A direct VPN-router setup is arguably the best and most convenient way of staying anonymous and protected online. Assuming you’re willing to suffer through the process of setting it up that is.
Luckily, things aren’t as bad as they used to be and the question of how to set up a VPN on your router can often be answered with a handful of bullet points provided by your manufacturer of choice.
Not only is a router-level virtual private network prefered in most scenarios, it’s often obligatory if your VPN subscription only allows for a single connection at a time. The bad news is that while your existing router may be good enough to handle the task at hand, you’ll still need to buy a second unit that can actually serve as your dedicated node.
The good news, however, is that even today’s mediocre routers tend to be quite decent at rerouting stuff, as their names would imply.
Router VPN setup with an app
It should come as no surprise that the easiest way to accomplish even the most complex of system administration tasks in this day and age can be summed down to: “there’s an app for that.”
That isn’t to say the majority of mainstream VPNs you can access will offer native router support but a significant number of them do. CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, PIA (FlashRouter), and NordVPN are just some of the household names that belong to this category, so if you want to keep any tinkering to a minimum, consider subscribing to one of those services. Doing that will provide you with detailed instructions for flashing the said firmware to your router and enabling it with just a few mouse clicks, keeping the entire process under ten minutes.
Router VPN setup with DD-WRT
Assuming your router is up and running, proceed with downloading the OpenVPN configuration files of your VPN provider. Following that, open the admin panel of your router; in most cases, that simply means typing 192.168.0.1 into your browser URL bar and hitting Enter.
Here’s where the exact instructions start to diverge depending on the make and model of the router you’re working with. What you need to do is locate a VPN settings page, which some manufacturers classify as a Network option, whereas others shove it under Services, WAN, or WAN Services, if they’re particularly cheeky. Any menus mentioning “advanced” settings should also be inspected if you’re unable to find the said page but its exact location is usually just an Internet search away.
After landing on the main VPN page, select whichever option promises to launch an OpenVPN client. This may present you with an authentication page and if that’s the case, your VPN provider should have already delivered all of the credentials needed for moving past it. If your DD-WRT build doesn’t ask for configuration information automatically, find the Additional Config prompt on the following screen, type in “auth-user-pass /tmp/auth.txt” without the quotation marks and press Enter. You should then encounter a similar specification page, so refer to your VPN subscription details for the exact ports, protocols, algorithms, usernames, passwords, and the like you need to type in here.
Finally, you’ll need to manually input a CA certification, which you can find in the .ovpn file you downloaded at the very beginning… right? It’s placed inside conveniently named <ca> tags so just copy-paste the entire thing, then proceed to do the exact same thing with the public client certification and private client key, except this time you’ll be looking for <cert> and <key> tags inside the .ovpn configuration file, respectively. Save everything, confirm/apply settings on the following page, and you should be good to go.
Router VPN setup with Tomato
Tomatoes may not be known for their Internet connectivity features but the most popular DD-WRT alternative is still named after them. So, if your router does not support DD-WRT, you should look for it on Tomato’s official compatibility list as well.
Arguably the biggest obstacle in setting up a VPN on your router via Tomato is actually flashing the firmware to whatever hardware you have on hand. There’s no universal guide here, so after you verified compatibility on a per-case basis, consult with this comprehensive Tomato installation Wiki for more details on how to proceed.
Surviving that Linux-heavy experience leaves you with a straightforward task of configuring a dedicated VPN router via a couple of easy-to-follow tab forms. While some steps will depend on your firmware build, the overall process is extremely similar to the DD-WRT one as you’ll still be relying on an OpenVPN configuration file.
Again, any Tomato-friendly VPN should provide you with detailed instructions on how to set up its service on your router, do not attempt to do so otherwise unless you’re in need of an overpriced paperweight because there’s a good chance that’s what your router will become.
“How to set up a VPN on a Router” was written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.
If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.