Friday, 31 January 2014

Build Your Own VPN to Pimp Out Your Gaming, Streaming, Remote Access, and Security


What's a VPN?

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is just a network of computers that are all connected securely even though they're in different locations and all using different connection methods. The biggest benefit to a VPN is that all of the computers on one are securely connected to one another and their traffic encrypted and kept away from prying eyes. Another great benefit to a VPN is that all of the computers on one are effectively on the same network, meaning they can communicate as if they were right next to one another, plugged in to the same router.

If security is all you want, sure you can sign up for a free or paid VPN service that will encrypt your traffic only, but why throw your money (and trust your privacy and security) into the hands of a third party when you can roll your own? It's incredibly easy, and once you have your own personal, private VPN, you can browse securely on any network by leveraging your home internet connection, get a group of friends together for LAN gaming, get access to all of your music and movies from home with ease, and more.

Why You Should Roll Your Own

We've often discussed the dangers of using unsecured internet connections at coffee shops, airports, or other public places, especially if you're planning on doing any browsing or surfing that may be considered private. We've warned you of the ubiquitous "Free Public Wi-Fi", explained how you can stay safe when you do use public networks, and even outlined how to set up your own private VPN with Hamachi.

We're going to build on that second story, where Adam Pash showed us how to set up a proxy and Hamachi to protect ourselves when browsing from public places, and extend Hamachi's functionality to not just secure surfing, but LAN gaming with friends, secure remote access to your home computers and files when you're on the road and on the go, and more. Rolling your own VPN—while ideal for security—also gives you access to your home network at any time, and all of the great things that come with effectively sitting at home using your Wi-Fi there, when you're actually at home, in a coffee shop, or across the country.

Before You Get Started

Hamachi isn't the only utility that does this—most notably OpenVPN, which is one of your favorite VPN tools. However, for our purposes, Hamachi wins for being the most hands-off, zero-configuration VPN tool to configure. The others aren't terribly difficult, but Hamachi really is easy to install. Before we get started, there are a few prerequisites that will make this solution work best for you.

Set Up and Configure Hamachi

Hamachi runs on Windows, OS X so grab the installer for your OS of choice. It comes in two flavors: a free (for non-commercial use) version that gives us everything we want (the ability to leverage to our home network from anywhere over a secure, encrypted connection), and a paid, managed version that does more than you'd likely ever need.
so here's the quick version:
  1. Download Hamachi
  2. Run it. If it's your first time, click the Blue power button to power it on.
  3. Click the Network menu, then select Create a new network, giving your network a name and a good, strong password.
  4. Done!
After you've set up your network on your always-on computer at home, grab your laptop, netbook, or any other system you plan to travel with, and install the client there. Instead of creating a new network, this time join the one you created (Network > Join an existing network), using the network name and password you just generated. That's all there is to it—it really is zero-configuration security. Make a note of that network name and password—you'll need it again later. Now those two computers can securely access one another from anywhere, and do so as though they're on the same local network. (You can add as many computers as you want to the network you just created.)

Bring Your Friends In On Private LAN Gaming

Secure browsing isn't the only thing you can do with Hamachi though. Connecting to your home computer with Hamachi puts you on an on-demand mesh network with any other computers connected to the same network, which is ideal if you and your friends want to effectively LAN party it up without lugging your computers to each other's houses. You have the choice with Hamachi to either give out the network name and password you created earlier, or you can set up a specific network just for your friends to play LAN games together, without forcing you all to try and find slots on a public server or desperately try to find each other in whatever matchmaking service your favorite games offer.
Every computer in your virtual LAN will have to have Hamachi installed, and they'll all have to log in to the network with the credentials you supply. One system will have to host the game server (and with most games, it's best if that system is the most powerful one with the fastest connection to the internet, and ideally one you're not actually using to play the game) and all of the other systems, including yours, will connect to it as clients. As far as Hamachi is concerned, as long as it's running in the background of all of those systems, you're all set. Keep in mind that here too your connection to your friends will be as slow as the slowest system in the group, but again, if you all have broadband you should be fine.

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