The 5 Best VPNs for Mac users and some to avoid

Published by on October 31, 2017 in VPN & Privacy

Macbook with VPN

Mac users are spoilt for choice when picking a VPN. Pretty much every VPN provider out there makes an app for MacOS, but only a few of them are worth your time and money. Not all offer the level of speed, security, and privacy expected by users, and even fewer can unblock popular streaming services like Hulu, BBC iPlayer, and Netflix. Many people also need a VPN that can bypass censorship, such as residents of China, which only a handful of VPNs are capable of.

Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of your choosing. In this article, we’ll look at the best all around VPNs for Mac users. That means they’re suitable for bypassing censorship, securing public wifi, unblocking geo-locked websites and apps, torrenting, and using Kodi. They’ll work on any type of Macbook, Macbook Air, Macbook Retina, or Macbook Pro. Older versions of MacOS and OSX should all be supported.

The most secure VPN protocol is OpenVPN, but Macs don’t come with built-in support for it. You could configure an OpenVPN client using some third-party software, but this typically requires you to manually configure individual servers, a tedious process. It’s much easier to install a provider’s custom app that comes pre-configured with all the OpenVPN servers you’ll need, plus other benefits like a kill switch and DNS leak protection.

For those of you that take the security of your Mac seriously, we’ve sifted through what’s on offer to find the best options available. We curated our list of the best VPNs for macOS and OSX based on the following criteria:

  • A MacOS/OSX app is available from the provider
  • The app uses the OpenVPN protocol
  • Strong encryption and a no-logs privacy policy
  • Fast connections with unlimited bandwidth and no data caps
  • A large, global network of servers to unblock geo-locked content

1. NordVPN

nordvpn android appNordVPN is on our list because it offers over 600 servers all over the world, and an assurance that the VPN servers keep no logs about your connection. It also gives you the option of choosing encryption strength with different protocol options in the easy-to-install MacOS client. NordVPN has readily available customer service and support options as well. Some of the advanced features offered are things like DNS leak prevention for added security and an internet kill switch that cuts off the internet connection if the VPN connection drops.

SAVE 72%: NordVPN is currently running a deal with a massive 72% of the 2 year plan here.

Read our review of NordVPN.

2. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN pricing

While ExpressVPN does not have anywhere near as many servers as some, it does have them spread out over 87 countries and counting. Speeds are fast and it unblocks all the major services including Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and many more, making it a great choice for streaming while an impressive list of privacy features makes it a popular choice for torrenters and Kodi users. There is also a 24/7 live chat option on the support page that can get fast responses to just about any question. We got a response in just over a minute when asking about available servers. ExpressVPN also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not happy with their product. Finally, there is also scalable encryption using your choice of VPN protocols in the client app.

TRY IT RISK FREE: Get 3 months free here with ExpressVPN’s 12 month plan and a 49% discount on the monthly cost. This includes the 30 day money-back guarantee so you can try is risk free and receive a full reason if you don’t want to stick with.

Read our full review of ExpressVPN.

3. IPVanish

ipvanish-3-0-desktopThe best VPN for peer-to-peer file sharing has to be IPVanish. With a policy of not keeping logs of user activity on the VPN servers, combined with a policy of not throttling file sharing traffic, this creates a wonderful option for transferring large chunks of data online. IPVanish doesn’t currently offer a free trial, but coupons are on offer for new users. There are also over 500 servers spread out across the planet along with support for multiple devices on a single account.

Read our full IPVanish review or try it with a 60% saving on the annual plan here.

4. CyberGhost Procyberghost surfing info

CyberGhost Pro is the premium tier of the free Cyberghost VPN service. It’s an easy-to-use and low-cost solution that’s perfect for budget-minded novices, but wont’ disappoint hardcore users either. The company stores no logs of users data, although the Romania-based company was recently acquired by an Israeli firm headquartered in the UK, so be on the lookout for changes. The MacOS app offers access to over 1,000 servers across 27 countries. 256-bit encryption protects all internet traffic to and from your Macbook. Apps are also available for Windows, Android, and iOS.

CHEAP DEAL: Save 74% on the CyberGhost Pro 2-year plan.

Read our full review of Cyberghost Pro.

5. BufferedVPN

buffered servers and connected

This VPN service offers support for five devices at a time and very accessible service and support. The 30-day, hassle free, money back guarantee really sets Buffered apart from many other providers. The final point in its favor here is that there are no limits on speed or bandwidth. One major downside is that Buffered does not work with Netflix. Netflix users should opt for the top two options on this list, ExpressVPN or NordVPN.

Read our review of Buffered here or take advantage of their 30 day money-back guarantee here.

Can I use a free VPN with MacOS?

We recommend against using so-called “free” VPN services for a number of reasons. First of all, they’re slow or limit downloads. Most free VPNs cap data transfers and implement bandwidth limits that are too restrictive for anything but basic web surfing.

Second, free VPNs tend to have poor privacy practices. They may use outdated encryption or keep logs on your activity, for example. Some even inject tracking cookies and advertisements into your browser and sell your browsing data to third parties. That’s the opposite of what VPNs are meant for.

Finally, free VPNs often carry malware that will infect your Macbook once installed. Stick to paid VPN services with good reputations and strict privacy policies.

VPNs to avoid

GoVPN claims to be a free VPN for Mac and iOS devices. It is currently not known what this app does, but connecting to a VPN service is not on the list. It will claim to be connected to a VPN, but your computer’s IP address is still visible to any site on the internet. Avoid at all costs.

Fresh VPN offers a free trial for connecting to their service. Unfortunately, the free trial is considerably less than Buffered’s 30 days. It only lasts five minutes. Seriously. That’s all their going to give someone to test out and evaluate their service on a Mac. Not enough time for a real evaluation, and only shows what little faith the vendor has in the product on offer.

If you open the Mac app store and search for “VPN” you’ll get a long list of apps, including several that claim to be free. Most of those free VPNs include “In-App Purchases”, non-functioning connections or even blatant malware of some form or another. Even some of the paid-for VPNs have advertising embedded in their free, or trial version apps. To avoid any surprises, you’re much safer downloading the app directly from your chosen provider’s website.

Why Mac owners should use VPNs

MacOS is generally considered a fairly secure operating system, but there are still a number of reasons for Mac owners to employ VPNs.

The first is to improve privacy. Your Mac’s security and privacy only extend to the data that is stored on your Macbook. Once data is passed over the internet, it may no longer be secure or private. Your internet service provider or a hacker on your wifi network could snoop on your online activity. This information could be used against you in a number of ways, such as your ISP throttling your bandwidth as punishment for using P2P applications, or the hacker conducting a man-in-the-middle attack to dump a malware payload onto your computer.

Besides the obvious privacy and security benefits, VPNs are extremely useful for accessing geo-locked content. If you want to watch a video or access an app that’s only available to users in a specific country, for example, you can simply set your VPN server location to that country and connect to it to unblock the content. This works whether it’s the government, your ISP, or the website itself doing the blocking.

Some apps and websites have caught onto VPN users, such as Netflix and Hulu, which prevent VPN users from watching videos from abroad. A handful of VPNs, however, have figured out a workaround so their users can bypass the VPN ban and watch from anywhere in the world. ExpressVPN and NordVPN, for example, both unblock Netflix and Hulu on certain servers.

Mac Security

For those of you that remember the Mac vs. PC ads that plagued television several years ago, you may recall that the Mac was touted as being more secure and less virus prone. In some ways, this claim was true, because MS Windows PCs accounted for over 90 percent of the computers on the internet at the time. Not many viruses targeted Macs simply because there weren’t enough Macs online to make it worthwhile.

Over the past several years, the popularity of Apple’s products has gone up considerably. So much so, that exploits and vulnerabilities are now being taken advantage of in malicious code online. There was even quite a bit of outrage in the Mac community recently toward a security researcher who announced two rather critical flaws in the Mac OS without notifying Apple first, thereby putting every Mac user potentially at risk of these zero day vulnerabilities.

One vulnerability in OS X El Capitan dealt with stored passwords in the iCloud Keychain. This security hole can be patched in El Capitan and does not exist in later versions of OS X.

Any vulnerability in an operating system that the manufacturer of that OS is unaware of is called a “zero-day” vulnerability, kind of like patient zero in an epidemic. Once the manufacturer becomes aware of the flaw, it starts a race against time to patch the hole before too many of its users get hit by an exploit using this flaw. As you can imagine, any zero day vulnerability in an operating system is music to the ears of anyone who writes any kind of malware. The system is basically wide open to them until the vendor finds out about it and gets a patch in place to plug the hole.

A VPN adds a significant layer of protection against zero-day vulnerabilities that we might not know about yet. An encrypted tunnel and masked IP address go a long ways toward mitigating these kinds of threats.

How to manually configure a VPN on a Mac

If your VPN provider doesn’t make an app or you just prefer not to use it, Mac users have a few options for manually configuring a VPN. We’ll explain how to set up three of the most popular:

  • Built-in VPN support (L2TP)
  • Tunnelblick (OpenVPN)
  • Viscosity (OpenVPN)

How to set up an L2TP VPN connection on macOS

L2TP/IPSec is a VPN protocol with built-in support on Macs that offers comparable speed and security to OpenVPN. To set up a VPN connection that uses the L2TP protocol, you’ll need the following information from your VPN provider:

  • Your VPN provider account credentials (username or email and password)
  • The VPN server addresses for each location you want to connect to
  • VPN provider’s shared secret OR certificate

With that information in hand, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Network icon
  2. Click + in the bottom left corner to create a new network interface
  3. Click the Interface drop-down list and choose VPN
  4. Click the VPN Type drop-down list and choose L2TP over IPSec
  5. In the Service Name field, type a name for this VPN connection (can be anything you like)
  6. Click Create and the VPN settings will appear
  7. Using the default configuration, in the Server Address field, type the VPN server address
  8. In the Account Name field, type your VPN account username
  9. Click Authentication Settings
  10. In the Password field, type your VPN account password
  11. If using a shared secret, select Shared Secret and type the pre-shared key (a.k.a. shared secret or secret key)
  12. If using a certificate, select Certificate, then Select and find the VPN provider’s certificate
  13. Click Apply to save changes
  14. The VPN is now set up, you just need to connect. Go to the Apple menu > System Preferences > Network icon
  15. Choose the VPN connection you created in the Network box
  16. Click Connect

How to set up a VPN with Tunnelblick on a Mac

Tunnelblick is a VPN client for Mac that works well with the OpenVPN protocol. You’ll need the OpenVPN configuration file for each server location you wish to connect to (.ovpn) from your VPN provider to get started, and possibly your VPN account username and password.

Tunnelblick can be downloaded for free here. Once downloaded, double-click the .dmg file and then on the Tunnelblick icon to install it. You may need to confirm and enter your Mac login credentials.

  1. Launch Tunnelblick and click the button that says “I have configuration files”
  2. Go to where you downloaded your .ovpn files and double-click them. You’ll be prompted to install the configurations for all users or just you. Choose whichever you like.
  3. Once the configuration is installed, click the Tunnelblick icon in the top right corner of your screen and choose Connect
  4. Enter your VPN username and password if prompted
  5. A notification will appear to let you know the connection is established

How to set up a VPN with Viscosity on macOS

Viscosity is a paid VPN client for OSX that works well with the OpenVPN protocol. A 30-day free trial is available, after which the software costs $9. You can download the client here. Install it by clicking on the .dmg file and then dragging the app to your Applications folder. You may need to confirm and enter your Mac login credentials.

To set up OpenVPN with Viscosity, you’ll need an OpenVPN configuration file (.ovpn) for each server you wish to connect to, and possibly your VPN account username and password.

  1. Click the Viscosity icon in the top right corner of your screen and choose Preferences…
  2. Click the + sign in the bottom left corner of the window that appears and choose Import connection > From file…
  3. Navigate to and select the .ovpn file you downloaded from you VPN provider
  4. Click the Viscosity icon in the top right corner again, and the VPN connection should be listed. Click it to connect

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