How to Install a VPN on Your Router

There are plenty of benefits to setting up a virtual private network (VPN) on your router ― even if it is a little more complicated than other types of installations. Once it’s set up, your VPN will provide a secure connection and encrypt your data as it travels over the Internet.The main benefit to installing it on your router is that you can protect all of the devices on your network at once, and you don’t have to remember to turn it on and off every time you use it. It’s especially useful for smart TVs, gaming consoles, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices that don’t support native VPN applications.

If you don’t know how to install a VPN on your router yet, don’t worry: this guide will walk you through it every step of the way.

What to Consider When Setting Up a VPN on Your Router

First things first ― it’s important to understand how a router works. The chances are that you don’t think about your router very often unless the Wi-Fi is down, and you need to reset it.

The main thing to know is that your router is what delivers the Internet ― usually through Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable ― to your devices. This means that everything that connects to the Internet, from your smartphone to your smart TV, goes through your router. It’s the intermediary between your home Wi-Fi network and internet service provider (ISP). As more of our devices can connect to the Internet, such as smart fridges and speakers, it isn’t paranoid to ensure they’re all protected properly.

If you install a VPN on your router, then all of your Internet traffic will be routed through your VPN’s servers, giving you greater security and privacy protections. Hackers won’t be able to view your actual internet protocol (IP) address and all of your data will be encrypted so the government or ISP can’t spy on you.

However, there are a few drawbacks to installing a VPN on your router. Let’s look at the pros and cons of this installation method.

Pros and Cons

The most important thing to consider is how often you’ll need to change the settings on your VPN. That’s because once your VPN is set up on your router, it’s difficult to toggle to a new server location or VPN protocol.

When you install an app or browser extension developed by your VPN provider, it’s easy to change your location with just a few clicks. For example, you might want to connect to a local server for faster speeds when gaming, but an overseas server to access streaming content that isn’t available in your country. You can save these as server locations as favorites so that you don’t have to search for them every time.

It’s still possible to change server locations on your router, but you won’t have the same easy-to-use interface or customizable features. All of your devices will have the same IP address, even if you use them for different activities. If that doesn’t bother you or you don’t think you’ll need to change the settings much, then having a dedicated VPN on your router can be a terrific choice.

Plus, many VPN providers limit the number of devices that you can connect at once, so if you have several devices or a large family, you might have to pay for additional user accounts. Using a router gets around this limit because it counts as one device, no matter how many devices are connected to your router.

Keep in mind, however, that if you leave home with your mobile device and connect to a public Wi-Fi network, you won’t be protected. Your traffic won’t be protected from other devices that share your home Wi-Fi network because it’s only encrypted when it reaches the router. You may still want to install your VPN’s native app on all of your devices as a fallback option that you can use when you’re on the go.

What You’ll Need to Get Started

To set up a VPN on your router, you’ll need to choose the right router and decide on a VPN provider. You may also want to consider which VPN protocol to use. Let’s look at all three of these considerations one-by-one.

Choose a Router

While many routers these days support VPN installations, not all of them do, so it’s a good idea to look up the model and make sure that it’s VPN client-compatible.

For example, ExpressVPN has a list of which routers are compatible with its app as well as which ones can be set up using a manual configuration. You can also buy a router from one of their partners, which comes with the app preinstalled.

Options include the Netgear R6700v3, which supports up to four to seven devices, and the Linksys WRT3200ACM, which supports eight or more devices in larger homes.

If you already have a router, check its manual to see if it’s compatible. Routers that rely on an ISP modem may not be compatible.

Choose a VPN Service

Next, it’s time to choose a VPN service. While there are free VPN providers out there, these are less likely to support routers and may come with other privacy concerns as well. For best results, choose a provider that offers its own VPN client for routers and has detailed installation instructions in its help section.

You can check out our list of the best VPN services of 2021 to find out which ones are router-friendly. Expect to spend anywhere from a couple of bucks to $10 to 20 per month on a reputable VPN subscription, with better deals the longer you subscribe.

Select a VPN Protocol

Finally, it’s worth considering which VPN protocol you want to use. If you don’t want to think about this every time you connect, that’s fine. Some VPN services can choose one for you automatically or even offer their own proprietary protocols. However, if you plan to use your VPN for something specific, you may want to do a bit of research into this step.

Here’s a broad overview of the four most common protocols:

VPN ProtocolBest ForOur Pick
OpenVPNStrong encryption and suitable for multiple platformsCyberGhost
Secure socket tunneling protocol (SSTP)Easy to set up, but is owned by Microsoft, so it only works on certain operating systemsPureVPN
Internet key exchange version (2IKEv2)/Internet protocol security suite (IPsec)Fast speeds and strong encryption, but supported by fewer routersSurfshark
WireGuardFast speed, but less stable connectionsNordVPN (NordLynx protocol)

How to Install a VPN on Your Router: Step-by-Step Guide

1. Download the right firmware. In most cases, you can use DD-WRT, which is free and open-source and is compatible with OpenVPN and other VPN clients. You’ll need to follow the instructions for your specific router, which can be found on the DR-WRT website, to avoid “bricking” (or breaking) your router.
2. You can also go to your VPN provider’s website to find router-specific firmware. For example, ExpressVPN lets you select your router from a drop-down menu, and it will download the right firmware for you automatically. However, this option isn’t available for all VPN providers.
3. Next, determine the IP address of your router. You’ll find this under the “Network” settings of your connected device, but the process is slightly different depending on whether you’re using a Windows, Mac, or Linux device. If you aren’t familiar with where to find this information, check out this handy guide, which includes instructions for a wide range of devices and operating systems.
4. Type the IP address into your browser and press Enter.
5. Now, enter the username and password for your router, which can be found in the user manual.
6. Upload the DD-WRT file under the Administration tab.
7. Once that’s complete, type the default IP (192.168.1.1) into your browser, where you can choose a new password and username.
8. Then, find the VPN tab and click Enable where it says “Start Open VPN Client.”
9. Now, you’re ready to install a specific VPN client. For this step, you’ll have to log into your VPN account in a browser and follow its instructions for your router.
10. When prompted, copy the hostname of the server that you want to connect to. This is the location that all of your devices will appear to be connecting to the Internet from. Choose wisely so that you don’t have to change it.
11. You’ll be prompted to enter the hostname, DNS servers, and your username and password into your router’s control panel. Depending on your VPN provider, this may be found in the OpenVPN Client settings, but if you’re using a different VPN protocol, the process will be slightly different.
12. Once that’s entered, your router should connect to the VPN. The status will say “CONNECTED SUCCESS” if it works properly. Make sure that you can access the Internet on all of your devices, and you’re good to go.

Further Information to Consider

The benefit of installing a VPN on your router is that once it’s set up, you shouldn’t have to reconfigure it. However, there are a few things that can slow your connection down. First, connecting to an overseas server may reduce your Internet speed, so choose a nearby server unless you’re trying to access geo-restricted content.

Second, avoid sending your traffic through two VPN servers by using it on your router and your home devices simultaneously. If you have a VPN app installed on your phone, you can turn it off at home to avoid slowing down your connection.

Third, consider setting up split tunneling on your router. This allows you to choose which traffic is encrypted and which is not. For example, you might choose not to encrypt your gaming connection to avoid slowing it down while encrypting all other traffic.

Installing a VPN on your router may not be as straightforward as downloading an app, but it’s one of the most comprehensive ways to secure your Internet traffic.

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