For the average internet user, there are many benefits of using VPN service.
By ensuring an encrypted browsing experience, VPNs allow you to bypass regional internet restrictions, protect your data from hackers, save money on expenses like airfare or car rentals and browse from different locations, among others.
But less people are aware of the benefits of connecting a VPN to their router.
Doing so, allows you to connect all your devices to your private network via your Wi-Fi connection.
But how do you create a VPN router?
- Why Router + VPN = WIN?
- How to Choose a VPN Router
- How to Choose a VPN Provider
- Step-by-Step: How to Set Up a VPN On a Router
Full disclosure: To compensate our time and money spent in testing VPNs, we’re using affiliate links. However, we never recommend a VPN service in exchange for money – find detailed review process here.
Why Router + VPN = WIN?
If you’re still new to VPNs, or are still using a free VPN browser service, then it may seem like a leap to invest in a new router setup for your computer. And that’s understandable: it’s a big investment, and there is a lot to learn if you aren’t familiar with the technology.
To ease your mind, it’s worth noting that once you’ve purchased a router, the cost to maintain a monthly subscription is very affordable (between $5 to $8 a month, even you use a premium VPN like NordVPN), which is a small price to pay for your privacy and security.
Nonetheless, it still helps to see what advantages a VPN router provides. Some benefits of installing a VPN to your router are:
1. Keeps VPN service up and running all the time
Downloadable and browser VPNs require you to sign in to the service each time you want to access them. By having a VPN service tethered to your router, the service runs continuously, so logging in is no longer necessary.
2. You can connect multiple devices
Browser-based and downloadable VPNs require you to manually log in each device every time they access your private network. If you’re not using a VPN router, then you’ll need to insert your login credentials each time you want to access your VPN.
When you set up a VPN on your router, you only have to log in the first time, just like a traditional Wi-Fi network. This goes for each device you connect to your VPN router.
3. Provides more security for all devices
Any device that connects to your router’s Wi-Fi receives the benefits afforded by your VPN. That means any time you have friends over, or want to use several devices simultaneously (like your smart TV, smartphone and laptop), all of your devices will be rerouted through the VPN, ensuring private browsing.
The only drawback is bandwidth: With multiple devices connected to the same VPN source, you should expect a slower internet connection. Just how much it will slow down depends on several factors, like who your VPN provider is and your connection speed.
Now that we’ve covered the advantages of buying a VPN router, let’s discuss what you should look for when purchasing one.
How to Choose a Router to Connect Your VPN
When searching for a VPN router, what you’re really looking for is a router that can run VPN client software.
As a VPN client, your router — and any device connected to it — has direct access to the VPN server. To determine if a router is compatible with a VPN, you should consult the router’s manual, or simply Google it.
If you use an ISP modem (they usually come as a combined router and modem device), then you most likely can’t use your router as a VPN client. In this case, you would need to purchase an additional VPN-compatible router and connect it to your current router, but we will touch more on this later.
Whatever the case may be, it should be noted that most store-bought routers do not come pre-installed with a VPN, and more importantly, that not all routers can run VPN software. That’s why you need to know what’s out there so you can make an informed choice.
There are several VPN router options that can get the job done, including:
A) Pre-flashed routers
The easiest option for both savvy VPN enthusiasts and novices is to purchase a pre-flashed VPN router. Doing so allows you to skip the complicated process of flashing (more on this term below) the proper firmware to your VPN, which varies depending on the type of router and its specs.
Purchasing a pre-installed VPN router will cost you a bit more. That’s because companies like Flashrouters, which only sell pre-flashed routers, take care of the installation for you. Complete with features like encrypted plug-and-play and added performance enhancements, the price markup is well worth it.
B) Out-of-the-box VPN-compatible routers
Another easy option is to purchase a router that supports VPN firmware out of the box. These routers come pre-installed with stock firmware that can connect to a range of VPN servers already. With baked in VPN capabilities, you won’t have to flash new firmware or connect such a router to a secondary router.
Most VPN-compatible routers allow you to connect to a wide range of different VPN servers, and they usually support the OpenVPN protocol, which gives you the advantage of using almost any VPN provider you want.
C) Flash router with new VPN firmware
The last option, and the most complicated, is to flash your router with new firmware. To clarify, the term “flashing” means to install new firmware; “firmware” is the Operating System within your router that determines what its capabilities and/or limitations are.
To enable your router to function as a VPN client, you need to flash it with new firmware. The two most common and established types of firmware out there are DD-WRT and Tomato.
DD-WRT and Tomato are open source, third-party firmware that are available online for free, and each has its own pros and cons. But first, let’s see what they have in common. Both DD-WRT and Tomato can:
- Extend your wireless range
- Regulate your bandwidth
- Improve security
- Access multiple VPN protocols
- Disable manufacturer backdoors, among others
Here is where they differ:
DD-WRT is more accessible and available on more devices than Tomato. As far as exclusive features, DD-WRT allows users to adjust the strength of their Wi-Fi signal, manage quality-of-service settings to prioritize specific types of traffic, access your home network from afar, and more.
Tomato offers better bandwidth monitoring options, permits up to two VPN servers to run at the same time, and offers a more user-friendly interface. It also connects better to various VPN service providers, but is not supported on as many routers. To see an in-depth comparison of the two types of firmware, you can view Flashrouter’s article here.
Just to be clear, if you search for DD-WRT or Tomato online, what you find can be misleading, as you will come across results like “DD-WRT router” or “Tomato router.” To clarify, both DD-WRT and Tomato firmware were originally made for specific types of wireless router models.
These models support specific firmware, but they usually need to be flashed with the new firmware to rid the router of its stock firmware first. So, if you want a router that supports DD-WRT, you need to check the DD-WRT database; otherwise, you may purchase a router that is not compatible with the firmware, which will break — or “brick” — your router should you flash it onto your device.
How to Choose a VPN Provider for Router
First things, first.
If you’re already paying for a premium VPN, great! If not, it’s time to do some research.
Others, like Hotspot Shield, don’t work so easily.
There are two key aspects to look for in a VPN provider: speed and accessible online support. Your private network will handle everything from streaming to downloading, gaming, etc., so it’s important that you pick a provider that can do the heavy lifting. To make your life easier, it also helps if your provider offers online tutorials to get you started.
In general, you’ll also want to check your VPN provider’s server locations, speed reports and whether or not they maintain logs. Or, if you don’t want to delve into this research yourself, you can read our review about the best VPNs of 2020.
While there are many providers to choose from, we will use NordVPN’s service in this article. To be clear, NordVPN is not a router manufacturer; they simply provide a VPN service that works in conjunction with select router models.
NordVPN’s service streamlines the installation process. Their Flashrouters app easily plugs into any DD-WRT router and does the work for you. Here’s their guide.
How to Set Up a Router on a VPN
Now that you’ve found a VPN provider, you’ll want to follow any instructions they provide on their website.
- If your router is already compatible with your VPN, simply log in and configure it to connect with your VPN provider’s servers. Our example, NordVPN, has detailed router tutorials for every router and firmware that they support.
- If your router isn’t compatible with a VPN out of the box but is compatible with DD-WRT or Tomato, then you will need to flash it and install your new firmware of choice before configuring your VPN. This is a longer process but it isn’t too complicated either.
For this tutorial, we’ll be using NordVPN’s Flashrouter security app as an example. Follow our step-by-step guide below.
Step 1: Download your router firmware
Once you’ve decided whether you want to use DD-WRT or Tomato, you can download the firmware so you can put it on your router. You’ll have to download it first because your router won’t work after it has been flashed and before you’ve installed the new firmware.
Click here to see if your router is compatible with DD-WRT. The same link will also provide you with a download for your router model.
The vast number of Tomato forks make it harder to answer whether your router is supported. Googling your router’s name and Tomato may help you determine whether you can use Tomato with your device.
Step 2: Connect your router
Assemble your router. While your setup will vary depending on your router model, the recommended apparatus for most models is two routers and an internet connection.
To set up both routers correctly, the first thing you need to do is configure your primary router to enable VPN passthrough. By activating this feature, you allow any device connected to your primary router to run VPN client software. Once activated, you need to connect your primary and secondary routers.
The basic setup goes like this:
- Plug an Ethernet cable into the LAN port on your primary router, and connect it to the WAN (“Internet”) port on your secondary VPN router.
- Connect your primary router to your computer using another Ethernet cable by connecting its LAN port to your computer’s LAN port.
Or, if you’re using a wireless connection, make sure the primary router is connected to the internet:
Both configurations allow your VPN router to piggyback on your primary router’s internet connection.
Note: Though it is recommended to use two routers, not all routers require it. For example, some Linksys routers can and should be set up as your sole primary router.
Step 3: Flash your router
Now that you have your router(s) connected and your new firmware ready, it’s time to flash them. Every router works differently and will have to be flashed differently. If your user manual doesn’t have flashing instructions, you will definitely be able to find instructions online.
Step 4: Connect your VPN
Once your router is running with DD-WRT or Tomato, you can connect it to your VPN provider. These instructions can depend on your VPN provider, so we’ll use our example, NordVPN. They make it very easy to connect your DD-WRT router to their service. Just click on this tutorial to get their app.
Now, you should be connected!
Step 5: How to use your VPN router
Using your new VPN router and changing the settings can be easy or difficult depending on the firmware you chose. If you used our example, however, changing your settings is easy. You can even change them with your mobile device!
Once you log in, you can use NordVPN’s Flashrouter app to:
- Change your server
- Change your country
- Toggle the kill switch feature
Upgrading to a VPN router might seem like a big leap, especially if you’re used to using free browser VPNs. But, if you’re serious about your privacy and want the most secure browsing experience possible, then the extra cost is worth it.
Although getting set up can be tricky, the greatest resource is the internet. Remember: your setup will vary depending on the factors we covered in the article, like what router you purchase and the VPN provider you choose. Be thorough, proceed step by step and your private network should be up in no time!