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Configuring the UIS VPN on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and 18.04 LTS Desktop

Caution! Due to the wide variations in Linux these instructions are likely to be incompatible, or require adaptation to work, with other versions of Ubuntu.

Generic instructions for configuring the VPN service are provided, which may be helpful when setting up alternative systems.

Important note: The following are best-efforts instructions provided by a user and will allow the VPN service be used from Ubuntu 16.04 and 18.04.  Unfortunately, due to problems in Ubuntu, the setup and control of the VPN must be performed using the command line (Terminal); if you are unsure about this process, please seek assistance from someone familiar with Linux.

You'll need root access to your machine.  All the steps below assume you are using a root shell (or know how to use "sudo" to execute commands as root) and have a reasonable familiarity with Linux (utilities, filesystem, editors, etc.)

For general information on configuration, see our generic instructions and information on our managed VPN service.

Periodically, the certificate used by the VPN server will need to be updated.  When this happens, you will need to download and install the new server certificate, and restart the ipsec service to reconnect.  In this case, follow the instructions from the certificate section onwards.
 

Install the StrongSwan packages

Various packages are required to support the VPN, from the strongswan family.  They should be installed using "apt-get":

sudo apt-get install -y strongswan strongswan-libcharon libstrongswan-extra-plugins libstrongswan-standard-plugins libcharon-extra-plugins

 

VPN configuration file — ipsec.conf

The contents of ubuntu2016-ipsec should be inserted into /etc/ipsec.conf, just underneath the section starting "config setup".  Substitute "username" with that of the Network Access Token you created for this device in the format CRSid+device@cam.ac.uk – for example "abc123+myhomelaptop@cam.ac.uk":
 

VPN password file — ipsec.secrets

The file /etc/ipsec.secrets needs to have the following two lines appended.  Replace "username" with the Network Access Token username (as above) and "token" with the password, for this device:

# ipsec.secrets - strongSwan IPsec secrets file
username@cam.ac.uk : EAP "token"

 

Certificate

A copy of the server's certificate is required so that the client can authenticate the identity of the server, before supplying your username and password (token).

Download links for the certificates for the UIS VPN and the managed VPNs are available on the generic instructions page and the managed VPN page, respectively.  You MUST put your certificates in /etc/ipsec.d/certs – this is the only place that charon (part of the strongSwan VPN software) can read.

You can download the certificate using a browser and move it into place, or use a utility such as wget:

sudo wget -O /etc/ipsec.d/certs/vpn-server-cert.crt https://help.uis.cam.ac.uk/files/vpn.crt

If you're using a managed VPN, connection, you will need to adapt the above line as required (changing the download filename to match the one you entered into the configuration above, plus using the appropriate download link for the certificate).

Note that this will need to done in the event of the server certificate changing.  The client changeover must be done in coordination with the certificate changing on the server: it cannot be done in advance, nor later — if the certificates mismatch, the VPN will not connect.

The certificate last changed on 12th December 2019.
 

DNS servers

When connecting to the VPN, new DNS server addresses will be provided to the client.  These should replace the ones normally used by it (which will be those of the local router or site from where it's connecting) so it can resolve names private to the University (typically those in private.cam.ac.uk).  If using a Managed VPN, these may be local to the institution, allowing the clients to resolve names private to the institution (perhaps internal Active Directory DNS names).

By default, Ubuntu Desktop will not use these due to to the way Network Manager works.  This can be corrected by disabling its DNS handling, following the steps below.

Edit the file /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf and edit it to match the following:

[main]
plugins=ifupdown,keyfile,ofono
#dns=dnsmasq
 
[ifupdown]
managed=false

After making this change, you will need to restart your computer.
 

Connecting and Disconnecting

To connect and disconnect from the VPN, you must use a command line (in a Terminal window).

You only need to do a 'restart' after changing configuration files (e.g. during the setup above, or updating the certificate).  You then use the 'up' or 'down' commands to start or stop the VPN connection itself, as required.  For example:

sudo ipsec restart
sudo ipsec up CAM
sudo ipsec down CAM

Replace "CAM" with "BOTOLPHS" (or other) to use an institutional Managed VPN.
 

Debugging

  • Check /var/log/syslog for messages.
  • Put charondebug="all" in the ipsec.conf configuration file.

Last updated: 3rd November 2021

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