Virtual private networks (VPNs) are one of the best ways to make your internet connection more private and secure. They keep people from snooping on your connection, and stop potentially disastrous hacks.
But pulling up the VPN app every time you get on the internet is a pain. And PC- or phone-based apps won’t protect your other devices, like your smart TV or gaming console. The answer is to install a VPN on your router.
Do I Need a VPN Router?
Installing a VPN is a great idea. You never have to remember to activate your VPN. It protects all of the devices connected to your wireless network, even if they belong to someone else. In short, it solves most of the annoyances of using a VPN. The only drawback is that your connection speed may take a hit (though that’s not always true for all VPNs).
Fortunately, you don’t need any special equipment to set up a VPN on your router. You can buy special VPN routers that are already set up with everything you need, but in most cases, you can do everything yourself and save some money.
Some routers come with VPN compatibility built in. Some TRENDnet routers, for example, let you set up a VPN with the standard firmware (though you’re limited to older protocols).
For most VPNs, you’ll need to install new firmware. DD-WRT (our DD-WRT review) and Tomato are two of the most popular options for aftermarket firmware, and both will allow you to install a VPN on your router.
However, not all routers work with DD-WRT or Tomato, and neither do all VPNs. You’ll need to check the compatibility list of the firmware and installation instructions for your particular VPN:
Flashing new router firmware is relatively easy, but if you’d rather not go through this entire process, you can buy a prepared VPN router from online stores like FlashRouters. You can even buy a pre-flashed router that’s set up for your VPN of choice.
If you’ve decided to install new firmware on your own router, follow these steps to install a VPN. (If you buy a pre-flashed VPN router, skip to step 3.)
Step 1: Flash New Firmware
Check the compatibility lists of DD-WRT and Tomato to see if either is supported on your router (it’s worth noting that there are also alternative router firmwares available). If it is, follow the instructions to install the firmware.
The exact method you’ll use for flashing the firmware depends on which firmware you choose and your particular router, so we won’t go over any specifics here.
For more information on flashing DD-WRT and Tomato, check out these pages:
- DD-WRT Installation Instructions
- How to Install Linux / DD-WRT Firmware on Your Router
- Tomato Installation and Configuration
- EasyTomato Installation Guide
They should give you enough information to get the firmware that will let you set up a VPN on your router.
Step 2: Get Your VPN’s Server Information
Before you dig into the new firmware of your router, you’ll need to get some specific information on your VPN.
Your best bet here is to run a search for “set up [your VPN] [your firmware].” So you might search for something like “set up IPVanish DD-WRT.”
Most big-name VPNs will have tutorials for getting their VPN installed on several different types of routers. For example, ExpressVPN has a whole section on manual router configurations:
You’ll get a bunch of numbers and URLs. This, for example, is the information provided by NordVPN for installing their VPN on DD-WRT:
- Server IP/Name = us936.nordvpn.com
- Port = 1194
- Tunnel Device = TUN
- Tunnel Protocol = UDP
- Encryption Cipher = AES-256-CBC
- Hash Algorithm = SHA-512 (Note: Older NordVPN servers use SHA-1 instead. If SHA-512 does not work, select SHA-1.)
- User Pass Authentication = Enable
- Username, Password = [Your NordVPN credentials]
- Advanced Options = Enable (this will enable additional options)
- TLS Cipher = None
- LZO Compression = Yes
- NAT = Enable
At the very least, you’ll need the server URL or IP address and your user credentials. Most of the time, you’ll be able to get all of the information you need from your VPN provider’s website.
You might also be able to download a VPN configuration file that contains all of the settings you’ll need, which will make the process a bit easier.
Step 3: Enter Information Into Your Router
After you’ve found all of the information you need to activate the VPN, it’s time to head to your firmware and enter it. In DD-WRT, you’ll go to the VPN tab under Services and switch Start OpenVPN Client to Enable.
In Tomato, find VPN Tunneling in the left sidebar, and select OpenVPN Client under it. You should find everything you need in the Basic tab under Client 1.
You’ll need to enter the information that you gathered in the last step, as well as any additional information provided by your VPN provider. Different VPNs may rrquire other pieces of information.
For example, ExpressVPN tells you to enter specific information into Tomato’s custom configuration box:
That’s why it’s so important to find instructions from your VPN provider on how to set up their VPN on a router.
Once you’ve copied all of the information into your router’s firmware, you should be connected! Use an IP address-checking tool to make sure that your IP address is protected.
Is VPN on a Router Worth the Effort?
If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering if it’s worth setting up a VPN on a router. It seems like a lot of work, but once you find a walkthrough for your particular VPN, it shouldn’t take very long.
And you’ll only need to do it once.
After you’ve set up your VPN on your router, you’ll never need to worry about turning it on or signing in again. All of your devices will be protected. And that’s great for your peace of mind.
So in the end, yes, it’s absolutely worth setting up a VPN on your router. It takes some patience up front, and a willingness to mess around with your router’s firmware, but it’ll help you run your VPN like a boss.