We have seen how resourceful a VPN is in our daily lives — not only for private but also for corporate use. VPNs have created a demand for security services. The increase in interest has led the technology on a path of advancement. With additional products (e.g., VPN concentrators and VPN gateway) in tow, corporate has found many avenues to exalt a VPN service. We have also seen the implementation of the VPC (virtual private cloud) and site-to-site VPNs for enhancing a remote workforce. As such, it comes as no surprise that a VPN router exists, too.
Although these routers are now getting adopted by daily users, the corporate world was long since privy to them. Today we will learn about routing in networking, alongside what a router is. We will also take a quick look at the various features of a router and its workings before touching upon the target of VPN routers.
What is a router?
Routers are networking devices that operate at Layer 3 (network layer) of the OSI model. It can be a physical or a virtual application responsible for receiving, analyzing, and forwarding data packets among the connected computer networks. It does so by inspecting a data packet’s destination IP address, calculating the best route for it, and lastly, forwarding it accordingly. Routers are generic gateway devices that serve as the first line of defense in any network. They sit at the meeting point of presence between two networks. Routers can do so by depending on eleven routing tables and security protocols.
A router is a switch, or a switching device if you may. It is capable of routing data packets according to established routes that depend on security protocols and tables. Routers are not exclusive to the corporate sector. In an individual’s home, they are bundled together with a modem. In doing so, they allow the home network access to the World Wide Web following the ISP. Or, in simple words, for a general user, routers grant access to the Internet.
On a larger scale, routers can be implemented for coupling networks or establishing connections via a VPN. This, by large, depends on the type of communication taking place. Traditionally, they are standalone devices that use proprietary software. Yet, they can also exist virtually as software that performs the same functions as a physical one.
The distinct features of a router are:
- It is a Layer 3 device.
- It connects different networks and routes data packets.
- Both LANs (Local Area Networks) and WANs (Wide Area Networks) can use and support a router infrastructure.
- It transfers data in the form of IP packets.
- A router relies on an IP address and various other protocols to route a data packet.
- It comes with a routing table that is refreshed periodically according to the changes in the network.
- To transmit data packets, it consults the table and uses a routing protocol.
- Routers share information to refresh routing tables.
- Routers protect against broadcast storms.
- It is more expensive than other networking devices like hubs, bridges, or switches.
How does it work?
First, a router examines a packet header’s destination IP address and compares it against a routing table to determine the best route. A routing table lists directions for forwarding data to particular network destinations. It includes the best way to transmit data traffic towards any given IP based on an algorithmic set of rules.
Now, equipped with a specific route, the router will attempt forwarding. However, a routing table has particular paths predetermined by default. Thus, a router will first use them if it fails to find a decent forwarding point unless specified. As such, routing tables can be static, i.e., manually configurable, or dynamic. A dynamic router will automatically update its routing table based on network activity by exchanging information with other devices via a routing protocol.
Different types of routers
Depending on the usage and need of communication, a router can be of several types. Those are:
Core routers are the backbone of a network. Used by ISPs, they are the fastest and the most regnant networking device, always sitting at the center of the internet and forwarding information along with the central fiber optic. These routers can route data packets within a given network but not between the different networks.
Edge routers are also known as access routers. They are lower-capacity devices that reside at the boundary of a LAN and connect to the public internet or a private WAN/LAN. What a user generally uses in his home or at a small office is an edge router. Most of the time, they can connect an internal network with an external one.
A logical router uses configuration to divide a traditional network, be it hardware or virtual. It duplicates the hardware’s functionality and creates multiple routing domains within an individual device. Logical routers perform a subset of tasks based on tables as well.
Brouters and Wireless routers
Brouter is a specialized router that can provide the functionalities of bridges as well. It can help transfer data between networks and route data within the devices on a network. Wireless routers operate like branch routers below, minus the wires. They provide mobility and range to devices and connect devices capable of using Wi-Fi.
Branch routers link an organization’s remote office locations to its WAN. They connect multiple routers to a single edge router. On top of it, they provide additional features such as time-division multiplexing, wireless LAN management capabilities, and WAN application acceleration.
Various router protocols
These are the set of rules that determine how a router identifies others on a network. They also help in keeping track of multiple destinations. Moreover, they decide how the data will route based on a pre-established setting. Some popular router protocols are as follows:
- Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) can find the best path for packets as they pass through a set of connected networks. Designated by the IETF, it is one of the several Interior Gateway Protocols (IGPs).
- Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) can manage how the packets can route across the internet. BGP does it by exchanging information between edge routers and offers network stability. Additionally, it guarantees quick adaptation and sends packets through another reconnection if one path goes down.
- Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (IGRP) decides how routing between gateways will proceed within an autonomous network. It can then use the information to notify other networking protocols about the specifics of transmission.
- Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP) is the enhancement of IGRP. It allows routers to query neighboring routers for a route if they can’t find a suitable one within their tables. Also, despite sending the whole table, it only informs other routers on the network of recent changes.
- Exterior Gateway Protocol (EGP) determines how routing information between two neighboring gateway hosts is exchangeable. It is commonly used between hosts on the internet to exchange routing tables.
- Routing Information Protocol (RIP) is the original protocol for defining how routers would share information when moving traffic among interconnected LANs. However, the maximum allowed number of hops for RIP is 15, limiting the size of networks that it can support.
VPN router defined
A VPN router is a routing device that allows for network communication within a VPN environment. Although, it can primarily connect and facilitate communication between multiple VPN end devices, usually at separate locations. As with a standard router, a VPN-enabled router also routes data packets within a network, but these packets themselves are protected using encryption. Thus, a VPN router can share and provide VPN connections to different devices irrespective of platforms.
Although some VPN routers sit at fixed locations, most are portable and can be installed and configured anywhere with an internet connection. Users can use both wired and wireless networks to connect to a VPN router. The router itself utilizes multiple networking/tunneling protocols to facilitate and manage communication within tunnels.
Most Wi-Fi routers support or facilitate VPN pass-through. However, they can’t bring the convenience of a VPN router, since the latter has a VPN installed directly as well as firmware that can handle VPN traffic. It can also establish a secure connection for the entire site at the hardware level.
How does a VPN router work?
It works on the same principle as the other routing devices. However, the difference is that the data packets that go through it get encrypted first. In short, a VPN router facilitates secure routing within a VPN. Through the use of this type of router, any connected devices automatically become part of a VPN. Thus, if you want to use a VPN on multiple devices, VPN routers are the way forward.
Why do you need a VPN router?
A VPN router can ensure safety and security to multiple devices. It also allows you to extend a VPN to any IoT (Internet of Things) device, irrespective of the platform. Hence, a VPN router can protect you at a network-wide level and grants benefits such as:
- Multi-device protection — A VPN router can protect multiple of your devices, at once, without additional costs.
- Convenience — With a VPN router, you don’t have to set up separate VPNs for every device on your network, yet each will be protected by a VPN.
- Compatibility — There are no issues of compatibility with routers. Unlike VPN clients, they can connect to any device as long as it supports an internet connection.
- Automated service — You do not have to do anything to set up a VPN network. Since it is a router, once turned on, it will automatically connect you to a VPN without additional steps.
- Supports non-native (IoT) devices — Any device that can access the internet can get a VPN connection with the help of a router.
- Network-wide security — A VPN is comparable to a firewall. A router acting as the first line of defense with both firewall and VPN active on single hardware makes it the optimum guard for your network.
- Supports every platform — Most VPNs are platform inclusive but can’t provide applications for every single platform out there. With a VPN router, though, it is possible to have a VPN on any operating system of your choice.
Pros and cons of a VPN router
|It can connect multiple devices at once.||It is costly to set up.|
|It grants permanent VPN protection to your devices.||Sometimes it can be complex to set up a VPN router.|
|A VPN router improves the overall security of your network by implementing a firewall on top of a VPN.||Unless it is a pre-flashed router, you may need some technical knowledge to install a VPN on it.|
|You can easily use layered VP services with a router, making VPN over VPN easy to execute.||It lacks flexibility.|
|It supports every IoT device and platform.||It reduces connection speed with every additional device.|
|It saves time.||It has a few security concerns.|
Different VPN routers
When choosing a VPN router, users have a decision to make. They must deliberate about the kind of routers VPNs support and vice versa. To help them, we’ll say there are three distinct types of VPN routers:
- Pre-flashed routers have a specific VPN service pre-installed on them out of the box.
- VPN-enabled routers can handle any VPN service. They come with firmware that can support VPN but not a specific provider. It allows the user to choose the VPN service themselves.
- Unflashed routers don’t have any VPN firmware installed on them. You can use a VPN on these routers too, but before that, you must flash them and install supporting firmware.
Pre-flashed VPN router
Pre-flashed routers are the simplest of the bunch. They come with a specific VPN pre-installed and allow you to forgo the somewhat complex process of installing a VPN application or firmware on the device. If you want to use VPN on multiple devices without hassle, they are the best choice. However, what it constitutes with ease of use and simplicity goes down the drain as it allows such services at a steep premium. This type of VPN router has merit because of how simple it is to use — plug it in and connect.
These routers aim to bring the best of both worlds. Where you didn’t have the choice to use a VPN provider you want with pre-flashed routers, VPN-enabled routers allow you to install and use a VPN you pick. Additionally, they ship with VPN firmware pre-installed, so the installation won’t be much of a hassle. Thus, a VPN-enabled router provides the freedom of service selection and ease of use to maintain user experience at a relatively lower price than pre-flashed ones. However, remember that installing a VPN on a router is somewhat different from doing it on computers.
Lastly, these routers do support VPN connection but haven’t undergone flashing. Meaning, to use them as VPN routers, first, you will have to delete their old firmware and install a new one that can handle VPN connections. These routers are cheap as they do not get bundled with specific software, so you can use open source to configure them. However, while you will certainly save money, you must also possess the general technical background to install a VPN on unflashed routers. Two prominent examples of firmware that can aid you are Tomato and DD-WRT.
BEWARE — We do not recommend flashing your routers as it can easily result in broken devices that void the guarantee/warranty. Unless and until you know what to do and can face certain risks, do not proceed with the manual installation of a VPN router.
How to choose a VPN router for yourself
These are the factors that can affect the potential of your VPN router. As such, a consumer must be aware of the necessary specifications while selecting a VPN router.
The Wi-Fi standard is a set of protocols that decides how your wireless network will act. This code will appear on the router; in the alphanumeric format, starting with 802.11 followed by letters and numbers.
Now pay heed to this code as the letter appearing after 802.11 determines the speed of the device. If the letter is ‘b‘ or ‘g,’ avoid the router — it is severely outdated. Try to find a router with the letter ‘n,’ as it is one of the latest models that supports up to 300 Mbps of speed. However, if you are not the type that pinches pennies, look for devices that support 802.11ac. It is the latest standard at the time of writing and supports a transfer speed of 1.3 Gbps.
Frequency bands and maximum speed
A Wi-Fi frequency band represents the speed at which data is sent and received. Today, most devices offer a 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency band. The difference between these two frequencies is the range of operation and speed at which they exchange information:
- 2.4 GHz offers slow speed over a greater distance.
- 5 GHz offers faster connectivity at a shorter length.
The speed supported by a router is outright available on the device. Look for the highest number within your price range, and you will be good to go.
Number of ports
Although most users prefer Wi-Fi for connectivity, remember that you can still use a wired connection with your router. Almost every VPN router comes with Ethernet ports that are enabled to support wired connections. This is the easiest and most reliable way of connecting to the internet. It’s also the fastest way to browse the Web.