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Best Mac VPN for 2022

[cnet.com]1 month ago

Apple devices have a reputation for robust security, but Mac users should still consider a virtual private network for protecting their browsing privacy. Why? Because your internet service provider can still track your browsing habits on iOS, and other sites can still collect your IP address. MacOS can't stop either of those things, but the best Mac VPN can.

When determining the best Mac VPN for our readers, we evaluate a number of things that are specific to being a Mac user: First, while not every Mac device is faster than a PC and Windows product, we want to see a VPN service with a connection speed that complements MacOS machines' rapid reputation. Further, if you've been using MacOS, you're used to a clean, intuitive user interface with a minimal learning curve and a well-organized set of digital tools -- that's why a VPN's usability weighs into our consideration. 

We also know that for many MacOS users, a broad resistance to app-borne viruses and malware is a major reason for choosing that ecosystem over Windows devices. To that end, we scrutinize a VPN's anti-tracker capacity and its general compatibility with Apple's progressively heightened privacy policies. 

Drawn from our directory of the best VPN services, these are our top recommendations for the best Mac VPN. Keep checking back here often since we regularly update this list as new VPN contenders emerge for the top spot.

ExpressVPN

Despite battling major upheavals through the end of 2021, ExpressVPN clenched our Editor's Choice Award for best VPN in 2022. One of the two largest providers globally, the VPN titan has been in business since 2009 and once again aggressively raised the industry bar for service transparency this year. 

In the past year, ExpressVPN increased its independent third-party audit count, published details about its TrustedServer deployment process, joined the i2Coalition to call for improved VPN industry ethics, and released an open source Lightway encryption protocol.

After a set-back in 2020, ExpressVPN is again currently in first place as the fastest VPN we've tested. While most VPNs will cause you to lose half or more of your normal internet speeds, ExpressVPN caused us to lose just 2% of speeds in our 2022 speed tests. It also unblocks Netflix and other streaming services more reliably than most other VPNs, and seamlessly surpasses geo-blocking for access to international gaming servers and torrenting sites. 

All of our top-rated VPN's have wide compatibility across platforms and operating systems, but ExpressVPN's collection of setup guides, detailed FAQs and troubleshooting articles give it a clear advantage for users. So does its 24/7 customer support, and its no-questions-asked, 30-day money back guarantee.  

While you can get a better month-to-dollar bargain with ExpressVPN's two-year subscription, we don't recommend anyone purchase any two-year VPN subscriptions at this time due to overall market volatility. ExpressVPN's best plan offers five simultaneous connections for $100 a year (which includes three extra months, for a limited-time deal totalling 15 months of service). You can also opt for a $13 per-month plan, or pay $60 for six months. Read our ExpressVPN review.

Read our ExpressVPN review.

Surfshark

  • Number of servers: 3,200-plus
  • Number of VPN server locations: 65
  • Country/jurisdiction: British Virgin Islands
  • $4 a month (69% discount) for the yearly plan

While Surfshark's network is smaller than some, the VPN service makes up for it in features. And by currently achieving the fastest speeds in our most recent VPN tests. Surfshark and NordVPN announced a merger in February, but each VPN runs its own separate network.

The biggest win Surfshark offers is its unlimited device support. If you want to run your entire home or office on Surfshark's VPN, you don't have to worry about how many devices you have on or connected. It also offers antimalware, ad-blocking and tracker-blocking as part of its VPN software.

Surfshark received generally high marks when its Chrome and Firefox extensions were audited for privacy by German security firm Cure 53 (PDF link of full report) -- though that audit was commissioned by Surfshark.

The VPN provider has a solid range of app support, running on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, FireTV and routers. Additional devices such as game consoles can be configured for Surfshark via DNS settings. We particularly like the feature that allows you to whitelist certain apps and websites to automatically bypass the VPN. For some business uses, this can be critically important. 

Surfshark also offers three special modes designed for those who want to get around restrictions and more carefully hide their online footsteps. Camouflage Mode masks your VPN activity so your ISP doesn't know you're using a VPN. Multihop jumps your internet connection through multiple countries to hide your trail. Finally, NoBorders Mode "allows [you] to successfully use Surfshark in restrictive regions." 

Just be careful: Doing any of these three things could be illegal in your country and could result in severe penalties. During our testing, we saw no DNS or IP address leaks and had no trouble accessing Netflix. 

Like an increasing number of other VPNs, Surfshark offers several different introductory pricing packages that are cheaper the longer your contract, but that get more expensive after the first term of your subscription plan. One of your options is to lock in 26 months of service for about $60 -- which Surfshark frames as "24 months +2 Free" for $2.30 a month. It's a decent intro deal, but the plan then recurs at $60 annually. For the standard yearly subscription plan, you'll pay about $48 initially for the first year of service, then $60 per year for any additional years of service. 

Surfshark's regular monthly plan offers no discounts and is available for $13 a month. If you're not satisfied with the service, Surfshark offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Read our Surfshark VPN review.

NordVPN

  • Number of IP addresses: 5,400-plus
  • Number of VPN server locations: 83
  • Country/jurisdiction: Panama
  • 60 countries
  • $5 a month for the yearly plan

NordVPN is one of the most recognized brands in the VPN field. It offers Mac VPN users a generous simultaneous connection count, with six simultaneous connections through its network, where nearly all other providers offer five or fewer. The VPN provider also offers a dedicated IP option, for those looking for a different level of VPN connection. NordVPN offers a kill switch feature, and the ability to VPN into Tor. We detected no privacy leaks during our tests, and found its speeds to be reliably fast. 

NordVPN's pricing structure is similar to that of its sister company Surfshark, but more expensive. A two-year plan carries an introductory price of about $96, but that price increases to a little under $100 annually for each subsequent year of service. If you opt for the yearly plan, you'll pay $60 for the first year of service, then just shy of $100 per year for any additional years. NordVPN's monthly plan is a dollar cheaper than Surfshark's, though, at $12 a month. And like most other VPN services, NordVPN offers a full 30-day money-back guarantee in case you're not satisfied with the service. 

While NordVPN has lived on this list for a long time, we moved it to the penalty box in October 2019 to re-evaluate our recommendation after a report emerged that one of its rented servers was accessed without authorization in 2018. Nord's actions following the discovery included -- eventually -- multiple security audits, a bug bounty program and heavier investments in server security. 

While we'd have preferred that Nord had self-disclosed the issue much earlier, the fact that the breach was limited in nature and involved no user-identifying information served to further verify that NordVPN keeps no logs of VPN user activity. As a result, Nord remains on this list of the best Mac VPN as a recommended vendor. It operates on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS and Linux. 

Read our NordVPN review.

What's the best Mac VPN right now?

ExpressVPN is the current CNET Editors' Choice for best overall VPN. We evaluate VPNs based on their overall performance in three main categories: speed, security features and price. Express isn't the cheapest, but it's among the fastest, and so far, is the most secure. At lower costs, Surfshark is a close second among our picks, thanks to its impressive performance and unlimited device support. NordVPN, our third choice, is a die-hard heavy-hitter. It costs more than Surfshark but less than Express, has an enormous network that's constantly getting faster and more secure, and is easily the most reliable service we've tested. 

What is a mobile VPN?

Use a mobile-friendly VPN to avoid slower speeds and ensure greater data privacy for your whole device. Mobile VPNs generally have a smaller memory footprint, and require less processing power than desktop VPNs, so they run faster and save more battery. Our top three VPNs listed above all have excellent, easy-to-use mobile VPN app options for their services. Some VPNs will only work with one type of platform -- like Apple or Android -- and some are universally compatible. To find the right mobile VPN for you, check out our mobile-specific VPN guides below. We routinely update them with our retesting information so check back often. 

What's the best free VPN service?

None of them. Seriously. While there are plenty of excellent free security and privacy apps online, VPNs, sadly, aren't among them. Safe VPNs cost companies a lot of money to operate and keep secure, and free ones are almost always malware-laden data snoops. But there's good news: The burgeoning VPN market is hyper-competitive right now, so prices for even the best VPNs regularly drop to less than $5 a month. In fact, the least expensive paid VPN option we've seen so far ranks in our top three VPNs overall for security and speed. Check out our quick list of budget-savvy VPNs to find one in your price range.

What's the most secure VPN for Mac?

Each of the three VPNs we highlight on this page offer the same level of AES 256-bit encryption. You'll be able to secure your connection via the same encryption standards whether you're using ExpressVPN, Surfshark or NordVPN. Each has also been independently audited for security, and each one operates a RAM-only server infrastructure, which helps reduce the possibility of data being stored on a VPN server. Our DNS leak tests of all three providers revealed no leaks of any sort, and each one's kill switch worked flawlessly. 

Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?

You can potentially get in legal trouble for using a VPN if you're in a country like China or Iran that bans or outlaws VPN use altogether. Otherwise, in the vast majority of regions around the world, you don't have to worry about getting into any legal trouble just for using a VPN. Just remember that if you're doing something illegal online, it's still illegal whether you're using a VPN or not. And if you're in a country where VPN use is illegal or restricted in any way, it's imperative that you connect to an obfuscated server so your VPN traffic is disguised as ordinary HTTPS traffic. This hides the fact that you're using a VPN in the first place. 

What does my ISP see when I'm connected to my VPN?

Your ISP will see that you're connected to a VPN and it will see the IP address of the VPN server you're connected to, along with the amount of data you're transmitting. It will also see timestamps of when you connected to the VPN. Other than that, it won't see your browsing history or the websites you visit since your internet traffic is encrypted and rendered unreadable when you connect to a VPN.

https://www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/best-mac-vpn/

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