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Raspberry Pi VPN Server

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Introduction

In an age of increased surveillance and erosion of privacy, more tech-savvy individuals are taking matters into their own hands by creating personal VPN (Virtual Private Network) servers. A VPN allows you to create a secure, encrypted tunnel to another network over the public Internet. This protects your browsing activity and identity by hiding your IP address and scrambling data so it can’t be intercepted.

While subscriptions to commercial VPN services are readily available, hosting your own VPN server provides an added layer of privacy as you have full control over the server hardware, software, encryption protocols, etc. Doing this has traditionally been complex and expensive, involving the rental of virtual private servers from cloud hosting providers. However, with the versatile, low-cost Raspberry Pi hardware, it is now possible to set up a personal VPN server in your home on the cheap.

In this article, we will walk through the steps for configuring a Raspberry Pi into a fully functional OpenVPN server using freely available software. Compared to turning an old desktop PC or spare laptop into a home VPN server, the Pi’s low power consumption and small form factor make it an ideal choice.

Setting up Raspberry Pi VPN Server with OpenVPN

Required Components

  • Raspberry Pi board (Model 2 B or newer recommended)
  • MicroSD card (16 GB Class 10 minimum)
  • Power supply
  • Ethernet cable
  • Case (optional)

Software Requirements

  • Raspbian OS
  • OpenVPN

With the hardware and software ready, follow these steps to set up an OpenVPN server on the Raspberry Pi:

  1. Install Raspbian OS
    • Download and flash the latest Raspbian image to the microSD card.
    • Insert SD card into the Pi and connect ethernet & power to boot it up.
    • Log into the Pi via SSH (or connect monitor & keyboard).
  2. Update System Software
    • Run “sudo apt-get update” and “sudo apt-get upgrade”
    • Reboot Pi to complete installation of any upgraded packages
  3. Install OpenVPN
    • Run “sudo apt-get install openvpn”
    • EasyRSA already bundled with OpenVPN
  4. Configure OpenVPN
    • Initialize the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)
    • Set up DHCP options, server mode, topology & protocols
    • Generate server/client keys & certificates
    • Make encryption & authentication choices
    • Create custom config files
  5. Forward Ports on Router
    • Forward UDP port 1194 to allow client devices to connect through the router’s public IP address. Adjust as per server config.
  6. Connect Client Devices
    • Download the client .ovpn config profiles
    • Import profiles into OpenVPN client apps
    • Connect remotely from mobile/desktop devices

Potential issues like solution connectivity, credential errors etc. can be diagnosed with verbose logging. Revert config changes, double check firewall/port forwarding settings if trouble persists.

 Alternative VPN Protocols

Although OpenVPN makes for a great starting point for new Raspberry Pi VPN users, experienced users may want to explore other protocols that offer advantages:

Shadowsocks:

  • Simpler to configure than OpenVPN
  • Harder for China’s GreatFirewall to block
  • Effective even on restrictive networks
  • Client apps available across all platforms

Downsides:

  • Less vetted cryptographic protocols
  • Lacks versatility of OpenVPN plugins

WireGuard:

  • Much faster speeds than OpenVPN
  • Lean and efficient codebase
  • Uses state-of-the-art cryptography
  • Great for mobile device connections

Cons:

  • Still under development
  • Fewer available clients
  • Limited documentation

So OpenVPN strikes a balance between ease-of-use and security for novices. WireGuard offers faster performance for reliable connections. Shadowsocks is harder to block and could be better for users in extremely restricted/surveilled environments.

Security & Privacy Considerations

Setting up a personal VPN server, especially one that sits permanently at home instead of on some VPS server, provides significant privacy perks:

You have full ownership of the encryption keys instead of trusting providers. Visitors to your home wouldn’t even know the Pi is hosting a covert VPN! By thoughtful placement of the server within your local network, you can create nested firewalls to further isolate the VPN traffic.

With full control over the software environment, you can meticulously configure the encryption ciphers and handshake protocols used to maximize privacy within the bounds of usability. Many commercial VPN providers make compromises here to optimize speeds.

That said, additional steps are required to secure self-hosted VPN servers:

Always update the Pi VPN to latest software versions. Use strong credentials and SSL/TLS for authentication. Chain it along with TOR for added layers of encryption. Enable the server firewall to close unused ports. Automated intrusion detection helps too.

For optimal security, use VPN connections on public Wi-Fis but route sensitive traffic ONLY through more secure channels like home Wi-Fi or cellular data if possible.

Conclusion

Setting up your very own VPN server on inexpensive Raspberry Pi hardware is an extremely rewarding do-it-yourself endeavor. It offers an added layer of privacy compared to even commercial VPN offerings. Although beginners may find the setup challenging at first, OpenVPN documentation and community support is excellent.

For advanced users, alternate protocols like WireGuard and Shadowsocks provide interesting alternatives with greater speed or stealthiness respectively. Combining the Pi VPN server with strong endpoint security best practices allows home users to enjoy many of the anonymization and encryption benefits previously accessible only to experts. As data privacy becomes increasingly rare, we need all the open source tools at our disposal to protect our digital footprint. The RPi VPN server is one such powerful weapon that also serves as a fantastic learning experience.

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