How to avoid VPN at home

    • VPN
    • OpenVPN
    • SSH
    • HTTPS
    • SSL
    • VNC
  • modified:
  • reading: 4 minutes

In October 2014 I wrote a blog post about how to setup Open VPN at home to have access to home server and all services from outside. This setup worked fine for me for a last year, but there were few annoying things which I did not like:

  • It was hard to make it work with VPN we use at my work. Conflicts in routing table. You forget to disconnect one of the VPNs when you put your laptop in sleep and after that you will start your day from cleaning routing table.
  • It is impossible to keep it connected all the time. But I need to have connection all the time to some services at home, like my GitLab server (where I host my configurations and dotfiles) or my wiki server, where I host my cheatsheets.
  • If you get new device - you need to set it up from the beginning to make it work with VPN.

I knew very simple solution: don’t use VPN, just expose all services outside. Obviously not the most secure solution. You don’t want to connect to them over HTTP. I’m not a paranoiac, but if it is possible to make it a little bit more secure with small effort - why not do that. So I will be less worry about when I should and when I should not connect to my home services when I’m connected to public Wi-Fi hotspot.

I bought a wildcard certificate and using the same docker deployment I used with VPN. I have set it up with the help of nginx-proxy. Now with I can very simple to deploy any service I want on my domain. For example if I want to deploy Jenkins I can just pull the image, run it in docker with special environment variable -e="" and I will have access to it from outside over HTTPS. Pertty cool. Wildcard certificates are expensive, and it was possible to use cheaper solutions:

  • Own signed certificate. But one of the annoying things will be to install root certificate to all your clients. Or just ignore warnings and certificate validation (which is not great).
  • One domain. And expose all services by using various root paths, like or It will be hard to make all services to work in that way.
  • Multi-domain certificate. You need to know all services ahead. Or you will need to regenerate it over and over.

So my setup consists now from next components:

  • Ubuntu server with Docker. Where I host a lot of services. Also two important containers are ddclient (see Dynamic DNS) and nginx-proxy.
  • My router forwards next ports:
    • 80 to nginx-proxy, which actually always redirects to 443.
    • 443 to nginx-proxy for HTTPS connections.
    • 10022 to GitLab (actually to Ubuntu server, which has GitLab docker image, which exposes SSH over this port). This is SSH connection to make git work over SSH.
    • 22 to my Mac mini.
  • On my Mac mini I disabled plain text passwords. So it is possible to connect to it only using SSH public keys installed in ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, so nobody will be able to brute force my password. It is easy to do, just modify file /etc/sshd_config, change the line ChallengeResponseAuthentication no from yes to no.

And the great part about SSH - you can tunnel anything from the internal network through SSH using next command



  • user - the username you use to connect to remote service
  • - remote machine name
  • {LOCAL_PORT} - local port on your local machine which will be used to tunnel traffic
  • {REMOTE_SERVICE} - remote service which can be accessible from remote machine
  • {REMOTE_PORT} - port of remote service which you want to access

For example this is how you tunnel VNC

ssh -L 15900:

Now you can connect to the vnc:// and it will forward you to the using

This is how you tunnel VNC for some other machine in your home network

ssh -L 25900:ubuntubox:5900

So now if you will try to connect to vnc:// you will be tunneled to the ubuntubox:5900 in your home network.

Useful tips:

  • If you will buy certificate from Comodo, read this Certificate Installation: NGINX about how to install certificates on nginx. Nothing hard, just don’t forget to combine three certificates in one. In other case you will see that some clients will reject your certificates (linux and Firefox).
  • If you will use ssh tunneling for VNC: most of the VNC clients support SSH tunneling as a configuration and they will automatically set up everything. I use Jump Desktop, which has built-in configuration for SSH.

See Also