How to use a VPN on Mac. Do Transylvanian bats love apples?

How to use a VPN on Mac. Do Transylvanian bats love apples?

Mac devices are coming with built-in security features, to help users increase their privacy and confidentiality while going online.

When we talk about online security, minimalism is not an option, and the less is more principle makes us skeptical. That’s why, going the extra mile for your own peace of mind, would be the wise thing to do. As we often use our Macs to connect to public Wi-Fi networks, for example, setting up a VPN on your Mac is recommended for increased online security and privacy. You need to protect yourself while connected to the Internet, and Mac OS helps you in various ways to get access and set up a VPN connection. Find out what makes an old bat burst into tears, how to set up a VPN on Mac, and how to choose your Mac VPN provider wisely.

How to use a VPN on Mac – A short story about a crying bat in an apple tree

You probably like apples. As a Mac user, there are high chances that you do.

GrandPaBat, TomBat‘s grandfather, loves apples. Windows not so much. As he is quite old, he finds windows annoying due to unexpected and sudden encounters.

Did you know that many bats enjoy eating fruits? They are called frugivore bats.

One night, while flying around without any particular purpose (to be honest he had one, but he forgot it), GrandPaBat found an exceptional 🍎tree in a small, beautiful garden (like there are so many in Transylvania).

GrandPaBat could not resist tasting the apples. And they were so good …

After satisfying his apple craving, GrandPaBat faced the following dilemma: how to let his group know about the apple tree without attracting other colonies? He could not leave the tree as he was sure he would not remember the way back.

How to use a VPN on Mac. Do Transylvanian bats love apples? 1

The second part of the dilemma: what if the colony would not believe him and, as they are mostly vampire-ish, would not bother flying to the tree. GrandPaBat felt so sad about the whole situation that he started to cry. Have you ever heard a bat crying?

The AnonymousBat (aka VPN server) saved the day. He was flying around when he heard GrandPaBat (the VPN client) crying. And he presented the solution: he used some leaves to wrap an apple (a kind of encryption) to protect it from prying eyes and flew back to the cave. He unwrapped the apple (decrypted it) and presented the evidence to the colony. Not long after, led by the AnonymousBat, TomBat, PonyBat, and the others joined GrandPaBat to the rare apple tree.

Happy end! 😃

What is a VPN for Mac?

A VPN for Mac is a VPN connection that can be established from a Mac computer to a VPN server.

macOS has built-in components that act as VPN clients, and that are able to connect to various types of VPN servers. Additionally, macOS supports third-party applications that either extend the Mac OS VPN capacities or independently run as VPN clients.

Diagram showing VPN for Mac components

Why do you need a VPN on your Mac?

Windows users often use VPNs, but they are equally handy on a Mac. Mac owners should use VPNs to cover security and privacy while gaining the ability to access geo-blocked streaming content.

Macs don’t often use antivirus software, as Apple systems can defend themselves better when under attack and are not targeted often by malware creators.

This is however not true for VPNs, and they are just as useful on Macs as they are on Windows.

How to get a Mac VPN

The key component of a Virtual Private Network is the VPN server. Thus, getting access to a VPN server is the first step necessary for creating a VPN connection.

As explained here, there are three major options to get access to a VPN server. For Mac, all three are available:

  • Subscribe to a commercial VPN service;
  • Connect to a private VPN in a company or school;
  • Set up your own VPN server.

How to set up a VPN on Mac

Once access to a VPN service is established, Mac users are able to connect either by using the built-in macOS components or a third party application.

Use a Mac app from a VPN provider 

VPN providers often build software that enables you to use their service. You, therefore, don’t have to configure your connections, input an IP address, or check which protocols to use.

Most VPN providers have software for Windows and Mac users. This software is easy to download and install by the user.

The software makes it easy to jump between servers, as the software remembers a list of connections that are available. If you want to use a VPN to access geo-restricted content, it is easy to pick a server to connect to. 

The easiest way to get started and use a VPN on Mac is by searching a VPN app in the Mac App Store:

  • Open the App Store.
  • Type “vpn” in the Search box.
  • Select a VPN client app, install it, open it;
  • Create an account and subscribe (if necessary);
  • Select a server and connect to the VPN.
Image showing how to search for a VPN app in the Mac App Store

Alternatively, you may download the Mac VPN client from the VPN provider’s site.

There may be important differences between VPN applications available for installing from the Mac App Store and the ones downloaded from the provider’s website:

  • The critical thing to remember is that applications distributed through the Mac App Store have certain limitations as they run in “App Sandbox.” Thus, certain VPN features (like KillSwitch) may not work.
  • However, by downloading a VPN app from the App Store, you have the guarantee that it comes from a trusted provider, and it is safe. Additionally, updates are a breeze.
  • Subscribing to a VPN service that has the app listed in the App Store can be done using the Apple account in the same way as subscribing to any other app or service from Mac or iOS.
  • When installing an app from a website, a warning popup is shown. You should be aware that you install the app at your own risk.
Image showing the warning when installing the ZenMate app on Mac, downloaded from softonic.com

The solution found by some VPN providers is to offer two versions for their Mac VPN apps: one listed in the App Store that comes with certain restrictions and one that can be downloaded from their site that implements all the advanced features.

Manual VPN setup from Network Tools

macOS has built-in support to create a VPN connection as part of Apple’s networking tools. These can be accessed by going to System Preferences > Network and then clicking on the “+” button.

You can now specify a VPN connection, select the VPN protocol, and name your new VPN connection. It helps to use a descriptive name for your connection, especially if you want to use more than one VPN server. 

Image showing how to create a manual VPN connection on Mac

macOS includes support for the newer internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) protocol, Cisco IPSec, and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) over IPSec when configuring a VPN. L2TP is fairly secure, although it uses the IPSec secure network protocol.

IKEv2 is more modern and is preferred as it can quickly re-establish VPN connections when a network drops out. It also uses IPSec for encryption, although many still prefer it over L2TP for its speed.

Apple’s desktop OS no longer supports PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol), as this protocol is much older and vulnerable. It is no longer an option in the VPN settings.

Use third-party VPN software

OpenVPN and SSTP (Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol) are two other VPN protocols not supported as standard by macOS.

OpenVPN is an open-source technology based on OpenSSL. It supports the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). 

As SSTP is owned by Microsoft, it mostly only works with Windows. It uses closed-source SSL 3.0 encryption and is considered highly secure.

These standards are both more secure than those that are included with the macOS. As it is possible for VPN provider software to use either of these, you might already be using either without realizing it.

The most popular third-party VPN applications for Mac are:

  • Tunnelblick – free OpenVPN VPN client app.
  • Softether – free VPN client app that accommodates various VPN protocols, including SSTP.

Once the third-party VPN application is installed, you may connect to a VPN server (either yours or one provided by a VPN service).

Use your own VPN server

If you have installed your own VPN server, you need to use a manual VPN setup or a third party app (both options were presented above) to connect to your server.

How to share your Mac VPN connection

Already connected to VPN and would you like to have other devices (computers, phones, Apple TV, game consoles) connected to the same VPN? Here is how to share your VPN connection from Mac:

  • In the top-left corner of the screen, click on the Apple symbol and then select System Preferences.
  • Click on the Sharing button in the Internet & Wireless section.
    Image showing the Sharing option in the System Preferences window - How to share a VPN connection on Mac
  • On the left, tick the Internet Sharing button. If it is ticked already, untick it and then tick it again to enable the next step.
    Image showing the Internet Sharing options on Mac - How to share a VPN connection
  • From the Share your connection list, select the VPN connection option.
  • Select how the connection should be shared and choose either Wi-Fi or Ethernet to share the VPN through.
  • With your device, scan for Wi-Fi networks and find the VPN hotspot that was just created. Select the connection and connect normally.

Thus, the device that shares the Internet connection with your Mac is also using the VPN tunnel while connected to the Internet.

How to use a VPN on Mac with a router

You may use VPN on your Mac device without installing or setting up anything. However, this option involves some manual setup on your router (if you connect to the Internet using a router).

Most routers are VPN-ready and are able to establish various types of VPN connections:

Once your router is connected to VPN and your Mac is connected to the router, you are using the VPN.

Diagram showing a Mac connected to a router that is part of a VPN network.

Advantages of using a VPN router on your Mac

  • Connect to the router, and you are connected to a VPN.
  • No need to install any third-party app.
  • No need for manual set up on your macOS.

Disadvantages of using a VPN router on your Mac

  • The connection between your Mac computer and the router is not encrypted (take a second look at the diagram above).
  • Lack of flexibility – it is more difficult to change the VPN server, location, VPN protocol, etc.
  • Troubleshooting – if the connection does not work, you need to connect to the router’s management interface and make the necessary adjustments.

The Best VPN for Mac

When selecting the best VPN for Mac OS X, there are several things to consider:

Trust

We consider trust as the main criteria when choosing a VPN provider. Taking into account that your data (even if they are encrypted) passes their servers, that they may log some of your activity, that that may store billing information, that you are installing their software on your computer, trust is critical.

Our advice is to take your time, do your homework, and choose your VPN provider wisely.

Speed

It won’t help to connect to a VPN provider that does not provide fast connections. Good VPN providers have fast access so you can get things done in a reasonable time.

Security

One of the main uses of a VPN provider is to keep your download and browsing habits private. To do this, the connection has to use the latest encryption algorithms to keep undesirables, including hackers, out.

Reliability

A VPN provider is of no use if you can’t connect to it whenever you need to. Free VPN providers often use slower access speeds and fewer servers, reserving the better systems for customers that are prepared to pay. 

Is there a universal best VPN application? No, there is not. However, we present our picks for the best VPN for Mac. We tested them, we like them, and we use them regularly.

NordVPN

NordVPN is a leading VPN provider with an excellent reputation. Plenty of servers and locations are available (probably more than you need), great-looking apps, and helpful support.

As a Mac user, you have the following options with NordVPN:

  1. Download the NordVPN IKE app from Mac App Store (for macOS Sierra 10.12 or later). It is a basic version that uses the OpenVPN protocol for the VPN connection, very easy to use, and you may get connected in a matter of seconds.
  2. Download a customized version of the OpenVPN interface from the NordVPN website (for macOS Yosemite 10.10 or later). It is an advanced VPN app with access to obfuscated servers, custom DNS, and the possibility to switch between TCP and UDP.

We recommend NordVPN as one of the best VPN for macOS (as well as one of the best VPNs for iOS) due to its reputation and its simplicity.

Image showing how to use NordVPN on MacOS

ibVPN – Invisible Browsing VPN

ibVPN is on the VPN market for more than nine years. The provided speed is good, plenty of security options are available, and, according to our own experience, the service is reliable and trustful.

For Mac OS, ibVPN offers the following options:

  1. Download the ibVPN app (called ibVPN OneClick) from Mac App Store (for macOS  El Capitan 10.11 or later). It is a light version but with enough features for the average VPN user, and it includes access to the OpenVPN, IKEv2, and IPSec protocols.
  2. Download the All-In-One VPN app for Mac from the ibVPN site. It is similar to the OneClick app, but it includes access to the Kill Switch feature.
  3. Download the Softether Mac Client and configure it to use the ibVPN servers.
  4. Manual set up VPN connections on your Mac or your routers (tutorials available).

The ibVPN applications (OneClick and All-In-One) have a similar interface that involves selecting the server location and connect. Additionally, nice features like Fastest Server, Fastest Favorites, Rotating Favorites are useful.

Image showing the to use a VPN on Mac with ibVPN (selected as Best VPN app for Mac)

How to use a VPN on Mac on a daily basis

Having easy access to a VPN from your Mac is critical nowadays. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi at the airport or from your hotel room without encrypting your traffic with a VPN is dangerous. Your data (passwords, credit card data, emails) can be intercepted and read by hackers standing just next to you.

Thus, you need easy access to a VPN on your Mac. Here are some tips you should keep in mind:

  • Have your VPN subscription up to date. By subscribing to annual or biannual plans, you reduce the risk of having your access to VPN servers cut off to a minimum.
  • Enable the run at start-up option (if available) and have the VPN app accessible from the taskbar (menu bar). Thus, you will be able to turn the VPN with one click (maybe, two).
  • Auto-connect to VPN when switching to an unsecured Wi-Fi. This is very useful when traveling and your Mac automatically connects to various Wi-Fi networks.
  • Consider installing a free VPN app for emergency cases when you get out of money, and you don’t want to continue with your subscription. A must: test the VPN connection when using free apps.

Summary

VPNs are handy on a Mac to cover security and privacy while gaining the ability to access streaming content that is geo-restricted. Plus, with a VPN you can hide your IP address with just a click, in order to gain your much deserved online freedom.

It is easy to set up a VPN on a Mac through the built-in support of the macOS has, using VPN services’ software that is easy to use, or installing third-party tools.

When selecting the best VPN provider for macOS, look at trust, speed, reliability, and security.

And, finally, make sure you may easily turn on the VPN when you need it.

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Illustration showing TomBat and PonyBat demonstrating how to use a VPN
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