Connect Your Home Router to a VPN to Bypass Censorship, Filtering, and More
Whether you want access to video services not available in your country, get better prices on software, or just think the Internet looks finer when viewed through a secure tunnel, a VPN connection at the router level can solve all those problems and then some.
What’s a VPN and Why Would I Want To Do This?
There are a myriad of reasons you might want to use a VPN to route your Internet traffic to a location other than the one you’re actually using the Internet at. Before we dive into how to configure your router to use a VPN network let’s run through a crash course on what a VPN is and why people use them (with helpful links to previous How-To Geek articles on the matter for further reading).
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. Essentially, it allows you to use your computer as if you were on a network other than your own. As a simple example, let’s say that you and your friend Steve really like playing Command and Conquer, a popular PC game from the 1990s. Command and Conquer can only be played in multiplayer if you’re on the same network as your friend, though–you can’t play over the internet, like you can with more modern games. However, you and Steve could set up a virtual network between your two homes so that, no matter how geographically distant you are, the computers treat each other as if they’re on the same network.
On a more serious note, this is the same technique used by businesses so that their employees laptops can access local resources (like file shares and such) even when the employee and their laptop are hundreds of miles away. All the laptops are connected to the corporate network via VPN so they all appear (and function as if) they were local.
While historically, that was the primary use case for VPNs, people are now also turning to VPNs to help protect their privacy. Not only will a VPN connect you to a remote network, but good VPN protocols will do so through an highly encrypted tunnel, so all your traffic is hidden and protected. When using a tunnel like that, you protect yourself from a wide range of things including the security risks inherent with using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, your ISP monitoring or throttling your connection, or government surveillance and censorship.
Why Configure My VPN at the Router Level?
Now, you could run your VPN straight from your computer, but you can also run it from your router, so all the computers on your network go through the secure tunnel at all times. This is much more comprehensive, and while it involves a bit more work upfront, it means you’ll never have to go through the hassle of starting up your VPN when you want that increased security.
In terms of avoiding censorship, snooping, or someone in your home connecting to a service that draws the attention of local authorities, this also means that even if someone is connected to your home network and they forget to use a secure connection it doesn’t matter as their searches and activity will still pass through the VPN (and to a less dangerous country). In terms of dodging geo-blocking, it means that all devices, even those that don’t support proxies or VPN services, will still have access to the Internet as if they were in the remote location. It means even though your streaming stick or smart TV has no option to enable a VPN, it doesn’t matter because the whole network is linked to the VPN a point where all traffic passes.
In short, if you need the security of network wide encrypted traffic or the convenience of having all your devices routed through another country (so everyone in your house can use Netflix despite its unavailability in your home country) there’s no better way to wrestle with the problem than to set up whole-network VPN access at the router level.
What’s the Downside?
While the upsides are numerous, that doesn’t mean running a whole-house VPN isn’t without a downside or two. First, the most unavoidable effect that everyone will experience: you lose a portion of your total bandwidth to the overhead of running the encrypted VPN tunnel. The overhead typically chews up about 10 percent of your total bandwidth capacity, so your internet will be a little slower.
Second, if you’re running a whole-house solution and you need access to resources that are actually local, then you may either be unable to access them or you’ll have slower access because of the extra leg introduced by the VPN. As a simple example, imagine a British user setting up a VPN so they can access US-only streaming services. Although the person is in Britain, their traffic passes through a tunnel to the US, and if they went to access UK-only areas of the BBC network, the BBC website would think they were coming from the US and deny them. Even if it didn’t deny them, it would introduce a tiny bit of lag to the experience as the server would be sending the files across the ocean and then back again through the VPN tunnel instead of just across the country.
That said, for people considering securing their entire network to gain access it services unavailable in their location, or to avoid more serious concerns like government censorship or monitoring, the tradeoff is more than worth it.