I built my own VPN server – and this is what I learned
Don’t trust the VPN? You’re not alone. Stories of malicious vendors injecting ads into your web traffic or selling your browsing history should be of concern to anyone paying attention.
But what if you could bypass these dubious providers entirely and get your own personal VPN server directly from a web host?
It probably sounds way too expensive and technical, but there are some companies that say it just isn’t true. You can get started for less than $ 5 per month, which is cheaper than many mainstream VPNs. And the setup is mostly automatic, with hardly any technical knowledge required.
Is it really a good idea, however? What are the pros and cons, how does it work and what kind of service are you getting for your money? I decided to find out …
Your own VPN server: the advantages
One of the perks of having your own VPN server is that it is much less likely than anyone to be interested in your web traffic. The web hosting service could monitor what you’re doing, in theory, but they make their money selling web space and don’t need to log your every move online.
Plus, the big bucks are in collecting the browsing histories of hundreds of thousands of users – your personal web preferences just aren’t going to make you a lot of money. (Without wanting to offend you.)
Fewer bad neighbors
You are unlikely to share your VPN IP address with many others, which is another potential benefit. If hackers haven’t used the IP address to send spam, launch attacks, or do anything else to blacklist it, you’re less likely to have websites harass you with ” are you human »Captchas and similar checks.
Buy from a regular VPN and generally everyone has access to the same servers. Here you can choose the locations and level of power you need, from an ultra-low-cost but slow setup to a high-speed, high-power system.
Your own VPN server: the downsides
Sign up with a commercial VPN service like ExpressVPN and you’ll have access to servers in countries around the world. Go to a web host and it’s usually too expensive to buy more than one or two, and these may not be in the countries you need.
Short on features
A starter VPN server gives you only the most basic features. A single protocol (most likely OpenVPN), with limited applications, maybe not even covering all the platforms you need.
Easier to follow
Using the same server and the same IP address for each connection means it’s easier for websites to track you. And beware, if you’re doing something that could be investigated later, like downloading torrents, it’s also easier to bind the IP address to your server.
Use a standard VPN service and if blocked by a streaming platform, a good provider will buy unblocked IP addresses or take other steps to restore access. Buy a server from a web host and if you get stuck, and they won’t care at all – they’re selling you a web server, not a VPN service.
Running your own VPN server clearly won’t work for everyone. I could see how this could be a good solution in certain situations, but it must be easy to set up. I didn’t want a service just for experts: it has to be something anyone can try.
Amnezia VPN looked promising. This is an open source Windows and Mac app that automatically configures your server, then works like a VPN app and connects to it whenever you need a little privacy. All you have to do is spend a few dollars on a server (use Amazon and other free tiers and you might not spend anything at all), give the installer the IP address and password. password from your server, and you’re ready to go in five minutes.
In any case, this is what the site claims. Surely it couldn’t be that simple? It’s time to try the service for myself.
Find a cheap server
Amnezia’s website has simple and clear setup instructions, starting with a few suggestions on where to buy your server. There is a decent range of providers – Amazon, DigitalOcean, robovps.biz, and Hostwinds – and prices range from $ 2 to $ 5 per month, billed monthly.
I opted for DigitalOcean because it is a capable host. Browsing the website, I chose the $ 5 per month plan, selected a data center region (US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Germany, India, Singapore were available), handed my money back and it was up and running in three minutes.
Applying Amnezia was almost as easy. A simple assistant asked me if I wanted to unblock specific sites or the whole web, asked for my password and told me to wait while he configures everything. Five minutes later, it was done. I hadn’t wasted a second logging into the server or going through a complicated web dashboard, because Amnezia had it all on its own: my own VPN server was up and running.
How are the applications?
Amnezia doesn’t have a mobile VPN app at the moment, and that’s a real problem. But there are desktop apps available for Windows and Mac. I took the PC version and it turned out to be really easy to use.
Most of the time I would just click the Connect / Disconnect button to, well, connect and disconnect. While there is also the option to enable the VPN for specific websites only (use it for a streaming site, maybe, but use your regular connection for everything else.)
If you really know what you are doing, you will also find a lot of settings in the Settings area: choice of protocol (OpenVPN, Shadowsocks), DNS leak protection, UDP / TCP options, ability to launch the VPN when your device starts up and an option to share access to your device with others.
I can’t say I liked Amnezia’s apps, especially with the lack of mobile support, but I didn’t hate them either. Amnezia’s apps had more power than I expected, and I’ve tested many commercial VPNs with much worse products.
My super-cheap server was probably one of many VPSs sharing the same network connection, so I wasn’t expecting much from my speed tests. And of course the 5-10Mbps I got from a UK to US connection was barely enough for the easiest browsing.
The picture improved dramatically when I switched to a local server, with speeds dropping from 30 to 45 Mbps. It doesn’t break any records, but it’s fine for many tasks, including 4K / UltraHD streaming.
My servers also performed a little better than expected with website unblocking. The US setup couldn’t get me to Netflix (no surprise when the platform beats a lot of big VPNs), but BBC iPlayer didn’t have any issues with my UK VPN server, and I was able to stream content. as usual. This is better than what I’ve seen with many large vendors, and it might justify buying a server on its own.
Keep in mind that these results depend on your choice of web host, not Amnezia. You can unblock more or less platforms, depending on your server provider.
Are DIY VPNs Really a Good Idea?
I thought building my own VPN server would be complicated and expensive. The reality was very different. An initial $ 5 allowed me to have a working server for a month and Amnezia handled the server setup process fully automatically. The whole experience was hardly more complicated than creating an account and buying something from an online store.
I expected app issues, and Amnezia’s lack of mobile support is a definite issue (although there are signs that an Android version is on the way.) But the desktop app doesn’t was not bad at all. Sure, it doesn’t have glossy graphics or interactive maps, but it’s easy to use and more editable than some commercial VPN apps.
International speeds were disappointing, but local performance was decent, and the ability to use it as a bona fide VPN for BBC iPlayer was a nice surprise.
There are a lot of issues with using your own VPN, as we discussed earlier. You have to trust Amnezia to properly configure the server, for example, and there is no support if something goes wrong.
If you like flexibility or want more control over your VPN, setting up your own server is cheap and so easy that almost anyone can be up and running in minutes. It’s worth a try.