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Getting a new 24-inch iMac? You still need a VPN — here’s why. — 02/18/2018

Getting a new 24-inch iMac? You still need a VPN — here’s why.

In case you haven’t heard, Apple’s new 24-inch iMac is an absolute dreamboat of a desktop — and those colors? *chef’s kiss*

“With its fun aesthetic, compact size, smooth performance, and more,” it basically “begs to be used anywhere but the office,” says tech reporter Brenda Stolyar, who bestowed Tim Cook’s latest M1 machine with a coveted Mashable’s Choice Award after taking it for a test drive. (Here’s the full review of the new iMac.)

But for everything the new iMac can do, there’s one thing you won’t find under its hood — or that of any Apple-made computer, come to think of it — and that’s some sort of technology that can protect you from online snooping. Enter: virtual private networks.

What’s 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. Some have likened it to “a secure tunnel for web traffic,” “a personal bodyguard for the internet,” and “an anonymous middleman that does your browsing for you.” But 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.

Is a VPN necessary for Mac?

“Hold up,” you’re probably thinking. “Isn’t macOS famously secure by default?” You’re not wrong, actually: All Macs and MacBooks ship 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 localized 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. 

SEE ALSO: Which Apple iMac color perfectly matches your personality?

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, FWIW. (For even more VPN use cases, click here.)

Which VPN is best for Mac?

There’s no specialized 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? (Here’s a refresher on any of those terms, if you need it.)

No matter what, make sure the VPN you choose ticks two important boxes: One, its privacy policy should explicitly state that it doesn’t collect or store any consumer logs that can be traced back to you — otherwise, what’s the point? (It greatly helps if said policy has been verified by a third-party audit, too.) 

Two, your go-to VPN should be based somewhere privacy-friendly. Certain countries (including the United States) are part of global intelligence-sharing “Eyes” alliances and can force VPNs within their borders to cough up any user data they have on hand. Move a provider to the top of your list if it’s headquartered in Panama, Switzerland, Romania, or the British Virgin Islands, which don’t have laws mandating data retention.

We should also mention that we highly recommend paying for a VPN — there are some decent free ones out there, but their log policies can be questionable, and they’re definitely not going to be as robust as their paid counterparts in terms of network size and security features. 

If you need a little guidance, just keep scrolling: We’ve put together a rundown of the eight best VPNs for Mac users as of 2021. (Note that all of them accept Bitcoin for anonymous payments, use AES 256-bit encryption — a standard military-grade protocol — and support iOS apps for a secure and seamless Apple ecosystem.)

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Image: expressvpn

The Good

Based in the British Virgin Islands • 3,000+ servers in 94 countries • 30-day money-back guarantee • Up to 5 simultaneous connections • Verified no-logs policy • Live customer support 24/7 • Unblocks Netflix • Supports torrenting • Kill switch (“Network Lock”) • Split tunneling • Double VPN

The Bad

Expensive • Doesn’t offer dedicated IPs

The Bottom Line

A trusted provider that offers a good balance of performance and privacy, but at a high price.

1. ExpressVPN

This well-established, esteemed (and slightly expensive) VPN is an excellent all-rounder that we recommend for basically every platform, including Mac.

  • Monthly plan:
    $12.95/month
  • Six-month plan:
    $9.99/month (billed $59.95 every six months)
  • 12-month plan:
    $8.32/month (billed $99.95 every 12 months)
With an ideal blend of features and user-friendliness, our favorite overall VPN — ExpressVPN — is an obvious No. 1 pick for Mac users, too. It’s pricey, sure, but you definitely get what you pay for (and then some): One subscription gets you a kill switch, split tunneling, an ideal BVI jurisdiction, 24/7 support from real human beings (via chat), and a huge server network spread across almost eight dozen countries. Our only gripe is that ExpressVPN doesn’t offer dedicated IPs, but that’s no biggie since its servers are rotated regularly, making individual users tough to trace.

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Image: nordvpn

The Good

Based in Panama • 5,300+ servers across almost 60 countries • 30-day money-back guarantee • Up to 6 simultaneous connections • Verified no-logs policy • 24/7 support via live chat • Unblocks Netflix • P2P-friendly • Kill switch • Dedicated IPs available (add $5/month) • Double VPN • Built-in ad blocker (“CyberSec”) • Onion over VPN • Cloud storage available (add $5/month)

The Bad

Minor privacy breach at one of its third-party data centers in 2018 • Might be a little too complicated for VPN newbies • Add-ons can make it super expensive • No split tunneling for macOS or iOS

The Bottom Line

A full-featured VPN that’s geared toward VPN veterans who may have a bit of cash to spare.

2. NordVPN

A popular provider with a plethora of features, NordVPN stays relatively affordable if you stick with its base kit.

  • Monthly plan:
    $11.95/month
  • Annual plan:
    $4.92/month (or $59 for your first year)
  • Two-year plan:
    $4.13/month (or $99 for your first two years)
More experienced VPN users can take full advantage of NordVPN‘s large network and jam-packed suite of security tools, which includes double encryption; a built-in ad and malware blocker; a kill switch; and an option to route your traffic through the Onion network. (You can add a dedicated IP address and 10GB of secure cloud storage to your plan, too, but they’ll cost you an extra $5 a month each.) Plus, its app connects automatically when your Mac boots up so you’ll never accidentally start browsing sans protection.
Note: NordVPN suffered a minor security breach in March 2018 when a hacker exploited an insecure remote management system at a Finnish data center where the company was renting servers. However, we still think it’s a strong contender in the VPN space. Click here to learn more.
Click here to read Mashable’s in-depth review of NordVPN.

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Image: surfshark

The Good

Based in the British Virgin Islands • 3,200+ servers in 65 countries • 30-day money-back guarantee • Unlimited simultaneous connections • 24/7 live chat support • Unblocks Netflix • P2P-friendly • Kill switch • Split tunneling (“Whitelister”) • Double VPN (“MultiHop”) • Built-in ad blocker (“CleanWeb”) • Data breach detection and private search mode available (“Surfshark Alert” and “Surfshark Search” — add 99 cents/month total)

The Bad

Needs a few more years to completely trust • No-logs policy hasn’t been verified by a third-party audit • No dedicated IPs

The Bottom Line

An extremely promising provider with fantastic security offerings and a dirt-cheap monthly rate.

3. Surfshark

Wallet feeling a little light after you upgraded to the new iMac? This promising young VPN has all-in-one plans that start at just $2.50 a month.

  • Monthly plan:
    $12.95/month
  • Six-month plan:
    $6.49/month (billed $38.94/month every six months)
  • 24-month plan:
    $2.49/month with code surfsharkdeal (billed $59.76 upfront, then annually after the first 24 months)
Surfshark is the new kid on the block at just 3 years old, which gives us a little pause — VPNs that have had a few more years to prove themselves are way easier to trust. (A validated no-logs policy would also help.) But so far, it’s got a ton going for it: It’s based in the BVI; its decent-sized server network is growing fast; it offers 24/7 live chat support; and it comes with tons of security features at little to no extra cost, including a kill switch, split tunneling, multihop, and data breach protection with a private search mode. Support for unlimited simultaneous connections is the cherry on top.

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Image: mullvad vpn

The Good

30-day money-back guarantee (except for cash payments) • Up to 5 simultaneous connections • Verified no-logs policy • In-house support team • P2P-friendly • Kill switch • Split tunneling • Double VPN • Open source code • 10% discount if you pay with cryptocurrency

The Bad

Small network (<800 servers across 37 countries) • Based in Sweden, a Fourteen Eyes country • No split tunneling on Mac or iOS apps • Can’t unblock Netflix • No dedicated IPs

The Bottom Line

An affordable general-purpose VPN that promises true anonymnity.

4. Mullvad VPN

This open-source VPN with a reasonable monthly flat rate takes a strong stance on privacy, but movie-watchers and gamers should steer clear.

  • Flat rate:
    €5/month
A favorite among Redditors, Mullvad VPN is primarily known for two things: One, its charges its users a flat rate of €5 a month — or about $6.11 at the time of writing — so you don’t have to be locked into a long-term contract to get a great price. (Pro tip: You’ll score a 10% discount if you pay with Bitcoin or Bitcoin Cash.) Two, it’s all-in on protecting your right to online privacy: It doesn’t ask for any of your personal information (not even an email address); encourages cash and cryptocurrency payments to cover users’ tracks; and undergoes independent audits of its app on the regular. Better yet, all of its software is open-source — meaning anyone can view and sift through the source code to make sure Mullvad isn’t hiding anything. Just don’t even think about using it for streaming — it can’t unblock Netflix, and a small server network (combined with a lack of split tunneling for Mac and iOS) can make it a tad slow. 

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Image: Private Internet access

The Good

30,400+ servers in 78 countries • 30-day money-back guarantee • Up to 10 simultaneous connections • No-logs policy has been validated in court (third-party audit coming soon) • 24/7 support • Free 7-day trial for iOS • P2P-friendly • Kill switch • Split tunneling • Dedicated IPs available (add $5/month) • Built-in ad blocker (“MACE”) • Free email breach monitoring

The Bad

Based in the U.S., a Five Eyes country • Struggles to unblock Netflix

The Bottom Line

A straightforward VPN that can make bottlenecks and dropped connections a thing of the past.

5. Private Internet Access

Basic but well-built, PIA boasts an absolutely massive server network for a speedy, smooth user experience.

  • Monthly plan:
    $11.95/month
  • Yearly plan:
    $3.33/month (billed $39.95 every year)
  • Two-year plan:
    $2.69/month (billed $69.95 every two years) + two months free
Private Internet Access, or PIA, is a simple and easy-to-use VPN whose two-year plan starts at just $2.69 (including two bonus months), with free email breach monitoring and an ad blocker to boot. Its biggest asset is an absolutely gigantic network — it’s got over 30,400 servers across almost 80 countries worldwide, which means you can always count on a speedy, stable connection. The downside is that it’s not great at circumventing Netflix’s geo-restrictions (shame), but if you just need a VPN for basic web-surfing or file-sharing, this time-tested provider offers a very solid solution.
Note: PIA’s first independent audit was in the works at the time of writing, and it’ll probably pass with flying colors — its no-logs policy has previously held up in court twice.
Click here for Mashable’s in-depth review of PIA.

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Image: cyberghost vpn

The Good

Based in Romania • Over 7,500 servers in 91 countries • 45-day money-back guarantee (except on monthly plans) • Up to 7 simultaneous connections • 24/7 live, in-house customer service team • Free 24-hour trial • Unblocks Netflix (and tons of other streaming services) • Supports torrenting • Kill switch • Dedicated IPs available (add $3.75/month) • Built-in ad blocker • Password manager available (add $2/month)

The Bad

No-logs policy hasn’t been verified by a third-party audit • No split tunneling on Mac or iOS apps

The Bottom Line

A secure, user-friendly VPN with an extremely diverse network.

6. CyberGhost VPN

Skirt Netflix’s annoying geo-restrictions with the help of this zippy, user-friendly VPN and its top-notch support team that’s cheap if you’re willing to commit.

  • Monthly plan:
    $12.99/month
  • Annual plan:
    $3.99/month (billed $47.88 every year)
  • Two-year plan:
    $3.49/month (billed $83.76 every two years)
  • Three-year plan:
    $2.25/month (billed $87.75 every three years)
Thanks to an attractive interface, unlimited bandwidth, and a large, globally diverse network, it’s a cinch to avoid streaming geo-restrictions with CyberGhost VPN. Accessing Netflix content is definitely its forte — there are specially designed streaming servers for the platform — but it also capable of unblocking the full libraries of Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, ESPN, Showtime, YouTube TV, and Crunchyroll (among many others). And if for any reason you run into issues during your Mandalorian marathon, you can fall back on some A1 customer service — CyberGhost’s in-house support team has earned it the highest TrustPilot rating of all major VPN providers.

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Image: tunnebear

The Good

Up to 5 simultaneous connections and unlimited data with paid plan • Verified no-logs policy • Kill switch (“VigilantBear”) • Split tunneling (“SplitBear”) • Ad-blocking Chrome extension available (“TunnelBear Blocker”) • Publishes regular security audits

The Bad

Based in Canada, a Five Eyes country • No money-back guarantee (refunds offered on a case-by-case basis) • Small server network in only 26 countries • Can’t unblock Netflix • Not torrent-friendly • No dedicated IPs

The Bottom Line

An unintimidating interface for people new to the whole VPN thing.

7. TunnelBear

Come for the bears, stay for the security and simplicity.

  • Free plan:
    $0 (only 500MB of browsing per month)
  • Monthly plan:
    $9.99/month
  • One-year plan:
    $4.99/month (billed $59.88 every 12 months)
  • Three-year plan:
    $3.33/month (billed $120 once)
Owned by the security giant McAfee, TunnelBear is the VPN we recommend for anyone who isn’t especially tech-savvy. While most VPN services’ interfaces can easily overwhelm the uninitiated, TunnelBear makes it super easy to understand what’s happening with your connection at any given moment with cheesy-but-cute animations of — what else? — bears traveling through tunnels. While its server network is a bit small and it doesn’t have as many features as most of the other providers on this list, it’s a stellar “starter VPN” for casual users — plus, regular security audits offer extra peace of mind.
Click here to read Mashable’s in-depth review of TunnelBear.

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Image: protonvpn

The Good

Based in Switzerland • 30-day money-back guarantee • Up to 10 simultaneous connections • Verified no-logs policy • Unblocks Netflix • P2P support • Kill switch • Double VPN servers (“Secure Core”) • Built-in ad blocker (“NetShield”) • Built-in Tor support • Open source code • Super aggressive stance on privacy/transparency • Bundle with ProtonMail at the highest tier

The Bad

Small-ish network (up to ~1,200 servers in 55 countries) • Still pretty new • No split tunneling on Mac or iOS apps • No dedicated IPs

The Bottom Line

A budding VPN that commits to privacy like none other.

8. ProtonVPN

No one is more committed to keeping you anonymous online than ProtonVPN, an open-source option offering tons of features at a premium.

  • Free plan:
    €0/month for 1 medium-speed connection and servers in 3 countries
  • Basic plan:
    €4/month (billed €48/year) for 2 high-speed connections, servers in 43 countries, P2P support, and access to geo-blocked content
  • Plus plan:
    €8/month (billed €96/year) for 10 highest-speed connections, servers in 55 countries, P2P support, access to geo-blocked content, NetShield ad blocker, Secure Core VPN, Tor over VPN, and streaming support
  • Visionary plan:
    €24/month (billed €288/year) for all Plus plan features + an advanced ProtonMail account
Developed by the same MIT and CERN researchers behind ProtonMail (the world’s largest encrypted email service), ProtonVPN is an open-source service that’s aggressively dedicated to protecting your data. Not only did it partner with Mozilla for a thorough review of its technology, but it puts all of its apps through independent security audits on an ongoing basis. (It’s also stashed some of its critical infrastructure in a former Swiss army fallout shelter located 1,000 meters underground, if that tells you anything.) Users are free to peruse all of the law enforcement requests it’s received in the interest of transparency — spoiler: it’s never complied with any requests for user connection logs since it doesn’t keep any logs — and can make good use of advanced features like Tor over VPN with a Plus or Visionary plan. (Click here for a breakdown of its subscription tiers.) No wonder our friends over at PCMag like it so much.