Digital nomadery and shenanigans...

Secure Comms With OpenBSD and OpenVPN, Part 5

This is the fifth and final part in a series of posts detailing how I’m securing my Internet communications using open-source software.

Part 1 – Set up of an OpenBSD VPS with full-disk encryption and the minimum OS install necessary to run OpenVPN.
Part 2 – Installation of OpenVPN and configuring the PKI system.
Part 3 – OpenVPN configuration and actually running the OpenVPN daemon.
Part 4 – Installation and configuration of the Tunnelblick OpenVPN client on Mac OS X.

OpenBSD 5.4

A few weeks after I set up and configured the VPN system on OpenBSD 5.3, a new version of OpenBSD was released. This isn’t too surprising of course, as the OpenBSD team releases every 6 months!

Here are some relevant changes that I’ve noticed:

The OpenVPN package has been updated to version 2.3.1p2 – Here’s the changelog from the previous 2.2.x version. Of particular note, OpenVPN now fully supports IPv6.

The easy-rsa package is no longer a part of OpenVPN – This is a Good Thing™, as the version of easy-rsa included in the OpenVPN package on OpenBSD 5.3 is incomplete and difficult to reconcile with the official easy-rsa package. The new easy-rsa package tracks version 2.2.0, and includes the whichopenssl script that was missing from the previous packaged version.

iOS Client

There is an excellent and free iOS application for OpenVPN. Configuration is simple, just build an OpenVPN client configuration (see Part 4), and transfer the files to the OpenVPN application on your iOS device using iTunes.

Here’s a screenshot of the OpenVPN client in action (with my actual VPN IP address blanked out):

Parting Thoughts

I’ve added the following paragraph to the introduction of each part of this series:

It should be noted that even these measures are only securing part of my traffic. Everything that exits my VPN endpoint is protected only by whatever protocol-specific security measures are already in place (e.g. HTTPS for web traffic).

I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand the limitations of a VPN and the risk inherent in communicating over the Internet. Because the Internet is a shared, public medium, communications channels that use it have an inherent level of exposure that can never be eliminated.

With that concern in mind, I have to admit that my paranoia has practical limits. To a certain extent this series documents the risks I’m willing to accept, like:

  • Using a Virtual Private Server hosted in a third-party country.
  • Installing the operating system on that VPS using installation media provided by the hosting company.
  • Using closed, commericial hardware (a Macbook Air and an iPhone 4S), running closed-source, commericial operating systems (OS X and iOS).
  • Storing passwords and credentials for all the above in a closed-source password management tool.

The Bottom Line

All of the technical measures in the world are unlikely to block a determined effort to access your communications. The solution outlined in this series should be considered a deterrent to casual snooping, and nothing more.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5