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Right now, you’re not the only one who knows that you’re on this website reading this article.
When you’re on your home WiFi doing your daily visits to your favorite sites, everything you do is registered with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) using your Internet Protocol (IP) address. Think of your IP address as your semi-permanent internet license plate or ID card – a complete record showing who it’s registered to (you), where you’ve been, and what you’ve been up to.
And it’s not just your ISP. As you shop, browse, and argue on social media, third parties could be collecting data about you from your IP address without your knowledge. Every time you log on, your router traffic is logged. Most of it isn’t properly encrypted, so advertisers, your ISP, government agencies, and hackers could potentially be obtaining info like your browsing habits and even location — sometimes within six feet of where you are — using the geolocation programs built into most browsers. This can’t be turned off, making it extremely difficult to avoid.
Your email is tagged too; every time you send something, it’s tied to your IP address, risking the release of information like your name, and most recently with mobile devices, your fingerprints.
There are a number of ways to keep your sensitive information safe, but to protect yourself online, we recommend using a Virtual Private Network (a.k.a. a VPN) and a reliable VPN router.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a VPN Router
How It Works: The best VPN routers can be an excellent line of defense against your information being taken and used without your permission. When you set up your default home internet access through a VPN router, you can go anonymous, and your data is harder to track. It’s just like a regular router, but rather than sending your info out to the open and unsecured internet, the data is first sent through a secure server, where it’s encrypted and protected.
Pros and Cons: Instead of running VPN apps on all your individual devices and manually managing each one, a VPN router covers all the connected devices on your network.
There are some potential downsides to a VPN router though: for starters, there’s a chance your internet connection speed could be a bit slower, since the server it’s being routed through might not be near you. Also some streaming sites block VPNs, though in those cases, you’ll still have your regular WiFi access to fall back on.
Security: Cybersecurity is one of the most important topics in the world today and there are a number of ways to make sure your personal information remains personal, aside from just using a VPN router. A strong password is a must, and so is staying current with the latest software and antivirus updates, backing up your data, and using two (or even three) step verification.
Keep in mind that a VPN will only do so much; if you have a weak password, someone could still break into your network and sniff out all of your data.
When shopping for a VPN router, security, speed and range are what to look for. We’ve rounded up some top picks for small homes to large offices. The best VPN routers can offer reliable coverage, stronger security and hopefully offer some peace of mind as well.
1. Synology RT2600ac WiFi Router
The simple and safe Synology router boasts a 1.7 Gighertz dual-core processor, and covers up to 30,000 square feet of your home or office. It also features plenty of ports: four ethernet jacks in the back, an additional LAN port for balancing network traffic between two connections, USB 2.0 and 3.0 for external storage drives, and 3G/4G data modems in case the cable goes out.
You’ll also instantly be able to share files with your local network, or securely online. There’s room for even more storage up front, with an SD card slot, that can be used simultaneously along with the USB.
The physical, pressable, unhackable buttons are a nice touch too, and include power, instant WiFi shutoff, and WPS for connecting wireless appliances like a printer.
Once booted, the interface is clean and clear; all settings are divided into organized little apps that make setup simple. Synology’s system lets you take advantage of some of the more advanced features without having to dig deep just to find them.
2. Netgear Nighthawk WiFi 6 Router
With six ethernet ports and 2Gps of connectivity, the Nighthawk can take on all the devices in your house. There are plenty of ports to connect wired hardware here too, including two spots for USB 3.0, which lets you plug in your external hard drives for smooth, speedy sharing and an uninterrupted, faster file transfer rate.
You’ll be able to easily manage traffic, or even combine two of the ports and double-up the speed on your home network.
The Tie Fighter-esque design is not only a cool aesthetic, it’s practical as well: the wings contain four hidden pre-optimized antennas, ready to cover you anywhere in your house, and kill any dead-zones you may have had with your previous router.
The Nighthawk’s app makes monitoring other devices clear and quick, and can be configured to be controlled with Amazon Alexa. And security is still priority here, with NetGear automatically updating it frequently.
As long as your ISP is giving you a fast enough connection, the Nighthawk can keep up, and support 4k or 8k streaming no problem.
The device capacity is huge. And there’s no need to toss your old routers either – the Nighthawk is backwards compatible, and it can even improve your mobile device’s battery life, since the speed means your phone or tablet isn’t working as hard to connect.
3. Linksys LRT214 Gigabit VPN Router
With four Gigabit Ethernet ports, the LRT214 offers up to 50 IPsec tunnels and 5 OpenVPN tunnels for users on both iOS or Android devices.
The unit itself is solid metal and weighs in about 1.5 pounds. The rubber feet give it some traction, and there’s also a wall mount option too.
Admins have the option and ability to closely monitor all traffic on the network with the built-in firewall. You can also set up a “De-Militarized Zone” (DMZ), allowing incoming traffic to access your server in a limited capacity, without exposing your inner network.
But it’s the little details here that are a big help too, like the VPN indicator light, which clearly shows when you’re connected to a VPN server and can save tons of troubleshooting headaches.
4. TP-Link Safestream Multi WAN VPN Router
The TP-Link Safestream acts as an extension of your router, and an indirect extension of your modem. Simply put: plug this box into the out-port on your router, and after that, plug all your other devices into the Safestream.
This tough little box integrates multiple VPN options, allowing you to remotely access your main server as safely as if you were in the office.
Security is at the forefront here, and the Safestream features an SPI Firewall, as well as a helpful built-in capability to automatically detect and block DoS attacks.
It also protects against electrical surges, up to 4KV, so even when the power goes out, the Safestream is still standing.