Installing a VPN on your router is a great way to increase your home security and ensure that all data leaving your home Wi-Fi network is safely encrypted and hidden from prying eyes.
Having a VPN service running on your router means that all traffic that moves through your router will be encrypted. Any device that connects to the internet through this router will benefit from the encrypted connection, even devices which don't have an interface or support VPN connections, such as smart home gadgets and your Apple TV.
A router counts as one device as far as VPN providers are concerned, so it's also a way to get around device limits which your VPN provider might put in place.
There are some drawbacks, though, and you should be aware of these before setting up a VPN on your router.
First, a VPN will slow down your internet connection. Sometimes this might not be noticeable, but there is an inevitable decrease in speed when you use a VPN, and more so if you connect to a server in a country far away.
It also means that all your activity must run via the VPN, including software updates and other stuff that doesn't really need to go via a VPN.
Plus, unlike a VPN app on your phone, it's not easy to enable and disable the VPN on your router, or change servers. And it may also block some incoming connections which could prevent some sites and services from working properly.
Finally, unless your router natively supports VPN connections, as some Asus, Draytek and other models do, then you will need to install custom firmware to do it, and only some routers are compatible with this.
Bottom line: only certain routers are compatible with VPNs.
The other thing to point out is that you will need to set up an account with a VPN provider, so if you don't have one already, take a look at our roundup of the best VPNs or, if you're pushed for time, check out NordVPN, ExpressVPN or CyberGhost.
How do I put a VPN on my router?
While it is possible your router already supports VPN connections natively, such as many Asus models, it might also be possible to configure your current router to work with a VPN by installing the DD-WRT firmware.
Here are the basic steps for the process:
- Log into your router's interface
- Check if it supports VPN connections
- If so, enter your VPN account details
- Enable the connection
If your router does not support VPN connections, DD-WRT is powerful firmware that opens up many more options for your router, expanding its capabilities. One of these capabilities is allowing VPN connections. DD-WRT was designed as a replacement for the standard firmware that comes with your router.
Installing the firmware is a process is known as ‘flashing’ and is not a walk in the park. Doing this might invalidate your router's warranty, and if done incorrectly could leave your router inoperable.
If that sounds way too much like hard work, then you may want to check out FlashRouters which sells pre-flashed devices already running DD-WRT.
How to install DD-WRT on your router
First, you’ll have to check that your router can support DD-WRT. You can do this by heading on over to the DD-WRT website and taking a look at the supported router database.
Don’t try and complete this process over Wi-Fi. Instead connect your PC or laptop to your router via an Ethernet cable.
‘Hard reset’ your router by following the manufacturer's instructions. Or you can try the 30/30/30 technique: hold down the power button for 30 seconds on your router. While still holding it down, unplug the router from it’s power source for another 30 seconds. Finally, with the button still held down, turn the power back on and hold for another 30 seconds.
Once you’ve done this head back over to DD-WRT’s router database and type in the model number of your router again. You’ll have a few different download options to choose from based on which router you have, make sure you select the latest most stable build.
Not all routers are the same, and some may require a little more effort than others so make sure you read your router’s page carefully to make sure you don’t miss any crucial steps.
Once you have the correct software downloaded and ready to install, it's time to install it.
This process will vary slightly depending on your specific router but it will be a variation of the following steps.
- Enter your router's interface Depending on which router you have, this will be a variation of 192.168.x.x or 10.0.x.x. Take a look at your router’s manual if you’re not sure.
- Move into the Admin section and find ‘Upgrade Firmware’ or something similar.
- Choose the “Select File” option and find the DD-WRT installation files that you downloaded from the website for your specific router.
- Upload it to your router and let it do its thing. Make sure you don’t unplug it or do anything else until it’s ready.
- Again, the process for each router will vary slightly so make sure you ready the installation instructions carefully each time.
Once the process has finished, reconnect to your router and head back to your Admin page. The new firmware you’ve just installed might require a username and password, which will be Root/Admin as standard (do make sure to change this to something personal.
After you’ve logged in you should now be looking at the DD-WRT interface.
How to configure your router’s VPN settings
Now you’ve installed DD-WRT you’ll have to configure your VPN of choice to run on your router.
Setting up a VPN on your router is a fairly involved process and you’ll want to look at a specific guide for the particulars as this will vary from provider to provider.
NordVPN has a tutorials section on its website, and guides for how to set up a VPN on various routers. There are several other excellent VPN providers that have these resources too, such as ExpressVPN's help centre, the PureVPN support hub and the IPVanish database.
In general terms, here's what you need to do:
- Enter a name for the VPN provider
- Type in the server address (this will also pick the server location, and your virtual location)
- Choose the type of encryption, such as IKEv2/IPsec
- Enter your username and password
- Enter the pre-shared key, if required
Here's what the options look like in DD-WRT - you might need some help from your VPN provider if you can't establish a connection after entering the basic info above.
Once you’ve entered the information and hit the save button, your VPN will be set up and working. All traffic that moves through your router will now be encrypted and anonymous, protecting yourself and your household against anyone attempting to watch your movements online.