Virtual private networks (VPNs) are becoming more popular, as both business owners and consumers become increasingly concerned about their online privacy and security. There are dozens of VPNs available for Macs, each of which offers different features and a slightly different UI, but do you really need one to protect yourself?
Why Use a VPN?
A VPN works as a digital service that relies on a secure, private network to access the internet, an otherwise public network. Though services can vary slightly, most VPNs work by using virtual connections routed through the web, encrypting the data transmitted to ensure it can’t be accessed by prying eyes.
There are a few main motivations that could drive you to use a VPN:
- Privacy. We live in a world where practically every move we make online is tracked. VPNs mask your traffic patterns so they’re a little less easy to track and store. For example, your internet service provider (ISP) will, by default, be able to tell which sites you’ve visited, what content you’ve streamed, and how long you’ve spent doing each. But VPNs bounce your traffic from server to server, so it’s much, much harder to tell what sites you’ve visited. Do note that this won’t make your traffic completely private, and various apps and websites can still keep track of the actions you take when you’re signed in. Macs don’t offer a service like this by default, so if privacy is important to you, it’s worth your consideration.
- Security. You can also use a VPN as an added measure of security, since many VPN providers will encrypt the information you send from point to point. Ordinarily, if you’re using public Wi-Fi, anybody with mutual access to that hotspot could hypothetically track every move you make; but if you’re using a secure VPN, there’s an extra step of decryption required, deterring the efforts of most cybercriminals. VPNs are also frequently used in business environments, where communications must be secured to protect customers’ and businesses’ data. Again, Macs don’t offer secure encryption by default.
- Location spoofing. Finally, because VPNs rely on bouncing your traffic between multiple locations, it’s possible to use them to “spoof” your location. Websites and apps can detect your country of origin, and sometimes, your geographic location with stunning accuracy. But if you relay your traffic through a different server node, you can make it appear as though your traffic is coming from a different location entirely.
So do you really need a VPN for your Mac?
You aren’t going to suffer any catastrophic functionality losses by not using one. However, there are distinct advantages to having a VPN installed, especially if you’re regularly exchanging sensitive information or if you have a vested interest in making your traffic seem like it’s coming from another location. Ultimately, VPNs are optional, but could provide you with a more secure, better overall experience.
What Makes a Good VPN?
Knowing that, how can you tell what makes a “good” VPN?
For starters, look for a paid option. There are a handful of free VPNs available to the general public, but as you might suspect, you typically get what you pay for. For-profit VPN companies are incentivized to create the best, most protective products possible, while open-source products aren’t bound by the same motivations. That said, depending on your intended use, you may be interested in finding an option that works for your intended budget.
You’ll also want to look at the key features of each product. Not all VPNs offer you the ability to change the location of your intended servers, and not all VPNs offer worldwide coverage. Similarly, you’ll find that VPNs use different encryption standards, and some will offer a higher level of security than others.
If you’re considering getting a VPN for multiple Macs (i.e., for your business’s employees), you’ll want to look for an option that specializes in managing multiple users. Pay attention to the level of customer support offered as well; if you or your employees need help setting up the app, or it requires technical assistance, this will be essential.
If you’re interested in getting a VPN for your Mac, whether it’s to imitate traffic coming from another country or just to browse more privately and securely, start looking at online reviews. You should be able to find an option that offers all the advantages you need without breaking your budget.