Jun 17, 2014

How To Install Tinc and Set Up a Basic VPN on Ubuntu 14.04

Tnic VPN Layout
In this article, we are going to show you how to use Tinc, an open source Virtual Private Network (VPN) daemon, to create a secure VPN that your servers can communicate on as if they were on a local network. We will also demonstrate how to use Tinc to set up a secure tunnel into a private network. We will be using Ubuntu 14.04 servers, but the configurations can be adapted for use with any other OS.


A few of the features that Tinc has that makes it useful include encryption, optional compression, automatic mesh routing (VPN traffic is routed directly between the communicating servers, if possible), and easy expansion. These features differentiate Tinc from other VPN solutions such as OpenVPN, and make it a good solution for creating a VPN out of many small networks that are geographically distributed. Tinc is supported on many operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.

Prerequisites

To complete this tutorial, you will require root access on at least three Ubuntu 14.04 servers. Instructions to set up root access can be found here (steps 3 and 4): Initial Server Setup with Ubuntu 14.04.

If you are planning on using this in your own environment, you will have to plan out how your servers need to access each other, and adapt the examples presented in this tutorial to your own needs. If you are adapting this to your own setup, be sure to substitute the highlighted values in the examples with your own values.

If you would like to follow this tutorial exactly, create two servers in the same datacenter, with private networking, and create another server in a separate datacenter.
  • external: All of the VPN nodes will connect to this server, and the connection must be maintained for proper VPN functionality. Additional servers can be configured in a similarly to this one to provide redundancy, if desired.
  • internal: Connects to external VPN node using its private network interface
  • Server1: Connects to external VPN node over the public Internet

Our Goal

Here is a diagram of the VPN that we want to set up (described in Prerequisites):

Tnic VPN Layout

The green represents our VPN, the gray represents the public Internet, and the orange represents the private network. All three servers can communicate on the VPN, even though the private network is inaccessible.

Let's get started by installing Tinc!

Install Tinc

On each server that you want to join the private network, install Tinc. Let's start by updating apt:
sudo apt-get update

Then install Tinc via apt:
sudo apt-get install tinc

Now that Tinc is installed, let's look at the Tinc configuration.

Tinc Configuration

Tinc uses a "netname" to distinguish one Tinc VPN from another (in case of multiple VPNs), and it is recommended to use a netname even if you are only planning on configuring one VPN.

We will call our VPN "netname" for simplicity.

Every server that will be part of our VPN requires the following three configuration components:
  • Configuration files: tinc.conf, tinc-up, and tinc-down, for example
  • Public/private key pairs: For encryption and node authentication
  • Host configuration files: Which contain public keys and other VPN configuration
Let's start by configuring our external node.

Configure external

On external, create the configuration directory structure for our VPN called "netname":
sudo mkdir -p /etc/tinc/netname/hosts

Now open tinc.conf for editing:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/tinc.conf

Now add the following lines:
Name = external
AddressFamily = ipv4
Interface = tun0

This simply configures a node called external, with a network interface that will use IPv4 called "tun0". Save and quit.

Next, let's create an external hosts configuration file:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/external

Add the following lines to it (substitute the public IP address of your server here):
Address = external_public_IP
Subnet = 10.0.0.1/32

Ultimately, this file will be used on other servers to communicate with this server. The address specifies how other nodes will connect to this server, and the subnet specifies which subnet this daemon will serve. Save and quit.

Now generate the public/private keypair for this host with the following command:
sudo tincd -n netname -K4096

This creates the private key (/etc/tinc/netname/rsa_key.priv) and appends the public key to the external hosts configuration file that we recently created (/etc/tinc/netname/hosts/external).

Now we must create tinc-up, the script that will run whenever our netname VPN is started. Open the file for editing now:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/tinc-up

Add the following lines:
#!/bin/sh
ifconfig $INTERFACE 10.0.0.1 netmask 255.255.255.0

When we start our VPN, this script will run to create the network interface that our VPN will use. On the VPN, this server will have an IP address of 10.0.0.1.

Let's also create a script to remove network interface when our VPN is stopped:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/tinc-down

Add the following lines:
#!/bin/sh
ifconfig $INTERFACE down
Save and quit.

Lastly, make tinc network scripts executable:
sudo chmod 755 /etc/tinc/netname/tinc-*
Save and quit.

Let's move on to our other nodes.

Configure internal and server1

These steps are required on both internal and Server1, with slight variations that will be noted.
On internal and Server1, create the configuration directory structure for our VPN called "netname" and edit the Tinc configuration file:
sudo mkdir -p /etc/tinc/netname/hosts
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/tinc.conf

Add the following lines (substitute the name with the node name):
Name = node_name
AddressFamily = ipv4
Interface = tun0
ConnectTo = external

These nodes are configured to attempt to connect to "external" (the node we created prior to this). Save and quit.

Next, let's create the hosts configuration file:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/node_name

For internal, add this line:
Subnet = 10.0.0.2/32

For Server1, add this line:
Subnet = 10.0.0.3/32

Note that the numbers differ. Save and quit.

Next, generate the keypairs:
sudo tincd -n netname -K4096

And create the network interface start script:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/tinc-up

For internal, add this line:
ifconfig $INTERFACE 10.0.0.2 netmask 255.255.255.0

For Server1, add this line:
ifconfig $INTERFACE 10.0.0.3 netmask 255.255.255.0

These IP addresses are how these nodes will be accessed on the VPN. Save and quit.
Now create the network interface stop script:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/tinc-down

And add this line:
ifconfig $INTERFACE down
 Save and quit.

Lastly, make tinc network scripts executable:
sudo chmod 755 /etc/tinc/netname/tinc-*

Save and quit.

Now we must distribute the hosts configuration files to each node.

Distribute the Keys

If you happen to use a configuration management system, here is a good application. Minimally, each node that wants communicate directly with another node must have exchanged public keys, which are inside of the hosts configuration files. In our case, for example, only external needs to exchange public keys with the other nodes. It is easier to manage if you just copy each public key to all members of the node.

Note that you will want to change the "Address" value in external's hosts configuration file to its private IP address when it is copied to internal, so that connection is established over the private network.
Because our VPN is called "netname", here is the location of the hosts configuration files: /etc/tinc/netname/hosts

Exchange Keys Between external and internal

On internal, copy its hosts configuration file to external:
scp /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/internaluser@external_private_IP:/tmp

Then on external, copy the internal's file into the appropriate location:
cd /etc/tinc/netname/hosts; sudo cp /tmp/internal .

Then on external again, copy its hosts configuration file to internal:
scp /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/externaluser@internal_private_IP:/tmp

On internal, copy external's file to the appropriate location:
cd /etc/tinc/netname/hosts; sudo cp /tmp/external .

On internal, let's edit external's hosts configuration file so the "Address" field is set to external's private IP address (so internal will connect to the VPN via the private network). Edit external's hosts configuration file:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/external

Change the "Address" value to external's private IP address:
Address = external_private_IP

Save and quit. Now let's move on to our remaining node, Server1.

Exchange Keys Between external and Server1

On Server1, copy its hosts configuration file to external:
scp /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/server1user@external_public_IP:/tmp

Then on external, copy the server1's file into the appropriate location:
cd /etc/tinc/netname/hosts; sudo cp /tmp/server1 .

Then on external again, copy its hosts configuration file to server1:
scp /etc/tinc/netname/hosts/externaluser@server1_public_IP:/tmp

On Server1, copy external's file to the appropriate location:
cd /etc/tinc/netname/hosts; sudo cp /tmp/external .
 

Exchange Keys Between Additional Nodes

If you are creating a larger VPN, now is a good time to exchange the keys between those other nodes. Remember that if you want two nodes to directly communicate with each other (without a forwarding server between), they need to have exchanged their keys/hosts configuration files, and they need to be able to access each other's real network interfaces. Also, it is fine to just copy each hosts configuration to every node in the VPN.

Test Our Configuration

On each node, starting with external, start Tinc in debug mode like so (netname is the name of our VPN):
sudo tincd -n netname -D -d3

After starting the daemon on each node, you should see output with the names of each node as they connect to external. Now let's test the connection over the VPN.

In a separate window, on server1, ping internal's VPN IP address (which we assigned to 10.0.0.2, earlier):
ping 10.0.0.2

The ping should work fine, and you should see some debug output in the other windows about the connection on the VPN. This indicates that server1 is able to communicate over the VPN through external to internal. Press CTRL-C to quit pinging.

You may also use the VPN interfaces to do any other network communication, like application connections, copying files, and SSH.

On each Tinc daemon debug window, quit the daemon by pressing CTRL-\.
Note: If the connections aren't working, ensure that your firewall is not blocking the connections or forwarding.

Configure Tinc To Startup on Boot

Before the Tinc init script will function properly, we have to put our VPN's name into the nets.boot configuration file.

On each node, edit nets.boot:
sudo vi /etc/tinc/nets.boot

Add the name of your VPN(s) into this file. Ours is "netname":
# This file contains all names of the networks to be started on system startup.
netname

Save and quit. Tinc is now configured to start on boot, and it can be controlled via the service command.

If you would like to start it now run the following command on each of your nodes:
sudo service tinc start

Congrats! Your Tinc VPN is set up.

Conclusion

Now that you have gone through this tutorial, you should have a good foundation to build out your VPN to meet your needs. Tinc is very flexible, and any node can be configured to connect to any other node (that it can access over the network) so it can act as a mesh VPN, not relying on a single node.

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