Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are essential tools for maintaining your privacy online. For background information, see my previous articles about VPNs by starting at https://privacyblog.com/category/vpn-virtual-private-networking/ and especially the articles at https://privacyblog.com/2016/01/11/top-5-reasons-to-use-a-vpn/ and at https://privacyblog.com/2015/01/24/how-to-set-up-a-vpn-and-why-its-a-good-idea-to-use-one/. Also, see What Is VPN For? VPN Benefits Explained at https://anonymster.com/what-is-vpn/.
Most consumer-grade VPNs are bits of software you install in your computer, tablet, or smartphone. These are relatively low-cost and provide excellent security for that one device in which it is installed. However, what do you do if your family has several computers and smartphones to protect? What if your company has dozens of computers to protect? Using a software VPN suddenly becomes very expensive if you have to purchase multiple copies.
Even worse, how do you add VPN connections to Roku boxes or VoIP telephones or Xboxes or Amazon Echo or Google Home or to PlayStations or any other devices that will not allow for installation of additional software? You don’t want anyone tapping into those devices and yet many of them are not capable of adding new software, especially not VPN software.
Luckily, there is an easy way to solve that, even easier than installing VPN software. However, the price will be higher unless you have a lot of devices to protect.
The answer? Install a hardware VPN router. In most cases, this means replacing your present wi-fi router with a new one that has a built-in VPN.
NOTE: If your present VPN was supplied by the local cable or telephone company, don’t worry. Leave it where it is, and simply add a hardware VPN router. The combination of the two will work just fine.
If you shop online, you can find dozens of routers that add VPN capabilities. However, be aware that many of these are designed only for corporate use where the goal is to provide a VPN “tunnel” from a local field office back to the corporation’s internal network in the home office. They are not designed for general-purpose use at home or a small, independent office. Worse of all, they won’t work from a hotel room unless you have a corporate VPN to connect to.
However, a few devices are available for sale that are designed to provide VPN services for users at home, in a hotel room, or at an office. (The abbreviation SOHO seems to work well here: Small Office or Home Office.)
In fact, it is possible to obtain VPN software and install it in your present wi-fi router if (1.) your present router is a brand that supports custom software installations and (2.) you have the technical expertise to make the modifications.
Popular solutions include DD-WRT, OpenWRT, or Tomato Firmware. However, please do not underestimate the required technical expertise required. All three of these products assume that the installer is a network guru. If you are such a guru, also check out the NetGear Open Source Community at https://www.myopenrouter.com.
A far simpler solution is to purchase a “VPN-and-wi-fi-router-in-a-box,” take it home, plug it in, and start using it within a few seconds. These hardware solutions require minimal technical expertise. If you already have configured a wi-fi router in the past, you should be able to configure these wi-fi routers that also have added VPNs.
The downside is the price: you are paying for wi-fi router hardware plus the VPN software. You probably are paying for some expert to install the software for you before it was shipped to you. The prices are not significantly higher than paying for those three things separately. However, the first time you see the prices, be prepared for sticker shock. The prices seem to vary from $100 to $500 or so.
The “VPN-and-wi-fi-router-in-a-box” devices I am aware of include:
NOTE: I prefer the routers from various manufacturers that have HideMyAss VPN software installed: https://www.flashrouters.com/vpn-types/hidemyass (HideMyAss VPN software is one of the top rated brands, available for individual computers, tablets, and smartphones as well as in a “VPN-and-wi-fi-router-in-a-box” device.) However, several other highly-rated VPN services can be pre-installed by FlashRouters as well.
Witopia Cloakbox and CloakBox Pro™ VPN Router at https://www.personalvpn.com/vpn-products-and-services.
Jedi-1 is a TOR Router at http://www.ro (NOTE: Use of any TOR hardware or software will significantly slow your Internet connection.)
Pre Configured Multi Country VPN Router by Mikrotik available from Amazon at http://amzn.to/2pdPCoO (NOTE: This is a low-cost unit that I haven’t yet tried. However, a friend of mine has one and says it works well.)
A portable “VPN-and-wi-fi-router-in-a-box” device that is primarily designed for use in a hotel room or similar, temporary locations
NOTE: Be aware that most of the inexpensive “travel routers” do not include VPNs. To make sure the hacker in hotel room 328 isn’t monitoring your Internet session, always use a VPN in either your computer or in your travel router.
Anonabox PRO Wi-Fi Tor & VPN Router (I have one of these and love it. I have used it from more than 12 different countries.) See my earlier review at https://privacyblog.com/2016/08/23/anonabox-pro-wifi-tor-and-vpn-router-for-internet-privacy/. The price has gone up since I wrote the article. The current price is $105.90 on Amazon at http://goo.gl/Gp5QHs.)
Be safe! Make sure your online communications remain as yours and yours alone. Always use a VPN, either your computer or in your router.
Footnote: Is My VPN Working?
Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not your VPN connection is working properly. After all, if it is working properly, it should be invisible to you!
A series of tests are described at https://www.cogipas.com/is-my-vpn-working/ that will assist you in determining the status of your VPN.