When it comes to staying secure online, nothing does a better job than a VPN. Though they aren’t flawless, VPNs help you stay protected by routing your traffic anonymously through servers around the world, in order to make your footprints disappear. Whether you’re just trying to avoid being tracked by advertisers, or you want to change your location in order to stream out-of-region Netflix movies, using a VPN when browsing online is a no-brainer.
Of course, a VPN doesn’t do you any good if you’re leaving behind breadcrumbs that lead right to your door. That’s exactly what could happen if you use a Chromecast without proper VPN coverage. You might have your VPN running on your mobile device, but the minute you cast over to your television for movie night, you’re risking being tracked again. Is there a way to use your VPN with Chromecast, or are you doomed to be caught no matter what?
Using a VPN with Chromecast
Obviously, your Chromecast requires an internet connection to work properly, running right over your home network to allow for casting movies, shows, and music from your phone. Unlike devices like Amazon’s Fire Stick or Apple TV, Google’s Chromecast doesn’t run dedicated apps, so there’s no way to install a VPN app on your device. Likewise, there’s no way to dive into the settings of your Chromecast to change its network settings as if it were a smartphone, which means you might be out of luck.
Or at least, you would be, if VPNs weren’t flexible. While you can’t install a VPN directly on your device, you can setup your VPN to work natively with your router, moving all traffic on your home network through your VPN. This isn’t quite as simple as installing a VPN on your computer or smartphone, but if you have the time, it can really be worth securing your entire network.
You can configure a virtual router on a Windows or Mac computer but if you have a VPN-enabled router, it is safer and easier to use that. Routing all of your internet traffic through the router by default means no configuration on any computers, phones or IoT devices in your home. You don’t need to install VPN software and you don’t need to remember to turn it on.
If you don’t have a VPN-enabled router (and you likely do, since setting up a VPN is mostly software-based), you can potentially upgrade the firmware to DD-WRT or Tomato. Either of these work with a range of router makes and models. If you have a compatible router, you could upgrade your firmware to one of these and turn your $100 router into something that would normally cost closer to $1000.
The downside of VPNs is that all of your traffic will route through the VPN, unless you disable the VPN at the router level. For the most part, this shouldn’t cause any issues, but if you select a VPN endpoint in a different country or somewhere not close to you, any location-aware website will get confused and require manual intervention. Again, this may not be an issue for you, but it’s worth being aware of the consequences. For example, if you shop online, you may receive different listings and pricing than you would in your home country. It’s a small issue—and if you set your VPN to route in your home country, one that won’t matter to you at all—but something to bear in mind depending on how you use the internet.
The other main downside of VPNs comes from your endpoint locations. VPN endpoints are where your secure tunnel ends and reverts back to a standard internet connection. Most VPN providers spread hundreds of endpoints across the country, but it’s still a good idea to make sure you’re on a stable connection. Look for a VPN provider that has endpoints in your city or region, in addition to other states and countries. That way, you get maximum spread and can choose your locations depending on your needs.
Speed used to be an issue with VPN thanks to its traffic overhead. This is the extra data generated by the security of a VPN and the fact traffic has to travel further. This is less of an issue now, especially if you use a good quality VPN provider. TechJunkie has a bunch of articles on choosing a VPN provider to help with that.
Setting up a VPN on your router
Setting up a VPN on your router will require you to know the VPN settings from your provider. You will need the URL or IP address of the VPN server, your username and password and any security settings the provider uses. This will all usually be in the account section of the provider’s website.
Most good providers will offer guides and walkthroughs to set up their services on your router. It makes sense to follow them if they have them. Some router providers provide their own firmware you can install on your router but I would suggest using configuration instead as it retains control over what your router does.
Typical router configuration should go something like this:
- Add the DNS and DHCP settings as provided by your VPN provider to the router.
- Disable IPv6 if required.
- Select a VPN server address from those available from your provider.
- Select TCP or UDP as a tunnel protocol.
- Select an encryption method (AES).
- Add your VPN username and password.
Block Google DNS
Next you need to block Google DNS in order for the Chromecast to work properly over a VPN. This is more router configuration but is very straightforward. You essentially create a static route that bypasses Google DNS. This won’t work if you already use Google DNS on your router. If you want to use a Chromecast over VPN, you will have to change your DNS first.
Again, it is difficult to be specific as router configuration differs between manufacturers, but on my Linksys router I had to do this:
- Log into the router and select Connectivity and then Advanced Routing.
- Select Add Static Route and give it a name.
- Add Destination IP as 220.127.116.11 (Google DNS address).
- Add the subnet mask as 255.255.255.255.
- Add the gateway address as your router’s IP address.
- Select Save.
- Repeat for Google’s other DNS address 18.104.22.168.
After you save this configuration, you should be able to stream using your Chromecast without a problem. You will also benefit from enhanced security with all your internet traffic. Your ISP, government and anyone else who is interested in what you do online will no longer be able to see what you’re doing and you have taken a huge stride in improving your online privacy.