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Get started with a VPN

Steven Vaughan-Nichols, PC World | March 25, 2011
Do you want to be secure -- I mean really secure -- when you're on the Internet? If so, then you want a virtual private network.

Some VPN providers offer another benefit: anonymous Web browsing, which allows you to roam the Internet without being tracked. If your ISP blocks some applications, such as Skype or other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) applications, you can use a VPN to get around the restrictions.

These VPN services may sound exactly like what you need. Beware, however: Not all services are created equal. If a service doesn't have enough VPN servers--technically, VPN concentrators--to support the number of customers, you may experience poor Internet speeds or be unable to make a connection at all.

So, before subscribing to a VPN service, look into what its customers say about it. Better still, if the company offers a free test period, take advantage of it before paying money for a service that may not meet your needs.

VPN Fundamentals for the Power User

Do you want to lock down your Internet connection when you’re on the road? If so, the best approach is, of course, to use a VPN. You’re set if you work for a company that can provide you with a VPN. But if you run your own small business or home office, you also have options.

You can find several, inexpensive ways to get a VPN of your own. Besides paying $15 to $20 a month to a VPN subscription service, you might be able to install a VPN server into your router using open-source, alternative router firmware such as DD-WRT and OpenWRT. This firmware will allow you to use many, but not all, Wi-Fi routers and access points as VPN endpoints.

VPN on Your Router

Before flashing your Wi-Fi hardware with any alternative firmware, make sure that it's supported. The last thing you want to do is to "brick" your wireless device--rendering it useless--just to set up a small VPN. Be sure to consult the DD-WRT supported-device list or the OpenWRT supported-device list. As these lists are all works in progress, check back often if you buy a brand-new router or access point.

If you'd rather not take your hardware's life into your own hands, some routers, such as Buffalo Technology's WZR-HP-G300NH AirStation Nfiniti Wireless-N High Power Router, come with DD-WRT already installed.

VPN Server Software

Some desktop operating systems, including Windows (from XP to Windows 7) and Mac OS X, include VPN server software. Granted, these are very simple VPNs, but they may be all you need. Of course, the Windows Server family comes with more-sophisticated VPN setups. If you're running all Windows 7 clients and Windows Server 2008 R2, you may also want to consider using DirectAccess, an advanced IPSec VPN that runs over IPv6 on ordinary IPv4-based LANs and the Internet.


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