Configuring your router to create a safe, secure, and private network from which to use the internet is the first step to having the perfect home setup. However, many routers don’t offer VPNs as a standard feature; when they do, it doesn’t mean they’re compatible with your favorite virtual private network provider.
Learning how to choose a VPN router or set up VPN-compatible firmware on a router of your choice can come in handy for users who prefer to stay a bit more anonymous online.
Using a VPN on a Router
Using a VPN on your router gives you an extra layer of network security to protect your privacy. VPN stands for virtual private network. Any network traffic is first directed to another server, which masks both what content you’re viewing and your IP address from the site to which you’re connecting.
Can All Routers Have VPNs?
You can set up a VPN with any router, but not all routers come with a preinstalled VPN. There are a few kinds of routers to choose from with different options for setup.
- You can buy a pre-flashed router that already has the VPN client set up for you. While it costs a bit more for the convenience, it’s an excellent option for those who aren’t comfortable flashing their own devices.
Some of these models have additional features, too. If you decide to purchase a pre-flashed router, check out a few companies to see what they’re offering because they could have features you don’t even know you want yet.
These routers are usually the brands you’re already familiar with, from Asus to Netgear. A team of tech professionals installs the flashed device firmware that includes a built-in VPN service.
- Other routers are designed to work with a VPN, especially those routers that support the Open VPN Protocol. They have stock firmware from the company that makes the router but also offer VPN support.
- You can set up your VPN on any router compatible with specific flashed firmware options. DD-WRT is one such firmware that’s popular and used by many. There are lots of alternatives, including Tomato, Gargoyle, and OpenWRT.
However, these might not be usable on every single router. Before deciding that you want to flash your own specific firmware to set up a VPN on your router, check the documentation for the firmware you choose to be sure it’s compatible.
What Are VPN Alternatives?
There aren’t really any services that do exactly what a VPN does. However, you can always get a VPN for your specific device and use it that way. It may not be as convenient as a router VPN, but you can quickly turn it on and off, switch regions, and perform other functions with a standalone software VPN.
What are Some Good VPN Routers?
NordVPN recommends EdgeRouter, Netduma, and Peplink routers for built-in VPN access. Most require firmware upgrades to use the OpenVPN protocol if you haven’t updated them lately. However, each will have a different setup for signing into the VPN service you subscribe to.
Other routers by well-known brands like Linksys and Netgear may not work with the OpenVPN protocol and standard VPN services through the router. Those would require a completely different firmware package to work with a VPN provider.
Setting up a VPN on a Router
Setting up a VPN on a router is extremely simple if you use one with VPN support. Flashing firmware and setting up a router with a new system is a little more complicated but achievable for anyone comfortable trying it out.
Routers With Built-in VPN Support
If you’re using a router with a pre-installed VPN or built-in VPN support, you must access the router settings and enable the VPN. Depending on what kind of VPN the router supports, you may also have to sign in with a username and password to a secondary VPN account.
There are many VPNs to choose from, each offering different functions, settings, and perks. Before choosing, check out what’s available and which might offer superior protection for your specific situation. You should also consider which is compatible with your router by reading through its documentation to see which VPNs might work.
If you haven’t signed in to your router before, you use your web browser to access the router login page, which varies by manufacturer. Sign in with the username and password you set – or the default ones, which are either in the manual or on a label on the router – and you’ll have access to the router’s settings. From there, it’s simple to turn on the VPN and connect it to your VPN account.
Flashing Your Own Router
Remember, you won’t be able to use the internet during this process. If you have a backup internet source, like your phone, try to have it charged and ready in case of problems during the installation.
While the firmware installation process varies for each provider, this is how you do it with DD-WRT. Others should have similar procedures to flash a router but read the instructions before you begin.
Choosing a VPN-Compatible Firmware
There are plenty of options for VPN-compatible firmware. Look at each available one and read what options it offers. The features you desire may be available from one provider and not from another.
Choosing Your Router
Not every firmware works with every router. Instead, each company that offers firmware flashing will explain what routers it can work with within its documentation.
If you already have a router you want to use, prioritize finding a firmware source that works with that router. Otherwise, choose the firmware option first, see what routers work, and choose your favorite router from that list. That way, you get the features you want from the firmware swap.
Setting Up and Preparing Your Router
Before you install your firmware upgrade, you need to restore your router to default settings. Most routers have a small button in the back that you can press and hold with an unbent paperclip to reset it fast. Some have a dedicated button to factory reset them.
Do the following before you start flashing the router.
- Read through every word of the installation instructions from the firmware creator, from the first step to the last step. You may find a later stage requires internet access, downloaded software, or other things that are difficult to get once the router is down.
- Make a note of your WAN MAC address. You can find it in your router’s online settings or perhaps on the device’s label. Write it down and save it somewhere it won’t be lost.
- Save a copy of the firmware flashing instructions from the creator in a way you can access without the internet. Saving them as a document, a PDF, or a picture is one way to accomplish this. If you run into any problems, you don’t want to have to scramble to find the answers.
- Disable your wireless internet connection. The firmware updates mustn’t happen via wireless.
- Once the internet is off, disable your antivirus and firewalls. They could see the firmware upgrade as an intrusion and prevent it from successfully completing. Just remember to turn them back on once you’re done.
Flashing the Firmware
Once you’ve downloaded the firmware and are ready to go, you must log into the router settings online. Since you’ve reset it, the default username and password should work.
Now you have to find the place in your settings to upgrade the firmware manually. It will be different on every router, but try looking in the advanced or administration settings.
Choose the option to reset everything to default if it’s present, and then find the file you need to upload. Start the process once you’ve selected the correct file. Once it starts, you’re waiting to see a confirmation screen letting you know it’s complete.
However, don’t rush right in and start changing the settings. Instead, you should wait for at least five minutes, according to DD-WRT. It may be longer on some other routers.
Once you’re done and have upgraded the firmware, you can reset the router again once you have confirmed the firmware is working. When that’s done, you’re good to start setting things up.
However, if you’re having issues, there are a few things you can try to fix them.
- Run a ping test on the router. You want the TTL to be 64. You may have an issue with the firmware flash if it’s higher.
- Reset the router again if the username and password don’t work after flashing the router.
- Try clearing your cache, flushing your DNS, and then repeat the process. After clearing your cache, you can also reset or power cycle your devices once more if you run into problems.
Flashing your router with new firmware is a pretty complicated procedure. Your success will mainly be tied to how prepared you are and how closely you follow the instructions of your selected provider.
Potential Issues with a VPN on Your Router
While using a VPN with your router offers many advantages for privacy and protection, there are a couple of downsides to consider.
Localization has some benefits, from news updates to weather changes pushed to your computer. If your VPN puts you in a different location, you probably won’t get relevant updates anymore.
Sometimes a VPN can make it more challenging to complete a secure sign-in on certain types of sites. For example, many shopping websites or streaming providers won’t let you use their services if you’re using certain VPN channels. Finding the right ones that still work can take a bit of trial and error.
Despite these difficulties, having a VPN on your router can be very useful and rewarding.