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Buy a VPN or Build Your Own: The Best Option for Your Needs


A VPN is an essential tool for developers that significantly reduces their security exposure. It encrypts your online traffic from unauthorized access and keeps your data in transit safe.

However, using a free VPN can be more dangerous than not using one at all. But what about a self-hosted VPN? Is it a viable option? Let's look at the pros and cons of setting up a private VPN versus subscribing to a privacy-focused commercial VPN service.

Why Do Developers Need a VPN?

Encryption via VPN can improve your cybersecurity, especially when working with client data or developing sensitive projects.

Connecting to the internet via VPN creates an encrypted, private VPN tunnel to hide your activities from snoopers, even your ISP. Website trackers on the other side of the connection can't see your IP address. They see the VPN server's IP address. As a result, your ISP can't log every website you visit, and advertisers will have trouble tracking your online activity.

In addition, developers use a VPN to verify applications' and websites' functionality in other countries or states. A VPN may also come in handy while trying to access restricted resources.

Cost vs Privacy - Or Can You Have the Best of Both Worlds?

If you know the technical ropes, a DIY VPN might provide better privacy than a not-so-good commercial VPN. However, you must weigh other important factors when playing the VPN game.

Weighing the Costs

If you want the best VPN deal, you must pay a lump sum upfront for a year or longer. That's when a free or self-made VPN may sound attractive.

If you have a spare server, you can host your own VPN for free. If you have a compatible router, you can set up free remote access to your home network. If you don't have either, you can rent a Virtual Private Server (VPS), which may end up costing more than the monthly fee for a premium VPN. You'll also need to dedicate a considerable period to setting it up properly and maintaining it daily.

Assessing Your Technical Knowledge

To set up your own VPN, you need at least a nodding acquaintance with server security. You'll need to make critical security-related decisions and deal with ongoing maintenance and security updates. You'll also need the confidence to use specialized software to set up your server (e.g., setting up a VPN server in the cloud with Algo) to get your tunneling software working.

Modern automation tools simplify the process, but you'll need a firm grasp of networking principles to choose which tunneling protocol you should use. In contrast, commercial VPNs have become user-friendly, even for non-technical people.

Possibly, Better Privacy

If you (correctly) configure, host, and maintain your own VPN, your data will be protected from third-party access. This applies even if you rent server space from a third-party VPS. Stay aware of the responsibility to keep your encryption keys safe, and use a trustworthy VPS provider.

However, keep in mind that most VPS providers store your personal data for account-keeping. Very few allow anonymous payment methods. If that sounds like a dealbreaker, look for a commercial VPN service that only requires minimal details and has strict, third-party audited no-logs policies.

The Need for Speed

Hosting your own VPN may give you better speed than some commercial VPNs. But how fast is fast enough? The best VPNs offer more than sufficient speed for streaming and gaming, although some may suffer from server congestion during peak times.

Portability and Working on the Move

Developers work on various devices and may need to connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots while they're on the move. Public Wi-Fi presents high risks by making you vulnerable to packet sniffing software, a man-in-the-middle, and other cyber attacks.

A commercial VPN is more versatile for protecting mobile devices and will always encrypt your traffic to protect it from hackers.

Securing Everything at All Times

The top VPNs increasingly act as endpoint protection, shielding your devices with additional anti-malware and other security features. If you use a private VPN, you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate such extensive coverage for all your devices for a similar cost.

Playing Geolocation Games

A self-hosted VPN is location-bound. If you want to access geo-restricted content, you won't be able to switch locations and IP addresses at will. You also won't be able to use it for anonymous competitor research or testing your websites from different locations across the globe. A VPS provider may mitigate some of these issues, but the additional services are costly. In this respect, a commercial VPN is the most flexible solution.

Don't Forget Those Advanced, Nice-To-Have Little Extras

Commercial VPNs offer advanced features like a kill switch to block all internet traffic if you accidentally become disconnected from the server. Some also provide easy split tunneling to carry specified traffic via an unprotected interface while maintaining your VPN connection for the stuff you want to encrypt. Some even offer multi-hop, double VPN, or TOR over VPN to enhance anonymity.

A Final Word on Privacy

While a "self-made" VPN can provide more control over your privacy, it's not always cheaper and lacks several notable benefits of quality VPNs. But if you opt for one, choose wisely. Your VPN provider can see everything you do, so it is crucial to pick one that will protect your privacy. "Free VPNs" still have to pay for their servers and technicians, so they make money by keeping logs and selling the information to advertisers.

Also, jurisdiction matters. Did you know the US Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to access personal information without a judge's approval? It's best to pick a VPN outside the US with an audited, verified no-logs policy and RAM-only servers that automatically wipe logged data.