Whilst it’s true that MacOS is generally secure in itself, the data that you send to and from the Internet often isn’t. Web sites are becoming more so with the addition of SSL ( sites that start with https: ) which is becoming more and more prevalent – and if you’re submitting sensitive data on a site that doesn’t start with https you should consider this very carefully before continuing – there is still a fair amount of information an unscrupulous person can glean from you simply by looking at your connections. If you’re on a public network ( such as Starbucks WiFi, McDonalds WiFi, your hotel WiFi ) or even using your 4G tethered connection, you should strongly consider protecting yourself from hackers by using a VPN. MacOS can’t protect the data that enters the public internet for you. This is where a VPN comes in.
I was recently looking to change my VPN provider and I visited a number of the more popular Mac Forums regarding this, and the most recommended solution seemed to be TunnelBear. I’ve been using Cyberghost for some time, which has a good free option, but this is a bit limited in what it will let you do, and has crashed a few times on my Android phone (particularly if my internet connection is a bit patchy) so I was looking for an alternative. Given that TunnelBear was so highly recommended on the forums I thought I’d check it out.
The interface of TunnelBear is extremely simple and easy. Installing is a matter of point and click, though you do need to sign up for an account, TunnelBear promise that no logs are kept at all in relation to your surfing.
Tunnelbear has your back even if you have lost your WiFi connection while you are working. All unsecured traffic will be blocked until all the connections have been properly secured.
The biggest attraction of Tunnelbear is the strong encryption. It has been developed with the AES 256-bit encryption. There is no option for weaker encryption
If your VPN is blocked by your Internet Provider, do not worry. GhostBear is an option available that will make your data less detected by ISPs and government agencies. It means you can access any data that you need.
TunnelBear allows you to assign ‘safe’ or ‘trusted’ networks that won’t be encrypted when you’re on these connections. So if you are at home and trust your ISP (hmmm….) then you can mark your home network as Trusted and the VPN will be bypassed. This can be useful if you find TunnelBear is slowing your connection.
Multiple devices (up to 5 per account) can be used, so you can secure your MacOS, Android, Windows and Android device (if you have them!).
Some server locations can slow your connection. This is common with any VPN though and can usually be resolved by selecting a different location.
Some services block access via known VPN servers. TunnelBear try hard to get round this, but it isn’t always going to be possible.
The use of BitTorrent (or other torrenting) may be blocked by TunnelBear. Lot’s of places online state that it is blocked, but TunnelBear appear to have no information on this, and some online sources say that Torrenting does work on TB. I don’t generally Torrent all that much any more unless I’m downloading a new Linux/Ubuntu ISO and I haven’t tried this yet.
Free account is limited to 500Mbytes of data. That’s potentially enough for e-mails and a bit of web browsing but won’t let you watch much YouTube and definitely not much NetFlix. But you can pay for more access, so for a trial session, the free account is worth a look.
Doesn’t appear to support IPv6.
How do I use it?
Installation is simple, just download from the TunnelBear website, double click the ZIP to run the MacOS Unzip utility and then double click the TunnelBear app that will be extracted. The first time you run it, MacOS will ask you if you want to move it to the Applications folder, which is probably a wise choice. The very first time you’ll also be required to enter your Administrator username and password to install a ‘Helper Program’ which basically means that because you’re playing around with network settings, MacOS won’t allow you to make changes to this unless you accept the consequences. Once that’s done you enter your account details and away you go. You’ll need to restart TunnelBear to get it to actually start tunnelling your connections.
Once you’ve restarted your TunnelBear application you’ll get a pop up menu when you click on the icon in the Task Bar, from which you can choose the location you wish to tunnel through. For speed purposes it’s wise to choose a server in the same country as you – but if you want to overcome any GeoLocation restrictions (for example to get access to NetFlix) you will need to choose the appropriate country.
Speed Via TunnelBear – Is It Slow?
The results shown below show the different speeds when connected to TunnelBear and when disconnected and using the ‘raw’ ISP (in my case Vodafone). As you can see there is a fair bit of slowdown although the screenshots are just random one-off tests rather than a comprehensive set, they were taken within a few seconds of each other. Having said that there is a fair bit of slowdown, I think the speed achieved by TunnelBear when it was connected is quite admirable and on day to day usage you really aren’t going to notice any difference. But if you’re downloading a big file you may want to consider turning off the VPN if you think it’s safe to.
As you can see, there’s not a massive difference in speed (interestingly the ping time when connected to TunnelBear is actually less, but I suspect that’s just an aberration).
TunnelBear is very easy to install and use, and looks extremely pretty. The toolbar icon is intuitive and easy to work with and provides fantastic graphical feedback. It also shows you how much data has been tunnelled, which is useful if you’re on the Free plan. It can be set to autostart when your Mac starts up, and can be configured to block all traffic if the VPN is not connected, making certain your connections are secured all the time with no risk. The pricing structure favours a years subscription as this option is incredibly cheap. There’s no logging, allegedly, so no-one can get hold of your surfing habits. The app feels polished and seems to work reliably.
Please feel free to add your score below, along with any comments you may have about TunnelBear, we love to get your feedback.
Steve is a paramedic in Victoria, Australia who is also an ex-IT Consultant and currently uses all manner of MacOS software in his everyday life. So he usually tends to write about his experiences with that. But sometimes he'll write about medical, political or other stuff that might (or might not!) be of interest