Quick and easy OpenVPN server config (Ubuntu)

VPNs allow you to route your Internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel to a remote server, enhancing your privacy while online. Often a VPS is around the same price per month as a dedicated VPN service, but gives you much more freedom and utility as a poweruser. This post will overview a basic routed OpenVPN configuration on an Ubuntu machine.

Step 1: Drivers and packages
First you need to enable TUN/TAP on your VPS. Usually your host will give you an option for this in your Control Panel. If not, you may have to file a support ticket. We will need TUN to emulate a new network device for the VPN to use. To check whether you have TUN enabled, do sudo cat /dev/net/tun. If you get the message “File descriptor in bad state,” then TUN is working. If you get “No such device,” then the TUN driver is missing.

Now we will need to install OpenVPN, as well as Easy-RSA which we will use for our PKI:

sudo apt-get install openvpn easy-rsa

Step 2: PKI and keys
Set up the PKI environment and generate a CA certificate:

sudo -s # become root
mkdir /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
cp -r /usr/share/easy-rsa/* /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
editor /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/vars # set up parameters for your CA
cd /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/
source vars
./build-ca # the CA certificate is now built

Build a key and certificate for the server:

./build-key-server SERVER_NAME_HERE
cd keys/
cp SERVER_NAME_HERE.crt SERVER_NAME_HERE.key ca.crt dh1024.pem /etc/openvpn/ 

Make keys and certificates for each client, and transfer them to the remote hosts (for example using SCP):

./build-key CLIENT_NAME
scp /etc/openvpn/ca.crt CLIENT_MACHINE: 
scp /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/keys/CLIENT_NAME.key CLIENT_MACHINE:
scp /etc/openvpn/easy-rsa/keys/CLIENT_NAME.crt CLIENT_MACHINE:

Step 3: Server config
Copy the default the server configuration:

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

Now edit /etc/openvpn/server.conf and set the correct filenames for the server certificates and keys:

ca ca.crt
cert SERVER_NAME.crt
key SERVER_NAME.key 
dh dh1024.pem

Step 4: iptables
You may have to set up some routes and firewall rules to get your VPN to work as expected (using NAT):

/sbin/iptables -A FORWARD -o tun0 -j ACCEPT
/sbin/iptables -A FORWARD -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
/sbin/iptables -A FORWARD -s -j ACCEPT
/sbin/iptables -A FORWARD -j REJECT
/sbin/iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s -o venet0:0 -j MASQUERADE
/sbin/iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -j SNAT --to-source YOUR_SERVER_IP_HERE

If you’re using an iptables manager, you can easily add these rules to that service’s configuration. You can also put them in a new initscript, in an on-boot cronjob, or some other script that gets run when the server boots.

Step 5: Start the daemon and connect clients
Now just start OpenVPN:

service openvpn start

And then configure your client with the keys you scp’d. Everything should be peachy.

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Travis Mick

Travis is the chief architect of systems and software at Zeall.us. A background in network security research has fostered in him a passion for values such as digital privacy, net neutrality, and intellectual freedom. In a world where these causes are increasingly important, he aims to both raise awareness of them and further their goals through technology.

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