When I travel I use a little travel router from HooToo. Specifically this one. The basic idea is I can use either ethernet or wifi to connect all my devices to the Internet. I get my own private network behind the device which lets the Chromecast work in a hotel and means I don't have to keep logging in 15 devices once a day. This got me thinking though, wouldn't it be cool if the HooToo router could VPN for me.
Enter the HooToo Nano.
Now I'm sure I could have found a travel router someone makes that does VPN, but that's not nearly as exciting as figuring this out myself, bricking it a few times, unbricking it, and eventually having a solution that works well enough I can live with it. You can install OpenWRT on it which makes it an insanely awesome device.
Here's the basics. I connect the router to a wireless network (which is a pain to with OpenWRT). Once I'm connected up, I flip the switch on the side of the Nano and it connects to the VPN, a green light turns on once the VPN is active. Everyone knows green means good, right? If I flip the switch back, it turns the VPN off (the green light turns off). The biggest problem was there is a bug in OpenWRT where if one of the wireless networks it's configured to connect to can't be found, none of the wireless will come up. My solution is I can hit the reset button to return the router to a known good state.
In the spirit of open source, I'll explain how to do all this. Your mileage may vary, it's not simple, but let's face it, it's awesome. I have a magic box that when the green light turns on, I no longer have to worry about the scary local wifi. Perfect for a conference where nobody and nothing can be trusted.
On with the show.
First, you need a HooToo Nano (this is easy). Then you install OpenWRT (this is less easy). I'm not going to explain this part. Apart from already being documented, I don't want to do it again to write it down, I have things working, I'm not touching anything.
Next you need to get openvpn working on it. I followed these instructions from the IPredator folks.
At this point you should have a functioning VPN if you run the init.d openvpn script. With the VPN up, I setup a firewall target called 'vpn'. That name will be important later.
First, we will need to create a nice default configuration. As I said before, OpenWRT has a bug where if one of your wireless networks can't be found, none will work. As I don't have time to figure that bug out right now, I put together some configuration files that only have one wireless network configured as an access point. This configuration exists so I can connect to the router and setup more networks. I then copied all the configuration files from /etc/config to /root/config/
Then I edit /etc/rc.button/reset to add the line
cp /root/config/* /etc/config/
Right before the sync and reboot commands. By doing this I can hit the reset button with a paperclip to return the router to my default settings. Also as a side note, if you hold the reset button down for more than 5 seconds it will do an OpenWRT factory reset, so don't do that.
Lastly, we setup the switch. The best way I could find to read it was by creating the directory /etc/hotplug.d/button, then adding an executable script called "buttons" to it.
root@OpenWrt:~# cat /etc/hotplug.d/button/buttons
#logger the button was $BUTTON and the action was $ACTION
if test "$BUTTON" = 'BTN_0'; then
if test "$ACTION" = 'pressed'; then
uci set firewall.@forwarding.dest='vpn'
if test "$ACTION" = 'released'; then
uci set firewall.@forwarding.dest='wan'
Without a doubt these instructions aren't as clear as they should be. I don't have time right now to write this up properly, someday I would love to put together an OpenWRT image with all this baked in, but for the moment I hope it's useful for someone.
If you try this and have questions, feel free to find me on Twitter: @joshbressers