How to Use a VPN on Mac and Why It’s Important

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Getting a VPN is important in this day and age. But many people don’t know how to set up a VPN on Mac, and this leaves them vulnerable. However, that’s going to change with this guide.

The digital age is a great time to live in. Most people across the globe have access to unprecedented amounts of information. This allows people to constantly collaborate in real time. The internet has provided society with a fantastic new way to approach work as well as personal and social life. Unfortunately, though, the rise of this technology has also brought some negative aspects with it.

Most people are aware that the internet can be a dangerous place, but they think that if they simply avoid sketchy-looking websites then they’ll be safe. That isn’t the truth, though. It’s also often touted that Mac devices are much safer than Windows PCs. And, yes, there is some truth to that. Apple continues to invest in some serious security software. However, attackers are getting smarter every day, and the internet has made it much easier to gain access to large numbers of people at the same time. Mac devices may be considered safer than Windows PCs, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely safe. No system is infallible and attackers with enough motivation and time will get in.

Because of this, more and more Mac users are opting to install a VPN on their devices to keep their privacy safe.

Why set up a VPN on Mac?

Cyber attacks are on the rise. ICASA’s (Information Systems Audit and Control Association) State of Cybersecurity 2018 report indicates that respondents have seen an increase in cyber attacks compared to 2017. The frequency is increasing, but the main techniques are still the same. The main methods being malware, phishing, and social engineering.

Cyber attackers aren’t the only danger, though. ISPs and internet browsers monitor their users’ internet activity every day. Now, there are those people who say that they don’t care about that because they have nothing to hide. And that is a wrong way to think about it. Data is king in the digital world. There have already been numerous incidents where major companies were caught selling user data for profit. This data can then be used against people for various reasons. One example is health insurers using data to increase costs or deny insurance for people by monitoring what they share on social media. It goes much deeper than that, but ProPublica does a great job describing this new phenomenon in detail.

The other, final reason to care about cybersecurity is the fact that companies get hacked often. People might not care that government agencies and companies like Google or Facebook have access to all their personal data. But they start caring when those companies get hacked. So it’s better to be on the safe side and not let any company have too much control over one’s personal data.

Besides security reasons, one other major reason to get a VPN is to bypass ISP throttling and geolocation restrictions. It’s been found that some ISPs throttle certain online actions like streaming (even though they’re technically not allowed to) and geo-blocking is a major issue in some regions.

Read on to find out how a VPN works and how to use a VPN on Mac.

How a VPN works

A VPN does what a standard network connection can’t do – it hides the user’s online activity and network IP address from anyone who wants to see it. But how, exactly, does a VPN manage that?

There’s such a thing called internet protocols. They encrypt data that’s traveling from one source to another. For instance, from a person’s computer to a website. This encrypted data travels through what is known as a “VPN tunnel,” which secures the data and keeps outsiders from getting access to it. In essence, a VPN, therefore, acts as a middleman server between a person’s network and whatever website they’re connecting to.

Thus, after a user connects to a VPN, their data gets sent to the VPN servers to get encrypted. The other benefit of this is that VPN service providers can then create a virtual IP address for the person connecting to their server. This means that a VPN can hide a Mac user’s real IP address, keeping others from identifying them. It also circumvents the issue of geo-blocked content or websites, and many VPN providers even let their clients choose which region they want to connect to.

How to set up a VPN on Mac

There are two ways to set up a VPN on Mac. Both of them offer increased security for a Mac user, so it merely comes down to preference. One can set up a VPN on Mac by downloading and using an App that the VPN service provides. Alternatively, a VPN can be set up on a Mac by manually configuring Mac’s network settings.

The main advantage of using a VPN app on Mac is that it’s easy to use and saves time. Setting up a VPN manually requires some technical know-how which may be off-putting to some Mac users.

First and foremost, though, it’s important to choose which VPN service to use. Both the app and the manual option require a subscription to a VPN service that will provide the IP encryption and servers to connect to.

Which VPN to choose?

There are some varying factors to consider when choosing a VPN, including:

  • Which protocols the VPN provider uses. Some protocols like PPTP are very outdated and not at all secure, while others like OpenVPN are considered extremely safe.
  • Where the VPN servers are situated. It’s better to go with a VPN provider that has servers close to where a person is located. This is because it greatly decreases the chance of slowing down their internet connection.
  • What types of subscriptions the VPN provider offers. Some VPN providers offer better deals than others. But never go with a free VPN as they’re not secure at all.
  • Whether the VPN provider logs any data or not. This is especially important to those that are keen on staying anonymous while using a VPN. Usually, a VPN provider shouldn’t log any connection data or personal data like people’s names or locations.

After choosing a VPN, it’s time to set it up.

How to set up a VPN on Mac using an app

Go to the VPN provider’s website to create an account and choose a subscription plan if this hasn’t been done already. Make sure to remember the login details because these will be used to connect to the VPN.

Proceed to the downloads page of the VPN provider’s website. Providers often have specific download links based on which device is being used. So choose the link for Mac to download the VPN app either from the website or the App Store. After the download is finished and the app has been installed, it’s time to set up the configurations.

Open the app and type in the same login details that were used to create the VPN subscription account. The Mac will usually then create a popup asking the user’s permission to allow this app to change network configurations. Select “Allow” here.

After that, two things may happen. The first is that the VPN will ask the user to choose a server location. After the choice will be made, another pop-up may appear asking for a keychain or security password. Some VPN providers send an additional password for verification purposes, while others don’t – but the Mac may ask for a Keychain. Type in the Mac administrator password and click on “Allow.” Do not click on “Allow,” however, if the pop-up says it wants to use confidential information stored anywhere other than in the VPN.

And that’s it. The VPN can now be turned on before connecting to the internet to browse safely.

How to create a VPN on Mac the manual way

Some VPN providers don’t have apps. In this case, the VPN will have to be set up manually. It’s also possible to set up a VPN even if the service provider has an app.

Here’s how it works:

After signing up for a VPN subscription, head to “System Preferences” then select “Network.” Click on the small + icon to open a new menu. Choose VPN from the dropdown menu next to “Interface” and choose a VPN type and service name. The chosen VPN provider will have specified these details. Then click on “Create.”

Make sure the VPN is selected in the network menu to change its settings. The VPN provider will have specified a server address – type that into the “Server Address” field. Then type in the unique username the VPN provider assigned you when signing up. Just make sure that “Show VPN status in menu bar” is checked before clicking on “Authentication Settings.” A prompt will show up asking for a user’s password and “Shared Secret.” The latter should also have been provided by the VPN provider. Simply enter those details and click “OK.”

A new icon will appear in Mac’s menu bar, from which the VPN can be accessed, and turned on or off at any time.

There it is! Any Mac user should now be able to quickly set up a VPN on their Mac without any confusion.

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