It’s a common misconception that Apple products like Mac computers and iPhones don’t need additional security. Despite a number of high-profile security issues coming to light, cyber security tools like antivirus and VPNs are generally thought of as most suited to the Android and PC market.
While it’s true that the need is greater in non-Apple devices, that doesn’t mean Apple products don’t need any extra protection. And in the case of Virtual Private Networks, where one of the key functions is to provide anonymity, it doesn’t matter what device or operating system you’re using – without that extra help, your personal data could wind up exposed.
Key threats to online privacy
As we become increasingly dependent on the internet for everything from grocery shopping to out-of-office work, securing the data we transfer online has also become essential. Online banking, online bill payments, even simple emails that contain addresses or other personal information; it’s all data that can be accessed by third parties and downloaded in a split second without the right protection.
While antivirus and built-in device security can take care of software threats like malicious apps, these things can’t stop prying eyes from viewing your internet traffic. That’s everything from the sites you frequently visit to the card details you enter on some of those sites, and you aren’t guaranteed protection just because you’re using a certain device to log on.
So, who’s looking?
In countries like the USA, your internet service provider can legally sell your browsing data and app usage history to third parties for advertising purposes. They have access to full datasets showing which sites you’ve visited, what you’ve done on those sites and other information that is valuable to third-party advertisers who want to tailor and target their ads.
In other parts of the world, you might be more concerned about government or law enforcement snooping, such as in the case of the UK’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’. Or, your primary concern could be cyber criminals – hackers who intercept emails and steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from their recipients. Regardless, it’s wise to take measures to protect yourself, rather than assuming that you won’t become a target.
How does a VPN work?
Devices like Mac computers, smartphones and even smart home devices all have a unique IP address which identifies them and allows online activity to be traced back to that specific device. When you connect to the internet through a VPN service, your IP address is hidden. Instead, you show up under one of the VPN provider’s IPs, which could be at a server location anywhere around the world.
The additional benefit of using a Virtual Private Network is the layer of end-to-end encryption they add to your activity. Public Wi-Fi and even home Wi-Fi networks can lack strong encryption, meaning that if a third party wants to view data that’s being transferred over your connection, it doesn’t take much to do so.
VPNs add what’s called a ‘tunnel’ of encryption to everything you do online, so that anything you send or receive while connected is scrambled into complex encryption keys that can’t be viewed by outsiders. Just about impossible to crack, good encryption means that your details won’t be legible if intercepted when banking online or transferring sensitive information. Instead of account numbers or card details, a hacker would just see nonsensical strings of letters and numbers.
Security vs Privacy and Anonymity
Having an antivirus tool that defends you against dubious downloads, and which can scan your device for threats, is an important step in staying secure – regardless of the make of your computer or phone. There are a whole host of Mac viruses and security flaws to be aware of, and you can use antivirus to quarantine malware files, alert you to attempted attacks and carry out a range of other security steps.
A VPN won’t do any of these things, but what it will do is add a layer of encryption to your internet connection while you’re spending time online. There are VPNs specifically designed for Mac users, and they’re a valuable add-on to have if you don’t want your internet provider, government or any cyber criminals to access your activity.
Ensuring that your time online is private, and that your activities are anonymous, is a second level of security in your defences. While it isn’t in the same vein as actively removing malicious software, it’s a type of protection that stops third parties from being able to connect your online behaviour with your specific device. The layer of encryption a VPN provides is also a defence against hackers in a way that that isn’t offered by a firewall or virus scanner.
Security software can be completely undermined without the addition of a privacy tool, just as using a privacy tool without additional security could leave your device exposed to malware and other threats.
In short, yes, Mac users do still need a VPN. Even if you feel that you’ve nothing to hide online in terms of sites you visit and what you do on those sites, and if you don’t particularly mind targeted advertising. It’s still worthwhile protecting the kind of personal data we often share without a second thought.
Using antivirus software, a protective VPN and a bit of common sense, there’s no reason to wind up as the victim of a cyber attack.