Should you set up your own VPN server?

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VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are wonderful tools for protecting your privacy. They allow you to change your device’s IP address, secure your internet traffic, and protect your online anonymity, all at the same time.

TechRadar is constantly keeping track of the best VPN (opens in new tab) on the market, with plenty of options for Windows, Mac, and beyond. However, if DIY is your thing, you can also set up your own VPN server (not a VPN router) at home. Read on to find out which option is right for you.

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Reasons why you should set up your own VPN server

Setting up your own VPN server at home may sound like a daunting task. However, it might be the right solution for people who fall into certain categories.

You want to be in charge of your data: When you use a VPN service, you are hiring a company to route your internet traffic so that your data remains private and secure. However, some people don’t like the idea of having to rely on someone else to protect their privacy. If you fall into this category, then setting up a VPN server at home is the best way to maintain total control over your data.

You have a small business with a secure local network that you want to access remotely: A lot of businesses have company networks for storing important files and communicating among employees. For security reasons, you often only want this network accessible to computers on company premises. When you want a staff member to be able to access this network remotely, VPN technology offers a secure solution.

Big organizations can hire IT firms to devise bespoke VPN servers to secure remote logins. However, smaller companies might need to rely more on improvised solutions. Setting up your own VPN server in the office is one way you can secure remote access to your company network without shelling out big bucks. You can always explore business VPNs as an alternative.

You are plain curious about VPN servers: Setting up your own VPN is a puzzle with many solutions – you can run a VPN server through your router, desktop computer, even a Raspberry Pi. And with cloud hosting options, you have plenty of choices in terms of how you route traffic between your devices and your personal VPN server.

Reasons why you should NOT set up your own VPN server

All that said, setting up your own VPN server has drawbacks.

You won’t be able to unblock web content from around the world: One of the big selling points for major VPN services is that they have server locations in almost a hundred countries in some cases. And when it comes to content which is restricted or censored in a given country, you can bypass such blocks and access that content by choosing a VPN server location in another country.

However, when you set up your own VPN server, you usually route traffic through a local IP. That restricts you to accessing content which is available in your current country, therefore limiting your online experience compared to a typical VPN.

You’ll have to deal with more hassle: The best VPN services offer apps for pretty much every platform, including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. That means you can enjoy a shiny UI and quick connections across all your devices. A lot of the DIY solutions we offer below aren’t as graceful – you might have to tailor the setup for different operating systems, adding a little bit of extra work each time you want to configure the VPN on a new device.

You aren’t protected by shared IP addresses: A lot of VPN services offer shared IP addresses. That means that when multiple users connect to a given VPN server, they might share the same IP. That confounds any attempts to try and analyze patterns of internet traffic on a given IP. When you set up your own VPN server, you’ll likely be the main user on one IP address. If anyone were able to tie your VPN IP address to any of your accounts, you would no longer enjoy anonymity. You can get around that by frequently changing the IP address of your VPN server, but that’s yet more extra work.

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How to set up a VPN server at home

If you ultimately decide to set up your own VPN server, here are some of the ways you can do this.

Set up a VPN server in the cloud

Cloud computing has made it easier than ever to set up your own VPN. Amazon AWS (opens in new tab) offers a range of options supporting the OpenVPN protocol, one of the fastest and most stable encryption protocols in the world.

Package pricing can be calculated either through data usage or paid via a flat annual fee, and server capacity can be customized to support up to 500 connected devices (so there’s lots of flexibility for smaller businesses of various sizes). To set up OpenVPN with Amazon AWS, just pick the package that suits your needs and then follow OpenVPN’s guide (opens in new tab).

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Set up a VPN server on your router

Another option is to set up a VPN server directly on your router. Viscosity, a VPN client, has a great guide for setting up your own OpenVPN server on a DD-WRT router (opens in new tab). Remember that there is a difference between using a VPN client and a VPN service – a VPN client only offers you a UI with which to access a VPN you or someone else is hosting, whereas a VPN service hosts and manages its own servers.

Thus, even if you choose to use a VPN client like Viscosity, you’ll still maintain independent control over your VPN server. Like Amazon AWS, Viscosity requires payment, but it does offer a 30-day free trial.

Join a network of other independent VPN servers

VPN Gate, a project that began at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, offers a free method for joining its network of global VPN servers (opens in new tab). All you have to do is set up your own computer as a VPN server linked to the VPN Gate network. One major drawback, however, is that VPN Gate maintains usage logs of all members of the VPN Gate network – that includes IP addresses, connection times, and the number of data packets that passed over the network.  In that sense, VPN Gate is not the best option for people concerned about their privacy.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.