With the internet abuzz with privacy concerns and the potential changes coming to net neutrality, you’ve likely heard about virtual private networks, better known as VPNs. When used correctly, a VPN can greatly strengthen your online privacy, assist in keeping your personal information secure, and even spoof your location in the world—allowing you to access websites or services that would otherwise be off limits due to region-locking.
VPN for Mac Cheat Sheet
Our quick recommendations:
With the increased popularity of VPNs has come an increased number of VPN providers vying for your business. That makes finding the best one to suit your needs difficult. To help you sort out the right provider for you, we’ve committed to extensive research and testing of VPN services that cater to Mac owners.
If nothing but the best will do, check out our routinely updated list of category leaders. If you prefer to do your own shopping, we’ve got your back there, too: Each of the VPNs we test is thoroughly reviewed, allowing you to make an informed decision on which one to throw your money at. See our full list of reviews below.
Update 3/11/19: We've just reviewed PrivateVPN, a VPN run by Trunkspace Hosting that promises not to log user activity. Scroll to the bottom of this article for links to all of our VPN reviews.
Best VPN overall for Mac
NordVPN offers above-average data encryption to keep their subscribers’ data safe while tunneling. It’s got a large network of servers, too: over 3,000 servers spread across more than 60 countries, allowing you to spoof a wide number of locations and avoid server congestion.
Moreover, its software interface is easy to use, making even new VPN users feel like online-privacy experts. While it’s not perfect, NordVPN gets more right than any of the other VPN providers we’ve tested so far.
Best VPN for security/privacy on a Mac
While its server connection times won’t win any speed records, VyprVPN owns rather than rents its servers and writes its own code. Along with its parent company’s long history of online-privacy advocacy and the fact that its offices are located in a country with strict privacy laws, this approach to service makes VyprVPN an excellent choice for journalists, activists, or anyone else who considers digital privacy and online access a paramount concern. (Read our full review here.)
Fastest VPN overall for Mac
While we have some concerns about CyberGhost’s recent change in ownership, its overall average connection speeds are untouchable by any other VPN we’ve tested so far. If you’re interested in connecting to VPN servers located within the continental United States, this Romania-based company is currently the one to beat.
Fastest VPN for other countries
If you are interested in connecting to servers in other countries, we’ve found the following to be fast options:
- UK: TorGuard welcomes P2P file sharing on its VPN servers with open arms and offers the best connection speeds to servers in the United Kingdom that we’ve seen so far.
- Europe: While TunnelBear gave us pause in the areas of user privacy and its ambiguous server numbers, the Canadian VPN provider takes first place when it comes to European connection speeds.
- Asia: While we weren’t thrilled with its logging policies and the fact that it only allows P2P file sharing on a single server, Israel’s SaferVPN gets top marks when it comes to connecting to servers in Asia.
- Oceania: If you want to connect with VPN servers down under, CyberGhost is the way to go.
How we tested VPNs
For each VPN service we review, we conduct tests at three different times of the day: morning, afternoon, and evening, using Ookla Speedtest. We start by measuring the speed of our unprotected internet connection before testing the upload/download speeds of the VPN service. These tests are conducted to servers located in North America, the UK, Europe, Oceana, and Asia over an ethernet connection with a service provision of 100Mbps.
To test upload and download speeds, I closed down all background internet processes on my Mac, using TripMode. The only traffic on my system able to upload or download any data was Ookla. I used this setup to ensure that the numbers that Ookla produced were not stymied by anything else that my computer may have been doing at the time. The speeds Ookla captured were then averaged, providing us with a final numeric score.
I then used those scores to calculate a percentage of difference in speeds, which is what you’ll see in our reviews. Since internet speeds change constantly based on server load, how fast your connection is, and a gazillion other factors, we feel this provides a better picture of what you can expect from a service, on the whole, than merely quoting the exact upload/download speeds we encountered during testing.
Speed isn’t the only quantifiable metric that we look at. The number of countries that a VPN offers servers in, total number of servers worldwide, and how much it’ll cost you to connect to those servers on a monthly or annual basis are also taken into consideration when recommending a VPN service to you.
Additionally, we conduct hours of research into the VPN providers to find out who owns them, where they’re based, what they do with subscriber information, and whether the provider has a track record of questionable business practices.
What’s a VPN?
VPN stands for virtual private network. If you’re not using a VPN, when your computer connects to the internet, it does so through the local gateway provided by your internet service provider (ISP). Doing this allows you to connect to all of the online services you use everyday.
However, connecting this way also allows an ISP to know your physical location based on where you access the internet—be it at home, at work, in a cafe, or at a public Wi-Fi hotspot. This information is often sold to marketers and other parties interested in getting to know more about you and your browsing habits.
Worse still, if you connect to the internet through an access point with weak security, such as at an airport, mall, or local library, hackers connected to the same network could intercept personal information like your social media passwords or banking credentials through what’s called a man-in-the-middle attack. A VPN service can help prevent all of that.
A VPN creates an encrypted digital tunnel between your computer and the server of the VPN service you choose to use. Once this tunnel has been established, your web searches, the sites you access, and the information you submit online will be hidden from prying eyes. This means that your ISP can’t log or sell your information and hackers using the same network as you will find it difficult to initiate an attack on you. Almost no one will have any idea of what information you’re accessing.
What a VPN can’t do
A VPN can’t protect you from viruses, malware, or ransomware attacks if you choose to download an infected file, or a visit site designed to inject your computer with malignant code. It won’t keep spoofed sites from stealing your personal information, if you happen to visit one. So, you’ll want to bone up on online security best practices.
You should know that while using a VPN will allow you to anonymously engage in peer-to-peer file-sharing/torrenting, some service providers may cancel your VPN subscription or turn over your information to the authorities if they catch you trading copyrighted material with others.
What to look for in a VPN
Know where the provider is based. Many countries have no laws demanding that VPN providers maintain logs of their users’ activity. This makes maintaining your privacy more assurable than it would be if you use a VPN located in a country that requires that user-activity records be maintained. Some companies, in an effort to make their network of servers look bigger or more varied than it actually is, spoof the locations of their servers.
The more servers, the merrier. Choosing a VPN provider with a ton of servers around the world is important for a couple of reasons. First, having a multitude of servers to choose from means that you won’t be forced to connect to an overpopulated server where the data flows like mud.
Second, having a wealth of servers to choose from both at home and internationally means more opportunities for spoofing your location, allowing you to hide where you are or access region-locked content with ease.
Multiple payment options. It’s a vicious circle. Paying for a VPN with a credit card online before you have access to a VPN could allow your financial information to fall into the wrong hands. Look for providers that offer alternative payment options such as PayPal, Bitcoin, AliPay, or via the Mac App Store.
An easy-to-use interface. It takes a lot of digital wizardry to connect to a VPN. Some people want to see how their VPN operates, behind the scenes. Using an open source VPN client like Tunnelblick is great for this. Most folks, however, just want their VPN to work with minimal frustration. Look for a VPN service that offers a Mac client with an easy-to-use interface.
Protection for all of your devices. A good VPN service will offer licenses for multiple devices to protect your loved ones’ computers as well as your personal smartphone and tablet. To this end, before investing in a VPN subscription, make sure that it provides software clients for all of the devices you own.
Best VPN: Reviews
Below is a list of all the VPNs we’ve reviewed. We’ll keep evaluating new ones and reevaluating services we’ve already tried on a regular basis.
Note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, our reviews are subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the services.