Work from home securely – VPN without a VPN router

One major lesson we learn from the COVID-19 coronavirus story, is that centralised workplaces are unprotected against vis major scenarios. Virologists predict that infections like this one will happen more frequently in the future as more and more people move to megacities.

Decentralised workspaces (where possible) suffer less economic damage due to lower downtime thanks to easy switch between office and home office work environment. Let’s move to the country!

In order to transmit data securely between our home and the office we need to encrypt all data, and encryption is an extremely CPU-intensive process.

Let’s see a scenario of a small-sized company where employees work with huge, heavy files:

we can buy an entry level router with built-in VPN server functionality for 250 Euros, but on the first day when everyone starts to work from home we will realise it takes ages to transmit a file, and we wish we had spent 750 Euros more.

  • first we have to make sure the internet connection of the office comes trough an optical cable with at least 100 megabit in both directions
  • second, employees must also have the fastest possible internet connection available

Even when both criteria are fulfilled we will see that the transmit speed is not acceptable, maybe 10 to 20% of the bandwidth is utilised the most. The bottleneck of the communication will be the weak CPU in the router that can’t keep up to the speed and encrypt the data fast enough. If we look for a VPN router that has a multi-core CPU capable encrypting high-speed traffic, we will end up spending above 1000 Euros.

Is there a cheaper alternative?

Of course there is: engaging a regular desktop computer that sits behind the existing router and installing a software based VPN server on it. Most companies always have a spare computer and it is ideal for this task.

We have to understand that the high price of VPN routers are due to the fact that manufacturers charge us not only the cost of the hardware, profit, support, marketing and costs of distribution network, but also the price of the VPN software that runs on these routers.

In contrary, installing a free, software based VPN server on your existing spare hardware will cost you the IT time required for the installation only.