VPNs are very useful, whether you’re traveling the world or just using public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop in your hometown. But you don’t necessarily have to pay for a VPN service — you could host your own VPN server at home.
Your home Internet connection’s upload speed will really matter here. If you don’t have much upload bandwidth, you may want to just use a paid VPN service. Internet service providers usually offer much less upload bandwidth than they do download bandwidth.
Why You Might Want to Do This
A home VPN gives you an encrypted tunnel to use when on public Wi-Fi, and it’d even allow you to access country-specific services outside the country — so you could use US Netflix when you’re traveling outside the US. It would also give you access to your home network and any file shares or other servers from anywhere.
You could also allow other people to connect to your home network, making it easy to give them access to servers you’re hosting on your home network. This would allow you to play PC games designed for a LAN over the Internet, too — although there are easier ways to set up a temporary network for PC gaming.
Get a Router With VPN Capabilities
Rather than attempting to do this yourself, you can buy a pre-built solution. Higher-end home routers often come with built-in VPN servers — just look for a wireless router that advertises VPN server support. You can then use your router’s web interface to activate and configure the VPN server.
Be sure to do some research and pick a router that supports the type of VPN you want to use.
Get a Router That Supports DD-WRT or Other Third-Party Firmwares
Custom router firmwares are basically new operating systems you can flash onto your router, replacing the router’s standard operating system with something new. DD-WRT is a popular one, and OpenWrt will also work well.
If you have a router that supports DD-WRT, OpenWrt, or another third-party router firmware, you can flash it with that firmware and get more features. DD-WRT and similar router firmwares include built-in VPN server support, so you can host a VPN server even on routers that don’t come with VPN server software.
Be sure to pick up a supported router — or check your current router to see if it’s supported by DD-WRT. Flash the third-party firmware and enable the VPN server.
Make Your Own Dedicated VPN Server
You could also just use VPN server software on one of your own computers. But you’ll probably want to use a computer or device that’s on all the time, not a desktop PC you turn off when you leave home.
If you have a computer that’s on all the time, you could just install an OpenVPN server or a similar server and host a VPN server on there. VPN servers are available for every operating system, from Windows to Mac to Linux. You’ll just need to forward the appropriate ports from your router to the computer running the server software.
Windows offers a built-in way to host VPNs, and Apple’s Server app also allows you to set up a VPN server. Be careful that you know what you’re doing when setting up a server with these — you might just want to use an OpenVPN server for more security.
There’s also the option of rolling your own dedicated VPN device. You could take a Raspberry Pi and install OpenVPN server software, turning it into a lightweight, low-power VPN server. You could also install other server software on it and use it as a multi-purpose server.
Bonus: Host Your Own VPN Server Elsewhere
There’s one more do-it-yourself option that’s halfway between hosting your own VPN server on your own hardware versus paying a VPN provider like TunnelBear to provide you with VPN service and a convenient app.
You could host your own VPN server with a web hosting provider, and this may actually be a few bucks cheaper a month than going with a dedicated VPN provider. You’ll pay the hosting provider for server hosting and install a VPN server on the server they’ve provided to you.
Depending on the hosting provider you’ve chosen, this can be a quick point-and-click process where you add the VPN server software and get a control panel to manage it, or it may require pulling up a command-line to install and configure everything from scratch.
When doing this, you’ll probably want to set up dynamic DNS on your router. This will give you an easy address you can access your VPN at, even if your home Internet connection’s IP address changes.
Be sure to configure your VPN server securely. You’ll want strong security so no one else can connect to your VPN. Even a strong password might not be ideal — an OpenVPN server with a key file you need to connect would be strong authentication, for example.
Image Credit: Dennis Hamilton on Flickr