HOWTO: Poor man VPN in Debian/Ubuntu with OpenSSH

If you are managing a remote Linux network and you are tired of NATting or two ssh hops to enter a remote server, but OpenVPN poses too much overhead, you can use ssh tunneling to easily create a workstation-to-site VPN.
I’ve tested this with Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala as the workstation and Debian 5.0 Lenny as the server, but it should work identically with older Ubuntu and Debian (both server or workstation).

I’ve been inspired by these two tutorials, although both didn’t work 100% for me, but joining pieces did the trick, so here I am :)

Software prerequisites:

  • Standard Debian or Ubuntu
  • openssh-server on the remote side of the VPN
  • openssh-client on the local side of the VPN (your PC)

Network configuration (as an example)

  • Workstation LAN: 192.168.0.0/24
  • Server LAN: 192.168.10.0/24 on eth1
  • VPN: 10.0.0.0/24
  • Remote server public address: 1.2.3.4 on eth0

First of all, on the workstation generate a dedicated key (it should be a dedicated one cause the server will identify you’re going to bring up a tunnel based on the key you’re using to connect) with

# ssh-keygen -f /root/.ssh/VPNkey -b 2048

Now edit /etc/network/interfaces and create a new stanza like this one (remember to change IP addresses – in bold – according to your personal network configuration)

iface tun0 inet static
# from pre-up to true on the same line
pre-up ssh -i /root/.ssh/VPN -S /var/run/ssh-vpn-tunnel-control -M -f -w 0:0 1.2.3.4 true
pre-up sleep 5
address 10.1.0.2
pointopoint 10.1.0.1
netmask 255.255.255.0
up route add -net 192.168.10.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 gw 10.1.0.1 tun0
post-down ssh -i /root/.ssh/VPN -S /var/run/ssh-vpn-tunnel-control -O exit 1.2.3.4

Just a copuple of notes: address is your VPN local endpoint address (say, your workstation) while pointopoint is the remote VPNaddress (your server), which are the two tunnel’s endpoints.

Now let’s go to the server.

Edit /etc/ssh/sshd_server, add the line
PermitTunnel point-to-point

and restart your sshd instance.
Now edit (or create) /root/.ssh/authorized_keys (remember, we are on the server now, not your workstation) and add a line like

tunnel="0",command="/sbin/ifdown tun0; /sbin/ifup tun0" ssh-rsa HERE IT GOES YOUR VPNkey.pub FROM YOUR WORKSTATION

now edit /etc/network/interfaces and add this stanza:

iface tun0 inet static
address 10.1.0.1
netmask 255.255.255.0
pointopoint 10.1.0.2
post-up /sbin/sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1
post-up /sbin/iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s 10.1.0.0/24 -o eth1 -j MASQUERADE
post-down /sbin/iptables -t nat -D POSTROUTING -s 10.1.0.0/24 -o eth1 -j MASQUERADE
post-down /sbin/sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=0

the post-up and post-down commands enable the network sharing between the VPN server endpoint and the remote LAN (it’s called masquerading), so you can access the remote LAN from your workstation and not only the remote server. Obviously you need to instruct your workstation with a dedicated static route to reach the remote LAN network, and this is the route add -net in your workstation config.

Now, bring up the tunnel on the workstation with
# ifup tun0
and you should be able to reach a remote server on your remote LAN, with traffic secured by OpenSSH encryption.

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HOWTO: Ethernet bonding in Debian Lenny

In an older post I explained how to create a bond interface in Debian Etch… now, this doesn’t work anymore due to some changes in Lenny.

So, long story short, first of all, install ifenslave

# apt-get install ifenslave-2.6

edit /etc/network/interfaces and add the bond0 config:

auto bond0
iface bond0 inet static
address 192.168.1.2
netmask 255.255.255.0
network 192.168.1.0
broadcast 192.168.1.255
gateway 192.168.1.1
# dns-* options are implemented by the resolvconf package, if installed
dns-nameservers 192.168.1.1
up /sbin/ifenslave bond0 eth0 eth1
down /sbin/ifenslave -d bond0 eth0 eth1

now edit /etc/modprobe.d/arch/x86_64 (change the filename depending on your architecture) and add these lines


alias bond0 bonding
options bonding mode=1 miimon=100 downdelay=200 updelay=200

Brief explanation:

  • miimon N: check if the active interface(s) is alive every N milliseconds
  • downdelay N: wait N milliseconds after a detected link failure to consider the link down
  • updelay N: wait N milliseconds after a detected link restoration to consider the link up
  • mode N: 1 means master/slave configuration, so there’s only one active master. If this link fails, then slave is used.

For a more complete description of all the possible parameters, refer to Linux Documentation/networking/bonding.txt

After this, you can restart networking or reboot if you are working remotely and it should work without a problem. It did for me :)

mii-tool is deprecated, use ethtool

Title says it all. If you want to check (or set) your ethernet NIC configuration or status in Linux, people used to use mii-tools. But there’s a lot more powerful and modern tool that obsoletes it: ethtool
You can install it with your favourite package manager, if it’s not already present in your system.
In Debian/Ubuntu, you can issue
# aptitude install ethtool

Here it is an example:


# ethtool eth0
Settings for eth0:
Supported ports: [ TP ]
Supported link modes: 10baseT/Half 10baseT/Full
100baseT/Half 100baseT/Full
1000baseT/Half 1000baseT/Full
Supports auto-negotiation: Yes
Advertised link modes: 10baseT/Half 10baseT/Full
100baseT/Half 100baseT/Full
1000baseT/Half 1000baseT/Full
Advertised auto-negotiation: Yes
Speed: 100Mb/s
Duplex: Full
Port: Twisted Pair
PHYAD: 1
Transceiver: internal
Auto-negotiation: on
Supports Wake-on: g
Wake-on: d
Current message level: 0x000000ff (255)
Link detected: yes