What is a VPN Router? Comparing VPN Routers to normal VPN clientsjames seibel
Simply put, a VPN router is a normal internet router that has VPN client software installed on it. Every device that connects to the router is therefore protected by VPN, providing many benefits over a traditional VPN client running on the computer itself. This post explains what a VPN router is and how it helps you stay safe and secure on the internet.
First, we need to understand a little bit about what a VPN actually is.
VPN and Anonymous VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a way to encrypt your data as it travels over the public internet. There is no standard or definitive type of VPN. Various companies such as Cisco develop and market their own versions of VPN software. An open source implementation is OpenVPN, which allows you to run your own VPN client and server for free.
When you access a website or download data over the internet, your request passes through several “nodes”, or big computer servers, on its way to the final destination (the website, file, etc.). If your request isn’t sent using a VPN or HTTPS (HTTPS is when you access a secure website) there is nothing preventing the owner of the server, a corporation, the government, or even someone on the same WiFi as you from reading all of your data and tracking everything you do.
If you are on a VPN, then no one can read your data. All of your traffic is encrypted and sent to your VPN server, preventing anyone from accessing it along the way.
An Anonymous VPN provider is a company that offers an anonymous VPN service. Not only does it encrypt all of your data, but it also prevents people from knowing who (what IP address) is accessing the VPN. They accomplish this by deleting access logs, mixing multiple users’ data together, and other tricks that make it extremely difficult to know who is actually using the service.
Therefore, when using an anonymous VPN provider, you can access the internet or download files without anyone being able to figure out your true IP address. An IP address is the unique identifier that is your online identity. Everyone on the internet has one, and if you aren’t masking your true IP address, then everything you do online is linked directly to you.
VPN Router vs. Traditional VPN
When you enable a VPN connection, typically you start up a VPN application on your computer. This VPN software will modify the operating system’s network settings to encrypt your data and forward it to your VPN server. On every computer and device you own, you need to install compatible VPN software, keep it updated, and ensure it’s always running. Some companies like Private Internet Access add “kill switch” options to their VPN client software that is supposed to shut down the normal internet if the VPN fails. However, in our testing we have observed the normal internet connection being restored despite having the kill switch enabled, which is obviously very dangerous.
When you have a VPN router, the VPN client application is running directly on the router. Every router contains a small operating system called the “firmware”. If you install advanced firmware on the router, such as OpenWRT, you can also install your own software programs. Every Easy VPN Router runs OpenWRT and installs OpenVPN as the VPN client application.
With a VPN router, every computer that connects to its WiFi or Ethernet is protected by the VPN. You don’t need to run VPN software on every device you own, you don’t need to make sure it’s always running, and there is no risk of having your IP address exposed. Just being connected to the router means you are safe on VPN.
How to Get a VPN Router
VPN routers are niche products. There isn’t an enormous market for them like there is for a normal router, making them hard to find. Some companies, like Cisco, only sell VPN routers that operate with their own proprietary VPN servers rather then OpenVPN, which is used by most anonymous VPN providers.
You can make one yourself, which is traditionally how enthusiasts have accomplished this. Various tutorials and instructions are scattered throughout the internet for how to make one. The problem is that even for technical people, creating a VPN router is easily a weekend (or many weekend) project. Recent FCC regulation changes have made simply installing a custom router firmware like OpenWRT difficult. And once the firmware is successfully installed, getting the VPN client running and configured is also difficult.
If you build your own VPN router, make sure that:
- Connected client computers can never access the normal internet.
- If the VPN is down, the normal internet should shut down as well.
- The VPN starts up automatically on router boot.
- The VPN restarts if it goes down.
- Your IP is protected from DNS leaking.
- SSH and device access is prohibited from external clients.
- The router root password is sufficiently difficult and not the default password.
- On smaller devices, all necessary security packages and programs are installed automatically into ram on device boot.
This is not an impossible task, and someone who is comfortable with networking, IP tables, the Linux terminal, VPN client software configuration, crontab, and bash scripting should be able to do this. Please conduct thorough testing! A small mistake could cause your true IP to be exposed, defeating the whole purpose of the VPN router.
Whether you choose to purchase an Easy VPN Router or make one yourself, a VPN router is a good investment for anyone who cares about their anonymity and security while on the internet. The convenience and safety of a VPN router is superior to running VPN client applications on every device, and makes it easier to maintain security while online.