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You deserve to be able to use the internet safely on all of your devices. Running a VPN is an important step toward guaranteeing the privacy and security of your internet connection.
You can install a VPN on each of your devices individually, but it might be easier to just install it on your router — protecting your entire network all at once. In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of using a router VPN. We’ll also tell you exactly how to run a VPN on your router, so that you can set one up if you decide it’s for you!
If you already decided that you need a VPN, you can either install it on each of your devices or just set it up once on your router. There are good reasons to go with either method, so the right path will depend on your specific needs.
Most VPNs have device limits on a single plan. If you have a large number of devices, the only way to protect them on a single plan may be to run the VPN on your router. This connects your entire network and only counts as one device. It also gives you a single point of contact for any changes you need to make rather than having to make adjustments on every individual device.
VPN providers almost always have devices for laptops, desktops, and smartphones. However, they sometimes don’t make apps for devices like smart TVs, streaming devices, or smart speakers. If you have these devices, running a VPN on your router is the only way to protect them.
By running a VPN through your router, you lose device-level control. This makes it more difficult to switch servers or adjust other settings that might be needed to optimize your VPN for gaming, streaming, or file sharing. You’ll need to find default settings that work across your entire network, and you’ll need to log into your router and likely interrupt your entire network if you ever need to make changes to these settings. If you have apps that aren’t compatible with your VPN, you won’t be able to use them unless you shut off the VPN for your entire network.
If you are running a VPN on your router, you’ll want to shut down any VPN apps on your individual devices as running redundant VPNs will slow down your internet experience. However, you’ll still want to have VPN apps installed on any devices that you use outside of your home network Otherwise, you’ll lose protection at the time you need it the most.
Most of the best VPN providers can be used with a standard VPN-compatible router. VPN providers that allow the use of OpenVPN are particularly good options for your router as OpenVPN is the most commonly allowed VPN protocol on routers. Be sure to check whether your VPN provider has a list of compatible routers or router brands.
Beyond just compatibility, you likely also want to consider:
If you’ve set up a VPN on your phone, computer, or streaming device, you probably remember that downloading and installing an app is part of the process. With routers, the process is a bit different. There is no app to install because your router’s operating system’s software takes the place of the VPN app.
Before you get started, you’ll want to make sure that your VPN is capable of running a VPN. The easiest way to check whether your router can run a VPN is by consulting the router’s manual, assuming you still have it. If your device is VPN-compatible, you’ll likely find a section in the manual that contains all of the relevant information — often under a handy header like “VPN compatibility.” If you don’t have the manual, you can typically find similar information on the manufacturer’s website or by entering your router’s brand and model and “VPN compatibility” into a search engine.
You can also check for VPN compatibility by logging into your router through your browser. Once logged in, check for a tab, page, or section labeled “VPN.” If you see such a section, then your router is definitely VPN-compatible, and you can move on to the next step.
If you found out during this process that your router isn’t VPN-compatible — or if you couldn’t find any information at all — don’t despair. We’ll include instructions in a later section for what to do if your router isn’t currently VPN-compatible.
You’ll need to direct your router to route its traffic through your VPN provider’s servers. If you logged into your router and found a VPN section in the last step, that’s where you’ll be introducing these changes.
The specifics for this process will depend on your router and your VPN provider, so those are the two places you should be going for instructions. Check your router’s manual or the router manufacturer’s website for instructions on how to set up a VPN. Also, check the support page for your VPN provider for router instructions. They’ll often have instructions for specific brands or even models of routers, especially if you are using a very common router brand like Netgear, Linksys, or Asus.
The settings you’ll need to configure here are largely the same as you’ll see whenever setting up a VPN. Remember that you’ll have to log back into your router and interrupt the internet connection on all of your devices to reconfigure these settings, so try to pick something that will work with all of your typical internet needs. You’ll probably want to connect to the nearest, fastest VPN server since that will have a significant impact on the overall speed of your network.
Once everything is configured, you’ll want to verify that your VPN is running correctly. The easiest way to do this is by going to whatismyipaddress.com. Check the IP address here against what your IP address was without the VPN to make sure it has changed. You can also look at the ISP and location fields as those should have changed when you turned on the VPN.
Even if your router didn’t come with VPN compatibility built-in, you may be able to make it compatible by installing new firmware. This is basically the equivalent of installing a different operating system on your router. It’s an involved process but one that is fairly safe as long as you confirm the compatibility of your router before starting the installation process.
There are a few open-source, third-party firmware options that are compatible with VPNs, the most popular of which are DD-WRT and Tomato. In most cases, DD-WRT is the easier option, and they maintain a list of DD-WRT supported routers. If your router is on that list, you can just go ahead and install the DD-WRT firmware on your router.
Once you have either DD-WRT or Tomato installed on your device, you can follow the steps in the previous section to configure your router to run a VPN.
Not all routers are capable of running a VPN, and many aren’t compatible with third-party firmware like the ones described above. If you have one of these VPNs and you still want to run a VPN across your entire network, your only option may be to get a new router. In particular, if you have a router that is several years old or your ISP supplied you with a combined router/modem, it very likely wasn’t designed to run a VPN.
Most routers will list VPN compatibility as a feature, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that can run a VPN without the need to install new firmware. If your chosen router doesn’t list VPN compatibility, just make sure that it is on the DD-WRT supported devices list. Otherwise, you may find yourself right back in this same situation.
With your router now running a VPN, every person and device in your home will be browsing the web in safety and security. You can proceed to enjoy your cord-cutting lifestyle with the peace of mind that every internet user deserves.
If you are looking for your next exciting project after this one, maybe it’s time to convert your PC to a media center. It’s the perfect way to enhance your streaming lifestyle on your newly secured home network.