Setting up a VPN on a router: pros and cons 

There are several good reasons to install a VPN on a router – and a few downsides. Here they are: 

PROS CONS
  • Constant VPN protection
  • Saves time for installs 
  • Easier to secure all home devices
  • Geo Locked content available on the entire network
  • Streaming libraries (Netflix, Disney+, etc.) accessible on any device 
  • Protects all guests that come to your home 
  • Works even on devices you can’t install VPN on
  • A more involved installation
  • Harder to control settings
  • Router-dependant capability 
  • The connection between the device and the router isn’t secured 

VPN server compatible router vs. VPN client compatible router

ATTENTION: Not all routers are VPN client compatible. Some of them are only VPN server compatible. The latter can be turned into a VPN server of your own. This would allow you to reach your home network via a VPN connection no matter where you are. 

VPN client vs VPN server

A VPN client compatible router allows you to set up a VPN client and then use it to access the rest of the internet securely, bypass censorship, and so on. Make sure you have a VPN client compatible router. Once you have it, you can move to the next step: setting up your VPN on the router. 

How To Make Your Router Ready For VPN Setup (If It Isn’t) 

  1. Get firmware for your router. A router is usually made VPN-capable by installing the free DD-WRT firmware. It’s open-source and supports a variety of clients and OpenVPN software. Make sure your router is supported by going here: https://dd-wrt.com/support/router-database/ (you can also try OpenWRT or Tomato).  Download the bin files for your specific router. This is very important, as the process can void your warranty or even make the router no longer work. 
  2. You first need to find out your router’s IP address. Every operating system does this differently. For Windows 10, this means going to the Start menu, typing in “Command Prompt,” opening the program, typing in “ipconfig” and pressing “Enter.” Your router’s IP should be displayed in the “Default Gateway” line. 
  3. Access your router. To access your router, enter the IP you got in Step 2 in your browser like you would a URL. This should bring up a prompt that asks you for your router’s username and password. If you haven’t changed them, you should find them in the router’s manual. 
  4. Find the firmware install page. Many router interfaces have it under “Administration.” Click around until you find it. 
  5. Upload the DD-WRT bin file. Again, make sure it’s the right file for your browser, then upload it and wait. If everything goes well, your router should end up with DD-WRT onboard. 

flashing router DD-WRT

NOTE: if nothing goes well, don’t panic yet. Check if you can save the router by following the steps here: https://wiki.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Recover_from_a_Bad_Flash

  1. Set a username and password. The default DD-WRT IP is 192.168.1.1. Enter that in your browser as a URL, and you’ll be asked to set a new username and password. You should now be ready to configure the VPN. 
  2. Make sure your router is connecting to the internet
  3. Prepare for installation. Navigate to the VPN tab under Services and check the “Enable” bubble next to “Start Open VPN Client.”
  4. Your router is now ready to accept a VPN client!

How to Setup a VPN on a router that is VPN ready 

    1. Open the router configuration panel. Use this by entering your router’s IP address in your browser, just like a URL. This is different for every operating system. For Windows 10 users, this means opening the “Start” menu and typing “Command Prompt” and opening this program. There, you have to type in “ipconfig” and press “Enter.” You should see your router’s IP address on the “Default Gateway” line. 
    2. Follow your VPN client’s guidelines. Each VPN app has a different setup process for different firmware. For example, here are Surfshark’s instructions for setting up a VPN on Asus routers (https://support.surfshark.com/hc/en-us/articles/360003106093), DD-WRT routers (https://support.surfshark.com/hc/en-us/articles/360003086114) and Tomato routers (https://support.surfshark.com/hc/en-us/articles/360003780834). You can find more in the support section. 
    3. Check if you’re connected to the internet. If not, check if you carried out the instructions correctly and/or contact Surfshark customer support. 

Enjoy your VPN router! 

If you’re looking to upgrade your home Wi-Fi experience, we have a list of the 10 best currently available VPN routers.

Tips for using a VPN router 

  1. Connect to the nearest VPN server. The speed of your internet connection when using a VPN largely depends on how close you are to the server. You should choose the closest server even when avoiding geoblocking unless you have a specific streaming library in mind. 
  2. Don’t double up unnecessarily. Don’t have a VPN running on both your router and your device. While “Double VPN” is a thing, not all VPN clients support it. Doubling up on the VPN will decrease your internet speed. 
  3. Look for the latest encryption standards. Newer encryption standards are faster and more secure. IKEv2 and OpenVPN are the best, most secure ones on the market. However, not all routers support them. Make sure your VPN client isn’t going to waste on a VPN router than can’t fully support it. 
  4. Be cautious with free VPNs. Free VPNs may not have the security standards of paid ones. You can also find yourself dealing with slower performance and intrusive ads. You can also never know if the company isn’t logging your activity and selling your data to third parties. 
  5. Bookmark your router settings. That’s the router IP address we talked about before. Have it bookmarked so you could easily access the VPN router settings whenever you need. 
  6. Consider a second router. You can have one router set up with a VPN to secure your home network of devices that don’t support VPN apps. A second router can then be set up for devices that can have VPN apps installed. This is a good approach with Surfshark, which allows unlimited installs with a single account. 

Conclusions

Setting up a VPN router may seem daunting, but not too hard when you’re well-informed. The benefits – the time saved for VPN installation, the number of devices secured, and so on – speak for themselves. Having read this article, you’re now armed with the knowledge on how to set up your VPN router. May we suggest Surfshark? The VPN comes with excellent setup guides for a variety of routers, possesses an optimized server network that offers great speeds, and if anything goes amiss, you’ll be able to rely on the 24/7 support service to help you get back on track. Even better: there’s a variety of pre-flashed (that is, with Surfshark already installed) routers you can choose from.