Although based heavily on an underlying Windows 7 architecture, Windows 8 has its own quirks (above and beyond the rather counter-intuitive division of the operating system into a touch based ‘Modern’ (formerly known as Metro) interface and a more traditional Windows ‘Desktop’ mode. Once you get used to the new way of doing things then everything works well, but not all VPN’s have caught up with the new technology, and their VPN clients’ can work unpredictably. Until they catch up, or if they decide to stick with the built-in Windows VPN solutions and open source OpenVPN client (as many smaller VPN providers quite reasonably do in order to to save on the costs associated with developing a bespoke solution), then being able to manually configure VPN in Windows 8 becomes particularly important.
Setting Up PPTP in Windows 8
Although not a secure VPN protocol (see here for a discussion on how Microsoft itself, who invented PPTP recommends against its use), PPTP is built into Windows 8 and is the easiest and quickest means of setting up a VPN connection. While we whole-heartedly join Microsoft in encouraging you to use a more secure protocol, PPTP is still useful for quick and easy VPN setup.
1. From either the Modern or Desktop screens, position your mouse cursor in the bottom left corner until the change screen icon appears, the right-click. Alternatively, press Windows key + x. Then select Control Panel.
2. Click on ’View Network Status and tasks’.
3. In the Network and Sharing Center click on ‘Set up a new connection or Network’.
4. Choose ‘Connect to a workplace’ and then click ‘Next’.
5. Click on ‘Use my Internet connection (VPN)’.
6. Enter the ‘Internet address’ given by your VPN provider, and name the connection anything you like. Tick the ‘Remember my credentials box’ to save yourself time in the future, and then click ‘Create’.
7. You are now set up. To connect, either:
a) From the Desktop mode, click on the Network Icon in the Task Bar (bottom right corner of screen).
b) or from the Modern interface press the Windows key + i to bring up the Settings sidebar and then click on the Network Icon.
8. In the Network bar select your newly created connection and then click Connect.
9. You will be prompted for your VPN Use name and Password.
Setting up L2PT/IPsec in Windows 8
Another Microsoft standard, the L2TP/IPsec VPN protocol/encryption method is very secure of keeping prying eyes from your data. We talk about the subject in quite a bit a bit of detail in this article, but the long and the short of it is that OpenVPN is in general considered slightly superior but L2TP/IPsec is built into Windows and so needs no third party software to get running.
Steps 1 – 7 are identical to those for setting up PPTP above.
8. Right-click on the newly created connection and select ‘View connection properties’.
9. Click on the ‘Security’ tab, select ‘Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol with IPsec (L2TP/IPsec)’ from the drop down ‘Type of VPN’ menu, and then click on ‘Advanced settings’.
10. Select the ‘Use preshared key for authentication’ radio button, fill box with the key provided by your VPN provider and click ‘OK’.
11. Ensure the settings on the Security tab page match those specified by your VPN provider. If they do not provide settings specifically for Windows 8 then those for Windows 7 will probably work.
12. Under the networking tab you will usually be asked to disable everything except ‘Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6) and sometimes ‘File and Printer Sharing’. Click ok.
13. Back at the Networks bar, click on the connection, select ‘Connect’ and enter your VPN details.
Setting Up OpenVPN in Windows 8
As with all other Operating Systems, using OpenVPN in Windows 8 requires third party software. If not using the VPN provider’s custom VPN client than you will need to download the open source OpenVPN client from OpenVPN.net.
1. Install the client
2. From the Modern screen right click the OpenVPN icon and select ‘Open file location’ from the Action Bar.
3. Right click on the OpenVPN GUI icon (alternatively, find the icon on the Desktop and right-click it there) and select Properties.
4. Go to the Compatibility tab and check the ‘Run this program as an administrator’ box before clicking OK.
5. Download the OpenVPN configuration files from your VPN provider, and unzip them into the config folder of the OpenVPN install directory (usually C:\Program Files (x86)\OpenVPN\config, or be C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config). You need only unzip the files for the VPN servers you think you are likely to use.
6. Double click the OpenVPN GUI icon and you will see a small red icon appear in the Task Bar.
7. Right-click on the icon, choose the server you want connect to, and click ‘Connect’.
8. Tad-da! The icon turns green to let you that you are connected.
Windows 8 is still a new operating system, and many software developers (not to mention many users!) are still finding their way around it. In theory (please see the note below) it is easy to set up PPTP and only slightly more complicated to set up L2TP/IPsec, but for the time being it may be best to stick with OpenVPN, which although needing third party software is also uncomplicated to set and is, anyway, the most secure VPN protocol in general use (we will include an installation guide for SSTP when we review such a service).
Important Note: The steps for setting up PPTP and L2TP in Windows 8 are correct and should work. However, eagle eyed readers may have spotted that we did not include a final ‘and now you are connected’ step. This is because we were in fact unable to connect using these protocols. Following discussions with the VPN provider’s (Private Internet Access) technical support team, it appears (there is still some confusion) to be provider specific problem regarding the configuration of their server. How wide spread this problem (if that indeed is the problem) is with other VPN providers we are not sure, but rest assured that we will be investigating the situation and will report back here with our findings.