What is OpenVPN and how to install it on Ubuntu 18.04/20.04

01.09.2020 1,441 0

OpenVPN is an open-source software responsible for handling client-server communications that implement Virtual Private Network techniques to create secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections. It handles encryption and authentication, implementing layer 2 or layer 3 connections and uses the industry-standard SSL/TLS for encryption. The packaging is done with standardized UDP or optional TCP packets.

The three main purposes of VPN security:

  • Confidentiality (Privacy)
  • Reliability
  • Availability

OpenVPN handles encryption and authentication using the TLS (Transport Layer Security)/SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) cartographic protocol. TLS is built on the earlier SSL specifications developed by Netscape. The TLS protocol aims primarily to provide privacy and data integrity. SSL/TLS uses one of the best encryption technologies, called asymmetric encryption, to ensure the identity of the VPN partner. Both encryption partners own two keys each – one public and one private.

OpenVPN uses the TUN/TAP driver which is an open-source project that is included in all modern Linux/Unix distributions, as well as Windows, Solaris, and Mac OS X. The TUN device can be used as a virtual point-to-point interface and the TAP device can be used as a virtual Ethernet adapter.

The Advantages of OpenVPN

Some of the advantages of using OpenVPN are the following:

  • It is secure: uses 256-bit encryption keys and high-end ciphers
  • Provides more control over the connections since it uses TCP and UDP
  • OpenVPN runs on a large number of platforms – Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, and others
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Has a very active community
  • You can tunnel IPsec over OpenVPN

Pre-requirements to follow the installation example

You will need a VPS or a virtual machine with Ubuntu 18.04/20.04 for the VPN server and one PC for the client.

Before you start installing any package on your Ubuntu server, we always recommend that you check whether all system packages are updated:

root@test:~# apt update
root@test:~# apt upgrade

Switch the directory (if you are not there):

root@test:~# cd ~

The next step is to install EasyRSA

root@test:/etc/openvpn/server# cd && wget https://github.com/OpenVPN/easy-rsa/releases/download/v3.0.5/EasyRSA-nix-3.0.5.tgz

When the download is complete, extract the archive.

root@test:~# tar xzf EasyRSA-nix-3.0.5.tgz

Switch the directory and copy the file.

root@test:~# cd ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp vars.example vars

Uncomment and update the following entries to match your information:

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# nano ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/vars
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_PROVINCE "California"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_CITY "San Francisco"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_ORG "Copyleft Certificate Co"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_EMAIL "me@example.net"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_OU "My Organizational Unit"

Ctrl+o ; Ctrl + x # In order to save and exit from the editor

First, we need to initialize a new PKI:

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa init-pki
Note: using Easy-RSA configuration from: ./vars
Using SSL: openssl OpenSSL 1.1.1f 31 Mar 2020
init-pki complete; you may now create a CA or requests.
Your newly created PKI dir is: /root/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki

Now we can create the CA certificate, it will ask you for a key phrase and a host name:

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa build-ca

You will be requested to enter a Passphrase and a common name (etc user, client, server):
Note: using Easy-RSA configuration from: ./vars
Using SSL: openssl OpenSSL 1.1.1f 31 Mar 2020
Enter New CA Key Passphrase:
Re-Enter New CA Key Passphrase:
Generating RSA private key, 2048 bit long modulus (2 primes)
Common Name (eg: your user, host, or server name) [Easy-RSA CA]:test
Your new CA certificate file for publishing is at:

Install OpenVPN

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# apt update
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# apt install openvpn

Generate a Diffie-Hellman key (The Diffie-Hellman key exchange was one of the most important developments in public-key cryptography) It will take some time to be installed and copy it in the openvpn directory:

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa gen-dh
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/dh.pem /etc/openvpn/

Generate an HMAC (Hash-based message authentication code (HMAC) is a mechanism for calculating a message authentication code involving a hash function in combination with a secret key.) signature:

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# openvpn --genkey --secret ta.key
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/ta.key /etc/openvpn/

Now we should create a Server Certificate and a Private Key (you will be asked for the passphrase)

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa gen-req test-server nopass
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/private/test-server.key /etc/openvpn/
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa sign-req server test-server
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/private/test-server.crt /etc/openvpn/

It will display the output below:

Certificate is to be certified until Jul 26 08:32:13 2023 GMT (1080 days)

Write out database with 1 new entries
Data Base Updated

Certificate created at: /root/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/issued/test-server.crt

Move to the directory issued and copy the crt and ca file:

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cd pki/issued/
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/issued# cp test-server.crt /etc/openvpn/
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/issued# cd ..
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki# cp ca.crt /etc/openvpn/

Copy the example configuration file:

# sh -c "gunzip -c /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/server.conf.gz > /etc/openvpn/server1.conf"

Open the file with the nano editor:

# nano /etc/openvpn/server1.conf

Uncomment and replace with the correct data for your server the below:

cert test-server.crt #correct the crt file name
key test-server.key #correct the key file name
dh dh.pem
push "redirect-gateway def1 bypass-dhcp" (remove the ;)
push "dhcp-option DNS" (remove the ;)
push "dhcp-option DNS" (remove the ;)
user nobody (remove the ;)
group nogroup (remove the ;)

Add at the bottom of the file (this will change authentication algorithm (HMAC) from SHA1 to SHA256)

auth SHA256

Now you need to enable the OpenVPN server, start it, and make sure it is running to check the status.

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# systemctl enable openvpn
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# systemctl start openvpn
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# systemctl status openvpn
â— openvpn.service - OpenVPN service
Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/openvpn.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled)
Active: active (exited) since Thu 2020-08-06 17:15:34 EEST; 7s ago
Process: 48692 ExecStart=/bin/true (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
Main PID: 48692 (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
Aug 06 17:15:34 test systemd[1]: Starting OpenVPN service...
Aug 06 17:15:34 test systemd[1]: Finished OpenVPN service.

Now we need to change the route and to open the firewall ports:
You can see the current configuration with:

# ip a show tun0

We need to edit the file sysctl.conf

root@test:~# nano /etc/sysctl.conf

Uncomment this line to save the file and exit. After this, apply the changes.

root@test:~# sysctl -p

Check the interface:

root@test:~# ip -o -4 route show to default | awk '{print $5}'

Edit this file by changing the default policy to “ACCEPT” – save the file and exit

root@test:~# nano /etc/default/ufw


Edit the file before rules:

root@test:~# nano /etc/ufw/before.rules

Add at the bottom of the file:

# NAT table rules

# Forward traffic through eth0 (in my case the interface adapter is eth0 you should replace it with yours)

# don't delete the 'COMMIT' line or these rules won't be processed

Now we need to open the port for the VPN and allow OpenSSH:

root@test:~# ufw allow 1194/udp
root@test:~# ufw allow OpenSSH
root@test:~# ufw disable
root@test:~# ufw enable
Command may disrupt existing ssh connections. Proceed with operation (y|n)? yes
Firewall is active and enabled on system startup
root@test:~# iptables -nvL POSTROUTING -t nat
Chain POSTROUTING (policy ACCEPT 9 packets, 670 bytes)
pkts bytes target prot opt in out source destination
1190 135K MASQUERADE all -- * eth0

Create OpenVPN directory for the clients files
Create the directories:

root@test:~# mkdir -p ~/openvpn-clients/{configs,base,files}

Copy the ta.key and ca.crt files:

root@test:~# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/ta.key ~/openvpn-clients/base/
root@test:~# cp /etc/openvpn/ca.crt ~/openvpn-clients/base/

Copy the client example configuration on the base directory and edit it:

root@test:~# cp /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/client.conf ~/openvpn-clients/base/
root@test:~# nano ~/openvpn-clients/base/client.conf

Replace YOUR_SERVER_IP with your server IP

remote YOUR_SERVER_IP 1194

Comment the below lines:

ca ca.crt
cert client.crt
key client.key

Add at the end of the file:

auth SHA256

Save the file and exit.

Creating the first client certificate

Switch to EasyRSA directory and generate the client/user key file and copy it to the openvpn-clinets/files

root@test:~# cd ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa gen-req client1 nopass
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/private/client1.key ~/openvpn-clients/files/

Generate the crt file and copy it to the openvpn-clinets/files

root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# ./easyrsa sign-req client client1
root@test:~/EasyRSA-3.0.5# cp ~/EasyRSA-3.0.5/pki/issued/client1.crt ~/openvpn-clients/files/

You can now create a user ovpn file with a script.

Switch the directory to /root/openvpn-clients/ and create a file therewith nano editor

cd /root/openvpn-clients/
nano ~/openvpn-clients/gen_config.sh

Insert the following lines:




# Test for files
if [[ ! -f $i ]]; then
echo " The file $i does not exist"
exit 1
if [[ ! -r $i ]]; then
echo " The file $i is not readable."
exit 1

# Generate client config
cat > ${CONFIGS_DIR}/${1}.ovpn <<EOF
$(cat ${BASE_CONF})
$(cat ${CLIENT_KEY})
$(cat ${CLIENT_CERT})
$(cat ${CA_FILE})
$(cat ${TA_FILE})

* the script is taken from here!

make the file executable:

root@test:~/openvpn-clients# chmod u+x ~/openvpn-clients/gen_config.sh

Generate the ovpn file:

root@test:~/openvpn-clients/configs# ./gen_config.sh client1

The file is located in ~/openvpn-clients/configs and you can list the directory:

root@test:~/openvpn-clients/configs# ll ~/openvpn-clients/configs

Copy the text to the client/ user machine, save it with extension ovpn:

root@test:~/openvpn-clients/configs# cat client1.ovpn

You can find useful commands and more information for the certificates at the link here!

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