What is a VPN and why is it important on a Mac?

By Dave Johnson - Executive Editor
7 Min Read

"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.

Front view of 16 Inch open MacBook Pro in Space Gray.  

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. Thankfully, adding a VPN on Mac enhances protection and eliminates any cybersecurity risks.

In this article, we cover a few of the key reasons why you may want to consider downloading a VPN for your Mac. Or, if you already have one, highlight some of the less common VPN benefits you can take advantage of.

What is a VPN?

Before diving into all the benefits of using a VPN on your Mac, let’s quickly look at what it is. 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. This makes it more difficult for third parties to track your activities online and steal data. The encryption takes place in real time.

How does a VPN work on an Mac?

The concept is pretty complex, but the general idea is relatively simple. A VPN establishes a direct connection and encrypts all its online traffic, thereby protecting the user’s activity and details.

Essentially, the VPN service sends all the Mac’s digital traffic through remote servers, which are typically located in different parts of the world. The service also hides the device’s real Internet Protocol (IP) address, replacing it with that of the service’s servers. This means the connection is secure, the device’s actual location is hidden, and hackers—or, indeed, internet service providers—cannot monitor activity over the connection or access any data.

Do I need a VPN on my Mac?

In a word — yes. It is very common now for people to use their computers for all sorts of digital activities, from making bank transfers and purchasing items online to sending emails and surfing the web. However, all of these actions require someone to input personal details that cybercriminals or businesses try to harvest. Here are some examples of why you do, in fact, need a VPN on your Mac:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can view the Mac’s online activity and sell the data to third parties for targeted advertising.
  • ISPs can also use IP addresses to monitor internet use and throttle (slow down) connections if too much bandwidth is being used, such as with too much gaming and streaming.
  • Websites can use IP addresses to track the location of visitors, and search history, to gauge interest and create targeted advertisements and suggestions.
  • Some services are restricted to people in specific regions, for example, TV content, or videos from YouTube. If you are travelling, but still want to keep up with your favorite show, a VPN will allow you to do this.

As such, what a VPN does on an Mac is help protect the user’s online privacy and the security of the data they send. The service can secure sensitive data and personal information, such as bank details and credit card information.

Ensuring the security of an Mac by using a VPN service is important for any user. However, it is especially essential for remote workers and business people. This is because business MacBooks are often used to send and receive a lot of sensitive information, such as confidential documents and financial records. If these computers are hacked, all of this information can be leaked, causing problems or embarrassment for the business.

What are the benefits of having a VPN on my Mac?

As well as offering some security and privacy, a VPN has many benefits for those using an Mac. Computer users are becoming increasingly aware of what using a VPN on an Mac does and, as such, are increasingly choosing to use the service. Here are just some of the reasons:

  1. Avoiding geo-restrictions: Not all online content is available everywhere. For example, some countries restrict the use of search engines like Google while certain streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, offer country-specific catalogs. Connecting an Mac to a VPN circumvents these types of geo-restrictions so that users can access the digital content they want.
  2. Getting location-specific search results:The geographical location of your Mac can skew the results of search engines. As such, using a VPN ensures that the search results are relevant to the location the user wants. For example, using a VPN configured to use a Bangkok-based VPN can help narrow the search for a specific store in Thailand, even when the user is physically in the USA.
  3. Avoiding targeting: IP addresses are often used to create targeted advertising and personalized suggestions for each website visitor. VPNs can change the user’s IP address, thus minimizing the ability of ISPs and third parties to make these bespoke adjustments.
  4. Minimizing throttling: VPNs can help Mac users avoid bandwidth throttling from ISPs, especially if the computer is being used a lot for streaming and gaming, for example.

What are the potential drawbacks of using a VPN on my Mac

Although there are many reasons why users should add a VPN to their Macs, there are, of course, some disadvantages. Although this does not mean users should begin removing VPN services from Macs, it is important to take these into account:

  1. Slower connection speeds: Because VPNs encrypt data and must re-route all traffic through remote servers, many users find their internet connections become slower. However, users of premium VPN services usually do not encounter this issue.
  2. Insecure connections: Because free VPNs do not charge any fees, they are forced to monetize their service in different ways. This is often done by tracking user data and then selling it to third parties, which is what many users are trying to avoid in the first place. Because of this, paid services offer greater protection.
  3. Subscription costs: The best VPN services available often charge basic fees, which some users may balk at. However, these subscription costs are usually negligible when weighed up against the security and privacy benefits.
  4. VPN bans: Before setting up a VPN on their Macs, users should note that the service is banned or restricted in certain countries. For example, VPNs are illegal in North Korea and Belarus, while Russia and India only allow VPN providers that agree to log and share user data.

When should I use a VPN on my Mac?

By now, most users will be aware of what a VPN does on an Mac and why the service is important. At this point, many wonder whether they need to use a VPN connection all the time, or only under particular circumstances. The short answer is that using this service consistently affords the highest level of security, and so users should use it at all times. However, VPN connections are most critical when accessing bank information and making transactions, providing credit card information, downloading files, and sharing sensitive information through email and chat services.

Does my Mac’s macOS encryption offer enough security?

It is a common misconception that Apple’s macOS makes MacBookss, iPhones, and iPads impervious to hackers and other security threats. The security that macOS offers is limited to protecting passwords stored on the device and encrypting the device’s data when the device is locked. As such, macOS encryption does not extend to web traffic, leaving data sent or received on Macs vulnerable if they do not use a VPN.

Choosing a VPN for an Mac

It is tempting to think that all VPNs are created equal, but this is simply not the case. Services differ in their quality and functionality, and of course, how they handle user data. As such, it is important to do some research when choosing a VPN for your Mac. Here are a few important points to consider:

  • Connection security: Look at what encryption method the VPN provider uses—256-bit encryption is the minimum for a secure VPN.
  • Activity logging: Read the provider’s terms and conditions or privacy policies to ensure that it does not track or log user activity.
  • Monetization: Find out how the VPN provider makes money—if it does not charge a subscription fee, it might be selling user information to third parties for advertising.
  • Connection speed: Ensure that the VPN will not slow your internet connection—check reviews or test it during the trial period that most providers offer.
  • Usage caps: Some providers implement daily or monthly limits on their VPN connections, especially if they offer free and paid tiers—check to see what caps apply and whether this is acceptable.

Setting up a VPN on an Mac

After deciding that you do need a VPN on your Mac, setting up the service is simple. In most cases, once you have selected a provider, the process of configuring your computer with the VPN service should take just a few minutes. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Create an account on the provider’s website—users may need to choose a subscription tier, provide payment details, and confirm their account by email.
  2. Purchase and download the provider’s VPN app through the App Store.
  3. Follow the provider’s setup instructions, which usually only require users to log into their account.
  4. If not already done when creating the account, choose a subscription tier and confirm the account.
  5. Connect to the VPN service using the automatic quick-connect function, or by selecting a location-specific server.
  6. Go back to the app to turn off the connection when no longer required.

Removing a VPN from an Mac

Mac users who no longer need a VPN service on their devices can simply remove it. This can be done by navigating to the Mac System Settings, disconnecting the VPN service, and deleting the app.


While most people spend some effort to keep their smartphones, email, and bank accounts secure, computers are often a second thought. But because these devices are such a crucial part of daily life, it is especially important to ensure their security—even if the device in question is an Mac. Setting up a VPN service on an Mac provides many benefits. Security and privacy are, of course, two of the most important. But, users can also elude geo-restrictions, access more content and digital services, and minimize the chances of targeted advertising. As such, it becomes imperative to add a VPN configuration on Macs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is VPN for Mac?

A VPN—or Virtual Private Network—is a service that encrypts a user’s data and activities and masks their IP address while online. When an Mac’s settings are configured with an active VPN, the service will route activities through a remote server using an alternative IP address and masking all personal details and traffic.

Do I need a VPN on my Mac?

In a word, yes. Having a VPN an Mac ensures its security and privacy. Not only does this help protect sensitive data such as personal details, bank accounts, and credit card information, but it minimizes the ability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and third parties to track activity and create targeted advertising.

What does VPN do on Mac?

The main function of a VPN setting on an Mac is to secure data sent to and from the device and ensure all web activity remains private. However, a VPN service can also be useful for circumventing geographical restrictions, accessing location-specific content,.

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By Dave Johnson Executive Editor
Dave Johnson is the editor-in-chief at GeeksChalk where he oversees all of site’s evergreen content to ensure it’s up to date with the latest information. Hailing from New Jersey in the US, he has over seven years of experience in the tech journalism space and holds a degree in English Literature. In his spare time, Dave can found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, and petting every dog he comes across in the outside world.
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