For a long time, the collective wisdom was that Mac users didn’t need to worry about security, as most cyber-attacks on personal computers were focused on finding and exploiting flaws in the Windows operating system. This lead to many casual users getting the impression that the Mac OS was the most secure operating system and that safety wasn’t a concern for them.
But this has changed in the last few years. As the percentage of people using Macs has increased, so has the number of cyber-attacks which target them. And then in 2015 Apple made the headlines in a bad way: by leaving two major security weaknesses in the El Capitan version of their Mac OS. These security holes were eventually patched, but the damage to users’ feeling of security was already done. Through the newer versions of Mac OS from El Capitan to the latest, High Sierra, these security concerns have remained.
This has led to Mac users taking the issue of security more seriously, and looking into security solutions like VPNs. Today we’re going to talk about why Mac users might want a VPN and show you a list of our recommendations for the best VPNs for El Capitan and High Sierra.
Why Mac OS Users Need a VPN
Whether you’re on the latest version of Mac OS, codenamed High Sierra, or you’re still using an older version of the OS like El Capitan for some reason, there are similar security issues for you to consider.
Although it’s true that there are fewer viruses and malware programs that target Mac OS than Windows, this doesn’t mean that Mac users are automatically safe. Many of the dangers to Mac users come in the form of attacks on network traffic rather than the device itself. This means that even if your Mac were perfectly secure, you would still be in danger of a hacker intercepting your data which it’s travelling over the internet to steal your personal data such as credit card details.
A VPN works by securing your network traffic, which makes it an excellent complement to Mac security such as anti-virus programs or hard drive encryption.
What Can You Do with a VPN?
The way a VPN works is as follows: you install a piece of software onto your Mac and use it to connect to a server somewhere else in the world. This software encrypts all of the data that your device sends over the internet, making it impossible for outside observers like your ISP, a law enforcement agency, or unscrupulous hackers to intercept and read your data. The encrypted data is passed on to the server that you chose, where it is decrypted and sent on its way to its original destination.
This process has a number of advantages for users:
- It protects your internet use from being monitored by your ISP or anyone else
- It makes it much harder for hackers to steal your data, especially if you are on an unsecure public Wi-Fi network like those you find in cafes or libraries
- You can use the VPN service to get around region locks – for example, to watch BBC iPlayer from outside of the UK
- If you use torrents or you stream copyrighted content, a VPN will protect you from legal problems by disguising your internet use
Choosing a VPN for Mac OS El Capitan or High Sierra
If you’ve decided that a VPN sounds like something you’d be interested in, you then have to select a VPN provider from the hundreds that are out there. At first, you might be tempted to save money by using a free VPN, but we’d advise against that. Some free VPN providers can be very unscrupulous, and there have been instances of free VPNs which either don’t work at all, which inject extra ads into web pages, or which sell their user data to other companies. Most troubling of all, the Hola free VPN was very popular until it was discovered that the company was violating user privacy and selling access to their users’ devices which was used for illegal activity like DDoS attacks.
Instead of a dodgy free VPN service, we suggest that you find a trustworthy paid VPN to keep you safe. These services are fairly inexpensive and are much more reliable at protecting your data. To help you with this decision, we’ve rounded up information about the best VPNs for Mac users below.
The way we choose our recommended VPNs is based on several factors:
- Are there plenty of servers in many different countries, so you can access content from any region you want? This is important to allow you to access UK-only content like iPlayer, US-only content like Comedy Central videos, or to let you spoof your location from any other country of your choosing.
- Are the connections fast, stable, and reliable so that they don’t slow down your internet use? No one wants to put up with slow internet. All VPNs will necessarily slow down your internet somewhat, as the data has to be routed and decrypted in an extra step from your normal internet use. But a good VPN will slow down the connection so little that it’s barely noticeable, while a bad VPN can slow your connection to a frustrating crawl.
- Does the company have good security policies, such as using strong encryption and keeping no logs of internet use in order to protect your privacy? This is especially important if you’re planning to stream or download content which is grey-legal. If a law enforcement agency believes you are accessing copyrighted content, they can demand that your VPN provider turns over their logs of your internet activity, which would show everything you’ve been accessing. The only way to avoid this is to have a VPN provider who keeps no logs of your internet use.
- And finally, does the VPN software support many operating systems? You’ll want software which supports Mac OS, of course, but you might also want to use the VPN service on your phone or another computer. A good VPN should support all kinds of operating systems so that you can protect all your devices at once.
With these factors in mind, here are the VPNs that we recommend for Mac OS users:
ExpressVPN is one the best-known and best-regarded VPN services in the world. It is famous for its super-fast connections and for its huge network covering 145 server locations in more than 90 counties. The software has a built-in speed test feature which Mac users can use to determine which server will be the fastest. This helps as different servers can respond at different speeds according to factors like how far away from you the server is, how many people are connecting to the server, and how good the connection between the server and the internet is. The speed test lets you find the fastest servers quickly and easily.
The service has solid security, with 256-bit encryption to protect your data and a no-logging policy to protect your privacy. The ExpressVPN software for Mac gives you all the controls over your VPN that you could need, and the software is available for iOS and other platforms too so you can use it on all your devices.
If you’d like to try ExpressVPN, we have a special offer which is exclusive to Addictive Tips readers: If you sign up for the yearly plan, you’ll get an extra three months for free, bringing the total to just $6.67 per month. This includes a 30-day no questions asked money back guarantee, so you can try out the service risk free.
Another extremely popular VPN service is NordVPN. It has a stellar reputation thanks to its emphasis on freedom of internet use and determination to protect the privacy of its users. This protection comes in the form of double data encryption and a no logging policy, which mean excellent security.
The NordVPN network includes an amazing 1040 servers in 60 different countries including the UK, France, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, the US and many more, which lets you get around region locks of all kinds. The Mac software is easy to use and installs quickly for a stress-free operation.
IPVanish is another VPN which is known for its exceptionally fast connections and a focus on anonymity. The service includes access to over 850 servers in 61 countries so you can get around region locks with no problem. The software has a clean interface and is easy to use for beginners, with more advanced options available to experienced users. These options include security enhancing features like a kill switch and DNS leak protection to keep you safe. There’s also an option to automatically switch your IP address after a set amount of time which is ideal for those who want the highest security.
The IPVanish Mac OS app will keep your Mac safe and sound, and you can also install software onto your Windows, Android, and iOS devices as well. The strong 256-bit encryption and no-logging policy round out the feature set of this service.
VyprVPN is the VPN of choice for users who are serious about security. It uses a special Chameleon protocol to add an extra layer of protection by encrypting not just the contents of your data packets, but also the packets’ metadata such as their origin and destination. This means that it can get around even sophisticated security measures like the anti-VPN detection which is used in China. If you travel to China or if you’re looking for the highest level of security, VyprVPN is the top choice for you.
The Mac software is easy to use, with servers in more than 70 locations around the globe and a process which automatically selects the fastest server in the location of your choice to connect to. There’s also a new connection per app feature which lets you customise the VPN connection behaviour for individual apps to give you the greatest control over your privacy.
StrongVPN is one of the lesser known VPN, but it has fast connections and solid security with 256-bit encryption and no logging. The StrongVPN network has 475 servers in 24 countries and the service has software support for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Linux so you can use it on El Capitan, High Sierra, and plenty of other platforms too.
How to Use a VPN on Your Mac
Installing a VPN onto your Mac is a simple process, whether you’re using El Capitan or High Sierra. First you need to head to the website of whichever VPN provider you’ve chosen and download their Mac installer. Once you have the .dmg file downloaded, drag the app icon to your Applications folder.
When you open the VPN software, you’ll need to enter the username and password that you got when you signed up for the VPN. Then you’ll see a list of servers from around the world which are available for you to connect to. Select a server in the country of your choosing – if you’re not trying to get around region locks then the fastest servers will be ones which are nearby to you – and press connect. You’ll see a confirmation that you’re connected to the server. Now you can use the internet as usual, safe in the knowledge that your Mac is protected.
Unfortunately, it just isn’t the case that Mac users can be lax about security. As the vulnerabilities in El Capitan demonstrated, Mac users can be affected by security issues too. On top of this, even if your OS is secure, your network traffic is still vulnerable to interception by hackers or government observers.
In order to keep your Mac protected, you should use a VPN to encrypt your network traffic. Any of the five VPNs we mentioned above will keep you safe and protect your privacy.
What security software do you use for your Mac? Do you use one of these VPNs or do you prefer another option which we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below.