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VPN: Encrypt every device on your network for $20

Staying in-line with the VPN theme I decided to build a site-to-site VPN solution – otherwise known as a ‘branch office tunnel’. First, you will need to make sure that your VPN provider supports this function. I personally use NordVPN, however many of the best popular providers support this option in the form of OpenVPN running on a flashed consumer router. Nord supports DDWRT and Tomato router. If you are not familiar with these custom firmwares I would advise that you do some reading and become comfortable with what they are and what they do. In a nutshell, both DDWRT and Tomato router are custom firmwares for many consumer grade routers, which leverage many additional features not available in the stock Linksys, D-Link, etc. firmware. Features include wireless function like bridges, repeaters, access points, etc. From a LAN/WAN perspective they support VPN, advanced routing, VLAN support, firewalling, etc.

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Why would you want this you ask? In most scenarios you will be using clients to authenticate to your VPN provider. This is fine unless you’re using a device which is not supported or if your devices exceed your VPN license. More and more VPN providers are releasing clients for Android, IOS, Linux and just about any other OS around. Some are still a work in progress and on top of that you’re usually limited to a certain number of simultaneously connect devices. For example, I am limited to 2 devices – This is not a problem for me personally as I will rarely, if ever, use more than 2 devices on VPN simultaneously. Figure 1A illustrates a negotiation then tunnel establishment via software client to your VPN provider. Figure 1B will help you to visualize the difference in a site-to-site setup:

FIGURE 1A:

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FIGURE 1B:

2

With a client you generally only launch your software and authenticate when you need privacy or perhaps you always ‘dial in’ to VPN anytime you are using the internet. A site-to-site configuration, sometimes known as a BOT (Branch Office Tunnel), is always on. You set it up once then following the phase negotiations you have a constant VPN tunnel. Depending on which mode you use, you can set your VPN router to automatically renegotiate if it drops. For added security, devices which support TOR (The Onion Router) can provide any additional layer of security and anonymity as demonstrated in FIGURE 1C:3Although you won’t benefit from TOR anonymity on things like tablets and smartphones, it’s important to be mindful of any identifiable devices running on your identifiable internet while using TOR. For example some may feel that VPNs are redundant as long as they are using TOR. So you log on to Agora, Blackbank (or your favorite DNM) to pick up some Bang Bros passwords (or whatever). While you’re waiting for coins to transfer, you decide to fire up Firefox and check your Gmail or it just so happens that you use Chrome which is always logged in to your Google account. This is a risk. You are simultaneously creating internet sessions in the clear as well as doing naughty things on TOR. This kind of behavior could create patterns which LE may seek to use against you if you become entangled in some legal issues.

There are a few ways to mitigate this risk: you could close out all other programs and network sessions while browsing the DarkNet. This seems like the safest solution, however in this day and age almost all major apps run live software updating and keep in mind when using Windows 8 that Onedrive is always on. You could run TOR exclusively in a virtual machine or using Tails. This is probably a better choice as it will do a little more to segregate your heroin addicted porn watching evil criminal identity from the chartered accountant with two kids and camper trailer. Even still, don’t forget that things like iPhones and Android phones are always on, connected and chattering with the internet. The absolute safest way to cruise around the DarkNet would be using Tails on a public free Wi-Fi network somewhere, such as your least favorite restaurant or coffee shop – somewhere you don’t frequent. Find a cheap dive with free Wi-Fi so you can be sure they don’t have the money to spring for cameras all over the premises. If you’re anything like me you’ll get complacent and start surfing the DarkNet from home again before long.

TASK 1: Purchase a DDWRT or Tomato compatible consumer router

This is where the $20 comes in. If you’re happy with some slightly older technology then the most common choice is a Linksys WRT54G. I have one of these with wireless G and 100 Mbps ports which I picked up for $20 on Craigslist a few years back. It certainly does the trick, but being a technology whore I decided to upgrade my DDWRT hardware this week and picked up a Linksys WRT310N. This model supports N wireless and boasts 1 Gbps switch ports. For this tutorial we are going to stick with a Linksys WRT310N running DDWRT. The 310 has two versions: 1 & 2. I have a version 1 which means that I am limited to running the DDWRT mini or standard packages. You may find that you prefer Tomato, but DDWRT supports a massive list of devices, which can be found here:

https://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Supported_Devices

The process is really quite simple, however it is important to ensure that you have downloaded the correct image and VERY important that you do not interrupt the installation process – if you do, you can end up with a brick. With that said, it’s quite easy:

TASK 2: Replace stock firmware with DDWRT

**NEITHER MYSELF NOR DEEPDOTWEB.COM ARE IN ANY WAY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE ACCRUED WHILE ATTEMPTING TO FLASH A ROUTER WITH DDWRT SOFTWARE**

First let me say that this article is meant as a basic overview of a site-to-site VPN infrastructure so as a courtesy I have included an extremely high level guide to router flashing. The detailed instructions can be found on numerous DDWRT-related sites such as ddwrt.com. I would recommend following said instructions if you are inexperienced or unsure of what you are doing. First, you’ll need to connect an Ethernet cable from your PC to one of the LAN ports on the router – make sure you don’t plug in to the WAN port or you won’t get far. You should be able to pick up an IP using the onboard DHCP scope. They usual mgmt IP of the device is 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1. If you are unsure then open up cmd.exe and perform the ipconfig command to reveal your current IP and your router’s IP (default gateway). If the device has some mysterious username and password, or it’s not handing out DHCP leases then you may want to restore its factory defaults. The default credentials are often username: admin password: admin or username: admin password: password (or something similar). If you are uncertain it may be printed on the bottom of the router or else you can easily find this with Google. Now for the firmware flash:

  1. Setup –> Administration –> Firmware Upgrade

2. Browse to the file previously downloaded image and click upgrade

FIGURE 2A:

4

If the upgrade fails quickly then you have either downloaded the wrong image or the file may be corrupt. Even though the DDWRT site said that my model supports the mini, standard and VPN images only the mini was successful – both others failed. Now again it is very important that you don’t interrupt the upgrade or you will end up with a brick. Once the upgrade is complete you should perform a hard reboot of the router before continuing on.

From here on in I won’t get into the various options available in DDWRT, but you will know that you have been successful when presented with a GUI similar to Figure 2B:

5

TASK 3: Bring your DDWRT router online

If your home internet already uses a router that you’ve provided then you should be able to port over your basic settings to the newly flashed device (wireless SSID, security, etc.). But if you are like many of us you have an ISP-provided modem/router combo or some similar variation. Depending on your service and the way it is set up, this could be simple. For many, you will need to just replace the ISP router with the new DDWRT router, however you will need to know how to port over any settings for wireless etc. My ISP provides fiber to the home, which enters my house on a single mode fiber run which terminates with an SC connector into an ONT. The ONT (Optical Network Terminal) serves as a transceiver (among other things) which converts the fiber to copper (Ethernet). Setting up a site-to-site VPN tunnel on this sort of network can become pretty advanced because the ISP is offering television and data services through the same fiber. This necessitates the need for VLANs right to my home router so that traffic can be segregated and prioritized. If your internet is similar then you may have additional learning and troubleshooting ahead of you. For many DSL and cable internet services it will be as simple as replacing the router. You will need to ensure that there are no special requirements for the WAN port on your router. For example, my ISP uses MAC address filtering (or MAC address sticky) on the WAN port of the router. This means that when I plug in my own device, their DHCP server doesn’t recognize the MAC address and will not provide a public IP. Luckily you can set the MAC address of the ISP provided device on the port – this is also true of DDWRT:

  1. Setup –> MAC Address Clone –> Enable
  2. Obtain the WAN interface MAC address from the ISP router and add to the above location
  3. Save

FIGURE 2C:

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The primary goal is to ensure that the WAN interface on your DDWRT router picks up a DHCP lease from your ISP. If you are one of the lucky few and have a static public IP (not normally available these days without paying a premium), then you will need to find out this IP and manually configure it:

FIGURE 2D:

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TASK 4: Configure your DDWRT router for VPN

Once you have a working WAN connection then the rest of your internal LAN setup is easy. If you have trouble with this please consult any of the numerous tutorials on ddwrt.com. So at this point it seems as though you are back to where you started…not even…now I have you reconfiguring your LAN and WLAN (Wireless LAN) settings. Because VPN providers like NordVPN are so wonderful, they have actually written up all of the VPN commands on their website. You can simply copy the config, replace the variables and then you should be able to negotiate a VPN connection to their server. The configuration instructions are available for customers at: https://nordvpn.com/tutorials/

The above link will provide step-by-step instructions to configure the commands on DDWRT to negotiate and maintain a VPN tunnel which will then encrypt ALL and ANY network traffic leaving your network. You will see in Figures 3A and 3B that not much changes when you initially replace your ISP or home router with a DDWRT device. Figure 3C again demonstrates the virtual tunnel which will carry your traffic to our VPN provider’s network and egress all sessions from their devices and public IPs:

FIGURE 3A:

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FIGURE 3B:

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FIGURE 3C:

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Don’t be deceived by the suggestion in Figure 3C; your traffic is still leaving up through your ISP Public IP, however it may as well not be. The above figure illustrates a logical topology of your network’s traffic (rather than a physical topology). Again, there are various flavours and methods by which to achieve the same goals and this is only one of many. Additional detailed guides on DDWRT VPN can be found at:

http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/OpenVPN_Remote_Access_by_Static_Key_%28The_Simple_Way%29

OR

http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/VPN_%28the_easy_way%29_v24%2B

Take note that additional DDWRT functionality (such as VPN) can be limited or even restricted by system resources such as RAM and product version. If you have the know-how and resources you might look to a solution normally suited for enterprise solution. An old Cisco ASA or Pix firewall could be obtained cheaply if you look hard enough. Some additional options include Nortel Contivity Extranet routers such as the CES 1100. This one might be a bit easier to learn as it’s mainly GUI-driven. For those looking for a challenge, you might look for a user Juniper SRX Firewall/Security Gateway. Although a GUI is available, the power is contained in the command line driven JunOS, which sits on top of BSD. All of the above devices would make fantastic ‘Branch Office Tunnel’ endpoints; and although they will likely provide additional customization and functionality, they also require a bit more technical skill to operate.

The DDWRT is a fine solution for most home network aficionados and from my experience it can be easily set up as a VPN router with likes of NordVPN – I have included the NordVPN configuration template for OpenVPN via DDWRT in Appendix A. No matter what your skill level is, it’s clear that these kinds of solutions are becoming more necessary in this day and age. With Big Brother poking its nose further into our private affairs you cannot lose by arming yourself with this type of protection. Remember: knowledge is power, but so is a badge and a gun.

Appendix A

  1. Go to Administration à Commands
  2. Paste this whole text to the Command Box

Replace the words in red with your valid credentials:

 

2 comments

  1. Author forgot to mention that there is very much limit to the overall speed you will get on this solution. Routers are not designed to do crypto any fast and depending on the router you will get something from 5-12Mbit/s with CBC-AES-128 encryption, even on the latest routers with 1Ghz cpu this will not be more than 15Mbit/s max. Raspberry pi is not much better at all, even b+ version.
    These routers with DDWRT or Tomato come with with very good QoS capabilities, but saturated CPU will render this totally useless.
    If you want to get decent speed you should be looking into getting some proper CPU with modern crypto support, or alternatively odroid c+ (should do around 17-18Mbit/s) or odroid xu4 – not sure how fast this can go.
    I just want to make sure people are aware of the possible bad experience they can get setting up this solution.

  2. Thank you for pointing that out – you are absolutely correct and this problem should have been addressed. In an absolutely ideal world, I would suggest a Layer 2 tunnel, but that’s quite far-fetched for the average home internet. I suppose the other point to mention is that DDWRT compatible devices come with many variations in resources, so perhaps a follow-up article would be in order, where I could address your conern and also discuss model specs and ideal alternatives. My ideal setup would use something like an ASA 5505, Juniper SRX 210/220 or Sonicwall NSA 240 firewall. The problem is that many many lack the skills and/or means for one of these deployments. I have deployed IPSec tunnels on 1.5 Mbps DL circuits using the above with absolutely atrocious speed; however I have implemented the same gear on a 5 Mbps DL line with acceptable speed and stability. There will also be trade-offs between security and speed/functionality.

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