VPN Server: Build Your Own Virtual Private Network

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In this tutorial, I will be going through the steps on how to setup a Raspberry Pi VPN server using the OpenVPN software. I will also go into setting up various things you must do to ensure that your connection is as secure as possible by setting up encryption keys.

This can be a bit of a long process, but it is a relatively simple tutorial to follow, and shouldn’t require any extra interaction once it has been configured.

Using a Raspberry Pi is a cheap way of setting up a virtual private network (VPN) that can stay online 24/7 without consuming a large amount of power. It’s small and powerful enough to handle a few connections at a time making it great for private use at home.

VPN’s are an incredibly useful network tool that can allow you to gain access to encrypted and secure internet traffic even when you are utilizing public Wi-Fi.

As an added bonus, you can also use it to allow yourself to connect to your own computer and access the home network. This allows your other devices that are located outside your local network to act as if they were on the local network of the VPN Server. For example, if you had a network attached storage server (NAS) that you wanted to access whilst away then a VPN server will be extremely handy in achieving a secure way to access it.

Getting prepared for your VPN server

Before we get started with setting up the Raspberry Pi VPN server there is a few things we must go over to ensure that you are ready to set it up and use it.

Firstly, for this tutorial it’s important to know that I am using a clean version of Raspbian. If you haven’t installed it and would like to learn how with this guide on installing Raspbian is extremely handy if you’re new to all this.

For starters, make sure you actually do need a VPN before you start setting this up, as it can act as a gateway into your home network.

If you do intend on using a VPN make sure all the computers on your home network are secure, and that you aren’t sharing anything within your local network that you wouldn’t want someone gaining access to.

Preparing your VPN Server’s IP Address

It’s important to decide whether you are going to make use of a static IP address or a dynamic IP address, setting up a VPN for a static IP address is a rather simple process and requires no extra work.

However, if you want to utilize a dynamic IP address you must make use of a dynamic DNS service.

If you choose to go down the dynamic DNS service route, then you should decide whether you want to make use of your own domain name, or a free one.

If you want to make use of your own domain name, then you can use a service like CloudFlare, if you want to make use of a free sub domain then a service such as no-ip.org will be useful for you.

You can check out our guide on setting up your Raspberry Pi for Dynamic DNS for more information.

Remember the domain name that you set up for either Cloudflare or no-ip.org as you will need this later on in the tutorial.

Port Forward for your Raspberry Pi VPN

The third important thing that you will need to get done before you start setting up your Raspberry Pi is to port forward for the OpenVPN software.

The default port you need to forward is 1194, however we recommend port forwarding a different port and using that instead to try and avoid open port scans on your home network. Remember the port you set as you will need this later on in the tutorial. The protocol you will have to make use of for this port is UDP.

If you are unsure on how to portforward on your router, we recommend looking your router up over on port forward.

Installing the VPN Server

1. Setting up a Raspberry Pi VPN Server can be quite a complicated process, normally you would have to install the software, generate the encryption keys, add the port to the firewall, set the Pi to keep a static IP address and much more.

Luckily for us there is a much easier way to setup a Raspberry Pi VPN server thanks to an install script called PiVPN, this handles all the grunt work for setting up a VPN and reduces the potential for making mistakes.

Before we get started, we should first change the password of the default pi user, this is to ensure if someone managed to gain access to your VPN they wouldn’t be able to access your Raspberry Pi easily.

2. With the password changed we can begin the process of setting up our VPN server on the Raspberry Pi. We can begin this process by running the command below, this command downloads the install script from PiVPN’s Github page and runs it.

Normally running a script straight from a URL is a poor idea, as it can be an easy way for someone to gain access to your Raspberry Pi and do some serious damage.

However this is a trusted source that we have verified, if you want to check out the code yourself, just go to the location of the script.

3. Once you have run the above command you should be met with the following screen. To proceed to the next screen you just need to press enter.

4. The next screen basically explains that it will need to setup a static IP address for the Raspberry Pi, this is so that when the Raspberry Pi is restarted for any reason, it will try and utilize the same IP address again.

5. On here we will just be selecting <Yes> to using the current network settings as a static local IP Address. If you are unhappy with the current settings, then select <No>.

6. The warning you are presented with after this basically warns you that there is a chance your router will assign the IP address to another device. Luckily most routers also let you set the IP address to static within its interface as well. For the most part you should be able to just ignore it. So just select <Ok> and press enter.

7. The next screen explains that we will need to set a local user that the OVPN configurations will be created for. You can just select <Ok> and go onto the next screen.

8. Here we will be presented with a list of users that we can choose. In this tutorial we will be just making use of the default pi user. Once you are happy with the user you have selected, press enter.

9. Now you will be presented with an explanation of unattended upgrades, this feature basically makes Raspbian automatically download security package updates to your Raspberry Pi daily.

This helps secure your Raspberry Pi which is incredibly important since we will be opening a port on the router. Select <Ok> to continue.

10. On this screen, we highly recommend selecting <Yes>. Leaving this feature switched off can pose a big security risk to your Raspberry Pi and potentially your home network.

11. Now we will be asked to set the protocol that OpenVPN will run through, we will be making use of UDP, only select TCP if you know why you need it. Press enter when you are happy with your choice.

12. Now we will be selecting the port OpenVPN will operate through, while you can just press enter to retain the default port of 1194, we do recommend changing this.

The reason to change it is that if someone does a default port scan on your IP address it will be much harder for them to know you have a VPN up and running.

13. Below is the confirmation screen for the port number you set, if you are happy with the port you have chosen then select <Yes> to continue.

14. Now we must choose the encryption key size, we recommend using 2048-bit encryption as it currently offers good protection without sacrificing speed.

If you are truly worried about the encryption of your connection then you can make use of the 4096-bit encryption key, however this will take some serious time and will slow the overall connection.

15. The next screen basically tells us what the PiVPN script is about to do, expect this process to take some time, it can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour. Select <Ok> to proceed.

16. We now need to decide whether we want to make use of our public IP Address or utilize a Dynamic IP service such as no-ip.org.

If you have a dynamic IP address then use the arrow keys to navigate up and down, and use spacebar to select the DNS Entry before pressing Enter.

17. If you selected DNS then you can set your DNS name here, this can be either a xxxxx.no-ip.org address or a domain name of your own choosing that points to your IP address. You should’ve set this up before completing this tutorial.

18. The next step is to select a DNS provider. A DNS provider is what resolves a URL into a IP address.
For the sake of simplicity, we will be just making use of Google’s public DNS servers, however they are known for recording the data that passes through them.

19. You have now successfully completed the installation of your Raspberry Pi VPN, while there are still a couple more things you will need to complete to allow connections, you are now about 90% done.

20. We will now be greeted by a screen asking for us to reboot the Raspberry Pi, just select <Yes> to the next two screens as it’s crucial you reboot.

Setting up your first OpenVPN User

1. Normally setting up a user for Openvpn would be a painful process as you would have to generate the individual certificates for the user, luckily we can do this in one single command thanks to PiVPN.

o begin adding the user, run the following command:

On this screen, you will need to enter a name for the client, this name will act as an identifier so you can differentiate between different clients.

It will also ask you to set a password for the client, it is important to make this something secure and not easy to guess as this will secure the encryption key.

So, if someone can guess the password easily it severely reduces the security of your VPN.

Once you press enter to these, the PiVPN script will tell Easy-RSA to generate the 2048-bit RSA private key for the client, and then store the file into /home/pi/ovpns.

/home/pi/ovpns is the folder we will have to gain access to in the next few steps so we can copy the generated file to our devices.

Make sure you keep these files safe as they are your only way of accessing your VPN.

2. Now that our new “client” has been setup for OpenVPN with our passphrase we will now need to get it to the device that we intend on connecting from. The easiest way to do this is to make use of SFTP from within your home network.

Make sure you have a program such as FileZilla that can handle SFTP connections installed before continuing with this tutorial.

To get started, let’s login to our Raspberry Pi over SFTP. Remember to type sftp:// in front of your Raspberry Pi’s IP address. If you don’t have you Pi’s local address use the command hostname -I in terminal.

Once you have entered your IP address, Username and Password, press the quickconnect button.

3. Once you have successfully logged in, we need to look for the ovpns folder, as this is where the file we need will be located. Once you have found the folder, double click on it.

4. Now all we need to do is drag the .ovpn file you want to somewhere safe on your computer. This file contains the data that we will need to connect to the VPN so keep this file safe.

It is also the only way someone could potentially gain access to your VPN, so keeping the passphrase and the file secure is incredibly important. If someone gains access to these they could potentially cause some harm to your network.

5. Now we have the .opvn file on our device we can use this to make a connection to our VPN.

The .opvn file stores everything we need to make a secure connection. It contains the web address to connect to, and all the encryption data it needs. The only thing it does not contain is your passphrase, so you will need to enter this when you connect to the VPN.

The client we are going to use is the official OpenVPN client, you can obtain this from their official OpenVPN website.

Download and install this client, on its first run it will automatically minimize to the taskbar, right click on the icon, then select “Import file…”

6. You will be presented with a file explorer screen, in here go to where you saved the .opvn file from earlier. Once you have found it, double click the file to import into the OpenVPN client.

7. You should now be presented with a dialog telling you the file has been successfully imported into OpenVPN. Just press the OK button to proceed.

8. Now right click the OpenVPN client icon in the taskbar again, this time click “Connect”.

9. Now the OpenVPN client will attempt to read the data located in the .opvn file. Since we have a passphrase set, it will now ask for you to enter the passphrase you set earlier on in this tutorial.

Once you are certain you have entered the correct passphrase, press the “OK” Button.

10. The OpenVPN client will now attempt to connect to your Raspberry Pi’s VPN server. If the OpenVPN icon turns to a solid green, then it means that you have successfully connected into your VPN.

However, if it turns yellow and fails to turn green after 60 seconds that means something is causing the connection to fail.

In most cases the connection failing is caused by a port forwarding issues, my router for instance has numerous issues with port forwarding. It is easiest to google your router’s model number to try and find help on any issues you may face with port forwarding. Some ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) also block certain ports so it’s best to check that the port you plan on using is not being blocked by your ISP.

If you are using a dynamic DNS service, then make sure that the service is being correctly updated with your latest IP address, if the IP address has changed but the DNS setting hasn’t then it will cause the connection to fail.

Hopefully by now you will have a fully functional VPN that you’re able to successfully connect to.

I hope that this tutorial has shown you how to setup a Raspberry Pi VPN Server and that you haven’t run into any issues. It’s certainly a great project for anyone who wishes to set up a cheap always-on VPN network.


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