How to Use Raspberry Pi as VPN Router?

I. Introduction

A. What is a Raspberry Pi?

A Raspberry Pi is a small, affordable, credit card-sized computer that can be used for a variety of projects from simple tasks like word processing to more complex projects like gaming, web servers, and media centers.

The most popular models of Raspberry Pi include the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B which features a 1.5GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 processor, up to 8GB RAM, dual-band wireless networking, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, and dual micro HDMI ports that can drive two 4K displays.

The Raspberry Pi is well-suited for a VPN router setup due to its small form factor, affordable cost, Ethernet networking port, USB ports for additional accessories, and most importantly, its Linux-based operating system Raspberry Pi OS that allows installation of VPN client software.

B. What is a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that establishes a secure, encrypted connection over a less secure network such as the public internet. It protects your privacy and anonymity by hiding your IP address and online activity.

The main benefits of using a VPN include:

  • Protecting your privacy and anonymity online
  • Securing your internet connection on public Wi-Fi
  • Accessing blocked or restricted websites and services
  • Preventing throttling by ISPs
  • Enhancing online security against cyberattacks

Some popular VPN services like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark etc. offer custom VPN apps or configuration files that are compatible for installation on Raspberry Pi devices.

C. Why Use Raspberry Pi as a VPN Router?

Using a Raspberry Pi as a VPN router has several key advantages:

  • Cost-effective: The Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive device perfect for use as a VPN router. Much cheaper than buying a commercial VPN router.
  • Portable: Its small size allows it to be easily carried around wherever you need secure internet access.
  • Customizable: As it runs on Linux, it is highly flexible to customize based on your specific needs.

However, there are some disadvantages to consider:

  • Technical setup: Configuring VPN client software requires some technical expertise compared to using a commercial plug-and-play VPN router.
  • Limited processing power: Raspberry Pis have less processing muscle versus desktop PCs so connecting multiple devices could impact speeds.

II. Getting Started

A. Hardware Requirements

To use your Raspberry Pi as a VPN router, you will need:

  • Raspberry Pi (recommended model: Raspberry Pi 4 for best performance)
  • Power supply – Official USB-C power adaptor
  • MicroSD card – 16GB Class 10 minimum
  • USB Wi-Fi adapter – For connecting wirelessly, dual-band adapter recommended
  • Ethernet cable – For wired internet connectivity

B. Software Requirements

The software requirements are:

  • Raspberry Pi OS – The official operating system, download the latest version
  • VPN client software – Such as OpenVPN or WireGuard
  • Secure SHH client – Such as PuTTY to remotely access the command line
  • Additional software – For advanced features e.g. DNS server

III. Setting Up your Raspberry Pi as a VPN Router

A. Flashing Raspberry Pi OS onto the SD Card

The first step is installing the Raspberry Pi OS onto the micro SD card:

  1. Download the latest Raspberry Pi OS image from the official website
  2. Use balenaEtcher to flash the OS image onto the SD card
  3. Safely eject the SD card and insert it into your Pi

B. Booting and Initial Configuration

Once the OS is installed, boot your Raspberry Pi and complete the initial setup:

  1. Connect the power supply, USB Wi-Fi adapter, Ethernet cable and HDMI monitor
  2. Log in with default credentials: User: pi, Password: raspberry
  3. Use sudo raspi-config for changing password and enabling SSH
  4. Update packages – sudo apt update && sudo apt full-upgrade
  5. Enable static IP address by modifying /etc/dhcpcd.conf file
  6. Reboot Pi for changes to take effect

C. Installing and Configuring VPN Client Software

Choosing and Installing OpenVPN or WireGuard

Now install either OpenVPN or WireGuard community version:

sudo apt install openvpn

OR

sudo apt install wireguard

Downloading and Importing VPN Configuration Files

Next, download the VPN configuration files from your VPN provider and import them:

/home/pi/vpn_config/client.ovpn

Modifying Configuration Files

Optional step for changing ports, protocols etc. by editing the .ovpn or .conf files.

Setting up Automatic VPN Connection on Boot

To auto-connect the VPN on bootup, enable the systemd service file:

systemctl enable openvpn-client@client

D. Enabling Network Forwarding and IPtables

Network forwarding needs to be enabled for routing traffic properly:

  1. Edit /etc/sysctl.conf to set: net.ipv4.ip_forward=1
  2. Enable IP forwarding: sysctl -p
  3. Set up iptables rules for NAT routing e.g.:
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o tun0 -j MASQUERADE
iptables -A FORWARD -i eth0 -o tun0 -j ACCEPT
  1. Save iptables rules and test VPN connection

IV. Advanced Features and Optimization

A. Setting up a DNS Server

To prevent DNS leaks, install and configure DNS server software like Bind9:

  1. Install packages – sudo apt install bind9
  2. Update configuration files for forwarding queries over VPN tunnel
  3. Configure VPN client to use Pi’s IP as custom DNS server

B. Setting Up a Firewall

Enhance security by using a firewall such as UFW or iptables rules:

  1. Install UFW – sudo apt install ufw
  2. Allow SSH port and deny other incoming connections
  3. Apply extra iptables rules for specific applications or devices

C. Monitoring and Troubleshooting

Useful commands for checking status and diagnosing issues:

  • systemctl status openvpn@client – Check if VPN is connected
  • ifconfig – Confirm tun adapter presence
  • tail -f /var/log/vpn.log – Monitoring VPN logs real-time
  • Access Raspberry Pi OS/VPN forums for assistance

V. Conclusion

A. Recap of the Benefits of Using Raspberry Pi as a VPN Router

In summary, the key benefits are:

  • Inexpensive, portable and customizable VPN router solution
  • Securely route all internet traffic through encrypted VPN tunnel
  • Privacy protection by hiding IP address and DNS queries
  • Access geo-restricted content and blocked websites
  • Secure public Wi-Fi connections for all your devices

B. Recommendations for Further Exploration and Customization

You can further customize your homebrew VPN router:

  • Set up Pi-hole for extra ad-blocking
  • Configure the VPN kill switch using iptables rules
  • Automate VPN connections using cron jobs
  • Create DNS based rules for selective routing
  • Experiment with connecting multiple VPN clients

C. Final Thoughts and Future Possibilities

The Raspberry Pi microcomputer continues to push boundaries for tech makers. As VPN services gain popularity for online privacy, using a Pi as a DIY router opens up lots of possibilities for innovation. Improved performance of newer Pi 4/5 models also unlock advanced usage scenarios beyond the basic setup detailed in this guide.

VI. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can I use any Raspberry Pi model for this setup?

While most models should work, Raspberry Pi 4 provides the best performance for a VPN router with its faster processor, more RAM, USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet.

2. What is the difference between OpenVPN and WireGuard?

OpenVPN uses SSL/TLS tunnels while WireGuard uses public/private key cryptography. WireGuard is lighter and faster but OpenVPN has wider client support currently.

3. Do I need a dedicated VPN service for this?

Yes, you will require a paid/free VPN account from providers like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, ProtonVPN etc. Many offer configuration files that work on the Raspberry Pi OS.

4. Can I share my VPN connection with other devices?

Yes, once routing is enabled other devices on your local network can have their internet traffic routed through the Raspberry Pi VPN router.

5. What security measures should I take?

Use secure passwords, enable the firewall, close unused ports, set up fail2ban, keep OS updated and take regular backups to enhance security.

6. How can I troubleshoot common connection issues?

Check status with systemctl status, confirm tun presence with ifconfig, routes with route -n and monitor VPN logs. Re-import VPN files, change protocols or contact your VPN’s help resources.

7. Are there alternative ways to set up a VPN router?

Yes, you can setup VPN on an old PC or virtual machine in Azure/AWS cloud. Flashing an open-source router firmware like OpenWRT also allows VPN installation.

8. What are the future possibilities of using Raspberry Pi for VPNs?

Faster Pi models, modular add-on boards, advancements in VPN protocols and integrated management interfaces open up more possibilities like connecting multiple VPNs, selective routing, easier configuration etc. Performance will continue improving.