One part of working with the Internet of Things is the difficulty of connecting to devices in your home when you aren’t in your home network. I face this difficulty every week when travelling around — I need to run tests and build Internet of Things demos, yet I’m not home to do so! I decided to turn my Raspberry Pi into a VPN so I could connect to my home network remotely. Here’s how you can do the same thing using an OpenVPN installer called PiVPN.
You can run through the following tutorial using either the terminal on your Pi or using SSH to connect to your Raspberry Pi remotely. If you aren’t quite sure how to SSH into your Raspberry Pi, I have a short guide on how to SSH into a Raspberry Pi which might help! If you don’t have a static IP address set up on your Pi, I’d recommend working directly on your Pi (otherwise, it’s likely your IP addresses will change during the process to a static IP and kick you out of your SSH session!).
Starting the Install Process
To get started, we run the following command in our Pi’s terminal (either via SSH or directly on the Pi):
curl -L https://install.pivpn.io | bash
Important Note: This command parses a random script downloaded from the web directly into your Pi’s bash. That can be incredibly dangerous if you don’t trust the installation source, as it will run whatever code you give it straight away. I haven’t gone through and vetted their bash command line by line (I trust them!) but it is available to look through on their GitHub account (under
install.sh within the
auto_installfolder) if you have any concerns.
Running that command will open a slightly nicer looking, text-based GUI that starts with a simple prompt:
Once you’ve hit Enter, you’ll be taken to another screen which will point out that a static IP address is important for this VPN service to work: if you don’t have a static IP for your Pi, your router won’t have an IP address to forward VPN functionality to. Don’t have a static IP on your Pi? Don’t worry — the automated installer will set up a static IP for you soon.
Hit Enter to go to the next screen:
Be careful on this screen: hitting Enter will take you to the next screen, rather than making a selection in the two radio button options. I made this mistake during the install process, and it gets messy to restart the install process to change it!
In the interface selection, you can choose whether you’d like to set the VPN up on your ethernet connection (eth0) or your Wi-Fi (wlan0). I personally choose Wi-Fi as my Pi isn’t close to my router. If you can connect the Pi via ethernet, this will be much better for speeds! To choose an option, move your selection with the arrow keys and select it with the Spacebar. Then click Enter to go to the next screen.
This screen confirms your current IP address for the Pi. I personally wanted to change my Pi’s IP to something more memorable, so I clicked the arrow key to move my selection to
<No> and hit Spacebar to select it. I then hit Enter to go to the setup to change my Pi’s static IP.
In this screen, you’ll enter in the static IP address you’d like your Pi to have. I chose
192.168.0.31. Once you’ve got the IP address you’d like, hit Enter.
In this screen, you’ll need to enter in the IP address of your router or default gateway. This will depend on your network setup, but a lot of the time this will be
192.168.0.1. If you aren’t sure, try entering whatever IP address you enter to get to your router’s config page in your browser. Once you’ve got this entered in, hit the Enter key.
Hit Enter on this screen to confirm your IP address settings are correct. They should look similar to my ones above if your home network is set up to the defaults of most home networks. If not, chances are high that you already know your own settings.
The visual GUI style interface will then disappear and you’ll see in the terminal that your settings are confirmed in the text shown. Wait a bit as it performs these actions to set a static IP and so on. If you’ve SSHed in and just changed your IP address … chances are, this is where you’ll get stuck, because your connection will get dropped! If this happens to you, run through the process again, but connect to the static IP you set up this time around.
Once PiVPN’s network setting adjustments are done, it will bring you back to a nicer looking screen.
This screen above is just notifying us that we will soon choose our VPN’s local user. Hit Enter to begin and move to the next screen.
In this screen, if your Pi is set to defaults you’ll likely only have one option — the pi user. If that’s the case, hit Enter! If you’ve got a custom user set up and want to set things up through that, select that user via the arrow keys and hit Spacebar. Then once that user is selected, hit Enter.
This next screen is advising you of something that’s incredibly important to pay attention to! Setting up your Pi as a VPN means it will have a port open to the wider internet. This comes with serious responsibility: if security issues arise, your Pi is potentially open for anyone to access. Access to your Pi as a VPN means something incredibly dangerous depending on how your network is set up. It likely means access to your whole home network. For this reason, PiVPN recommends turning on unattended upgrades, which will automatically update security packages at the very least. It is important to note it is still your responsibility to watch for security vulnerabilities in the press and keep an eye out for strange activity on your network. You can set up most routers to show logs of connections and so on; keep an eye on these things and more.
It should do its final bits and pieces and then restart your Pi.
Remember to Update!
Remember — now you’ve completed the whole process of getting the VPN installed, run the following command to ensure your Pi is secure in the immediate future:
sudo apt-get upgrade
Once that is all updated, we can feel safe enough to set up a client for VPN access!
Setting up Your First VPN Client
From this point, you’ve got an OpenVPN instance running on your Pi through PiVPN. However, to access the VPN from other computers and devices on the network, it will need a client that these devices can connect through. To add this client, we enter the following command:
It will ask you for a name for the client. Call it whatever your heart desires. It will also ask for a passphrase: this is the password for accessing the VPN through this client. Don’t forget this one — as you otherwise won’t be able to connect to your VPN server using this client!
Once you’ve done that, it will generate an
.ovpn file for that client. You’ll need this to log in on each client device.
One area that will be different for everyone is port forwarding on your router. You need to set up forwarding on your router for the port you set up for the VPN (by default, it was 1194). We want any requests to that port to go to your Pi’s IP address. This setup is different for every router; however, you can find out more about the process of port forwarding here. Look up “port forwarding” and your router name to find out how to do this for your own router. Be careful when updating router settings!
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