Stop spies and enhance Mac security with a free VPN

With the right tools it is possible to spy on your internet activities. Who is watching you right now and what do they know about you? Block them by installing a VPN on in OS X on your Apple mac.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and it is a method of connecting two computers with a secure and encrypted communications that is very difficult and perhaps impossible for anyone to eavesdrop and discover what you are doing, who you are or where you are located in the world.

A VPN connects two computers over the internet using an encrypted connection. One use for this is to allow employees at home, public Wi-Fi hotspots and so on, to connect securely to the company network.

They connect to the VPN server at their workplace and it is like being in the office and having access to everything on the office network like you were sat at a desk.

Even though the connection is over the internet, no-one can intercept it and see what information is being exchanged.

You computer is a VPN client and the remote computer you connect to is the VPN server.

This secure connection over the internet is useful in other ways and to other people, even home users. It can be used to increase your security and privacy when browsing the web.

When you connect to a website, that site receives a lot of information about your computer and your location. For example, it can tell where in the world you are located. Perhaps not the street, but usually the nearest town or city, who your ISP is, whether you are using a Mac or Windows PC, which browser you are using and so on.

To see some of the information you are revealing about yourself, go to http://mybrowserinfo.com/detail.asp and then come back here for the rest of the article and see how you can stop this.

You stop it by accessing websites through a third party.

There are VPN servers on the internet that you can connect to. Let’s say you want a web page from a site. Instead of connecting to it directly, you connect to a VPN server using a secure encrypted connection, and the VPN server goes and gets the web page. It sends it back to you over the secure and encrypted connection.

You did not connect with the website directly, so the site knows nothing about you. The VPN server connected to the site and so the site only sees the VPN server.

As you browse the web using sites and services, all they see is a VPN server contacting them, not you. 

It is a bit like you asking Bob to ask Sue something. Sue answers Bob, but doesn’t know that it was actually you that wanted the information.

So what this all boils down to is privacy, anonymity and security. You browse the web via a VPN server and no-one knows who you are or where you live.

Enable OS X VPN client

This is a useful feature so OS X has it built in and all you have to do is to enable it.

Close all web browsers and other software that is using the internet. Go to System Preferences and click Network.

Below the list of connections on the left, click the plus button to add a new one.

OS X VPN

Click the Interface list and select VPN.

OS X VPN client

OS X VPN client

It asks for the VPN type and there is more than one. You need to know which one is being used by the VPN service you want to use.

OS X VPN client

There are four free VPN servers at www.freevpnnetwork.com and in the Protocol column they all say PPTP, so select PPTP for the VPN Type. The name can be anything.

Free VPN servers

Now you will be asked for the configuration. In the Account Name box, enter the username from  www.freevpnnetwork.com, which is freevpnnetwork.com for all four servers.

OS X VPN client

Click Authentication Settings, select Password and enter it from the www.freevpnnetwork.com page - each of the four servers has a different password (just a four-digit number).

OS X VPN client

Tick the box, Show VPN status in the menu bar.

We are not quite done yet because OS X is a bit weird about VPNs and might not use it. Click the Advanced button and on the Options tab, tick the box Send all traffic over VPN connection.

OS X VPN client

To test whether it is working, go to http://ipipip.net or a similar website and it will display your IP address and location. If the VPN is working, it will show the IP address of the VPN server you are connected to. If it is not working, it will show your real IP address and location.

Click the menu bar icon to connect to the VPN or disconnect from it when you don’t need it.

OS X VPN client

Free vs paid VPN

It is not difficult to set up a VPN server on the internet and anyone could do it. Because all of your internet traffic is going through the VPN server, you should only use one that you trust. They have the power to spy on your activities.

A VPN is designed to stop people spying on you, but they only work if the VPN provider is trustworthy. There are several excellent VPN providers that you can trust and they provide a great service. They protect you from the worst of the web, hackers, people spying on you, the prevent eavesdropping and intercepting of internet communications, and can even prevent malware.

You do need to pay for most of them. A few provide a free service with limitations and/or adverts, and a pro or premiere services with faster speeds, no ads and more features for paying customers.

A couple of companies worth considering are Hotspot Shield and Cyberghost. Instead of using the VPN client in OS X, they provide a small app to install on your Mac. It is easier to use and offers extra features and security. Both of these have free and subscription services and are worth trying.

For a few dollars a month, it is worth considering the extra security and privacy offered by a VPN service.

 

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