VPN’s are a godsend to those who take their Internet security, privacy, and anonymity very seriously. There’s just one problem: most users don’t have enough simultaneous connections to go around. Though it is fairly common for a standard provider to allow as many as two simultaneous connections per account, some providers do only allow one connection (this is most common with free services). In addition, some providers allow simultaneous connections between one handheld device and one computer.
People with so few simultaneous connections are really put between a rock and a hard place. Should they refrain from using their VPN accounts on all of their devices, or should they “juggle” their simultaneous connections? There are several other options at your disposal, such as purchasing a second account, although that is highly undesirable. Why pay double price for extra simultaneous connections when you don’t have to? The good news is that you can share your VPN connections with an unlimited number of devices by using one simple trick.
Different Ways to Share Your VPN
There are really two main ways to share your VPN tunnel. Either you can configure your computer to share it’s Internet connection after you have connected to a VPN server, or you can simply create a site-to-site VPN tunnel. Each method has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, but I personally think a site-to-site VPN tunnel is the superior option. So, let’s start with that first.
Site-to-Site or VPN Network Router Setup
A site-to-site VPN tunnel is essentially an “always on” (with exception to connection failures, of course) connection between two networking devices. Instead of needing to login to a service each and every time you fire up your computer, your router will take care of all the processing overhead for you. The greatest advantage, in my opinion, is that every single device that connects to your local network or Wi-Fi router will be able to share the VPN connection. Really, the only limit to the number of devices that can share the VPN tunnel is the amount of bandwidth you have with your ISP. The best part is that this connection will only count as one of the simultaneous connections allowed by your VPN provider.
And you don’t really need to be especially technologically literate to set it up – though there are a few prerequisites. First of all, you’ll need a router that is capable of running after-market open source firmware called OpenWrt, DD-WRT or Tomato. You see, the typical OEM factory firmware that is preloaded on new routers don’t have the ability to terminate one end of a VPN tunnel. The cheapest solution is to simply perform the upgrade yourself, but there are some cases where your network router will not support any alternative firmware options. This is often due to the device not being powerful enough, usually the cheapest routers don’t have enough memory. You would need to verify the supported device list for one of the three options, being OpenWRT which runs OpenVPN and considered to be the latest and greatest option, or between DD-WRT and the much lighter Tomato option.
If you feel like this is too much of a hassle, you can purchase a router from Flashrouters that comes with the opensource firmware of your choice already installed. The cost difference is quite high however, and nowadays some of the higher end network router models are coming out completely unlocked and ready to be flashed to OpenWRT at the click of a button. Either way, you can find an installation guide for just about any tested compatible device.
After you have created or purchased a flashed firmware router, you’ll just need to configure it to connect to the VPN service. Again, this isn’t as hard as it may sound, even for novices. All of the major providers have step by step how-to guides on their website that shows users how to setup their router to connect to one of their VPN servers.
Sharing Your VPN Connection with Windows
Most modern operating systems come pre-loaded with code that allows a user to share their internet connection with other users. Because a VPN connection is seen as a network interface on popular operating systems like Windows, you’ll be able to channel other devices’ traffic through your tunnel. Though you can only share your VPN connection with one other device, this may be ideal for users who want to unlock geo-restricted content for a Smart TV or similar device without making configuration changes to their router.
Though the steps vary among different operating systems (like Windows, OS X, and Linux), it’s usually a quick an painless process. For Windows users, simply perform the following steps.
1. Connect your computer to your service provider’s VPN connection.
2. Connect the computer/device with which you wish to share the VPN connection (e.g. the device that doesn’t currently have VPN access) to the computer that already has the VPN software installed. Typically, you want to use an Ethernet cable, though some devices support USB interfaces.
3. Browse to the Network and Sharing Center by navigating through Start, Control Panel, and Network and Sharing Center. Then click on “Change Adapter Settings.”
4. Find the icon that identifies your VPN interface. It’s highly likely that it is labeled similar to “TAP-Win32 Adaptor.” Find the Properties menu by right clicking on it.
5. Find the Sharing tab at the top, and then ensure that the checkbox “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection” is enabled. Find the dropdown box and select “Local Area Connection.” Finally, click the “OK” button.
6. Restart both devices, ensure your VPN tunnel is connected, and you should be able to share your VPN connection.
Sharing Your VPN Connection with Mac OS X
Naturally, the process is a little different for Mac OS X users. There are several ways to achieve the same functionality, though, such as using the TunnelBlick software. However, we are going to do so using the native VPN client with an L2TP or PPTP connection.
1. Connect to your VPN service using the native OS X client. Your provider will likely have instructions on their website that show you the steps for their specific VPN service.
2. Power off the device you wish to share the VPN connection with, and the connect it to your computer with either an Ethernet or USB cable.
3. Click the Apple button in the top right and click on System Preferences. Then, click on the “Sharing” button.
4. Find the “Sharing your connection from…” menu and choose your VPN connection.
5. Find the “To computers using” field and select either USB or Ethernet.
6. Enable “Internet Sharing,” and then click the “Start” button in the pop-up box.
7. Power on the device you wish to share the VPN connection with.
Though I prefer connecting my router to a VPN server, both options have their merits. For example, you may live in an apartment or be in a public place where you don’t have access to the router, and it wouldn’t make sense to create a site-to-site VPN tunnel. In these instances, it is preferable to share your Internet connection through your laptop or other computing device. Nevertheless, for home environments, it is a far greater advantage to terminate the VPN connection at your router. At any rate, these two methods will allow you to surpass the number of devices that can use the VPN tunnel, which are limited by the number of simultaneous connections provided by your VPN service.