Using a VPN used to be the sort of badge of honor indicating that you did something important enough for your corporate overlords to grant you access to the company network through the magick Cisco tunnel (yeah, so you’re having to sling pivot tables off the office file server over the weekend, but hey, you dontcha feel special?!). Now, especially with the net neutrality repeal, everyone’s getting a VPN, and it’s not just to stream BBC’s iPlayer from the States.
There are a gazillion VPN vendors out there, and even more blog space devoted to the explanation, virtues, necessity, and comparisons of VPNs, and being the curious soul I am, I’d pondered “Hmm, would it be possible to set up your own VPN tunnel using the various cloud server services out there?” And yes, it is, and you’ve got your choice of tutorials to dig that encrypted tunnel under/through your ISP (or simply through that open coffeeshop hotspot).
- Set up a $5/month Digital Ocean Droplet and install OpenVPN Server on Ubuntu
- Do something similar on a free tier Amazon Web Service EC2 instance
- Use the OpenVPN AWS EC2 tiered appliance
Then there’s a number of different walkthroughs for deploying OpenVPN Server as a Docker Container, and I went with this one:
The simplicity of a Digital Ocean Droplet, which lets you kinda skate past the accoutrements that come with (and are essential to an) AWS cloud environment, and the easy-breezy-beautiful Docker Container image were the main attractions here.
London Calling… and They Hung Up
And speaking of easy and breezy, the whole thing from start to finish took me about 15 minute to set up, and I had myself a VPN tunnel with a UK IP (as in an IP address in the UK, not those xenophobic knobs UKIP) address! The immediate downer was finding out that the clever folks at the BBC had blacklisted data centre (note the “proper” spelling there) IP addresses, so no iPlayer for me.
No big deal, I deleted the Droplet, created a new one Stateside, and I’d gotten myself a little tunnel through public wi-fi hotspots for my phone, tablet, etc. So far, I’ve been pleased with the latency (or the relative lack thereof) as well as with the ability to set up as many devices/users as I want at that miserly $5 per month. The next step is to set up a spare Netgear router that I’d flashed with DD-WRT to have a perma-connection through our home ISP.
Dee Eye Wye Vee Pee Enn
Admittedly all this is probably more work than paying a few bucks a month for a professionally managed VPN service, but there’s something oddly satisfying about setting something up yourself. Not as thrilling as, let’ say, digging your way under and out of Stalag Luft III, but it’s kinda sorta a way to make your “great escape” through your own bloody ISP (and that’s a whole ‘nother rant for another time).
And speaking of “The Great Escape,” here’s a great song by a great band: