Preventing security threats on a Mac requires more than just antivirus software. Contrary to popular belief, Macs aren’t invincible to malware and identity theft. When you’re using public Wi-Fi on your Mac, there’s a good chance that your personal data could be compromised. So, where to begin looking for a Mac-friendly VPN provider? We’ve chosen six of the best VPNs for Macs after lengthy research and testing so you don’t have to do the legwork. Read on to find out about our top recommendations!
Our Mac VPN Testing
Required macOS version
10.10 or higher
IP address types
Static, dynamic, shared
Some, not all
We tested out VPNs on our Macbook Pro or our Macbook Air to see how well their security and performance held up. One of our main concerns with VPN providers is whether or not they’re based in a country that’s a member of Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or 14 Eyes. If their headquarters’ country is a member, the company is legally required to share personal information with the government without the user’s consent or awareness, so that’s a big no-no for us.
For a better overview, we pinpointed each VPN’s strengths and weaknesses. Sure, there are plenty of VPNs to choose from, but if you’re a Mac user, you’re probably looking for the cream of the crop. That’s why we did all the heavy lifting for you. Let’s see what each VPN for Mac has to offer!
NordVPN servers are located in 59 countries, including the U.S. While we were impressed with the large network, it’s not the largest by any means. Still, NordVPN’s thousands of servers granted us the opportunity to remain anonymous in plenty of locations and avoid server congestion. We sometimes travel to Canada to visit family, and because Canada is one of the countries where NordVPN’s servers are located, we utilized their double VPN server on our Macbook Air for twice the encryption.
Tip: NordVPN picks out the best server for you based on your location, data limits, or special requirements — no need to scour thousands of servers!
Don’t know about you, but we love a good Netflix marathon on our good old Macbook laptops. With NordVPN, we watched shows and movies that were exclusive to other countries. As long as the servers were located in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Japan, or the Netherlands, we were good to go. Sometimes, we’re a little impatient about waiting around for a new season of Doctor Who, which is only available on Netflix in the U.K., so NordVPN was a lifesaver.
Strict Logging Policy
Protecting our data is one of our top priorities, so when NordVPN came along with their strict logging policy, we nodded our heads in approval. Unlike our Internet Service Provider or ISP, NordVPN kept their nose out of our business and didn’t track, collect, or share connection timestamps, session information, used bandwidth, traffic data, and our private IP addresses. Other companies track certain pieces of our usage information, so it felt reassuring that NordVPN didn’t pull a fast one on us.
Let’s be honest: ads are annoying. There’s no greater hindrance to browsing the Internet than seeing a bunch of intrusive ads that lead to either malware or porn sites. Thankfully, Surfshark helped us block pesky ads with their very own ad-blocker called CleanWeb. When we were researching birthday present ideas for our grandparents, we visited a site with so much adware that we could barely scroll down the page without an ad pop-up window flashing on our Macbook screen. When we set up CleanWeb, however, we revisited the site and it no longer felt like a warzone.
Easy and Secure Torrenting
We tested out legal torrenting on our trustworthy Macbook Pro and Macbook Air, and Surfshark made sure that their VPN servers were torrent-friendly. Surfshark offers some of the highest bandwidth speeds with zero throttling, which results in safe, secure, and unrestricted torrenting. Compatible torrenting servers include uTorrent and other P2P clients, but we should point out that Surfshark has a very limited list of the latter.
When a company includes multi-hop, a.k.a double VPNs, with their servers, that means they’re offering an extra layer of security. Surfshark’s multi-hop encrypted our data through multiple servers on our Macbook devices. This way, our data was more secure and harder to trace, as it was encrypted twice. No one ever found out our exact IP address or domain name history, and we’d like to keep it that way.
Encryption is crucial when it comes to VPNs, sure, but we haven’t seen many companies that actually allowed us to personalize the encryption settings as Private Internet Access does. During testing, we were given several options: the default, the recommended protection, a speed-focused option, a security-focused option, and an option with no authentication whatsoever. We went with the recommended protection, but it was nice to pick options à la carte.
Gift Card Trade-In
We’re guilty of hoarding gift cards, so when we found out that Private Internet Access offered a gift card trade-in program, we were absolutely thrilled. Private Internet Access accepts brand gift cards from companies such as Starbucks, Walmart, and Best Buy, so we sorted through our wallets and drawers for neglected gift cards and immediately traded them in. We had a $25 Starbucks gift card that we won from a prize lottery at work, so we received 95 days of Private Internet Access. We were pleased with the alternative method of paying for our subscription.
Tip: We recommend trading in gift cards as this gives you more days to use Private Internet Access than their 30-day money-back guarantee. Either way, you won’t lose money for trying out their service unless you continue their monthly subscriptions beyond the 30 days.
Dynamic IP Addresses
As a rule of thumb, we like VPNs that offer dynamic IP addresses over static ones. This made it more difficult for outsiders to trace us, keeping us invisible at all times. Private Internet Access gave us different invisibility cloaks each time we logged onto the server on our Macbooks, so hackers never knew our location or personal information. Worked like magic!
ExpressVPN packs on a ton of features, but one that really stood out to us was their multilingual interface. Although English is our native tongue, we liked that ExpressVPN considered their customers whose first language isn’t English. With 16 languages and counting, ExpressVPN upgrades its support for multiple languages on their apps and browser extensions. After downloading the ExpressVPN app on our Macbooks, we switched between English and Spanish. Privacy and security aren’t exclusive to English speakers, so we applaud ExpressVPN for their all-inclusive perspective.
We found that ExpressVPN’s split tunneling was a godsend for when we had to work on a private and public network at the same time. A few of us from the office decided to have a meeting at a nearby cafe, so we connected to both the cafe’s public Wi-Fi and ExpressVPN’s server on our Macbooks to prevent our private company data from leaking. Some of our devices’ and apps’ traffic went through the VPN tunnel while others went directly to the public Internet network as per usual. Split tunneling also uses less bandwidth, so it was a toggle-free experience.
If “kill switch” sounds too lethal, don’t worry, ExpressVPN named theirs “Network Lock.” We prefer companies that include a kill switch because, in the event that our VPN connection drops, the kill switch protects our data by blocking all Internet traffic until the connection comes back. We had a storm one day, so the power flickered and interrupted our VPN connection. ExpressVPN’s Network Lock prevented any of our personal data from entering or leaving our Macbook Air during the power outage gaps.
Subscriptions can be a hit or miss, but fortunately for CyberGhost, they’re a bonafide hit. We discovered that the longer the commitment, the more money we’d save on monthly subscriptions. But being non-commital when it comes to VPNs, we signed up for the monthly $12.99 plan. On the other hand, if we chose to sign up for 18 months, the rate would knock down to $2.75 per month, which is 79 percent in savings! Although not everyone likes long-term contracts, the bump from 12 to 18 months is a pretty great bargain for the price.
Whether it’s region-locked shows or sporting events, we want them all. CyberGhost bypasses geo-restrictions, closedowns, and digital censorship for a truly unrestricted streaming experience. We’ve had our fair share of frustrations when we came across YouTube videos that were not available in our country. With CyberGhost, we overcame those restrictions and no longer had to vicariously experience games or sporting events through people live-tweeting or streaming on Twitch on our Macbook Pro.
Top of the Line Encryption
The industry standard for VPN encryption is AES-256, which CyberGhost implements with their VPN. When we browsed the Internet on our Macbook Pro, we shared an anonymous IP address with other CyberGhost users on one server. It’s safe to say that we weren’t at all worried about our IP addresses being compromised or revealed to outsiders.
Tip: Unlike other companies that offer 30-day money-back guarantees, CyberGhost gives customers 45 days to try out their service. If you’re not a fan, they won’t ask questions and you’ll receive your full refund.
While TunnelBear’s free service does have limited usage, at least it’s measured in data rather than the number of days like free trials. They offer a free plan with 500 MB of secure browsing, which is a fairly generous amount. We tried out the free plan for personal use over the course of a few months, something we wouldn’t have been able to do with seven-day or 30-day free trials.
Independent Security Audits
TunnelBear is one of the few VPN providers that performs annual independent security audits for their apps. A security audit basically legitimizes a company’s promises about security with their VPN servers. TunnelBear proved to us that their service was reliable, especially after they revealed they’d completed their second annual security audit.
Separate Plans for Personal and Business Use
As the saying goes, there is always strength in numbers. TunnelBear offers a Teams plan, which includes more security features for more than two users. We brought up this plan to our team members one day, and without much discussion, we signed up for it. The biggest motivator for settling on the Teams plan was how much we saved compared to individual pricing, which is $9.99 per month compared to $5.75 per month.
If you’re wondering how we test VPNs, we give a rundown of our process below. We go down the list of industry-standard features while also noting extra brownie points that distinguish each VPN provider from the rest.
It’s hard to believe, but research indicates that 64 percent of Americans weren’t even aware when they were affected by a data breach.1 However, not everyone is ignorant of these digital security blunders. We conducted a VPN consumer usage study that revealed that approximately 68 percent of adult U.S. Internet users use some type of free or paid VPN. Given the fact that hackers attack every 39 seconds an average 2,224 times a day,2 VPNs function like guardians, protecting users’ web traffic, domain name servers, and their private IP addresses.
When we look at a VPN’s security, we want to make sure users’ private IP addresses aren’t leaked by conducting a Web Real-Time Communication Test. WebRTC allows browsers to communicate directly with each other, and browsers like Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Opera are the most susceptible to WebRTC leaks. When we test for WebRTC leaks, we use the tool that’s available on ExpressVPN’s website and compare the local and public IPv4 IP addresses. We also test for Domain Name Server leaks by using DNSLeakTest.com and comparing the computer’s IP address with the IP addresses that come up on the website.
Another aspect we take into consideration is the company’s privacy jurisdiction and data-logging policy. We prefer companies located in countries that are non-members to Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes, which are international surveillance alliances that could legally force companies to hand over customers’ information. For data-logging, we prefer companies that only keep users’ account information like their name, email, and payment information rather than their IP addresses, web traffic history, how long they used the VPN service, and how much data was transferred.
We also analyze the VPN’s encryption methods and Internet protocols, with AES-256 and OpenVPN being the most secure methods. Private domain name servers and anonymous and dynamic IP addresses are harder to track, so these are ideal. Finally, we check to see if a VPN provider has a kill switch, which shuts down all Internet browsers in the event that the VPN fails.
Internet speed is an important factor for many VPN users because it can either slow down or improve Internet performance. In general, we test VPNs on a private Optimum network in our Brooklyn office. For testing, the device we use is a Macbook Air. As an objective control, we look at Internet speed without a VPN. We test the download speeds, upload speeds, and latency via website performance tests without the VPN, then with it connected.
As a primer, download and upload speeds are measured in megabits per second (Mbps) and latency is measured in milliseconds. We determine these figures by the difference between the two measurements in terms of percentage. There’s a big difference between Mac and Windows speeds, which is why we use two different devices. VPNs will ideally have no more than a 40 percent difference in any of the speed categories. Some factors that might affect speed include the distance to the server, the operating system, and the type of device, among other factors.
Internet performance generally applies to Netflix and torrenting. Most of us have used Netflix at some point, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people use VPNs to access exclusive Netflix shows and movies from different regions. Netflix frequently updates its code to block any VPN connections, so there’s no guarantee that the streaming service will work on a VPN.
Split tunneling is another feature of VPNs that we like to see because it allows users to access the VPN and the public network at the same time. This results in lower bandwidth and faster speeds, optimizing Internet performance. We also prefer double or multi-hop VPNs, which encrypt data multiple times through multiple servers.
There are some free VPN providers, but more often than not, you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription for their service. When we present objective information on a company’s subscriptions, we determine whether the pricing is reasonable based on competitors’ pricing. VPN subscriptions typically range between less than a dollar to $15 per month. User flexibility is important when choosing subscriptions; we prefer monthly and annual options. Trial periods or money-back guarantees are a huge bonus, and we’re glad to see that it’s very common for VPN providers.
We veer toward companies that outline what’s included in their subscriptions such as the number of server switches, simultaneous connections, and devices allowed. Popular VPNs usually allow unlimited server switches and devices, on top of one to unlimited simultaneous connections.
When looking at iOS apps for VPNs, we check the ratings on the Apple Store. If they’re below three stars, we can’t recommend the service to Mac users. During testing, we check to see if the app is easy to use because VPNs are already difficult to understand for new users.
It might seem strange to consider customer support as a factor for choosing the best VPNs but contacting a company about technical issues is crucial. We prefer that a company has a 24/7 live chat feature or phone number that allows us to speak to a real human being about our problems with the service. At the very least, an online help center is ideal when we need to look for quick troubleshooting.
When you create a VPN on a Mac, you’ll want to go to System Preferences in the Apple menu and then click Network. Click the Add button on the left sidebar and an Interface pop-up menu will appear. From there, click the VPN Type pop-up menu and choose the VPN connection you want to set up.