Your alarm goes off. It’s time to get up. You throw open your blinds, wave to your neighbors, change out of your pajamas, and start your morning yoga routine — all while passersby snap photos of you and chuckle to themselves.
Wait, that doesn’t sound right.
No, of course you want privacy while you’re in your home. The same should be true when you’re online. Your reaction to connecting to the unsecured internet without safeguards in place should be the same as your reaction to the scenario above.
How do you maintain your privacy online? It’s simple: Use a virtual private network (VPN). And to ensure all your devices are protected, set up a VPN on your router.
How Do VPNs Work?
As you’d expect, there’s a lot of technical mumbo jumbo we could get lost in, but let’s keep it simple. There’s more information on this in our ‘What is a VPN’ Guide, or you can get a full education with our VPN resource page, but the main thing to understand is that a VPN hides your IP address and encrypts your data.
Think of it this way: If you walk to the store, your neighbor can see you leave your house and return with your bags. They likely can infer some information about your behavior from this trip — what color shirt you’re wearing, what you purchased, what time of day you like to shop, etc.
Now imagine you had a secret tunnel from your house to the same store. You could go back and forth, and your neighbor would be none the wiser. That’s exactly what happens when you use a VPN to mask your IP address.
Pro Tip: Not all VPNs are created equal. To see how our two favorites stack up against each other, read our ExpressVPN vs. Cyberghost comparison. These two industry titans have a lot to offer, but one may be better for your situation than the other.
Now imagine you could dress in a bear suit while making the same trip. Even if someone was looking into your tunnel, they wouldn’t see you. They’d see a bear. You have been “encrypted,” using a very general understanding of the term.
VPNs allow your data to travel through an encrypted tunnel so onlookers can’t gather information about your browsing habits.
How Do I Install a VPN on My Router?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question depends heavily on which kind of router you’re using and which VPN you’ve selected. Some combinations work better than others, and some combinations simply won’t work at all. When you’re shopping around for a VPN, it’s important to seek out the list of hardware that each provider plays well with. You may even need to buy a router specifically supported by the service of your choice.
Generally, though, you’ll use your computer’s browser to launch your router’s access page, which may involve typing a specific IP address into your search bar or visiting a specific webpage. Google is your friend here.
Once you’re on your router’s access page, you’ll have to access its settings. That may involve entering an administrative username and password, which should be made available by the manufacturer. Once that’s done, you’ll likely enter a specific subdivision of the settings page where you’ll download configuration files from your VPN provider and copy and paste the content into the router’s configuration field. You may have to enter your VPN provider username and password during this process.
Pro Tip: You should always change your administrative username and password as soon as you set up your router. If you don’t, it’s pretty much a wide-open door for hackers.
That’s as specific as I can get. “How do I install a VPN on my router?” is similar to asking, “How do I change the oil in my car?” It depends on the make and model, whether it takes standard or synthetic, and whether you need your windshield wiper blades changed too.
Honestly, though, it’s a fairly easy process as long as you follow the resources provided by your specific router and VPN. The resources aren’t difficult to find, and they’ll walk you through things step by step. If you strip it down to its basic components, it’s going to a website, entering some login information, copying and pasting some text, and hitting enter.
At the end of the day, it’s worth taking the time on the front end to ensure your entire network is protected using a VPN. I do have some parting thoughts for you though.
Why Use a VPN?
There are many reasons someone would use a VPN. They may be a journalist embedded in a hostile country who needs to protect their sources. (If you need that level of protection, consider reading our ProtonVPN review.) They may want to prevent their internet service provider from collecting their data and selling it to marketing firms. Heck, they may just want to watch streaming entertainment from Germany. (If that’s you, here’s how to watch Netflix using a VPN, and our guide to the best VPN for Netflix to get you going.) The point is, the use cases range from mission-critical to the mundane.
FYI: An estimated 30 percent of internet users across the globe connect using a VPN in some way — and that number is growing steadily as folks become more tech literate and begin to take their digital privacy more seriously.
These systems have a critical limitation though: Many VPNs — especially industry-leading ones — limit the number of devices you can connect to a single subscription. If you want to protect your laptop, your desktop, your phone, your partner’s devices, your children’s devices, your three smart TVs, and your dog’s SmartBowl, it can get really pricey really quickly. The smart and economical way around this limitation is to install a VPN on your router.
Final Thoughts on Router VPNs
The process may seem a little daunting for folks who don’t consider themselves tech savvy, but you’re more than capable of installing a VPN on your router if you can follow basic instructions.
And the benefits are tremendous. Every device you connect to the internet will be protected, and you won’t have to pay for multiple subscriptions to keep your household devices secure. That is especially important for families or folks with a lot of “smart” devices that can be a preferred attack vector for cybercriminals to access your network. You really can’t be too careful, and installing a VPN on your router is a surefire way to bolster your digital security.
If you want to run a router with a VPN but you’re not exactly sure where to begin, our guide to the top 10 best VPNs is a great starting point. There’s a VPN there for just about everyone and every budget.
Router VPN FAQs
No. If you plan to put a VPN on a router to protect your network, you need to be very intentional in the selection process of both.
No. Assuming your router and VPN provider work well with one another, the installation process isn’t difficult at all.
It depends on what you’re using the VPN for and which kind of router you have, but, generally, we’ve found ExpressVPN and NordVPN to work the best across the board.
Most VPNs cost between $3 and $6 per month, but some that offer more advanced features can go north of $10 monthly.
Yes and no. VPNs are great for thwarting some cyberattacks by increasing your privacy online, but they won’t protect you from every cyber threat out there. Following good digital hygiene practices and avoiding sketchy sites and online vendors is necessary even while using a VPN.