Ubuntu as a home server. Part 2. Open VPN.

    • Ubuntu
    • OpenVPN
    • Tunnelblick
    • easy-rsa
  • modified:
  • reading: 10 minutes
  1. Dynamic DNS.
  2. OpenVPN.
  3. AFP Server (for OS X).
  4. SMB server (for Windows and Linux).
  5. Reliability (Backups).

In part 1 we configured DNS name for our home server, which we can use outside of our network to find it. After that you have an option to make some ports available for public access, like Remote Desktop, ssh and VNC server and just protect these services by password. This solution is not very secure, because somebody can attack you in two different ways: brute-force your password or use Man-in-the-middle attack. You probably think that because you are not so important that nobody has a reason to attack you. This is not true, illegal botnets always are looking for new members.


So what you can do for that? You can use OpenVPN. It protects you from brute-force attach by just not accepting clients with invalid certificates and it does not allow to perform Man-in-the-middle attack, because your client always will verify server certificate (just make sure to keep your keys in safe place).

The other reason to use OpenVPN is to protect yourself when you use public WiFi networks from Session hijacking. To do that you can connect to your own home server, and transfer all network traffic to your home server using encrypted channel, so nobody on this public WiFi network will see what you are doing, they will only see that you are connected to home server.

Prepare OpenVPN server

On Ubuntu you can switch to root session, because these steps will require to perform a lot of root commands, you can do it by

$ sudo -s

You can read detailed explanation of all steps on Ubuntu Server Guide → VPN,

# install openvpn and easy-rsa to generate certificates and keys
root $ apt-get install openvpn easy-rsa
# create a folder for keys and certificates /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
root $ mkdir /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
# copy examples of configuration files for easy-rsa
root $ cp -r /usr/share/easy-rsa/* /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
# edit certificate authority properties (this is not very important)
# just something you will see in certificate definitions
# so don't spend to much time on what to specify in these fields
root $ vim /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/vars

In file vars you just need to adjust next lines

export KEY_CITY="Settle"
export KEY_ORG="example"
export KEY_EMAIL="vpn@example.com"
export KEY_OU="vpn.example.com"

After that create your Certificate Authority

root $ cd /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
# load all specified by you settings in Environment Variables
root $ source vars
root $ ./clean-all
# generate your master certificate and key, 
# this will generate a certificate of your Certificate Authority
# all other certificates will depend on this one
root $ ./build-ca

Generate server certificate

Every time when you will need to generate certificates you need to be sure that you did source vars. If you still in the same session as we started, just continue to execute commands

# generate server certificate 
# this will guarantee for clients that this is your home server
# all parameters will be defined from vars file, so just accept all of
# them and at the end say yes for ""Sign the certificate?" and "Commit?"
root $ ./build-key-server vpn.example.com
# Generate Diffie Hellman parameters
# This one is used by OpenVPN for keys exchange
# see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffie–Hellman_key_exchange
root $ ./build-dh

All your keys and certificates will be generated in /etc/openvpn/keys folder. Keep it secure!

For the server you will need to use 4 files which you should copy to folder /etc/openvpn/ (this is where OpenVPN is looking for config files by default)

root $ cd /etc/openvpn/keys
root $ cp vpn.example.com.crt vpn.example.com.key ca.crt dh2048.pem /etc/openvpn/

Generate client certificates

After that you can generate as many client certificates as you need. Better to use one certificate per client, so if it will be compromised you can easily revoke it.

You can come back to this step any time when you need to generate client certificates, just don’t forget to do source vars before that

# don't need to do these 2 steps if you still in the same session
root $ cd /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
root $ source vars
# generate client key and certificate (name myphone should be unique)
# you can keep all settings by default
root $ ./build-key myphone

For client you only need to use next files:


You will need to transfer these files with configuration later to your devices.

Setup OpenVPN server

In this example I’m going to setup two VPN servers, because in most cases I need to just get access to the home network without redirecting my Internet thought VPN. So one VPN network will allow me to redirect Internet traffic and other one will allow me to get access to home network. And yes, you can use both at the same time.

… to safely browse Internet on public networks

This one is very simple to do, just copy sample configuration files and do some adjustments

root $ cp /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/server.conf.gz /etc/openvpn/
root $ gzip -d /etc/openvpn/server.conf.gz

Save server.conf as a backup file and rename it to something more meaningful for you

root $ cp /etc/openvpn/server.conf /etc/openvpn/server.conf.bak
root $ mv /etc/openvpn/server.conf /etc/openvpn/server-internet.conf

Edit /etc/openvpn/server-internet.conf file

root $ vim server-internet.conf

Most important settings which we want to modify

# Using 80 or 443 ports is a good idea if you don't 
# need to host any websites on your home server.
# Some public WiFi can block not HTTP/HTTPS ports, so
# using 80 or 443 will guarantee connection to VPN
port 80

# Take these files from /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/keys/
ca ca.crt
cert vpn.example.com.crt
key vpn.example.com.key

# In example file I had dh1024.pem but build-dh generates dh2048.pem 
# by default, so don't forget to update
dh dh2048.pem

# Configure range of IP addresses for this VPN network

# Configuration for clients to direct all Internet traffic through this VPN
push "redirect-gateway def1 bypass-dhcp"

# I use Google DNS servers
push "dhcp-option DNS"
push "dhcp-option DNS"

All other settings you can keep by default or modify after reading manual.

Restart openvpn service to load this configuration

root $ service openvpn restart

You can verify that you now have tun0 network interface

root $ ifconfig

The last step is to configure IP forwarding on Ubuntu

First we need to enable IP forwarding by

root $ sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1

To persist this setting between restarts you also need to edit /etc/sysctl.conf and uncomment/add this line


After that add couple of rules to iptables, don’t forget to update your network mask and Ethernet interface eth0 (probably you will have eth0 by default)

root & iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s -o eth0 -j MASQUERADE
root & iptables -A FORWARD -p tcp -s -d -j ACCEPT

To persist these settings we need to save them to file

root $ sh -c "iptables-save > /etc/iptables.rules"

And auto load them on boot, edit /etc/network/interfaces file

root $ vim /etc/network/interfaces

To include line which will load iptables.rules

auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp
  pre-up iptables-restore < /etc/iptables.rules

Server is ready for VPN. But before configuring clients let’s add one more VPN configuration, which will allow us to connect to home network.

… to get access to home network

Let’s setup second configuration

root $ cp /etc/openvpn/server.conf.bak /etc/openvpn/server-home.conf

Where we will specify

# For Internet we used port 80, for this VPN 443
port 443

# The same server certificates
ca ca.crt
cert vpn.outcoldman.com.crt
key vpn.outcoldman.com.key

# Update DH file, because we used 2048 bit key
dh dh2048.pem

# Specify which subnet we want to use (it should be different from above)

# Push route for home network
# This setting depends on your own home settings, verify them with 
# `ifconfig eth0`, in most cases if your home IP address is 192.168.1.x 
# this setting should work for you  
push "route"

# Because we also want to be able to reach devices at home by name, let's
# push DNS settings
# Again first DNS record depends on your home configuration. 
# This is a gateway IP address (usually your home router)
# Second record here appends .home domain when it is not specified
# Without this setting OpenVPN can add some other weird names like `example.openvpn`
push "dhcp-option DNS"
push "dhcp-option DOMAIN home"

# this setting tells what is doing

Restart openvpn service

root $ service openvpn restart

Verify that new interface created (probably tun1)

root $ ifconfig

After that we need to configure iptables again (verify network interface names tun1 and eth0, also VPN subnet and home subnet)

# To allow traffic initialized from VPN to access LAN
root $ iptables -I FORWARD -i tun1 -o eth0  -s -d -m conntrack --ctstate NEW -j ACCEPT
# Allow to pass traffic back and forth
root $ iptables -I FORWARD -m conntrack --ctstate RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT

And don’t forget to persist ipconfig settings. If your configured previous VPN than just save it again

root $ sh -c "iptables-save > /etc/iptables.rules"

No need to modify /etc/network/interfaces again.

Ok, so clients know how to communicate to devices on your home network, but devices on your home network don’t know how to get back to connected to VPN clients. To do that you will need to update Routing Tables on your devices, the easiest way to do that will be to add them to your home router (if it supports that).

This is how it looks in my case, where - subnet of my VPN network ( should be in our example) and - address of my Ubuntu Server (OpenVPN server) in my home network

Routing Table

Setup OpenVPN client

Does not matter which client you are going to setup you always need 4 files


Linux client

Install openvpn

$ sudo apt-get install openvpn

Copy example configuration

$ cp /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/client.conf /etc/openvpn/

Download ca.crt, mylinuxclient.crt and mylinuxclient.key from OpenVPN server (mylinuxclient.* files are generated with ./build-key mylinuxclient) and copy them in /etc/openvpn/.

Adjust client.conf

$ sudo vim /etc/openvpn/client.conf

Most important settings are

# remote server name and port
remote vpn.example.com 80
ca ca.crt
cert mylinuxclient.crt
key mylinuxclient.key

Restart openvpn service

$ sudo service openvpn restart

Verify that new network interface tun0 has been created

# ifconfig

Verify that everything is fine in syslog

$ grep vpn /var/log/syslog | tail -50

If you connected to VPN which forwards Internet traffic through VPN server check that IP address has been changed

$ curl http://ifconfig.me/ips

OS X Client

The best client as I know is Tunnelblick. Download it, install it and start it.

Create new folder somewhere, for example on desktop

$ mkdir ~/Desktop/vpn

Download ca.crt, myosxclient.crt and myosxclient.key from OpenVPN server (mylinuxclient.* files are generated with ./build-key myosxclient) and copy them in ~/Desktop/vpn.

Copy sample configuration file

$ cp /Applications/Tunnelblick.app/Contents/Resources/openvpn.conf ~/Desktop/vpn 

Adjust it

remote vpn.example.com 80
ca ca.crt
cert myosxclient.crt
key myosxclient.key

Rename folder to vpn.tblk and open it

$ mv ~/Desktop/vpn ~/Desktop/vpn.tblk
$ open ~/Desktop/vpn.tblk

Last command will open it and add it to Tunnelblick.

iOS Client

First of all install OpenVPN on your device.

Do everything as you did for OS X Client, but instead of renaming and opening this folder in Tunnelblick you need to copy this folder on your iOS device. I used iTunes for that: go to the tab Apps, section File Sharing, select OpenVPN and add all 4 files to this application. Do sync and after that in OpenVPN application on your iOS device you will see something like 1 new OpenVPN profile is available for import

Android Client

Install OpenVPN on your device. Again, do the same settings as for OS X Client, but instead of renaming and opening this folder in Tunnelblick you need to copy this folder on your Android device.

Use Android File Transfer tool to copy these files on your device and do import.

See Also