Edgewalker, a DIY VPN server
TL:DR Don’t trust VPN services, roll your own with this easy script.
There are many reasons to use a Virtual Private Network. Perhaps you are on an unsecured WiFi network. Perhaps you don’t want your Internet Service Provider to snoop on your browsing history using Deep Packet Inspection and compile a marketing dossier on your. Perhaps like my daughter you want to access video content on Netflix that is not available in your country. Perhaps you want to bypass the nanny state content filters the British government mandates.
Most VPN services are untrustworthy. You depend on the VPN provider’s assurances to protect your privacy, which completely defeats the purpose of a VPN. The only way you can be sure is to run your own, but baroque network protocols engendering complex software makes it difficult to do so even for the technically savvy.
Streisand was one of the first efforts to automate the process, using cloud virtual servers as the hosts operating the VPN. Trail of Bits implemented Algo to simplify it and remove some questionable choices Streisand made (although, to be fair, the Streisand project seems to have jettisoned many of them and converged on WireGuard).
Edgewalker is similar, but awesomer:
- It is based on OpenBSD, widely considered the most secure general-purpose OS, rather than Linux.
- Like Algo, it implements IPsec/IKEv2/MOBIKE rather than OpenVPN (read the
Algo announcement for the reasons why).
- IPsec/IKEv2 works out of the box on iOS, iPadOS and macOS.
- In theory on Windows as well, although I have no idea how to make it work or simplify setup, any help is welcome.
- It also implements WireGuard (recommended for Linux and Android, along with travel VPN-capable routers like the GL.iNet Mango)
- It uses QR codes to simplify installation as much as possible on the client devices.
- It uses Let’s Encrypt so your IPsec certificates just work (WireGuard does not rely on PKI)
- It uses its own Unbound DNS server with DNSSEC validation support, for better privacy
- It has no dependencies on Ansible, Python or anything else exotic you need to add on your own machine, other than a SSH client.
- It is just a shell script with little bits of Python thrown in like Acme-Tiny, and easily auditable.
While you can run the script again as your Let’s Encrypt certificates expire (although it generates new credentials each time), I recommend simply destroying the VM and creating a new one. Of course, if you are running on physical hardware, you will want to rerun the script. If using WireGuard only, you don’t need to rerun the script as WireGuard keys do not expire and there are no certificates.
- A Let’s Encrypt account and key (I’m working on setting this up automatically for you, in the meantime you can use Step 1 on this page to do that for you).
- An OpenBSD machine reachable from the Internet (it can be a physical machine you own, or a cloud VM like Vultr).
- The ability to add a DNS record for the machine’s IP address (IPv4 only for now).
- The 80x25 OpenBSD console does not support UTF-8 and cannot display the QR code in a single screen. Use a different terminal, or enter the profile URL by hand.
If you have a firewall in front of the OpenBSD machine, it needs to allow the following inbound traffic (possibly using static port mappings if you use NAT):
- SSH (TCP port
22) so you can actually log in to your machine.
- HTTP (TCP port
80) and HTTPS (TCP port
443) to allow Let’s Encrypt certificate issual and allow you to get the Apple-format Profiles that will ease setup on your iDevice.
- UDP ports
4500(IPsec NAT traversal).
- Optionally IPsec protocols
ESP(IP protocol number
0x33) and ESP for maximum efficiency, although many firewalls won’t support this.
- UDP port
- Clone the Github repository into one of your own, or copy the file edgewalker.sh somewhere you can download it without it being tampered with in transit, in practice that means HTTPS.
- Edit the first lines in the script edggewalker.sh (
USERNAME). Not strictly necessary, but make it your own.
- Log in as root on your OpenBSD machine, then:
pkg_add wget wget -c https://raw.githubusercontent.com/YOUR_GITHUB_ACCOUNT_HERE/edgewalker/main/edgewalker.sh sh -e edgewalker.sh
- The script will ask you for:
- The DNS name of your OpenBSD machine.
- To copy-paste your Let’s Encrypt account key in PEM format.
- It will then obtain Let’s Encrypt certificates, generate a QR code that you can use to download the profile on your iDevice to set up the VPN.
- The OpenBSD team, for making their wonderful security-focused OS.
- Reyk Flöter for making OpenIKEd, a breath of fresh air in the unnecessarily convoluted world of VPN software.
- Jason A. Donenfeld for inventing WireGuard.
- Let’s Encrypt, for making certificates cheap and easy.
- Daniel Roesler for the fantastic Acme-Tiny.
I created a fresh OpenBSD 6.8 VM
vpn42.majid.org on Vultr, and here is what the experience looks like:
Here is how to install the VPN on an iPhone:
Here is how to create a suitable VM on Vultr: