A VPN server is the central place in your network that all your private connections pass through. It is a crucial piece of software if you want to ensure that your personal data remains private when you are online. In this article, we will discuss the various steps involved in setting up a VPN server so that you can provide your friends, family, and anyone else with an internet connection the ability to securely access the content that you want them to see.
Choosing A Hosting Plan
The first step is to choose a hosting plan. Without a spot to host your site or app, you simply cannot provide your visitors with anything. Of course, you can always run an online store from your laptop, but that is not the same as having a reliable website that performs well.
When it comes to choosing a web host, you will need to look for a provider that offers both managed and unmanaged servers. The former provides you with a virtual private server (VPS) which is completely isolated from other customers. This is perfect for those who want to host a website containing sensitive information (e.g., credit card data). The latter gives you the freedom to launch your site or app without needing to worry about anything other than making the content available. This freedom comes at the cost of higher management fees and lower performance compared to a managed virtual private server (MVPS).
Allowing Only Specific IP Addresses To Access Your VPS
If you go with a managed VPS, your provider will give you the opportunity to restrict the IP addresses that can access it. While it is highly recommended to allow only the IP addresses of your current network (i.e., your home or office network), it is not always possible. For example, you might want to give your grandma’s computer on the other side of the globe the ability to log on to your site. In this case, you will have to allow all IP addresses to access it.
Installing The VPN Server Software
Now that you have chosen a hosting plan and allowed specific IP addresses to access your VPS, it is time to install the VPN server software. When selecting this option, be sure to get the open-source version as this will give you the freedom to install and configure it yourself. You can always consult with a tech expert from your hosting provider should you run into any trouble. While it is not recommended to install and run a VPN server on the same machine, it is very easy to set up virtual machines for this purpose. This can greatly reduce the load on your primary computer.
Keep in mind that some VPN protocols (e.g., L2TP and IPsec) require a paid license to run. In most cases, the price is less than $10 per year and it can be worth it if you are running a business that requires you to be connected to the internet privately.
Configuring The VPN Server
Once you have installed the VPN server software and enabled it to start automatically when your computer starts, it is time to configure it. This process will vary based on the software that you are using, but in most cases, it will involve entering a certificate, creating user accounts, and defining a password.
The certificate is more than just a fancy piece of artwork that you will display in your website’s corner — it is the fundamental trust and security framework that allows your visitors to have complete confidence that they are connecting to the correct website. In order to create one, you will need to get a trusted certificate from a certificate authority (CA). CAs are companies that provide these certificates and they are fully vetted by trusted parties like the government or large businesses. In most cases, you will need to purchase a certificate from a reputable CA and the price will vary based on the level of certification that you need.
One important thing to note about certificates is that they are only as good as the information that you put in them. If you want to create a secure connection with your VPN server, you will need to make sure that the certificate contains the following information:
- Your server’s IP address
- Your server’s hostname (i.e., the name of your website)
- The contact email address of a person designated as an account holder (e.g., an administrator)
- A unique identifier of the type and length that will not be reused (e.g., a GUID)
- The date that the certificate was signed
You can find more information about creating a certificate for secure websites on the DigiCert website.
As for the user accounts, if your VPN server is going to be accessed by multiple people, you will need to create one account per person. A good practice is to create a separate account for each person who will have access to the server (e.g., an administrator account and a support account).
Protecting Your VPS
One of the primary purposes of a VPN server is to protect your VPS from unauthorized access and abuse. When choosing this option, you will need to take into consideration the strength of your chosen VPN protocol (e.g., PPTP vs. L2TP vs. OpenVPN) and how easy it is to set up.
If you decide to use OpenVPN, it is a good idea to read the FAQ section of the openvpn wiki. This is where you will find countless answers to all of your questions regarding setting up an OpenVPN server. If you have never set up an OpenVPN server before, it is a good idea to work with a company that specializes in virtual private servers (e.g., Bluehost or Linode).
Making Sure That Your VPS Is Secure
This is probably the most important aspect of setting up a VPN server and it involves preventing unauthorized access to your resource and data. While there are dozens of ways that someone could get access to your personal information if they wanted to (e.g., via a phishing email or website), there are simple, yet effective measures that you can take to prevent this.
One effective way of securing your VPS is to put restrictions on the people who can access it. This can be easily done by the owner of the server (i.e., the person who launched it). In order to view the access log of the server, you will need to contact the support team and provide them with the FTP username that you used to launch the server. This is typically done through the email that you provided when you created your account.
Another way of making sure that your VPS is secure is to put it behind a firewall. A firewall looks at all of the incoming and outgoing network connections, deciding which ones to allow and which ones to deny. In most cases, a firewall will allow all incoming connections by default and it will block all outgoing connections. In this way, you can be sure that your personal data is protected from people who mean harm. Blocking outgoing connections also prevents people from just trying to access the internet using your IP address rather than having to go through your VPN server first.
The VPN protocols that we have discussed so far are all unidirectional. This means that data is only transferred in one direction (e.g., from your computer to the VPN server). If you want your data to be private, this is the direction that you will need to take into consideration. For example, if you are sending credit card details over the internet, you will need to ensure that all the connections are secured (e.g., https rather than http).
Monitoring Network Traffic
If you are the type of person who wants to ensure that his or her internet connection is always secure and private, it is a good idea to set up a VPN server and monitor the network traffic that goes through it. This way, you can be sure that someone is not stealing your data without you knowing it. The best VPNs for monitoring network traffic are ExpressVPN and NordVPN.
Once you start seeing a suspicious network activity, it is time to act. You can contact your internet service provider (ISP) and report the matter. In most cases, your ISP will look into it and, depending on the severity of the situation, they might even be able to help you identify the person who is trying to access your account without your permission.
Even if you catch the person who is trying to access your account in the act, it is not always possible to take the information that you need (e.g., the person’s name and email address). In some situations, you might have to settle for blocking the person’s IP address. Otherwise, the next time that they try to access your content, you will receive a notification that their access has been blocked.