Mac security: VPN – a protected gateway to the Internet

With a VPN connection, surfing the Internet becomes massively more secure. However, the setup is considered complicated. No, it is not. At least not on the Mac.

A few days ago, a serious gap was discovered in WLANs. The WLAN protocol WPA2, which was previously considered secure, became an insecure loophole overnight. Scholars are still in their wits as to how critical this security hole actually is. Many manufacturers have reacted quickly and have meanwhile plugged the hole (e.g. Apple with Tuesday’s updates). The average consumer or user, however, once again realized that one cannot always rely on experts, manufacturers, hardware and software. Sometimes you have to help yourself.

A virtual tunnel

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. With this technology, all network traffic is bundled and sent encrypted through a kind of tunnel. A private tube through the otherwise quite open networks.

The nice thing about VPN is that you can open and close the tunnel as you need it. In a familiar network at home or in the office, VPN is normally not needed. On the way via the hotspot on your own iPhone probably not either. But in the public WLAN of the SBB, the Migros or a café… just one click and the VPN tunnel is activated.

Setting up VPN

The VPN function is already built into iOS and OSX. But it won’t do you any good if you don’t have a partner to build and offer you the tunnel. Swisscom, for example, can be such a partner. It offers VPN services.

Or you can laugh at one of the various providers worldwide that offer VPN services for little money (more about that). No matter which choice you make: the VPN provider gives me the settings for my private network and I then enter this in the appropriate place in the network settings.

  • I add a new service (1), select the VPN service (2), set the protocol (3) and give the whole thing a name (4). When I then click OK, OS X queries all the settings I received from the provider.
  • From now on I can start and stop the VPN from the menu bar. Or I just leave it on for simplicity, then I don’t have to worry anymore.

VPN is a matter of trust

Now there’s another catch. A VPN tunnel like this is still a matter of trust. Because I have to be sure that my VPN provider doesn’t install a back door somewhere to read out the data that I deliver to him exclusively at the push of a button. And that’s where it gets tricky for me. Ok, I trust Swisscom. But to any VPN provider that has set up its servers in Bermuda?

I was skeptical. And so it took a while until I found a partner who seems to me to be trustworthy. This is Golden Frog, a company that has been in business for years and has built up its business here in Switzerland because it has some of the strictest data protection guidelines in the world. Golden Frog offers a VPN service called “vyprvpn” which I can recommend. It doesn’t cost too much and works perfectly on all devices. The installation is even a bit easier than with on-board devices, because the settings are made directly by the app. Also here I can switch VPN on and off in the menu if necessary.