How To Build Your Own VPN With Hamachi

Even if you have no idea what a VPN is (it's a Virtual Private Network), the acronym alone conjures visions of corporate firewalls and other relatively boring things, right? While a VPN is a common corporate security tool, it's also one of the coolest things you can set up for personal use that you have probably never tried.

Browsing the web from a cafe can be dangerous, but you know that already. Gaming with friends over the internet is great, but it's better when it's just you and your friends, right? Wouldn't it be nice if you could surf the web anywhere as if you were at home, and game with friends like you were all in the same room? That kind of functionality is at the very heart of a VPN, and we're going to show you how to set one up. Here's how to get started.

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. Photo by cloki (Shutterstock).

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 cafes, 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 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 cafe, or across the country.

Before You Get Started

Hamachi isn't the only utility that does this — most notably OpenVPN, which is one of our favourite 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:

  • You have to have an always-on computer at home
  • You don't trust or don't want to use third-party VPN services
  • You don't have an office or school that offers free VPN services

If the above sounds about right, and you have a nice sturdy broadband connection at home (remember, when you're connected to it, you'll be sending your traffic to your home network and then out again, so you may feel a performance hit by double-hopping) then it's time to get started.

Set Up and Configure Hamachi

Hamachi runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, so grab the installer for your OS of choice. It comes in two flavours: 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.

We don't want to rehash all of the steps that Adam walked through in his post on setting up Hamachi and Privoxy for secure browsing — 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.)

Protect Your Web Browsing, Anywhere You Roam

Most people use VPNs to protect their browsing when they're using an unsecured network, like the one at your local library or cafe. With Hamachi, you can turn turn your always-on system at home into a proxy that you can securely browse through when you're there. We suggest (and help you set up) Privoxy to handle this, and while it takes a little work, once you're finished, you're good to go. You'll effectively be connecting to your home computer, and then asking your home computer to feed you any sites or services you want to access, so your browsing may slow down a bit based on that — but if you have broadband at home and a good connection to the internet from your always-on computer, the slowdown will be worth the added security. The knowledge that you're largely protected from snooping by people who may be using tools like Firesheep or Faceniff to sniff out your credentials on public networks is a great feeling, and knowing that your connection is secured and encrypted goes a long way towards making it more comfortable to check your email, log in to your social networks, and generally use the web through your proxy when you're out and about as though you were at home (because, effectively, you are!) Photo by Ed Yourdon.

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 favourite games offer. Photo by dbgg1979.

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.

Use Hamachi for Zero Configuration Remote Access and Streaming

Along with secure browsing, running Hamachi at home while you're travelling gives you a great way to get access to your files at home without the need for remote desktop tools. If it's just movies, music or photos you're looking for, a shared folder on your home computer will do the trick. If you use iTunes, you can use Home Sharing to stream anything in your library at home to the computer you have. That means you can relax in your hotel room across the country and stream the movies you have downloaded to your HTPC, or stream the music you have stored on your home PC, effortlessly, as though you were right there. Photo by myvector (Shutterstock).

You may not care about streaming music if you're already using a cloud-based music service when you're away from home, but when it comes to movies, TV shows, photos or other media that's too much for your Dropbox account, using Hamachi when you're on the go is a great option. Speaking of bandwidth, it's worth mentioning here that when you stream movies to your PC while connected via Hamachi, you're limited to your upload speed at home, and you are using bandwidth on your home connection — so if you have an ISP that throttles after a certain bandwidth limit, you may want to exercise some caution.

You can also get out from under services like GoToMyPC or even LogMeIn Free, made by the same people who now manage Hamachi. With Hamachi installed and active, you can remote desktop natively or use VNC to connect to any computer on your home network if you want to use it as though you were there, all without worrying about port forwarding or tweaking your router to make sure you can connect from outside of your network.

Enjoy the Benefits

These uses just scratch the surface of some of the things you can do with a tool like Hamachi. There are caveats, like using bandwidth on your home connection as well as where you are, and the potential slowness that comes with being limited by your upload speed at home, but the benefits of a VPN go past just accessing the files on your home network and connecting to the internet as though you were sitting right there at home. LAN gaming, collaborating on an ad-hoc network with friends or coworkers, secure browsing, they're all easy to set up once you have your own VPN up and running.

What are some of your favourite uses for Hamachi — or your favourite VPN client — beyond simple secure tunnelling? Let us know in the comments below.


Comments

    How do you add wifi appliances like DVD players and streaming radios to the VPN?

      The best way would be to share the internet access from your computer to the device. That way you can have the computer on the vpn and then the dvd player is running from that computer. I don't know of any appliances that are compatible with a vpn client

    MikeW, I use Overplay.Net on all my wifi based devices so I can appear to be from another country.

    You do not even need a wifi router.

    All you need is a wireless adapter installed on the desktop and most laptops have them built in.

    Install both Overplay, and Connectify.

    Then first start up Overplay, Then start up connectify. Then all wireless devices will be using an ip from any country you want to hide under. Overplay is 9.99 per month unlimited.

    Connectify has free and paid versions. My google tv and roku works great under the vpn.

    If you want to be able to leave your network devices on vpn permanently you will need a vpn client router.

    I got mine from http://www.sabaitechnology.com/, they say they are for StrongVPN but I know they work with OpenVPN and are really easy to setup. I don't know if they will work with Himachi though.

    Sabai routers also let you do dual gateway on one router so you can be local and on vpn at the same time.

    im assuming vpn still uses your isp data usage, i.e. you dont want to set up a data share of videos and files with your friends via vpn with little usage data limits?

    I used LogMein a while ago to get access to some files I had on my home computer. Worked OK, but sometimes the connection "lagged" on remote access, pretty annoying.

    Anyway, if you only need to route your traffic, a commercial VPN is the best way to go around it. Right now I`m using OpenVPN from this provider: http://www.sunvpn.com/ , it`s pretty easy to setup and use .

    Setting up your own VPN server might be more expensive in the end, with a decent VPS costing ~30$/month, and you only get 1 gateway, while most VPN providers offer access to many servers.

    You do not need a router if you use connectify. I use Overplay on the main system and have connectify sending out wifi over the air. So all my devices run without needing a router. and they are all under a hidden ip from another country. and since Overplay has smart dns, I can still access netflix and other things back in the usa even under a non american ip.

    No router being used.

    I've been using the HMA service for a few years now to watch UK TV from outside of the UK and have found it to be flawless. Cheaper than the Overplay service mentioned above, but I haven't yet found it lacking in any way.
    Worth a look, it's a simple setup with lots of locations worldwide, available from http://hidemyiponline.com/hmvpn
    Going to look into setting up my own on a VPS, though, just a pain that I'd need a UK-based VPS and they're pretty expensive in the UK.

    I used Hamachi for years, but found it pretty slow for file transfers, so I'm skeptical about its ability to turn my home PC into a VPN server for me while traveling, particularly for something so bandwidth-intensive as streaming movies.

    My primary concerns are about security and file access rather than streaming. For access to my PC I primarily use TeamViewer, which provides both remote control and file transfer. I have lots of files in the cloud via SugarSync and SkyDrive (free versions of both) and pay for CrashPlan anyway for backup security, which gives me access to anything I have backed up (which is nearly a TB at the moment). For security while traveling, I use a commercial VPN service (AceVPN is excellent, but I've recently switched to ibVPN to save some money and it is also very good). There are a couple well-established free VPN services such as HotspotShield, which I've used in the past, It worked well and for the security it provides, the ads were acceptable.

    If your needs are online security/privacy and file access rather than media streaming, there are a number of free ways of accomplishing that in addition to Hamachi.

    i need a VPN that allows a remote computer to run a program that uses a database from my primary office server. Will Himachi do this or does Himachi just connect a computer to another computer. I loaded Himachi onto my server and onto my laptop last night and then tried to print to my office printer from my hoe with no luck. Any help would be appreciated.

    How does this compare to using VPN software? I now use one from vpnexpress.net that works fine without configuration, but I would like to know how setting one up compares.

    Firesheep has really made it known to the four corners what danger we are really in on the net. We can't blame anyone, but now we know how important it is to protect our personal data. SSL based VPNs are the safest now, so I would suggest http://www.primovpn.net VPN. I haven't had a single suspicious anything since I started using it.

    I have tried to download Hamachi and advised "Your operating system is currently not supported by Longheim Hamachi. My o/s is Linux Mint16. Would appreciate your advice as wish to use a VPN & appears may have topurhase one which I am possibly prepared to do but which one???

      If the linux binaries don't work, maybe try using WINE.

    You can set up your own VPN directly from windows, no software needed?!

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