Setting up a VPN on the router: An ultimate guide
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A virtual private network or a VPN is the key to protecting your online security. However, what prevents most users from using a VPN is the difficulty of installing VPNs on multiple devices separately. Nonetheless, you still have one method that assures utmost security without hassle – setting up a VPN on the router.
But how would you do that? Let’s find it all about VPN routers in this guide.
What is a VPN router? How does it work?
You already know about VPN – they are wonderful programs protecting your online security with complete anonymity. You can install these VPNs on almost any smartphone or computer today, regardless of the operating system.
However, when it comes to installing a VPN on any router, you may face trouble.
That’s because not every router supports VPN installation, particularly those that your ISP provides you.
So, the market has something else for you – a dedicated VPN router!
VPN routers work just like regular routers. But they have the additional capability of supporting VPNs. These routers are relatively costly, but they work wonders to secure your network.
With VPN routers, you don’t need to install VPN separately on your devices. Rather you can simply install a VPN client on the router, and the entire traffic generated from the router gets encrypted.
Wondering how it works?
Well, when you install a VPN on your device, here is how the data flows:
Your device → VPN client (data encrypted) → Your router → ISP → VPN server (data decrypted) → internet
Whereas, with a VPN router, the data flows like this:
Your device → your VPN router (the VPN encrypts the data) → ISP → VPN server (data decrypted) → internet
So, you see, both methods protect your online data. But the difference lies in the way it happens.
The first path encrypts data at the level of your device. Hence, it ensures security to your specific device running the VPN client regardless of which router or ISP you connect to. Any other device connecting to the router, however, isn’t secure as it has no VPN.
Whereas the second route ensures security to every device connected to that router regardless of whether the device has a VPN or not.
This convenience makes a VPN router for home network or closed office environment the perfect choice since you can secure every device with it, be it your computers, phones, smart devices, or gaming consoles.
Types of VPN routers
Depending upon the way to install VPN on router, VPN routers can safely be classified into three categories. You’ll either find a VPN router belonging to one of the three types or not supporting VPN installation at all.
Pre-configured VPN router
If you don’t know how to install VPN on a router and don’t have time to do that on your own, then getting a pre-configured router is the best option.
These routers come with pre-installed VPN clients. It means you don’t have to go through the hassle of finding a good VPN service, subscribe to it, and install it on the router. Rather you can simply buy them from services like Flashrouters.com, which typically sell VPN routers. Just let them know what VPN you wish to use on the router, and leave the rest on them.
- Saves time
- No technical knowledge required
- Get top-notch routers with the best VPN clients
- Costly, since the service manages the hassle of VPN flashing and configuration for you
The other type of routers that you can buy to protect your network is VPN-compatible routers.
These routers do not come with pre-configured VPNs. But they have their firmware designed to support VPNs. So, if you know how to install VPN on router, you can easily configure these routers with a VPN of your choice.
These routers often support OpenVPN protocol that makes them compatible with most VPNs. However, you can always double-check for OpenVPN protocol support before investing in a new VPN router.
- Relatively inexpensive then pre-configured VPNs
- Liberty to install any compatible VPN service
- No tedious configurations or flashing required
- Not suitable for users with no knowledge of the best VPN services
The third-type of VPN routers falls into the category of manually-flashed routers.
These routers virtually do not support VPN installation because of firmware limitations. Therefore, you have to flash them with a firmware that supports VPN clients manually.
You can either flash them on your own or avail yourself of the services of third-parties like Flashrouters.com. Once done, you can then install a VPN on router you already have.
- Cost-effective method as you can potentially transform your regular router into a VPN router
- More choice of VPN installation
- Disable manufacturer backdoors and restrictions with firmware flashing
- Flashing routers may void the router warranty
Two common types of such firmware are DD-WRT and Tomato. While both the firmware offer similar functionalities, certain features make a Tomato VPN router different from a DD-WRT VPN router.
Briefly, Tomato offers better functionalities with the OpenVPN protocol. It also supports running up to two VPN servers at a time. Also, the overall interface is much better for most users. However, the firmware isn’t compatible with the majority of router models.
Whereas, DD-WRT is compatible with many more routers as compared to Tomato. It empowers the user with more control on internet settings, including adjusting the WiFi signal strength, service quality as per the traffic, or extending your home network range. That’s the reason why DD-WRT is more popular for flashing a VPN router for home use.
Why you need to install VPN on router – the pros
Before moving on to the detailed guide, let’s first understand why you should install a VPN on your router.
Of course, you can always opt for installing VPN apps on your devices. Still, having this software running on your router has its own benefits. Let’s take a look.
Ensure thorough protection of your smart home network
Setting up a VPN on router is inevitable for smart home users.
Well, you can surely install a VPN on your smartphones, computers, streaming devices like Firestick, and even your gaming consoles.
But what about other smart devices? Can you install a VPN on your smart vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, lawnmowers, thermostats, and other such appliances? You can’t.
Yet, these devices threaten your home security as they connect to your home network.
However, if you install VPN on router, you immediately secure these devices as well.
Increase the number of simultaneous device connections
Your regular VPN subscriptions allow a specific number of simultaneous connections. However, when you run a VPN on the router, you bypass this limit to connect all your devices to the VPN according to the capacity of your router. Whereas your VPN will run smoothly considering the router as a single device connection.
Ensure 24/7/365 online security
No need to remember connecting your device(s) to VPNs. When you install VPN on router, your VPN connection will continue running as far as the router remains switched on.
Bypass geoblocking on all media systems
While a VPN allows you to bypass geo-restrictions, not every media system you own may support VPN installation. However, having a VPN on your router will let you access blocked content on all your devices.
Problems arising if you install a VPN on your router – the cons
Although setting up a VPN on the router provides many benefits to you. However, it isn’t a fool-proof strategy to protect your online privacy. You might face some troubles too.
Difficulty in adjusting VPN settings
You necessarily need some other device connected to your router to access the dashboard and adjust VPN settings. This becomes troublesome when you need to switch your VPN server quickly.
Compromised encryption strength
Most routers may not support robust encryption protocols. Thus, you’re left with limited options to configure VPN protocols.
Unsecured connection between the devices and the router
As the VPN runs on your router, the data flowing between your device(s) and the router remains unencrypted, and hence, vulnerable to snoopers. You need to apply strict security measures to protect your internal home network.
Trouble managing unauthorized connections
Some VPNs apply harsh policies to block unauthorized connections. However, you can always manage such connections by accessing VPN settings. However, due to the lack of a proper interface at the router level, you may face trouble adjusting the settings and allowing such connections.
Choosing the best VPN for your router (and 3 best router VPNs)
Now that you know how a VPN benefits you and have decided to install VPN on router at your home, the question is, which service should you use?
Choosing the right VPN is the most critical thing for your online security. You simply cannot trust a free VPN for a router installation as you leave your entire network vulnerable to cyber threats. And, of course, you cannot risk your money to subscribe to just any VPN service randomly to install on your router.
Below we quickly list the key factors you should consider.
- Fast connection speed
- Superior encryption (preferable, military-grade encryption)
- Reliable servers with greater choice
- No-logs policy
- Kill switch
- Affordable pricing plans
And, of course, a dedicated VPN client for your router.
You might need to perform extensive research to find the best VPN. If you’re running short on time, then here are our quick recommendations for you.
As for any other device, ExpressVPN tops the list when it comes to selecting the best VPN for routers. The service providers know and understand the need of having robust security for the end-users. Therefore, they also offer a dedicated ExpressVPN router client as well.
So, whether you get a pre-configured VPN router or a VPN-compatible one, you can simply subscribe to ExpressVPN and install it on your router.
Also, you can simply order a VPN router from their website that will come with this VPN by default.
Our next recommendation for you to installing a VPN on the router is NordVPN. Apart from all the other devices, they also allow you to run their VPN on the router. Hence, with a single account, you can protect all your devices.
So, you can simply subscribe to their service to assess this service’s feasibility for you. Also, your money remains safe due to their 30-day trial with a money-back guarantee.
These new players in the VPN market have managed to reach the top only because of their superior services. This is evident from the fact that Surfshark VPN also allows you to install VPN on router.
The service provider has even shared detailed tutorials on their website, explaining how to set up Surfshark VPN on router.
Also, they offer very cheap pricing plans, that too, with a 7-day free trial and money-back guarantee. Hence, you can assess their services without worrying about your money. And, if you find it working for you, then keep all your worries aside as Surfshark VPN supports unlimited device connections with a single account.
How to set up router VPN – a step-by-step guide
Done with choosing your VPN service provider?
Now let’s start with how to install VPN on router at your home.
P.S. This step-by-step guide doesn’t apply to the pre-configured VPN routers since they already have everything ready for you. Nor do you need it for VPN-compatible routers as they require no flashing. You can simply visit your VPN providers’ website and follow their tutorial to install VPN on router.
Hence, we’ll take a look at setting up a VPN on the router requiring manual flashing.
Also, make sure to have your router manual in hand since you’ll need to know the exact procedure of flashing your specific router model. Our guide below is simply a generic one for all routers.
Download the firmware for your router
Choose either of the DD-WRT and Tomato firmware to flash your router as per the router compatibility. Once you decide, download the firmware since you need to install it on your router immediately after flashing.
Connect primary and secondary routers
In most cases, you’ll need to connect two routers where your primary router will run the VPN client. Though, this doesn’t apply to some routers like Linksys that solely work as primary routers.
So, configure your primary router so that it allows VPN. Then, connect an Ethernet cable to the WAN port of your primary router, and connect its other end to the LAN of your secondary router.
After that, you can connect your computer or any other device to your primary router either wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable connecting to its LAN port.
Flash the router
Once you connect the router(s), flash them according to the user manual’s instructions (s). If you can’t find these instructions in the manual, you can easily search them online by typing the respective router model(s).
Install VPN on router
Now that you have set up your router to run a VPN, it’s now time to install VPN on the router.
For this, you need to enter your router configuration dashboard. Then, you have to enter the VPN server name or IP address, and your VPN account credentials to the respective VPN configuration page.
After entering all the details, choose the VPN protocol, add CA certificate keys, and all required information. Save the changes.
And this is it. Your VPN router should now work as desired. You can connect to the internet and check your connection’s IP address. If your location appears different, check the connection for possible IP leaks and protect the respective leak sources.
After setting up a VPN on the router successfully, you can trust that your entire home network is secured from snoopers, online trackers, and other perpetrators.
So, here we end our detailed guide on setting up a VPN on the router to protect your network.
As you can see, a VPN+router combo works great for protecting the entire internet network generating from your home devices. Whether it’s your phone, computer, gaming console, smart appliances, or any other thing, until they remain connected to your VPN router, your devices remain secure.
Such security is specifically essential given that criminal hackers never miss a chance to exploit IoT vulnerabilities. (Did you know that your smart coffee maker can also get hacked? Find it all here.)
But of course, if you install VPN on router and think your devices will always remain safe, you’re mistaken.
You still need to install VPN on your phones, computers, and tablets – in short, every device that you carry with you. Doing so will protect your Android or other devices even when you connect to some other network or public WiFi.
Stay safe, everyone!
About the author
Abeerah is a passionate technology blogger and cybersecurity enthusiast. She yearns to know everything about the latest technology developments. Specifically, she’s crazy about the three C’s; computing, cybersecurity, and communication. When she is not writing, she’s reading about the tech world.