in Mac, OS X

Given the publicity lately related to third-party snooping into the public’s electronic affairs, you wouldn’t be alone if you’ve been thinking about how to bolster your online privacy and security.  Long before the attention-grabbing headlines, being prudent about your online privacy just made good sense.

For years now, organizations and individuals have implemented Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as a key component of an overall privacy and security strategy.  For individuals, a VPN can also provide some or all of these important benefits:

  • Secure, encrypted access to remote computer systems and applications
  • Heightened protection over financial transactions
  • Privacy for downloading and file sharing (e.g., Torrents)
  • Anonymous internet surfing
  • Bypass foreign government attempts to block their citizens’ access to web sites
  • Provide local IP addresses for accessing online services in other countries

I’m not going to explain here how VPNs work – if you hunger for the mind-numbing technical details, then go do a Google search.  Suffice it to say that, while there are no guarantees these days, individuals using a personal VPN can largely assume that their information sent and received online is secure from prying eyes.

VPNs used to be primarily the domain of governments and corporations.  They could be expensive to deploy, required networking appliances installed behind firewalls, relied on connection software on the remote client (its workings usually beyond the understanding of the mere mortal), and knowledgeable technical support staff were essential.  Much of this is still true.

But, as time has gone by and economies of scale improved, quite a few VPN service providers catering to the individual or small business person have come on the scene.  Pricing varies all over the lot, but there’s a growing number of VPN providers offering relatively inexpensive plans geared to the individual consumer.   Obviously, performance levels will vary based on your Mac or iOS device, connection speeds and traffic, entry server location, and whether you’re looking to exit the VPN in another country.

The table below takes a look at a sample of four VPN providers with plans priced below $10/month – and, if you commit to 6 months or a year, the effective monthly prices often drop a lot more.   All have received favourable online reviews from a representative number of customers.  (For the sake of disclosure, I have been using TunnelBear for quite some time and have no complaints.)  At the very least, you can use this table as a template for asking basic questions of other VPN providers, and there are lots of them out there.

A couple points to note about the table:

  • Excludes widely-known and heavily advertised services such as GoToMyPC, LogMeIn and so on.  These typically offer limited free services to individuals all the way up to corporate plans.  Of course, you’ll also want to price-compare your needs to their offerings.
  • Only shows providers offering Mac OS X and iOS VPN services.  After all, we’re, right?  Not every provider does so.
  • Prices shown are as of the date the table was prepared – these offerings tend to change based on specific promotions and the luck of the draw, so do your homework.
  • Hotspot Shield provides relatively little information online about their technology; e.g., servers, encryption level, etc.  Nevertheless, they did receive a number of positive reviews.

Here’s the table:

macdaily vpns Sheet1

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