Is a VPN safe for Mac?

Macworld

If you spend any time online, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll encounter adverts for VPN services that offer to keep your data and activities while on the web safe and secure. But is this really the case and should you add VPN software to your Mac? We explain what a VPN is and whether it’s safe to use on your Mac. We also look at whether it can slow down your web connection and drain your battery.

Another reason people are concerned about using a VPN is the question of whether it is legal to use a VPN. With so many wanting to use a VPN so that they can view content that is only available in another country, there are questions about the legality of doing so. We will address this question as well.

What does a VPN do?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and as the name suggests an element of their purpose is privacy. The software uses encryption technology to create a secure ‘tunnel’ through which your information flows back and forth. All your data is encrypted, which means you are protected from hackers who might try to spy on your data. This is especially useful if you are accessing the internet via public Wi-Fi which is more risky than surfing from home or work. VPNs allow you to freely explore and use the internet without worrying about someone stealing your information in the process.

Another element of this protection is that your location is hidden and you are completely anonymous. This means that nobody, not your Internet Service Provider (IPS) or the sites you visit, can see any information about you or what your online activity entails. This should mean, for example, that you aren’t pursued around the internet by ads relating to products you have viewed, for example. As long as the VPN has a no-logs policy this information will not be accessible by anyone–not even the government.

It should be noted that a VPN only protects other people from seeing your information, it won’t prevent you from visiting a fake site (perhaps by clicking on a link within a phishing email) and logging in to what you think is your actual account. A VPN won’t protect you from nefarious websites so you’ll still need to keep your wits about you when interacting with emails, messages or any other forms of communication. 

One of the other benefits of using a VPN that conceals information about who you are and where you are surfing from is that it means you can make it look like you are surfing from another country just by connecting to a server in that country, assuming the VPN can provide it. This is one of the most attractive elements of using a VPN for many people who wish to view content only available in another country. We’ll discuss this example in more detail below because there are questions about the legality of doing so.

You can find out more in our detailed guide on how to use a VPN on a Mac.

Should I use a VPN on my Mac?

The answer to this question depends on what you want the VPN for.

If you are just surfing the web from a secure private network at home or at work you probably don’t need to worry too much about hackers trying to intercept your data. If you’re out and about, using coffee shop Wi-Fi networks or those at airports, then using a VPN is a good idea. 

But do you even need a third-party VPN? Apple offers iCloud Private Relay for iCloud+ subscribers which acts similarly to a VPN in that it encrypts all your data. But there are some restrictions: the main drawback being that it only works in Safari. So if you are surfing using any other web browser then your data won’t be encrypted by iCloud Private Relay. Therefore, if you want protection in other web browsers iCloud Private Relay won’t be sufficient for you.

Similarly, if you want to take advantage of the other features a VPN brings – such as the appearance of being in another country – iCloud Private Relay doesn’t do that. So, if you are desperate to watch your favorite show, but it’s not being shown in your country, you could use a VPN to watch it. For example, if you wanted to watch Our Flag Means Death on the U.S.-focused Max from the U.K, or to watch something on iPlayer from a country outside the U.K., a VPN could allow you to do that, although you should bear in mind that there are legal implications to doing do that we will address below.

For a more in-depth look at what a VPN offers, read Do I need a VPN?

Foundry

Is it legal to use a VPN?

Because a VPN can hide your location so it looks like you’re somewhere else, you can trick streamers into thinking you are in the country the content is locked to. This is useful when you want to access streaming service content that isn’t available in your location.

While using a VPN isn’t illegal (unless you are in certain countries with particularly draconian laws, such as North Korea) using one to access content that isn’t intended to be available in your country could be problematic. In some cases, content isn’t available where you live because it hasn’t yet been licensed for distribution there, or perhaps there is a licensing deal in place that means that there will be a delay before the content arrives in your country. In that case, you might feel that it isn’t fair that you have to wait because of some licensing agreement that counts your country as less important that the one it premiers in. Of course, this doesn’t make it ok to watch the content, but it’s understandable that at a time when we are used to worldwide premiers the idea of having to wait to watch something would seem alien.

If you are paying to watch the content because you have subscribed to the streamer in that country to do so, you are in a better position than if you were pirating the content and not paying at all. Accessing the content would probably be in breach of the terms and conditions of the streamer, but violating these terms is not a criminal act. The most they could do is terminate your contract, but it is unlikely they would do that (they want your money after all).

Of course, when it comes to watching the BBC via a VPN this is more of an issue because U.K. residents need to have a TV license to watch iPlayer, and buying a TV licence isn’t an option for those outside the U.K.

Is a VPN safe to use on a Mac?

As you can see from what we’ve already covered, VPNs can be a great addition to a system if you want increased privacy and the ability to spoof your location. That doesn’t answer the main question though, are VPNs safe to use?

On the whole, yes they are. VPNs are big business and their provision has become a competitive marketplace in recent years. There are a few caveats to bear in mind though. Paid services by established companies would be the safest option. As with any security-related product, you’re reliant on the providers being truthful about their claims about privacy and no-logs policies. For this reason, we recommend checking that the VPN provider is independently audited and be aware of where the VPN is based, as this can impact whether they can be forced to give data to a government. We recommend Surfshark and NordVPN among others in our best VPN for Mac roundup.

You might be wondering whether it is safe to use a free VPN. There are plenty of free VPN services around, some of which are most likely reliable and safe, however, we have seen reports in the past of companies scraping up their customers’ online behaviors and then selling them to advertisers. That’s why it’s better to pay for a VPN rather than use a free one.  Luckily many VPNs have good deals for the first year at least, so it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to use one – just be ready to cancel before it renews at a higher rate.

Foundry

Does a VPN slow down your Wi-Fi?

Using a VPN can affect the speed of your internet connection. This is because encrypting and decrypting takes time and routing you via a VPN server ads an extra step to your journey. Therefore it’s not uncommon for those using a VPN to experience slower internet connections.

Another reason you may experience a slow Wi-Fi connection is if you are connecting to a server a long way away. The nearer the server to your location the faster your connection will be.

You may also experience a slower connection if you are one of many people connecting to the same server, therefore it is good practice to choose a VPN provider that has a lot of servers in the countries you need to ‘visit’.

Does using a VPN drain battery?

Just as with the drain on connection speeds, you may also experience quicker than usual battery drain. This is for the same reason: using a VPN means that extra encrypting and decrypting is taking place. Another reason you may feel that you are seeing more battery drain than usual might just be that you are streaming content of course.

Related Stories

Best VPN for iPhone

Best VPN for iPad

Mac, MacOS, Security Software and Services, VPN

​Macworld Macworld

If you spend any time online, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll encounter adverts for VPN services that offer to keep your data and activities while on the web safe and secure. But is this really the case and should you add VPN software to your Mac? We explain what a VPN is and whether it’s safe to use on your Mac. We also look at whether it can slow down your web connection and drain your battery.

Another reason people are concerned about using a VPN is the question of whether it is legal to use a VPN. With so many wanting to use a VPN so that they can view content that is only available in another country, there are questions about the legality of doing so. We will address this question as well.

What does a VPN do?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and as the name suggests an element of their purpose is privacy. The software uses encryption technology to create a secure ‘tunnel’ through which your information flows back and forth. All your data is encrypted, which means you are protected from hackers who might try to spy on your data. This is especially useful if you are accessing the internet via public Wi-Fi which is more risky than surfing from home or work. VPNs allow you to freely explore and use the internet without worrying about someone stealing your information in the process.

Another element of this protection is that your location is hidden and you are completely anonymous. This means that nobody, not your Internet Service Provider (IPS) or the sites you visit, can see any information about you or what your online activity entails. This should mean, for example, that you aren’t pursued around the internet by ads relating to products you have viewed, for example. As long as the VPN has a no-logs policy this information will not be accessible by anyone–not even the government.

It should be noted that a VPN only protects other people from seeing your information, it won’t prevent you from visiting a fake site (perhaps by clicking on a link within a phishing email) and logging in to what you think is your actual account. A VPN won’t protect you from nefarious websites so you’ll still need to keep your wits about you when interacting with emails, messages or any other forms of communication. 

One of the other benefits of using a VPN that conceals information about who you are and where you are surfing from is that it means you can make it look like you are surfing from another country just by connecting to a server in that country, assuming the VPN can provide it. This is one of the most attractive elements of using a VPN for many people who wish to view content only available in another country. We’ll discuss this example in more detail below because there are questions about the legality of doing so.

You can find out more in our detailed guide on how to use a VPN on a Mac.

Should I use a VPN on my Mac?

The answer to this question depends on what you want the VPN for.

If you are just surfing the web from a secure private network at home or at work you probably don’t need to worry too much about hackers trying to intercept your data. If you’re out and about, using coffee shop Wi-Fi networks or those at airports, then using a VPN is a good idea. 

But do you even need a third-party VPN? Apple offers iCloud Private Relay for iCloud+ subscribers which acts similarly to a VPN in that it encrypts all your data. But there are some restrictions: the main drawback being that it only works in Safari. So if you are surfing using any other web browser then your data won’t be encrypted by iCloud Private Relay. Therefore, if you want protection in other web browsers iCloud Private Relay won’t be sufficient for you.

Similarly, if you want to take advantage of the other features a VPN brings – such as the appearance of being in another country – iCloud Private Relay doesn’t do that. So, if you are desperate to watch your favorite show, but it’s not being shown in your country, you could use a VPN to watch it. For example, if you wanted to watch Our Flag Means Death on the U.S.-focused Max from the U.K, or to watch something on iPlayer from a country outside the U.K., a VPN could allow you to do that, although you should bear in mind that there are legal implications to doing do that we will address below.

For a more in-depth look at what a VPN offers, read Do I need a VPN?

Foundry

Is it legal to use a VPN?

Because a VPN can hide your location so it looks like you’re somewhere else, you can trick streamers into thinking you are in the country the content is locked to. This is useful when you want to access streaming service content that isn’t available in your location.

While using a VPN isn’t illegal (unless you are in certain countries with particularly draconian laws, such as North Korea) using one to access content that isn’t intended to be available in your country could be problematic. In some cases, content isn’t available where you live because it hasn’t yet been licensed for distribution there, or perhaps there is a licensing deal in place that means that there will be a delay before the content arrives in your country. In that case, you might feel that it isn’t fair that you have to wait because of some licensing agreement that counts your country as less important that the one it premiers in. Of course, this doesn’t make it ok to watch the content, but it’s understandable that at a time when we are used to worldwide premiers the idea of having to wait to watch something would seem alien.

If you are paying to watch the content because you have subscribed to the streamer in that country to do so, you are in a better position than if you were pirating the content and not paying at all. Accessing the content would probably be in breach of the terms and conditions of the streamer, but violating these terms is not a criminal act. The most they could do is terminate your contract, but it is unlikely they would do that (they want your money after all).

Of course, when it comes to watching the BBC via a VPN this is more of an issue because U.K. residents need to have a TV license to watch iPlayer, and buying a TV licence isn’t an option for those outside the U.K.

Is a VPN safe to use on a Mac?

As you can see from what we’ve already covered, VPNs can be a great addition to a system if you want increased privacy and the ability to spoof your location. That doesn’t answer the main question though, are VPNs safe to use?

On the whole, yes they are. VPNs are big business and their provision has become a competitive marketplace in recent years. There are a few caveats to bear in mind though. Paid services by established companies would be the safest option. As with any security-related product, you’re reliant on the providers being truthful about their claims about privacy and no-logs policies. For this reason, we recommend checking that the VPN provider is independently audited and be aware of where the VPN is based, as this can impact whether they can be forced to give data to a government. We recommend Surfshark and NordVPN among others in our best VPN for Mac roundup.

You might be wondering whether it is safe to use a free VPN. There are plenty of free VPN services around, some of which are most likely reliable and safe, however, we have seen reports in the past of companies scraping up their customers’ online behaviors and then selling them to advertisers. That’s why it’s better to pay for a VPN rather than use a free one.  Luckily many VPNs have good deals for the first year at least, so it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to use one – just be ready to cancel before it renews at a higher rate.

Foundry

Does a VPN slow down your Wi-Fi?

Using a VPN can affect the speed of your internet connection. This is because encrypting and decrypting takes time and routing you via a VPN server ads an extra step to your journey. Therefore it’s not uncommon for those using a VPN to experience slower internet connections.

Another reason you may experience a slow Wi-Fi connection is if you are connecting to a server a long way away. The nearer the server to your location the faster your connection will be.

You may also experience a slower connection if you are one of many people connecting to the same server, therefore it is good practice to choose a VPN provider that has a lot of servers in the countries you need to ‘visit’.

Does using a VPN drain battery?

Just as with the drain on connection speeds, you may also experience quicker than usual battery drain. This is for the same reason: using a VPN means that extra encrypting and decrypting is taking place. Another reason you may feel that you are seeing more battery drain than usual might just be that you are streaming content of course.

Related Stories

Best VPN for iPhone

Best VPN for iPad

Mac, MacOS, Security Software and Services, VPN 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *