Introducing NeoRouter VPN: A Star Is Born

In our last article, we introduced PPTP VPNs for interconnecting remote users and branch offices to a central network hub. Known as a hub-and-spoke VPN, the advantage of this design is it lets remote users participate as peers in an existing home office LAN. It’s simple to set up and easy to maintain. The drawback is vulnerability to man-in-the-middle attacks.

Today, we want to turn our attention to the more traditional client-server VPN which still relies upon a central server but uses a star topology to connect remote nodes. The major difference is that only registered devices participate in the virtual private network so there is no direct access to other machines on the LANs of the registered devices. If you have servers scattered all over the countryside, this is an excellent way to manage and interconnect them. All data and communications between the nodes can then be routed through the encrypted VPN tunnel for rock-solid security.

With NeoRouter’s free software, you can set up your VPN server using a PC, a Mac, a Linux or FreeBSD machine, OpenWrt Backfire, and Tomato. VPN clients are available for PCs, Macs, Linux and FreeBSD PCs, OpenWrt, Tomato as well as Android phones and tablets. There’s even an HTML5 web application in addition to a Chrome browser plug-in. With the OpenWrt and Tomato devices or if you’re an extreme techie, you can broaden your NeoRouter star configuration to include bridging of remote LANs. See pp. 47-50 of the NeoRouter User’s Manual. And you can interconnect up to 256 devices at no cost. For $999, you can enlarge your VPN to support 1,000 devices. Screen sharing, remote desktop connections, HTTP, and SSH access all work transparently using private IP addresses of the VPN nodes which are automatically assigned to the 10.0.0.0 private network.

You may be wondering why we’ve moved on from Hamachi. Suffice it to say, LogMeIn has put the squeeze on the free version to the point that it’s now next to worthless. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of a free version of Hamachi (other than a trial edition) on LogMeIn’s current web site. Here’s a feature comparison which says it better than we could:

Today we are introducing the first of two NeoRouter VPN solutions. First, we have a simple installation script that works with any PBX in a Flash 2™ server. See also our more recent column for the dedicated server edition of NeoRouter VPN known as VPN in a Flash. It’s suitable for use on a dedicated server or running as a virtual machine. For smaller VPNs, we prefer the add-on module for PBX in a Flash. For larger deployments, you probably should opt for the dedicated machine. It also isolates your VPN server from your PBX which generally is the better network strategy. Regardless of the installation scenario you choose, keep in mind that neither option requires exposure of your entire server to the Internet. Only a single TCP port needs to be opened in your hardware-based firewall and IPtables Linux firewall.

NeoRouter Setup with PIAF2™. We’re assuming you already have a PBX in a Flash 2 server set up behind a hardware-based firewall. If not, start there. Next, we’ll need to download and run the installer for your new NeoRouter Server. It also installs the client. Just log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

wget http://incrediblepbx.com/install-neorouter
chmod +x install-neorouter
./install-neorouter

The installer will walk you through these five installation steps, but we’ll repeat them here so you have a ready reference down the road.

First, on your hardware-based firewall, map TCP port 32976 to the private IP address of your PIAF2 server. This tells the router to send all NeoRouter VPN traffic to your PIAF2 server when it hits your firewall. If you forget this step, your NeoRouter VPN will never work!

Second, we’re going to use your server’s public IP address as the destination for incoming traffic to your NeoRouter VPN. If this is a dynamic IP address, you’ll need an FQDN that’s kept current by a service such as DynDNS.com.

Third, each administrator and user is going to need a username to access your NeoRouter VPN. You can use the same credentials to log in from multiple client machines, something you may or may not want to do. We’re going to set up credentials for one administrator as part of the install. You can add extra ones by adding entries with one of the following commands using the keyword admin or user. Don’t use any special characters in the username and password!

nrserver -adduser username password admin
nrserver -adduser username password user

Fourth, make up a very secure password to access your NeoRouter VPN. No special characters.

You’re done. Review your entries very carefully. If all is well, press Enter. If you blink, you may miss the completion of the install process. It’s that quick.

Fifth, after your NeoRouter VPN is installed, you can optionally go to the NeoRouter web site and register your new VPN by clicking Create Standalone Domain. Make up a name you can easily remember with no periods or spaces. You’ll be prompted for the IP address of your server in the second screen. FQDNs are NOT permitted.

When a VPN client attempts to login to your server, the server address is always checked against this NeoRouter database first before any attempt is made to resolve an IP address or FQDN using DNS. If no matching entry is found, it will register directly to your server using a DNS lookup of the FQDN. Whether to register your VPN is totally up to you. Logins obviously occur quicker using this registered VPN name, but logins won’t happen at all if your server’s dynamic IP address changes and you’ve hard-coded a different IP address into your registration at neorouter.com.

Setting Up a NeoRouter Client. As mentioned previously, there are NeoRouter clients available for almost every platform imaginable, except iPhones and iPads. Hopefully, they’re in the works. So Step #1 is to download whatever clients are appropriate to meet your requirements. Here’s the NeoRouter Download Link. Make sure you choose a client for the Free version of NeoRouter. And make sure it is a version 1.7 client! Obviously, the computing platform needs to match your client device. The clients can be installed in the traditional way with Windows machines, Macs, etc.

CentOS NeoRouter Client. As part of the installation above, we have automatically installed the NeoRouter client for your particular flavor of CentOS 6, 32-bit or 64-bit. In order to access resources on your NeoRouter server from other clients, you will need to activate the client on your server as well. This gets the server a private IP address in the 10.0.0.0 network.

To activate the client, type: nrclientcmd. You’ll be prompted for your Domain, Username, and Password. You can use the registered domain name from neorouter.com if you completed step #5. Or you can use the private IP address of your server. If your router supports hairpin NAT, you can use the public IP address or server’s FQDN, if you have one. After you complete the entries, you’ll get a display that looks something like this:

To exit from NeoRouter Explorer, type: quit. The NeoRouter client will continue to run so you can use the displayed private IP addresses to connect to any other online devices in your NeoRouter VPN. All traffic from connections to devices in the 10.0.0.0 network will flow through NeoRouter’s encrypted VPN tunnel. This includes inter-office SIP and IAX communications between Asterisk® endpoints.

Admin Tools for NeoRouter. Here are a few helpful commands for monitoring and managing your NeoRouter VPN.

Browser access to NeoRouter Configuration Explorer (requires user with Admin privileges)

Browser access to NeoRouter Network Explorer (user with Admin or User privileges)

To access your NeoRouter Linux client: nrclientcmd

To restart NeoRouter Linux client: /etc/rc.d/init.d/nrservice.sh restart

To restart NeoRouter Linux server: /etc/rc.d/init.d/nrserver.sh restart

To set domain: nrserver -setdomain YOUR-VPN-NAME domainpassword

For a list of client devices: nrserver -showcomputers

For a list of existing user accounts: nrserver -showusers

For the settings of your NeoRouter VPN: nrserver -showsettings

To add a user account: nrserver -adduser username password user

To add admin account: nrserver -adduser username password admin

Test VPN access: http://www.neorouter.com/checkport.php

For a complete list of commands: nrserver –help

To change client name from default pbx.local1:

  • Edit /etc/hosts
  • Edit /etc/sysconfig/network
  • Edit /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0
  • Edit /etc/asterisk/vm_general.inc
  • reboot

For the latest NeoRouter happenings, follow the NeoRouter blog on WordPress.com.

GPL2 License. The install-neorouter application is open source software licensed under GPL2. The NeoRouter Server and Client software is freeware but not open source. This installer has been specifically tailored for use on PBX in a Flash 2 servers, but it can easily be adjusted to work with virtually any Linux-based Asterisk system. If you make additions or changes, we hope you’ll share them on our forums for the benefit of the entire VoIP community. Enjoy!

Originally published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012




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