Should You Run Your Own VPN Server?

by | Jan 29, 2020 | Cybersecurity, Privacy | 0 comments

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The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a VPN provider is how much you’re willing to trust them. If you misplace your trust, there are VPN providers that log everything you do and sell it. Which, if you’re using a VPN, probably is the exact opposite of what you want. As you (hopefully) trust yourself with your privacy, it may seem like a no-brainer to set up your own VPN server. But, should you?

Features

For the most part, you get many of the same features from running your own server as you would by using an established VPN service. For example, both will change your IP address and both will encrypt your internet connection. However, there are some differences to be aware of.

Server Selection

The biggest thing you miss out on when running your own server is choosing which server to connect to. Many of the popular VPN services allow you to select which server you’d like to use out of hundreds or even thousands. Obviously, when you run your own server, you can only use that one. You can always set up more servers, but managing a ton of servers can get time consuming very quickly.

Control

The biggest thing you gain by running your own server is control over everything. For example, when you run your own server, you get to choose the balance you’d like between encryption security and performance. You also get to choose who can use your VPN server, which can help in keeping your VPN’s IP address off of spam blacklists. Be warned, however, that if you use a VPS (more on that in a bit), you may find that your IP address is already on a blacklist. If this is the case, simply spin up another server until you get a good IP address.

Remote Access

One of the other important features you gain when running your own VPN server is the ability to have clients communicate with each other. For example, if you connect your desktop and phone to your VPN server, each device can access the other regardless of what network you’re on. This has saved me many times when away from home, such as when my Plex server decides to stop working. Without a VPN, I’d have to wait until I get home to debug and fix the issue. However, since my laptop is connected to the same VPN server, I can simply SSH into my Plex server and fix the issue regardless of where I am.

Cost

Believe it or not, running your own VPN server can often be cheaper than sticking with an existing VPN provider. For example, you can get a VPS from DigitalOcean or Linode for as little as $5 a month. Those plans include a VPS with more than enough power to handle quite a few VPN connections, as well as an entire terabyte of included bandwidth. If you’re on a budget, you can even get one from Vultr for as little as $3.50 a month, although it may be slower than the $5 options mentioned earlier (or Vultr’s $5 tier). Compare $5 a month to what popular VPN services are charging, and it quickly becomes one of the cheaper options.

It’s important to note that while some VPN providers do offer a lower monthly price, it’s in exchange for buying months or even years in advance. The prices for a VPS are per month, without requiring you to purchase anything in advance.

Here is the pricing for some of the more popular providers:

NordVPN Pricing
ExpressVPN’s Pricing
IPVanish’s Pricing
Hotspot Shield’s Pricing
TunnelBear’s Pricing
Private Internet Access’s Pricing

What Is A VPS?

A VPS, or Virtual Private Server, is basically a small piece of a physical server. This is how VPS providers can offer VPS plans as low as they are; many virtual private servers can run on one physical/real server. So, even if a data center has a hundred physical servers, there can be thousands of virtual private servers hosted there. Each VPS typically gets its own IP and a full installation of an operating system, so for most uses there’s no difference between using a VPS or a physical server.

Privacy

One of the primary reasons people use VPNs in the first place is to protect their privacy. And this is one subject in which VPN providers have a clear lead because they have a high people to server ratio. What this means in terms of privacy is that it makes it harder to track individuals based solely on their IP address. Since potentially thousands of people are all visiting websites with the exact same IP, there’s no way to know which traffic is coming from which user, if the website uses IP addresses to keep track of users.

However, there are much better ways to keep track of users instead of IP addresses, and those methods will work regardless of if you have a VPN or not. For example, many websites use cookies to identify visitors, in which case it doesn’t matter what IP address your traffic is coming from because your browser will send the cookie(s) over with each request. Still, it definitely can’t hurt to have many users on the same IP, and there’s no good way to simulate this. Although you could use a website like makeinternetnoise.com, there really is no replacement for the traffic of thousands of users.

Conclusion

Depending on your needs, running your own VPN server may make sense for you, and even save you some money. If you already know how to set one up, or want to learn something new, then go ahead and create your own VPN server. I’ve been running my own VPN server for well over a year at this point with very few issues. However, it may make sense for you to stick with a reputable VPN service. For example, if you need a VPN service that has a 100% uptime, you can’t really beat a large VPN provider. Or, if you use a VPN to access Netflix in a various countries, being able to switch between servers easily may very well be worth a few extra bucks a month.

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