I just wanted a VPN

Being on the road 75-80% of the time means relying on a lot of different Wi-Fi signals to access my information. I am a huge adopter of the cloud for my personal data, in addition to being a heavy user of online banking and other secure web applications.

I can’t remember if it was a specific article or security breach that piqued my interest in doing something, but the concepts in these articles was definitely swirling in my head:

Truth be told, I think I finally pulled the trigger on a VPN over a soccer game. I am a huge Seattle Sounders fan. For some reason, Major League Soccer makes it extremely difficult for fans to watch games. This is true even if you’re willing to pay $$! There was one game in particular that was available only on YouTube TV, only in the Seattle region.

So you know what I ended up with that day? A YouTube TV and VPN subscription.

I signed up for Private Internet Access after reading a few articles on top VPN services. For under $40 per year, I got servers everywhere I needed (really only Seattle), an easy to use mobile app, and the choice to use the desktop app or the Chrome extension on my laptop.

PIA was a solid service, don’t get me wrong. Reliable connection in a variety of settings, on a variety of devices. There was just one fatal flaw:

My banks all thought someone was hacking my account.

Now I can’t tell you exactly how banks decide whether you are logging in from a suspicious location or not. I regularly logged in from Wi-Fi points all over the domestic US. Occasionally, I would have to verify it was me, but then I would have no other problems the rest of the trip.

But it wasn’t just banks – it was everything from Gmail to Outlook to GoDaddy.

Using a my PIA VPN was virtually useless; the time I would want it most is when I access sensitive information like banking. Is this already encrypted over HTTPS? I am no expert on this, but I do know that I feel better with that added layer of security when on open Wi-Fi connections.

The move to a home server

With security top of mind, I reasoned that a VPN which routed to my own home would both offer me security and avoid tripping the fraud detection systems.

What would I be losing? The $40 annual subscription cost, a small win. I would also be losing the anonymizing effect of mixed traffic on a shared VPN server. Most importantly, perhaps, is losing the ability to have an IP address in Seattle, Chicago, or pretty much any other major world city.

Don’t care about anonymizing my data. I am trusting that they don’t log at PIA, but do I really know? Nope. Do I really need/want to be able to connect to servers across the globe? Nope. That was exactly what was causing my login issues.

After some fumbling, trial and error, and other issues – I have a Dell PowerEdge in my living room running CentOS. Of course I am running OpenVPN – see vpn.nikwong.com – and hosting three (and counting) WordPress sites. An instance of Big Blue Button is live. And I am constantly on r/selfhosted looking for more ideas.

I’m a full on nerd. I’ll expand more on my experience in the setup and config in future stories, but this all started with just wanting a VPN.

Do you need a VPN for personal use? Reach out – I’ll hook a select few up with free accounts to run low-traffic, secure connections on my server.

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