If you want to really take control of your privacy and security on OS X, then you definitely need to use network monitoring software on your Mac. Network monitoring software allows you to keep an eye on like which apps are calling home, who or what is trying to connect to your Mac and monitor all the communication that’s going on under-the-hood on your Mac. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes on your Mac, most of it perfectly innocent and essential for running apps and OS X, but there may also be apps and other processes going on that are actually slowing down or compromising the security of your Mac. The only way to diagnose this is to see the network traffic coming and going from your Mac by using a network monitoring tool. The good news is that some of the best network monitoring for software for Mac is either free or cost very little. OS X even has its own free network monitoring utilities if you know where to look. So whether you’re a system administrator needing powerful packet analysis software or just an average user that wants to monitor what apps are doing on your Mac behind the curtain, here are our reviews of the best network monitoring software for Mac OS X.
- 1 Why Use Network Monitoring Software On Mac?
- 2 Free Network Monitoring Software For Mac
- 3 Conclusion
Why Use Network Monitoring Software On Mac?
Under the surface, many applications are constantly sending and receiving data from your Mac. As soon as your Mac is connected to the internet, it is therefore vulnerable. Most of the time, applications such as Spotify, Microsoft Office or Adobe applications are simply sending and receiving data that allows you to use the application. This is increasingly common as the line between desktop and cloud computing becomes increasingly thinner such as with MS Office and Adobe Creative Cloud for example. An applications like Adobe Photoshop for example may launch several processes or call-outs during while its being used. In the case of entertainment applications such as iTunes or Spotify, such connectivity is absolutely essential in order for the applications to work – if they can’t receive and request data, then you obviously can’t listen to any music or watch videos using them.
However, some applications make call-outs that are at best unnecessary or at worst, malicious and a threat to both your privacy and security by leaving your Mac open to attack or exposing private data. Network monitoring software can intercept and in most cases, even block such requests to ring-fence your Mac from such risks. Mac OS X has its own in-built Firewall (which is deactivated by default) but it can only protect you from incoming connections – it has no control over outgoing connections and call-outs made by apps.
Most network monitoring software on Mac monitor both network and hardware activity on your Mac although you’ll usually find that some apps are more focuses on one than the other.
Here then are the best network monitoring tools for Mac OS X. First we look at paid apps and then free network monitoring tools.
Little Snitch is made by German based developers Objective Development and easily the slickest and most user-friendly commercial network monitoring software for Mac users. The great thing about Little Snitch is that it not only monitors but also protects your network with its own Firewall. Nothing goes to or from your Mac without going through Little Snitch first. You choose which processes or call-outs are safe or not giving you peace of mind and total control over your Mac’s security.
Whether you choose to allow or deny the connection, Little Snitch will remember it as a rule and you’ll no longer need to worry about that particularly call-out again. The first time you run Little Snitch, you’ll be amazed at how many apps and utilities it catches making call-outs and it can actually be very tedious allowing or denying them all. However, once you’ve done it once, Little Snitch remembers your choices and you won’t be bothered about them anymore. There are many times when Little Snitch will catch mysterious sounding process or OS X call-outs that you have no idea what they’re for. Mostly these are perfectly innocent parts of OS X and in older versions of Little Snitch, you has to do a lot of Googling to work out if a process is safe or not. The latest version however includes a Research Assistant which gives you more information on what the process is and an indication of whether it is safe or not. This is a really nice addition as there are a surprising number of erroneous sounding processes and connections that most Mac users have no idea about.
If you don’t want to bothered by Little Snitch while doing a presentation from your Mac, you can put it in Silent Mode and review any incoming or outgoing connections later. You can also setup different profiles depending on whether you are in the office or at home.
Finally there’s the Little Snitch Network Monitor which sits in your Menu Bar and can be expanded to provide a useful overview of what applications are doing in real-time along with a history of their call-outs and network activity.
If you want a network monitoring tool that makes your Mac bulletproof without needing lots of technical knowledge, Little Snitch is the best network monitoring software for Mac users out there. You can try Little Snitch for free although note that the latest version of is only compatible with Sierra. You’ll need to download legacy versions of Little Snitch for El Capitan, Yosemite and Mavericks.
You can also watch a good overview of Little Snitch working on Mac below:
Incidentally, if you’re worried about whether your Mac microphone or camera is being used to listen-in or spy on you, the developer also offers Micro Snitch which monitors and blocks unauthorized iSight camera and mic recording activity.
If you’re a network administrator or need something more powerful than Little Snitch, then Wireshark may be your answer. Wireshark is a cross-platform open source project that’s maintained by several contributors around the world but is one of the most widely-used network protocol analyzers around. It gives you precise control over data packet activity and allows you to analyze network activity at a microscopic level including on USB and other connection ports. Wireshark is trusted by large commercial enterprises, governments and educational institutions to protect their networks and it’s not something that the average Mac user will get to grips with quickly. Wireshark also runs using X11 on Mac so it looks quite dated and far less polished than Little Snitch but you use Wireshark for its power rather than its looks.
Wireshark captures pretty much everything on OS X including Ethernet, Token-Ring, FDDI and serial (PPP and SLIP) packets. About the only thing it can’t monitor on Macs are Firewire ports although these are virtually obsolete as a way of connecting video cameras and external hard drives for Mac with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt now providing much faster connection speeds.
You can download Wireshark on Mac for free although you’ll definitely need to follow some of the tutorial videos before you can even get started with it. However if you’re a large organization or system administrator dealing with a lot of traffic, it may be worth purchasing RiverBed’s SteelCentral which has adapted and integrated Wireshark into a more visual and accessible network monitoring application on Mac.
If you’ve got some experience in network analysis and need to really dig deep into your Mac’s activities, Wireshark is as powerful as it gets on Mac. You can watch a useful tutorial on how to how to use Wireshark on Mac below:
iStat Menus is similar to Little Snitch in that it’s an easy to use but powerful network traffic monitor for Mac users but with a stronger focus on hardware performance rather than network activity. iStat Menus sits in your Mac Menu Bar and delivers important network traffic statistics and hardware performance in real-time. iStat Menus monitor both incoming and outgoing internet connections or requests as well as port and hardware activity on your Mac such as CPU usage, RAM usage and other resource allocation metrics.
While Little Snitch focuses more on incoming and outgoing internet activity, iStat Menus leans more towards monitoring and diagnosing the performance and overall health of your Mac.
One of the most useful features of iStat Menus is the way it summarizes the top 5 CPU resource hogs which makes it easier to identify applications or programs that may be slowing-down your Mac. There’s also more detailed analysis of your battery health including how many charge it has done and an indicator of its general health to help warn you of any impending battery failures.
iStat Menus also summarizes the top 5 apps that are sending and receiving data over your network although the amount of information and way it handles such information is different to Little Snitch. Whereas the latter uses a Firewall to allow you to block and control internet activity on your Mac, iStat Menus only monitors it. As a result though, it’s not as “aggressive” as Little Snitch and is a good choice for those that are happy just to monitor traffic data but don’t necessarily feel the need to block or control apps. It does tend to fill your Menu Bar with lots of performance data which can make it look cluttered but you can at least customize which data you want to appear to reduce this.
iStat Menus is $18 for a Single License although a Family License to install it on multiple Macs costs $25. Upgrades cost $9.99 and $14.99 respectively. You can also try a 14 day free trial and watch iStat Menus in action below.
Radio Silence is from the same developer as free network monitoring tool for Mac Private Eye (see review below) and provides you with a firewall to block or accept incoming and outgoing app connections. In fact, if you install Radio Silence you don’t actually need Private Eye as it also monitors network activity as well as blocks it albeit with a slightly different interface. The other main difference is that Radio Silence is $9 whereas Radio Silence is free but for less than 10 bucks, it’s definitely worth it. Radio Silence is also really simple and easy to use but effective in monitoring or blocking app network activity.
What’s nice about Radio Silence is that it shows very clearly how many processes an application is running on your Mac. If you click on the number, it shows you exactly which processes are running including helpers, executables, in-memory processes, demons, XPC services and more.
If you don’t like what you’re seeing or you suspect an app is slowing down your Mac, you can block it with one click.
Radio Silence works on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and above including El Capitan and Sierra although you have to download legacy versions for anything earlier than OS X 10.10 Yosemite. You can download a fully functional free trial of Radio Silence and you can watch how it works below:
Free Network Monitoring Software For Mac
Many Mac users don’t realize that OS X has it’s own very effective network monitoring tool – Activity Monitor. Activity Monitor is a simple and very useful utility in OS X which monitors not just network activity but app performance, resource status and more. Just search in Spotlight on your Mac for Activity Monitor and in an instant you’ll see all processes currently running on your Mac. Along the top, if you click on the Network tab, it will show you which applications are sending and receiving packets of data over the net.
If you’re concerned about a particular process, you can simply double-click on it and click on Quit to stop it. Note that there are many processes that you may not recognize such as “netbiosd” or “apsd” but they are essential to the running of OS X and if you quit them, you may experience problems using OS X afterwards. It’s always best to Google a process to find out what it is before closing it.
MenuMeters is a free open source network monitoring tool which monitors CPU, disk, memory and network activity on your Mac. However, it’s important to note that it is not compatible with OS X 10.11 El Capitan or above. This is due to changes in the architecture of OS X in El Capitan and Sierra which enforce code signature restrictions which is similar to the new SIP security features in the latest versions of OS X although not exactly the same. If you’re therefore on OS X 10.10 Mavericks or OS X 10.9 MenuMeters could be an interesting option. MenuMeters is a more basic version of iStat Menus with a similar look and feel although with considerably less polish, features and functionality.
There’s no real reason to choose MenuMeters over other free network monitoring software for Mac but if you’re on an older version of OS X and have compatibility problems with the other software featured here, it may be worth a look.
If you want something really simple without any fancy features, Private Eye does a very good job of making it easy to see incoming and outgoing connections to your Mac. Private Eye is a free network monitoring software for Mac users that simply lists Incoming and Outgoing connections and the apps that are doing them in one convenient window.
All connections are monitored in real-time, you can filter connections by app and it’s just generally a really discreet but easy to use little tool. Although Private Eye doesn’t block connections, you can extend its functionality with the companion app Radio Silence which acts as a firewall and more powerful network monitor for your Mac (see review earlier).
Private Eye is compatible with OS X 10.7 Lion and above and you can watch it in action below:
Finally, if you know how to use Terminal on your Mac, then you can use it to monitor network traffic by using tcpdump. If you know had to read a packet trace, Terminal can capture packet traces. You’ll need to be logged in as an administrator on your Mac in order to use tcpdump and Apple provides full instructions on how to capture packet traces using Terminal. This is easily the most crude and technical way to monitor network traffic on a Mac and you’re much better-off going for one of the applications featured here if you’re an average user with little knowledge of data packets and Terminal.
These are the best networking monitoring software we’ve tried on Mac. Which one you choose depends on your needs and abilities. If you’re a system administrator needing to drill down deep into packet data then you really can’t get much better than Wireshark. Terminal is also a quick and dirty way to analyze packet data without installing any software. For most users however, Little Snitch and Radio Silence are both excellent apps if you want full control over your Mac’s privacy and connectivity. Little Snitch has more features and fine tuned control while Radio Silence is a good fire and forget solution to network monitoring on OS X. If you’re more concerned about your Mac’s performance though, you may prefer iStat Menus which focuses more on helping you optimize and monitor the performance of your Mac. And if you just want a quick and easy overview of what your Mac is doing, the Activity Monitor utility in OS X is free and easy to get an instant snapshot of your Mac’s hardware and network performance without having to install anything.
We hope this review of the best network monitoring software for Mac has helped but if you have any questions, problems or suggestions regarding the tools featured here, let us know in the comments below.