to download files. The issue is that many software pirates use this method to host illegally accessed versions of software so that they can distribute their files quickly. There are plenty of good reasons to use a legitimate torrenting client, like for downloading Linux torrents with CD/DVD .iso images and other large pieces of software. Ensure your VPN is torrent capable with your provider to avoid disappointment later on.

Customer Service

No matter how technically proficient you are, bad things do happen that are outside of our control, especially in the technology sphere. For this reason, you want to make sure that the VPN product that you subscribe to has professional and friendly customer service available to help with any glitches or issues that you experience along the way. Operating times are also important: are they 24/7, or are they only open during normal business hours? Do they observe holidays, or do they offer support year round? Do they have a call center, email facilities, or a live chat system? These are all things that need to be taken into consideration before you decide which VPN provider to go with.

Free VPNs for Mac

Free VPN providers can be great in emergency situations if you have no alternative, but as a long-term strategy, they are not a good idea. Using a free service often limits your recourse as a consumer, especially if you have to agree to ridiculous terms of service before you sign up.

In best case scenarios, many free VPN services will limit the data transmissions that you can experience every month, often providing very small amounts of data for you to experiment with while you are trying out a VPN product. Other free VPN service providers will limit the speed at which you can download or upload content on their VPN connection, making the service frustrating to use.

Some of these services, in worst case scenarios, are run by unscrupulous VPN providers that are actively selling your data to larger companies, making you the target of unsolicited advertising and malware. By signing up for a paid 1-year or 2-year package, many VPN users are able to gain world-class security and features without having to pay more than a few dollars per month, which is an excellent deal.

How to Setup VPN on Mac

Manual configuration for IKEv2 protocol

This is the basic manual setup for the IKEv2 protocol on a Mac system:

Open up the Apple Menu (circled in red).

Mac VPNs

Select System Preferences.

Mac VPNs

In the System Preferences window, click Network.

Mac VPNs

Click on the (+) to add a new connection.

Mac VPNs

Choose VPN as the interface.

Choose IKEv2 as the VPN Type.

Enter “YourVPNnameHere” or something suitable for Service Name.

Click on the Create button.

Mac VPNs

Configure YourVPNnameHere Connection.

Enter the server name or address in the server address field for your VPN provider.

Use the same name for the Remote ID and Local ID fields.

Click Authentication Settings.

Mac VPNs

In the Username/Password fields, type your VPN provided username (email address) and password.

Click OK.

Click Apply.

Select your VPN from the top menu.

Click Connect VPN.

Mac VPNs

You are now connected.

 

Tunnelblick Setup

These are the instructions for a Tunnelblick setup.

Download the Tunnelblick Client for your Mac OS version from here.

Run the installer by double-clicking on it.

Mac VPNs

Double click to begin the installation.

Mac VPNs

Follow the installation prompts.

Mac VPN

Select the appropriate permissions for the config file.

Mac VPN

You might be prompted for your system password. If so, enter it.

Mac VPN

You’ll then get a message: Installation Successful.

Connect to the appropriate configuration.

Mac VPN

Enter the details as supplied by your VPN provider.

Mac VPN

VPN Installation (ExpressVPN)

Here, we’ll show you how to install one of our favorite VPNs on a Mac.

Go to the ExpressVPN website, then click “Select My Account”, then sign in with your credentials.

Mac VPN

 

Select the Download and Install option.

Mac VPN

Select Mac.

Mac VPN

Once downloaded, click on the file, then on Open.

If you have a previous version installed, click Keep Existing Account, then Continue. If you are changing accounts, select the second option, then Continue.

Mac VPN

Copy your activation code into the application window.

Mac VPN

Click on Start Using the App.

Mac VPN

Then, the app opens.

Mac VPN

You can now change your location to your preferred location.

Mac VPN

Installation is now complete.

FAQs: VPN for Mac

Do all VPN providers work with Macs?

This varies from provider to provider, as not all companies write installer software for Mac systems. If you are able to install the VPN Config onto a router, however, then yes, a Mac OS-enabled device will have access via the router’s configuration. It is always a good idea to check with the company that you are signing up with to verify device compatibility before you sign up.

Is a Mac VPN same as an iOS VPN?

Yes and no. The technologies behind the VPN apps are the same, however, the installer types and the environments that they run in are not backward compatible. You will sometimes see similarities in design elements and functionality within the 2 types of apps, but they are separate products.

How to test your Mac VPN app’s performance

The best way to test a Mac VPN’s app performance is by pitting it against another device with a different operating system. Many commercial VPN services, such as the reviewed ones here, offer multiple versions of the app on different platforms. They also often provide multiple opportunities for you to use the VPN on multiple devices at the same time. That way, you can perform benchmarking tests of your own to compare performance issues on your Mac OS VPN client (or lack thereof).

Will VPNs work on older Mac OS versions?

Each provider is different, however, most versions of OSX 10 and upwards will work with VPN installer software, or via direct router configuration for VPN software. Check with your provider.

What MacOS versions work with VPNs?

Mac OS 10.9 – “Mavericks”

Mac OS 10.10 – “Yosemite”

Mac OS 10.11 – “El Capitan”

Mac OS 10.12 – “Sierra”

Mac OS 10.13 – “High Sierra”

What is the kill switch on Mac VPN?

The kill switch is a software monitor that kills, or disables, all internet traffic in the event of the VPN connection failing. If your VPN connection was to drop, and your Mac reconnected without this protection, you would expose your physical location and personal information. If the kill switch is active, then you will protect yourself from accidental exposure if there are any VPN outages on your system.

Is antivirus software or malware protection an alternative to VPN?

No, they are not an alternative to VPNs, but rather an additional layer of security. Using both a VPN and malware protection/antivirus software is a great way to protect yourself.

Do VPNs slow down performance on Macs?

Generally speaking, no, they do not. This is all dependent on the quality of the product that you select, the location of the VPN servers that you choose to connect to, and your personal internet speed. The rule of thumb is that the further away your VPN server is, the more “hops” or obstacles your network traffic must travel through, and the more latency or “bad ping” you may experience.

Conclusion

Buying and installing VPN software on your Mac is as easy as can be, and as you can see from our write up, there are no shortages of options in the market for security conscious MacOS users to choose from. Our favorite MacOS option was ExpressVPN, as it offers great features, plenty of international servers to choose from, and at a compelling price point. It is much easier to set up and use than the manual option, but if you wanted to install it manually on your Mac OS device, then there are instructions available for that as well.

Written by: Graeme Messina

Graeme is an IT professional with a special interest in computer forensics, security, and software. When not building networks and researching the latest software trends, he enjoys writing technical articles and blog posts.

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