This content originally appeared on Mashable for a US audience and has been adapted for the UK audience.
There are a number of reasons why you might want to start using a VPN. These security tools offer many benefits, including bypassing geographic restrictions for unlocking shows and films on popular streaming sites.
VPNs can also help to protect your privacy and make your browsing more secure (although it’s always a good idea to vet your VPN provider’s claims carefully — some do a better a job than others). VPNs can encrypt your traffic and provide protection against things like hackers, viruses, and malware. All of this is essential if you own a MacBook, because you don’t want online threats attacking your most precious device.
What is a VPN?
Without getting too deep in the weeds — we’ve already done so here — a virtual private network, or VPN, is an encrypted connection between your Mac and a private, remote server.
In the most basic sense, it’s a service that keeps you totally incognito on the web by masking your online activities and making it seem like your connection’s coming from somewhere you aren’t. All of your activity is untraceable and secure because everything passes through an encrypted tunnel. Nobody can see into the tunnel, and everything inside is protected against online threats.
Do you need a VPN with a Mac?
All Macs and MacBooks come with built-in antivirus software that blocks and removes malware, and any apps you download from the internet are swabbed for malicious code by Apple’s Gatekeeper tool. Furthermore, all of the data that lives on your macOS device’s hard drive is secured with FileVault 2, a full-disk program featuring XTS-AES-128 encryption and a 256-bit key.
It’s when any of your precious data ventures outside the localised protection of your Mac that things start to get dicey — and that happens every single time you connect to the web. Your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, tracks your every click to compile browsing logs they (sometimes) sell to marketers, who are champing at the bit to use your data for targeted ads. That information can also wind up in the hands of certain government agencies if your ISP is served with a subpoena.
Connecting to a public WiFi network is especially risky since you don’t know who set it up or who else is using it; wannabe hackers can easily hop on to intercept your internet traffic in some sort of “man-in-the-middle” attack when you’re browsing the web at a café, library, or airport.
A VPN takes care of those privacy issues and then some: With your IRL location hidden, you can skirt geo-restrictions that streaming services like Netflix have put in place and bypass government censorship in places like China. Online anonymity also means you’re free to dabble in torrenting/peer-to-peer file-sharing — not that we condone the illegal kind.
What should you consider before subscribing to a VPN?
There are a lot of VPNs out there offering similar packages. This makes it difficult to select a service that works for you. To make your life a little easier, we have highlighted a selection of the most important things to consider before subscribing:
Connection speed: Whether you’re looking to use a VPN for online security or streaming, this is massively important. Using a VPN is likely to result in a drop in your connection speed, but you shouldn’t accept anything significant.
Encryption: VPNs are primarily designed to provide protection for your data, so encryption is important. The best VPNs will make sure all your data is unreadable and untraceable.
Number of connections: The best VPNs offer multiple simultaneous connections, so you can stay protected on all your devices at the same time.
Server network: The very best VPNs provide access to literally thousands of servers located all around the world. If you’re looking for a stable and speedy connection for streaming, shopping, or browsing, you need options.
You should also keep in mind things like bandwidth limits, apps for certain operating systems, and customer support, but this is a good place to start.
Should you use free VPNs?
Yes, there are plenty of free versions and trials of popular VPNs out there. It may be possible to get full access to everything you get with a premium plan, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for with VPNs.
There is almost always a catch with free versions, and it’s usually in the form of limited data usage. These plans will work fine if you’re just an occasional user, but if you’re going to be streaming or downloading, this isn’t going to work. Free trials tend to come with everything you get in a paid plan, but this isn’t a long-term solution.
We’re sorry to say, but to gain access to advanced security and streaming features without limitations on usage, you need to pay up. Fortunately, there are plenty of cheap plans on offer from the most popular providers.
What is the best VPN for your Mac?
There’s no specialised VPN for Macs, but almost all major VPN providers maintain support for macOS apps. So, with lots of options, you’ll want to think carefully about which features matter most to you: Do you want a VPN with a huge server network and split tunneling for streaming and gaming? Will you feel more confident browsing with a kill switch or multihop (double VPN)? Do you need support for a bunch of connections based on the size of your household? Do you have the budget for add-ons like a dedicated IP?
Choosing the right VPN for your MacBook can be a daunting task. Fortunately for you, we have highlighted a selection of your best options. This list includes popular names like PureVPN, NordVPN, and TunnelBear.
These are the best VPNs for your Mac in 2023.