With over 37 million devices sold as of early 2022, the Raspberry Pi has become one of the most popular single-board computers on the market. As a low-cost, flexible device that‘s only the size of a credit card, Raspberry Pis have been put to use in everything from DIY tech projects to building smart home devices.
But with the capability to browse the web, stream content, and connect to the internet just like any other computer, an important question arises – should you be using a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your Raspberry Pi?
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about using a VPN with a Raspberry Pi.
What Exactly is a Raspberry Pi?
Let‘s start with a quick overview of what exactly the Raspberry Pi is.
The Raspberry Pi is a small, affordable single-board computer developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK. The first generation model was released in 2012, priced at just $25.
Unlike a traditional desktop computer, the Raspberry Pi is a bare-bones system on a single circuit board. Different models feature components like:
- Broadcom system-on-a-chip processor (recent models use 1.5GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 processors)
- 1GB to 8GB RAM
- MicroSD card slot for operating system and storage
- HDMI port for video output
- 4 USB 2.0 ports for mouse, keyboard, and other accessories
- 40 GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins for connecting electronic components
- Wireless LAN and Bluetooth connectivity
The Raspberry Pi runs on a Linux-based operating system, such as the official Raspberry Pi OS based on Debian. This allows users to get up and running with a fully functional computer capable of web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and more.
But the real advantage of the Raspberry Pi is its versatility. Its small size, affordability and GNU/Linux OS make it the perfect low-powered computer for electronics hobbyists. The GPIO pins allow you to control and connect external components like sensors, motors and lights.
Some of the most popular uses for Raspberry Pis include:
- Building retro game consoles – Its HDMI output and USB ports make it easy to connect game controllers and play classic games using emulators.
- Programming robots and electronics – Students use it as an affordable way to learn coding and robotics.
- Media centers – Install media center software like Kodi to stream videos, music and TV shows.
- Home automation – Control smart home devices like lights, thermostats and security cameras.
- Web servers – Host websites and web apps from anywhere with a tiny, low-power consumption device.
- And many other DIY projects!
With so many cool uses across education, tech projects and home entertainment, it‘s no wonder why over 37 million Raspberry Pis have been sold globally. They provide an affordable way for programmers, students and hobbyists to learn hands-on tech skills.
Do You Need a VPN for Your Raspberry Pi?
Now that you understand exactly what a Raspberry Pi is, let‘s get to the central question – should you be using a VPN to secure your Raspberry Pi?
The short answer is yes, absolutely.
A VPN encrypts all the internet traffic to and from your device. This applies to any Raspberry Pi activities like web browsing, streaming media or using PiHole as a network-wide ad blocker.
Here are three key reasons why using a VPN is crucial for your Raspberry Pi:
1. Encrypt Web Traffic from Prying Eyes
On public WiFi networks, like at coffee shops and hotels, it‘s easy for hackers to intercept data being transmitted over the open network. This is known as a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack.
A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and the VPN server. Even if someone manages to intercept the data, they won‘t be able to actually read or access it.
This added encryption prevents snoops from stealing sensitive information as you browse the web, use online banking apps or make purchases online.
2. Bypass Internet Censorship
VPNs allow you to route your web traffic through servers located in different countries. This allows you to bypass geographic restrictions and internet censorship.
For example, if you‘re traveling abroad you may find some websites blocked by the local government. Connect to a VPN server elsewhere and you can circumvent this censorship.
A VPN also lets you access streaming content that is normally geo-restricted. By changing your virtual location with a VPN, you can watch overseas TV shows and sporting events not available in your area.
3. Stop Throttling and Enjoy Faster Speeds
Some internet service providers will throttle bandwidth usage during peak congestion times to manage traffic. This can significantly slow down your connection speeds.
By routing your traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel, you bypass your ISP‘s throttling efforts. This results in faster download and browsing speeds, which is particularly useful when streaming large media files or downloading torrents.
Real-World Examples of VPN Protection
To demonstrate the very real threats, here are two examples of how a VPN helps keep your Raspberry Pi safe:
- Public WiFi snooping – Free public WiFi is convenient, but also risky. Hackers can intercept credentials and data on unsecured networks using sniffing tools. A VPN encrypts all traffic to keep it safe from prying eyes. No more worrying about using that free airport WiFi!
- Bypass geo-blocks – Streaming sites like Netflix restrict content based on geographic location. Connect your Raspberry Pi media center to a VPN server in another country, and you can bypass the geo-blocks to unlock more movies and shows.
So in summary, a VPN adds a critical layer of security and privacy for your online activities on a Raspberry Pi. The encryption and ability to change virtual locations open up many useful benefits.
How to Set Up and Use a VPN on Your Raspberry Pi
Ready to get started securing your Raspberry Pi with a VPN? The setup process is straightforward, although there are a few requirements:
- You‘ll need a paid VPN subscription from a provider that offers a Linux VPN app, like NordVPN, ExpressVPN or Mullvad.
- The VPN client must support OpenVPN or WireGuard protocols. These are the preferred encrypted tunneling protocols on Linux-based systems.
Here‘s an overview of the setup process once you‘ve signed up for a compatible VPN service:
- Log into your VPN account and download the Linux client from their website. Usually this comes in a .deb or .rpm file.
- Install the VPN client package on your Raspberry Pi using the command line terminal.
- Run the client app to configure your login details like username and password.
- Connect to your preferred VPN server location to establish the encrypted tunnel.
- Ensure your traffic is being routed properly and DNS lookups are using the VPN tunnel.
Your VPN provider should have specific setup instructions for installing and using their Linux client on a Raspberry Pi. But in essence, those are the key steps to get up and running.
Here are some troubleshooting tips in case you run into any issues getting your VPN working properly on a Raspberry Pi:
- Double check protocols – Your VPN provider and Raspberry Pi client must use compatible tunneling protocols like OpenVPN or WireGuard.
- Try different server locations – Connecting to a different VPN server location can help if speeds are slow.
- Update VPN client and OS – Maintaining the latest versions helps maintain performance and compatibility.
- Check logs – Review the client logs to pinpoint any connection or configuration problems.
- Seek assistance – Most paid VPN services have helpful customer support to solve setup issues.
With the client installed and connected to a server, your Raspberry Pi‘s internet traffic will now be encrypted and secured!
Building Your Own Raspberry Pi VPN Server
Rather than using a commercial VPN provider, an alternative is to set up your own VPN server directly on your Raspberry Pi.
This advanced approach takes more effort, but gives you full control to configure and manage your VPN. It also lets you use your Pi as a VPN router to protect all traffic across your entire home network.
Here‘s an overview of how to build your own VPN:
- First install a Linux distro like Raspberry Pi OS on your device, with a fresh microSD card.
- Next you‘ll need to install VPN server software, like PiVPN or OpenVPN. There are also guides for setting up WireGuard servers on Raspberry Pis.
- Generate and configure all the requisite certificates, keys and credentials.
- Tweak the server settings for optimal security, performance and ease of use.
- Port forward your router to your Pi so you can connect from other devices.
Now you can connect all your home and mobile devices to your own personal VPN server. Traffic will be encrypted and your true IP address masked from the outside world.
Pros and Cons of a DIY Raspberry Pi VPN
Building your own VPN server has some advantages compared to signing up for a commercial VPN:
- Completely free, aside from the cost of your Pi
- Fine tune configuration to your specific needs
- Route all home network traffic through VPN
- Learn useful server admin and networking skills
- Requires advanced Linux/networking skills
- Lacks customer support if issues arise
- Limited to your home‘s internet speeds and bandwidth
- No access to 1000s of worldwide VPN server locations
So if you have the technical abilities, building your own VPN can be an excellent privacy project. But for most users, a commercial VPN service will be much easier to set up and manage.
The Best VPNs for Your Raspberry Pi
If you decide to go the commercial VPN route, it‘s crucial to choose a top-quality service designed specifically for Linux platforms like the Raspberry Pi.
Here are the main factors to look for:
✅ Optimized Linux apps – Must have dedicated Linux client with Raspberry Pi instructions.
✅ OpenVPN & WireGuard support – For best-in-class tunneling protocols.
✅ Speed – Look for fast server speeds to avoid lags.
✅ Worldwide servers – More locations means more ability to switch virtual position.
Based on extensive testing and research, these are my top recommended VPN services for use with a Raspberry Pi:
|VPN Service||Starting Price||Servers||Protocols|
|Private Internet Access||$2.03/month||35,000+||OpenVPN, WireGuard|
To break down the top contenders:
NordVPN is my top recommendation, thanks to its super fast WireGuard implementation and over 5,000 worldwide VPN servers. It offers industry-leading security, easy setup guides, and apps for all major platforms.
For budget-focused users, Surfshark comes in at just $2.49/month with 3,200+ servers. Security features like a private DNS and kill switch make it a great choice.
With a massive server network and great speeds, ExpressVPN is ideal for streaming and torrenting. The Linux app is user-friendly and easy to set up.
Private Internet Access
Boasting over 35,000 servers, Private Internet Access is packed with features at a low monthly cost. It‘s a great choice for tech-savvy open source enthusiasts.
Any of these premium VPNs will serve you well in securing and protecting your privacy on a Raspberry Pi device. Be sure to use their available guides and tutorials for installing on Linux-based systems.
Raspberry Pi VPN FAQs
To wrap things up, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using VPNs with the Raspberry Pi:
What is the Raspberry Pi best used for?
With its versatility and affordability, the Raspberry Pi is most popular for DIY tech projects like building retro gaming consoles, robotics, home automation systems, and media centers.
How do I make my Raspberry Pi more secure?
Using a VPN is the best way to secure and encrypt all web traffic to and from your Raspberry Pi. You should also change default passwords, enable the firewall, and install security updates.
Can I use a free VPN with my Raspberry Pi?
You can use a free VPN, but I advise against it. Free VPNs often lack critical privacy protections, have slower speeds, and may log/sell your usage data. Invest in a proven paid solution for optimal security.
Will a VPN slow down my Raspberry Pi connection speeds?
A well-optimized VPN will only have a minimal impact on speeds. Premium services like the ones recommended use the latest protocols (WireGuard, OpenVPN) that are very fast. Speeds largely depend on your base internet connection.
Is it illegal to use a VPN on a Raspberry Pi?
It is 100% legal to use a VPN on a Raspberry Pi in most countries. Some repressive regimes outlaw VPN usage, but otherwise VPNs are a perfectly legitimate way to protect your privacy online.
Secure Your Raspberry Pi – You Deserve Privacy
I hope this guide has helped demonstrate the importance of using a virtual private network with your Raspberry Pi. Encrypting your web traffic is crucial given how much sensitive data is transmitted online these days.
While setting up your own DIY VPN server is one approach, I recommend considering a premium solution like NordVPN or Surfshark. They make it easy to install and manage the VPN directly on your Raspberry Pi in just minutes.
No matter which projects you‘re using your Raspberry Pi for – streaming media, programming, building home automation systems – a VPN adds invaluable security. Your privacy matters, so take steps to protect it!