Installing OpenVPN on Ubuntu 18.04 Server with OpenSSH 1.1.0

OpenVPN is a free open source VPN that allows you to encrypt your web traffic to protect yourself while using public Wi-Fi in hotels or coffee shops

📅 May 08, 2019

Commands to use

  • Generate Certificate Authority
    • ./easyrsa build-ca nopass
  • Fulling generating and signing a server certificate and key
    • ./easyrsa build-server-full <server-name> nopass
  • Fully generate and sign a client certificate and key
    • ./easyrsa build-client-full <client-name> nopass
  • Generate a Diffie-Hellman based on parameters found in ./vars file
    • ./easyrsa gen-dh
  • Create a pki (Public Key Infrastructure) directory and delete anything in previous directory
    • ./easyrsa init-pki
  • Generate a HMAC (Hash-based Message Authentication Code)
    • openvpn --genkey --secret ~/easyrsa/pki/ta.key

Install OpenVPN & EasyRSA

First things first, make sure your system is up to date and then install OpenVPN. After that we will download the latest version of EasyRSA, version 3.0.6 at the time of writing, from GitHub.

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y
sudo apt install openvpn

Now download EasyRSA

Here is a link to the EashRSA github

Here is the latest release at the time of writing. easy-rsa-v3.0.6

cd ~
tar xvf EasyRSA-unix-v3.0.6.tgz

Configuring EasyRSA Variables, Generating Certificates & Encryption Files

Configuring EasyRSA Variables

Now we will need to configure EasyRSA to use the correct company/organization information when it sets up your certificates. In order to do this we will have to copy and edit the sample vars file.

cd EasyRSA-v3.0.6/
cp vars.example vars
# use you can use nano if you're not comfortable using vim
vim vars

Now we will have to change the vars file to include the relevant information about where were creating our certificates from.

Look for the block of text that looks like the following...


#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      ""
#set_var EASYRSA_REQ_OU         "My Organizational Unit"


Uncomment each of the lines and fill in the relevant information about your location, organization, etc. If you are not apart of an organization maybe use your name.


set_var EASYRSA_REQ_PROVINCE   "Oregon"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_CITY       "Portland"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_ORG        "Awesome Company"
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_EMAIL      ""
set_var EASYRSA_REQ_OU         "Privacy"


Save and exit the file.

Generating Certificate Authority (CA)

The Certificate Authority (CA) is the certificate that allows you to sign all other certificates that you generate on this server for OpenVPN. When it comes to generating certificates with EasyRSA there are a few steps.

  1. You generate the certificate request .req file and certificate key .key file.
  2. After that you have to sign that certificate request to make it a legitimate certificate. After signing you will have a .crt file
  3. After signing you transfer your newly created certificate to where it belongs. For the server certificate you would transfer it to /etc/openvpn for client certificates you would transfer it to ~/client-configs/keys, We'll get into generating client .ovpn files later.

Now you are ready to start creating certificates. We will need to generate a directory called pki/ (Private Key Infrastructure), which is where all the certificates that EasyRSA generates will go initially.

# This command is run inside the EasyRSA folder that we extracted
./easyrsa init-pki

Now we need to generate the CA for the server to be able to start signing certificates. Use nopass to avoid having to create a password.

./easyrsa build-ca nopass

The script will ask you to verify the Common Name for your CA. You can just press ENTER and move on.

Generating the Server Certificate

Now let's generate the server certificate and key & sign it. Fortunelty if you are doing both the certificate generating and signing on the same machine then you can use a handy command that generates the certificate and key and then signs that certificate for you. The command is ./easyrsa build-server-full

Let's generate the server certificate and sign it all in one command

./easyrsa build-server-full server nopass

Now your newly generated certificate will be located in the pki/ directory

Your key will be in pki/private/server.key Your signed certificate will be in pki/issued/server.crt

Let's move on to generating our client certificates.

Generating Client Certificates and Keys

The ./easyrsa build-server-full command was pretty useful when it came to generating & signing the server certificate. There is another command for generating and signing client certificates all in one go. ./easyrsa build-client-full is that command.

Let's generate and sign the client certificates and key.

./easyrsa build-client-full client1 nopass

Your key will be in pki/private/client1.key Your signed certificate will be in pki/issued/client1.crt

Now that we're done with the client certificate let's move on to generating the encryption files.

Generating Encryption Files

Generate Diffie Hellman Key

The Diffie Hellman key is used by OpenVPN during key exchange. We can generate it using the following command.

./easyrsa gen-dh

This command will take a little bit of time to complete, just be patient with it.

Once the command is finished you will have a file dh.pem in your pki/ directory.

Generate HMAC Signature

The HMAC signature is used to strengthen the OpenVPN servers TLS integrity capabilities.

Run the following command to generate an HMAC signature into your pki/ directory.

openvpn --genkey --secret pki/ta.key

With that we are done generating all of the required keys for our OpenVPN server. Let's move on to configuring network and firewall setting on our server.

Configure Server Settings

In order to have OpenVPN function correctly on our Ubuntu server we will need to modify some settings.

Configure IP Forwarding

First we will allow IP Forwarding.

Edit /etc/sysctl.conf

sudo nano /etc/sysctl.conf

Inside the file file the line that looks like this. #net.ipv4.ip_forward=1. Remove the "#" to uncomment this line and activate the setting.



Configure Firewall (UFW) Settings

Now we will configure all of the settings relating to the firewall.

Setup Masquerading for VPN Traffic

First we will need to figure out our public network interface. To do this run the following command

ip route | grep default

Your output will look similar to this.

default via 123.456.1.789 dev wlp11s0 proto static

What you're looking for is the 5th item in the list. The name of the interface matters. It can be a few different interfaces like eth0, wlp11s0, ...

It doesn't matter if your name is different from mine. What matters is that you take not of that name. We will be referencing it in the next step.

Edit /etc/ufw/before.rules. We will now setup masquerading.

sudo nano /etc/ufw/before.rules

Now right after the first block of comments add your settings to masquerade all traffic going through the VPN.

# rules.before
# Rules that should be run before the ufw command line added rules. Custom
# rules should be added to one of these chains:
#   ufw-before-input
#   ufw-before-output
#   ufw-before-forward



Allow Packet Forwarding

Now let's change the default packet forwarding settings in UFW to allow packet forwarding in the /etc/default/ufw

sudo nano /etc/default/ufw

Look for the option DEFAULT_FORWARD_POLICY and change the value from "DROP" to "ACCEPT"


Allow OpenVPN through Firewall

Now let's setup our firewall rules to allow OpenVPN connections. I will also be setting up rules to allow SSH connections too just in case you don't have those setup.

sudo ufw allow 1194/udp
sudo ufw allow OpenSSH

In the next section we will be setting up our OpenVPN settings. If you are planning on using a different port for OpenVPN like port 443 then use that port down instead.

Let's start and enable the firewall

sudo ufw enable

We're all done with the network and firewall settings now let's configure the OpenVPN settings.

Configuring OpenVPN

Copying Required Server Certificates

Earlier in this guide we generated all of the required certificates for OpenVPN. Now is the time for us to copy the required certificates for OpenVPN into our /etc/openvpn/ directory.

sudo cp ~/easyrsa/pki/dh.pem /etc/openvpn
sudo cp ~/easyrsa/pki/ta.key /etc/openvpn
sudo cp ~/easyrsa/pki/ca.crt /etc/openvpn
sudo cp ~/easyrsa/pki/issued/server.crt /etc/openvpn
sudo cp ~/easyrsa/pki/private/server.key /etc/openvpn
sudo cp ~/easyrsa/pki/private/ca.key /etc/openvpn

Let's move on to setting up our OpenVPN server settings

Setting up OpenVPN Server Settings

Creating config files from scratch is a huge pain, fortunetly OpenVPN comes with some sample configs for us to use and modify.

Let's start by copying one of those configs and extracting it into our /etc/openvpn directory.

sudo cp /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/server.conf.gz /etc/openvpn/

sudo gzip -d /etc/openvpn/server.conf

Open the newly extracted server.conf file in a text editor

sudo nano /etc/openvpn/server.conf

Find dh dh2048.pem, change it to dh dh.pem to match the name of the dh.pem file we moved into our /etc/openvpn directory.

# Old
dh dh2048.pem

# New
dh dh.pem

Find tls-auth, make sure it's not commented and the value is set to 0. Under it add a new line with the following text

key-direction 0

Now find the cipher AES-256-CBC line, make sure it's not commented. Add the following on a new line below it.

auth SHA256

Find user & group setting lines. Uncomment both lines.

# Old
;user nobody
;group nogroup

# New
user nobody
group nogroup

Don't close the file just yet and continue on to the next section.

Redirect All DNS Traffic Through VPN & Push New DNS

Now let's have our OpenVPN server push some settings over to our clients that tell the client to send all traffic through our VPN including Domain name lookups.

Inside the /etc/openvpn/server.conf file uncomment the line push "redirect-gateway def1 bypass-dhcp"

# Old
;push "redirect-gateway def1 bypass-dhcp"

# New
push "redirect-gateway def1 bypass-dhcp"

Next, just a little bit lower you'll see push "dhcp-option DNS", uncomment both lines to push those DNS servers to the client. Feel free to change the DNS servers to whichever ones you prefer.

# Old
;push "dhcp-option DNS"
;push "dhcp-option DNS"

# New
push "dhcp-option DNS"
push "dhcp-option DNS"

Now you're all done setting up the OpenVPN server settings. Time to Start & Enable our OpenVPN Server

Starting & Enabling OpenVPN

First let's start our OpenVPN server and pass to it which config file we want OpenVPN to use.

sudo systemctl start openvpn@server

To check if everything is working run the following command

sudo systemctl status openvpn@server

The output should look something like this


If you see Active: active (runnning) then everything is setup correctly and you can enable OpenVPN to start automatically when the server starts up.

sudo systemctl enable openvpn@server

Now that OpenVPN is running and enabled let's move on to creating our client config files to allow users to connect to our VPN.

Generating Client .ovpn files

When it comes to connecting to your OpenVPN server you will need to create .ovpn files. The files are actually really easy to create, basically all you do is use a client config template and then add the contents of your ca.crt, client.crt, client.key, and ta.key file in the appropriate bracket. I'm not going to show you how to manually create this files but what I will do is show you how to create a little script that allows you automate the generation process a bit.

I am using the exact same method that Mark Drake is using in his guide on How to Setup OpenVPN on Ubuntu 18.04.

First create a client-configs/ directory with another directory called keys inside of it. This can be done in one command.

mkdir -p ~/client-configs/keys

Now create a files directory. This will be where the generated .ovpn files will be outputted.

mkdir ~/client-configs/files

Now let's lock down the permissions for our newly created client-configs/ directory

chmod -R 700 ~/client-configs

Now let's copy over all of the necessary files required to generate our client .ovpn file.

cp ~/easyrsa/pki/ca.crt ~/client-configs/keys
cp ~/easyrsa/pki/ta.key ~/client-configs/keys
cp ~/easyrsa/pki/issued/client1.crt ~/client-configs/keys
cp ~/easyrsa/pki/private/client1.key ~/client-configs/keys

We will need to setup a base line config for our client .ovpn files. This will make your life much easier since you won't have to copy and edit a config file every time you want to create a new client file.

cp /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/client.conf ~/client-configs/base.conf

Now let's edit this file and change some settings

nano ~/client-configs/base.conf

Find the remote your_server_ip 1194 line and replace your_server_ip with your public server IP address. If your server is at home you can use a site call IP Chicken to find your public IP address and use that one. Otherwise use the ip address that is displayed when running ip route | grep default

default via 123.456.1.789 dev wlp11s0 proto static

Change your_server_ip to the correct IP

# Old
. . .
# The hostname/IP and port of the server.
# You can have multiple remote entries
# to load balance between the servers.
remote your_server_ip 1194
. . .

# new
remote 123.456.1.789 1194

Find proto udp make sure it matches up with the one in the server config. If you didn't change the protocol to tcp then you don't have to worry about changing this.

proto udp

Find the user and group settings and uncomment them by removing the ";"

# Before
# Downgrade privileges after initialization (non-Windows only)
;user nobody
;group nogroup

# After
user nobody
group nogroup

Now find the section where ca, cert and key. Make sure to comment out these lines since we will be adding all of those key directly into the file itself.

# Before
# SSL/TLS parms.
# See the server config file for more
# description.  It's best to use
# a separate .crt/.key file pair
# for each client.  A single ca
# file can be used for all clients.
ca ca.crt
cert client.crt
key client.key

# After
#ca ca.crt
#cert client.crt
#key client.key

Find tls-auth line and comment out that setting.

# Before
tls-auth ta.key 1

# After
#tls-auth ta.key 1

Find cipher AES-256-CBC & make sure it matches it up with the server config file

cipher AES-256-CBC
auth SHA256

At the bottom of your file add the key-direction setting

key-direction 1

Save and exit the file.

Let's write the script that will allow us to combine our new baseline config and the correct keys to create a .ovpn file to give to our clients.

Writing the Script

Time to write a simple script that will create our .ovpn files. This script simple copy's our base config, and then adds the contents of our certificates and keys to the end of the file inside the appropriate tags.

Let's write the script. In your favorite text editor create a new file, in ~/client-configs/.

nano ~/client-configs/

Paste the following code inside the file


# First argument: Client identifier


cat ${BASE_CONFIG} \
    <(echo -e '<ca>') \
    ${KEY_DIR}/ca.crt \
    <(echo -e '</ca>\n<cert>') \
    ${KEY_DIR}/${1}.crt \
    <(echo -e '</cert>\n<key>') \
    ${KEY_DIR}/${1}.key \
    <(echo -e '</key>\n<tls-auth>') \
    ${KEY_DIR}/ta.key \
    <(echo -e '</tls-auth>') \
    > ${OUTPUT_DIR}/${1}.ovpn

Save and exit the file.

Let's make sure the file is executable.

chmod 700 ~/client-configs/

Generating .ovpn files

Now it's time to generate the client configs. We already copied over our client certificate & key, our ca certificate and our HMAC key.

To generate the certificate all you will have to do is cd into the ~/client-configs directory & run the ./ command as root while passing it what config you want to create. Sounds confusing, it's easier just to show you.

cd ~/client-configs
sudo ./ client1

Your generated .ovpn file will be located in ~/client-configs/files

Now all you have to do is transfer that config from your server to your client device and you are all set. You would want to use a secure way to transfer that files. If the server is local you can use a usb drive, however I find it easier to just use sftp

How to transfer your files with SFTP

Here is a guide on how to use sftp. I will be giving a quick run down but if you want more information just read the guide.

SFTP in a nutshell works just like SSH but with less commands and slightly different commands. Think of SFTP as SSH but with only the ability to move around and see where you are.

Once you SFTP into a machine you can move around on that machine with cd, list the contents of the current directory ls. But what about moving around on your local machine? Well it's pretty simple. You want to ls on your local computer? Just use lls, the way I imagine it is like this Local list segments. What about changing directories? lcd or in other words local change directory. Rule of thumb just add a "L" to whatever command you want to run in order to run it on your local machine instead of the remote server.

Okay so you navigated around and found the file you want to transfer to your local machine now how do you get that file onto your local machine? Simple use get. If you want to put a file onto the remote machine use put.

Simple right?

Ex. Transferring hello.txt from local machine to remote machine

put hello.txt

Ex. Transferring remote.txt from remote machine to local machine

get remote.txt

In order to transfer our newly created client1.ovpn file from the remote server to our local computer we will sftp into the server and get it on our machine.

sftp user@open-vpn-server

> cd ~/client-configs/files

> get client1.ovpn

> exit

That's it now you should have the file on your local computer.

Install OpenVPN on your computer and import the .ovpn file.