When you connect to the internet from your home, the data flows through a router (probably installed by your local telecommunications provider) out to the internet. Everything before the router is your local network; everything after the router is the wild west that is the internet.
While many internet connections are encrypted (URLs starting with https://), many are not. Regardless of how the connection is encrypted, the URLs of the websites you visit are visible to your internet provider (and to anyone else it decides to grant access). Likewise, your IP address is also logged by the website and that IP address can tell the server your approximate location.
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Most of the time, the “open” nature of the internet isn’t a problem. Someone connecting to Android Authority’s website isn’t going to cause many problems. What if I wanted to read a webpage about something a bit more sensitive, about a disease or an emotional problem, or about a taboo subject in the country or culture where I live? Now all of a sudden the idea of a bit of privacy is more important.
Virtual private networks
One way to reduce the privacy risks of using the internet is to use a virtual private network (VPN) — an encrypted connection from your house to another point on the internet, probably in another country. It’s a bit like sending your data through a rabbit tunnel which leads to another exit somewhere else.
When using a VPN, your data is encrypted and the IP address associated with that data is no longer the IP address of your home connection. Rather, it’s now associated with the address assigned to the other end of the tunnel.
Your local internet provider can’t see which services you are using, and the servers you are using can only log the IP address of the VPN exit point.
The biggest problem with VPNs is you generally have to configure and enable the VPN connection on each and every device on your network. You need to install, configure, and activate it on your desktop PC, and again on your laptop, smartphone, and so on — you get the idea.
This problem is multiplied when multiple members of your household want to use it.
The answer to this is a VPN router, a Wi-Fi router that can connect directly to a VPN service. This way, all the devices connected are automatically using the VPN to access the internet. Simple!
The biggest problem with VPNs is that you generally have to configure and enable the VPN connection on each and every device on your network.
The fine folks at FlashRouters.com are VPN router experts. The idea is simple: You buy a router from the online store and FlashRouters.com will send it pre-installed with an open source alternative firmware customized to work with the leading VPN services. Just enter your VPN username and password, pick which VPN server you want to use, and click Connect. After that, all the devices that connect to your new router (over Wi-Fi or ethernet) will use an encrypted, anonymous internet connection.
There are four aspects to process: Your VPN provider, the router itself, the DD-WRT firmware, and FlashRouters’ customizations.
Get a VPN
The first step is to subscribe to a VPN service. These services come in a multitude of forms with varying prices, bandwidth, performance and reliability characteristics. Not all VPN services are equal. Thus, it is worth reading about what VPN services do with your data before you sign up.
To help you decide on the best VPN for your needs, we have a best VPN roundup as well as a number of other VPN roundups (linked below). It is also worth double-checking that your VPN provider of choice is supported by FlashRouters.
- Best VPN service providers
- Best cheap VPNs of 2019
- Best free VPNs to use in 2019
Be sure to watch out for multi-year deals, especially when there are special sales like on Black Friday. I found a three-year deal with my VPN provider and it is one of the providers on the officially supported list. That means I was able to use my existing VPN service straight out of the box!
The Linksys router
FlashRouters.com offers routers from all the big names including Netgear, Asus, and Linksys. To test out its offerings, we were sent a Linksys WRT3200ACM Gigabit Wi-Fi Router.
During my testing of the Linksys 3200ACM, I was impressed by its feature set and performance. However, I didn’t conduct any controlled-conditions testing, so that conclusion is a bit subjective.
This router comes with top-of-the-line features, including:
- Multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) for simultaneous connections to multiple devices.
- Simultaneous Dual Band (2.4 + 5GHz): Operates on either band to help avoid interference.
- USB 3.0 and eSata for adding external storage
- Gigabit ethernet: High-speed connectivity for wired devices
- Arm-based dual-core 1.8GHz CPU
- Open source ready: Open and ready to receive alternative firmware (see below)
Buy it from FlashRouters
DD-WRT is a Linux-based replacement firmware for Wi-Fi routers like the Linksys 3200ACM. FlashRouters uses it as an easy way to add VPN functionality across its range of routers, including its FlashRouters Privacy App (see below).
DD-WRT brings a standard set of extra features to supported devices including SSH access and the ability to turn the router into network attached storage. To test the latter, I connected an external hard drive to the USB 3.0 port and enabled sharing for Windows machines (Samba). I was able to connect to the remote drive without any problems and I was constantly able to get 10Mbps transfer speeds over a wired connection to the router.
While the main focus of a FlashRouter is its VPN functionality, the inclusion of DD-WRT brings a double benefit for those who like tinkering.
If you aren’t into tinkering with the router, you won’t even notice that DD-WRT is there. My experiences of DD-WRT were overall positive. However, to the uninitiated, all those options and settings can be a bit bewildering.
FlashRouters Privacy App
The fundamental task of a FlashRouter is to bring VPN protection to consumers in the easiest possible way. To achieve this, each router includes the FlashRouters Privacy App — a webpage that works on any web browser (desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone) — for configuring the router. All you need to do is enter four bits of information: your VPN username, password, VPN provider, and which server you want to use.
Once you click connect, the router will establish the VPN, and that’s it! Everything that connects to the router, via Wi-Fi or wire, will now access the internet through the configured VPN.
There is also a “global kill switch” setting which, when enabled, stops all internet traffic if the VPN connection drops (for whatever reason). This means if you are able to access the internet then you are guaranteed that it is via the VPN.
There is also an “Auto-Connect to VPN” setting. When enabled, it means the router will connect to the VPN at startup. While it doesn’t attempt to reconnect if the connection has dropped, it does mean that if the connection does fail, a quick restart of the router will get you back up and running. Also, if the kill switch was enabled, you know that nothing “leaked” while the VPN was unavailable.
The key point about the FlashRouters Privacy App is its easy of use. The promise is: enter your VPN details, pick a VPN server, and click Connect. And for the most part that is basically it. It does a great job of shielding you from DD-WRT (if you want) and my experience is that it does what it says on the box.
I have used a VPN for years. Like many people, I used to configure it individually on every device: on my desktop, my Mac, and my smartphone. Also, I was unable (or maybe too lazy) to extend the VPN coverage to other members of my household.
Since testing the FlashRouter, I now have a single place to enable the VPN and I connect all my devices to the router. Now I can get everyone else in my household to connect to the router’s Wi-Fi and know they are also protected.
As far as we’re concerned, FlashRouters’ Linksys VPN Router is a must-have for anyone looking to keep their entire household’s data private and secure.
Next: ExpressVPN review