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How to Make a VPN Server

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Introduction

A virtual private network (VPN) has become an essential tool for protecting your privacy and security online. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and route it through an intermediary server, hiding your IP address and location. This prevents hackers, government agencies, and even internet service providers from tracking your online activities.

There are two main types of VPNs:

  • Remote access VPNs – Used to connect individual devices to a private network over the public internet. For example, employees can connect to their company’s intranet from home.
  • Site-to-site VPNs – Used to bridge two networks together over the public internet. For example, connecting a branch office network to a company headquarters network.

With the growing threats to privacy today, setting up your own VPN server has become hugely popular among tech enthusiasts. Running your own VPN gives you greater control and security than relying on a commercial VPN provider.

This comprehensive guide will walk through the entire process of building your own VPN server from start to finish.

Prerequisites

Before setting up a VPN, you need to make sure you have the necessary foundation in place:

  • Stable internet connection – A fiber, cable, or DSL connection that can handle the bandwidth requirements of multiple devices. Wireless internet may work but can result in slower speeds.
  • VPN server device – You’ll need a computer or server running Linux or Windows to host your VPN. Older hardware or a Raspberry Pi can work well.
  • Basic networking knowledge – It’s helpful to understand fundamental networking protocol like TCP/IP, DNS, firewalls, and ports. Familiarity with the Linux command line or Windows admin console is also useful.

Step 1: Choose a VPN Service Provider

There are many VPN service providers to choose from when establishing your VPN server. The provider determines the software, apps, documentation, customer support, and overall management platform.

Some top providers include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, and Private Internet Access. Most offer free client apps, tutorials, and installation scripts to easily build out your own VPN.

It’s important to understand the differences between free and paid VPN providers:

  • Free providers – Generally limit features and speed compared to paid options but allow you to test basic VPN connectivity. Less customer support.
  • Paid providers – Offer faster speeds, more server locations, greater data allowances, robust encryption and apps. The cost is worthwhile for best performance and reliability.

Paid business-class providers like ExpressVPN offer the highest degree of service, support, and satisfaction guarantees when hosting your own VPN.

Step 2: Set Up a VPN Server on Your Computer

Once you’ve chosen a VPN provider, it’s time to set up the VPN server software on your Windows or Linux machine. Most providers offer an easy-to-use application for this.

You’ll need to choose the appropriate VPN protocol for your needs:

  • OpenVPN – An open-source protocol that uses SSL/TLS encryption. Provides the best balance of speed and security on most networks.
  • IPSec – A standardized protocol supported natively by most operating systems. Can provide faster speeds but weaker encryption than OpenVPN.
  • WireGuard – A newer protocol focused on high performance and ease of use. It has fewer server options but is rapidly gaining popularity.

Some key factors to consider as you configure your VPN server:

  • Encryption strength – Use AES-256 or SHA-512 encryption standards for optimal privacy.
  • Port configuration – Forward the necessary VPN ports on your firewall and network. Common ports include UDP 1194 for OpenVPN or 51820 for WireGuard.
  • Data compression – Enable compression algorithms like LZO to improve data transmission speeds over your VPN tunnel.
  • Security credentials – Carefully store any private keys, certificates, or credentials needed to authenticate your VPN.

Following your VPN provider’s guidelines closely during setup is highly recommended for success.

Step 3: Install and Configure VPN Server Software

Now that the server is prepped, it’s time to install and configure the VPN management software that will power your private network.

Most providers offer custom apps or open source solutions like OpenVPN Access Server and PiVPN to handle VPN operations behind the scenes.

During the setup wizard or command line process, be prepared to:

  • Designate the IP routing mechanism and subnet architecture
  • Input or generate new security certificates and encryption keys
  • Assign user permissions and access credentials
  • Select whether to enable dual VPN stack for both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic
  • Configure the DNS resolvers to use for forwarding requests over the VPN tunnel

Additional customization around load balancing, failover, syslog logging, and more is available depending on the solution.

At this point your Windows or Linux server should be prepared to route encrypted traffic from clients through a secure VPN tunnel using the standard internet backbone while keeping the data private from prying eyes.

Step 4: Set Up VPN Clients on Devices

To connect devices like laptops, phones, and tablets to your newly created VPN server, VPN client software needs to be installed on each device. This is typically available from your VPN provider.

Settings required on the VPN client include:

  • Server Address – The IP address or domain name for your VPN server.
  • Protocol – Selects OpenVPN, IPSec, WireGuard, etc.
  • Encryption – Corresponds to the encryption standard used by the server.
  • Credentials – Username and password or authentication keys.
  • Port Number – Matches port forwarded on VPN server.

Once configured, enable the “Connect” option within each VPN client to establish an encrypted tunnel over the internet back to your server.

Clients will route traffic through the tunnel assigning the client device a virtual IP address on your private network. Key indicators it’s working – the client IP will match your VPN server’s network and DNS settings will flip to what you defined on the server.

Step 5: Test VPN Connection

Before trusting privacy to your DIY VPN server, it’s critical to test for leaks, verify encryption is active, benchmark speeds, and confirm restrictions work as expected.

Some testing methods to try:

  • Visit IPLeak.net – Checks if DNS/IP requests are leaking outside of the VPN tunnel.
  • Enable VPN server logging – Check that encryption ciphers are active in the logs.
  • Perform a speed test – Check speeds over VPN meet your needs.
  • Visit a restricted site – Confirm geo-restricted sites like BBC iPlayer are now accessible.

If leaks are found, review port forwarding, firewall, and client settings. Choose a closer server location if speeds are slow. And confirm protocols and ciphers match between server and client configs.

Step 6: Troubleshoot and Maintain Server

Like any server, ongoing administrative duties are required for optimal uptime, security, and performance. Common VPN maintenance includes:

  • Patching vulnerability fixes and updating to the latest firmware and software releases.
  • Tuning server capacity for the increasing number of VPN connected devices.
  • Upgrading encryption standards as computer power continues rapidly advancing.
  • Monitoring client connection logs to identify issues or abuse.
  • Adding new gateway server locations to bolster performance in regions you frequent.

By establishing your own VPN server, you can take charge of protecting your privacy rather than relying on a third-party. While requiring more effort to initially configure and manage than commercial VPN services, the benefit of understanding exactly how your traffic is being secured and owning your network end-to-end is invaluable for many.

Conclusion

Constructing your personal or team VPN server is a worthwhile endeavor that pays dividends through enhanced security, privacy, and access. The process can seem intimidating, but by following step-by-step guides your own server can be online in no time. The effort is well worth it to control your own virtual private networking destiny. So don’t hesitate – set up your VPN today!