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An Ansible playbook to create a hardened OpenVPN server instance

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ansible-openvpn-hardened is an Ansible playbook written to create and manage a hardened OpenVPN server instance in the cloud or locally. The created instance is configured for use as a tunnel for internet traffic allowing more secure internet access when using public WiFi or other untrusted networks. With this setup you don't have to trust or pay a shady VPN service; you control your data and the security of the VPN.

Other Ansible playbooks and roles exist to automate the installation of OpenVPN but few, if any, thoroughly harden the OpenVPN server. ansible-openvpn-hardened configures the OpenVPN server to: - run entirely as an unprivileged user as described in the OpenVPN docs - use systemd to further sandbox the OpenVPN server process. - use only TLS ciphers that implement perfect forward secrecy - leverage easyrsa for PKI with a CRL and ansible playbooks for easy key management - produce thorough security audits using independent tools - And more; see the Hardening section

ansible-openvpn-hardened includes a playbook to run audits against the created server that independently verify the steps taken to harden the server. The supported auditing tools include OpenSCAP (with assistance from ubuntu-scap on Debian/Ubuntu), lynis and tiger. Example output from these tools can be reviewed on the project wiki.

To learn more about the server hardening read on; to get started immediately, jump to Quick Start.

Supported Targets

The intended target is a fresh instantiation of an image running on a cloud provider like Digital Ocean (fair warning: referral link) or Microsoft's Azure. Physical boxes or local VMs should work as well assuming they are accessible over SSH, but haven't been tested.

The following Linux distros are supported:

  • CentOS 7.2 x64 (And by extension RHEL 7.2 should work, but this hasn't been tested)
  • Ubuntu 16.04 x64
  • Debian 8.7 x64

Other distros and versions may work but no promises. If support for another distro is desired, submit an issue ticket. Pull requests are always welcome.


Some of the steps taken to harden the server:


  • OpenVPN both starts and runs as the
    user instead of starting as
    and dropping privileges
    • OpenVPN recommends this as being the most secure way to run on Linux. The OpenVPN wiki describes how to do this, but those instructions don't work on distros using systemd. The ansible tasks defined in this project show how to get this working with systemd
  • Firewall configured to only allow SSH access on the VPN LAN
    • The point of this script is to create a VPN tunnel; why not use that VPN to protect the SSH daemon as well? This not only makes the server more secure, it also eliminates the hundreds of daily log entries created by automated scripts trolling the internet for unsecured SSH ports. This makes the system logs easier to sift through.
  • Numerous modifications to
    for hardening. See
  • auditd is installed and configured to monitor administrative actions and/or suspicious activity. See
  • AIDE is a file and directory integrity checker. It's installed, configured and an initial baseline is taken using
    aide --init
    just before the playbook finishes. See

systemd sandboxing

While there are systemd detractors out there, it is the default init system for Debian, Ubuntu and Red Hat. And it does provide some useful features for sandboxing services. See

[email protected]_override.conf.j2
for how some of these features are enabled. - The systemd unit option

is used to bound the Linux capabilities available to the OpenVPN server process, allowing only
- The systemd unit options
are used to restrict the OpenVPN server process' access to the filesystem. - These aren't perfect as noted in the systemd docs, but better to have them than not:
> Note that restricting access with these options does not extend to submounts of a directory that are created later on.

OpenVPN server configuration

For the full server configuration, see


aids in mitigating risk of denial-of-service attacks. Additionally, when combined with usage of UDP at the transport layer (the default configuration used by ansible-openvpn-hardened), it complicates attempts to port scan the OpenVPN server because any unsigned packets can be immediately dropped without sending anything back to the scanner. - From the OpenVPN hardening guide:
> The tls-auth option uses a static pre-shared key (PSK) that must be generated in advance and shared among all peers. This features adds "extra protection" to the TLS channel by requiring that incoming packets have a valid signature generated using the PSK key... The primary benefit is that an unauthenticated client cannot cause the same CPU/crypto load against a server as the junk traffic can be dropped much sooner. This can aid in mitigating denial-of-service attempts.
  • push block-outside-dns
    used by OpenVPN server to fix a potential dns leak on Windows 10
    • See
  • tls-cipher
    limits allowable TLS ciphers to a subset that supports perfect forward secrecy
    • From wikipedia:

    Forward secrecy protects past sessions against future compromises of secret keys or passwords. If forward secrecy is used, encrypted communications and sessions recorded in the past cannot be retrieved and decrypted should long-term secret keys or passwords be compromised in the future, even if the adversary actively interfered.

  • cipher
    set to
    by default
  • 2048
    bit RSA key size by default.
    • This can be increased to
      by changing
      if you don't mind extra processing time. Consensus seems to be that 2048 is sufficient for all but the most sensitive data.

OpenVPN client configuration

For the full client configuration, see


prevents MitM attacks by verifying the server name in the supplied certificate matches the clients configuration. -
prevents the traffic from leaking out over the default interface during interruptions and reconnection attempts by keeping the tun device up until connectivity is restored.


  • easy-rsa is used to manage the public key infrastructure.
  • OpenVPN is configured to read the CRL generated by easy-rsa so that a single client's access can be revoked without having to reissue credentials to all of the clients.
  • The private keys generated for the clients and CA are all protected with a randomly generated passphrase to facilitate secure distribution to client devices.

The bullets above are just an overview. See the task definitions with filenames in the form

to review the complete set of steps.


playbook can be run on the target server to independently verify the steps taken and their efficacy so you don't have to put all your trust in the ansible-openvpn-hardened contributors.

Hardening - Audit Notes

None of the audit tools used by the

playbook give the server a perfect score, here are some brief notes on audit findings
  • Separate partitions for /tmp, /home, etc.
    • Partitioning can be tricky on cloud providers and the creation of partitions can be difficult to script without risking data loss. This is probably best left to the OS image creator or installer of the OS.
  • mount options such as
    , and
    for /tmp, /dev/shm, etc.
    • This will likely be addressed in future versions. Pull requests welcome.
  • Password requirements
    • The created server should only have one account able to login over SSH and it will be protected with a randomly generated password and pub/priv key pair. Unless you're using this server for other purposes with users who login regularly, setting requirements for password minimum length, complexity, expirations, etc. seems like box-checking, not adding additional security.
    • The pam module pwquality is installed if password requirements are necessary for your setup

Quick start

Warning: Potential to lock yourself out of the target box. One of the hardening steps configures SSH to only listen on the VPN interfaces. Make sure you have a backup method to access the server in case the VPN doesn't come up. For example, Digital Ocean provides console access through their admin panel.

Requirement: Currently a static IP is required This may change in future releases with support for dynamic IP addresses. Static IPs are available on both Digital Ocean and Azure.

Suggestion: Use a fresh install or image as a target This playbook should work well, but issues will be less likely and more easily resolved if you can start over easily. Also, given the potential for locking yourself out of the box, you don't want to lose access to import things that may be on an existing server.

Install the required packages if you don't have them already. On Ubuntu or Debian use the commands below. On other OSes, sub-in the appropriate package manager.

sudo apt-get install python-pip git
sudo pip install ansible

Get ansible-openvpn-hardened

git clone

Create a target machine using your cloud provider of choice. The CentOS 7.2, Ubuntu 16.04 and Debian 8.7 images on Digital Ocean and Microsoft's Azure have been tested and should work well. Cloud providers are ideal because you can easily spin up a test box to try things out on and delete the instance when you're done or when you no longer need the VM. Other cloud providers, a local VM or box should work fine as well but haven't been tested.

Make sure you can ssh into the target machine that will become your OpenVPN box. If using a cloud provider they should provide you with login credentials and instructions. For example, to log into the

account on a box with the ip
ssh [email protected]

Copy the example Ansible inventory to edit for your setup.

has example values for different ssh configurations. If vim isn't your editor of choice, substitute a different editor.
cd ansible-openvpn-hardened/
cp inventory.example inventory
vim inventory

Run the install playbook

ansible-playbook playbooks/install.yml

The playbook should run for 5-30 minutes depending on how good your target box is at hashing and crypto operations. Assuming the above steps were successful, you should now have directory called

. This contains the openvpn configuration files and private keys that can be distributed to your clients.

Try connecting to the newly created OpenVPN server

cd fetched_creds/[server ip]/[client name]/
openvpn [client name]@[random domain]-pki-embedded.ovpn

You'll be prompted for the private key passphrase, this is stored in a file ending in

in the client directory you just entered in the step above.

Distributing key files

ansible-openvpn-hardened provides three different OpenVPN configuration files because OpenVPN clients on different platforms have different requirements for how the PKI information is referenced by the .ovpn file. This is just for convenience. All the configuration information and PKI info is the same, it's just formatted differently to support different OpenVPN clients.

  • PKI embedded - the easiest if your client supports it. Only one file required and all the PKI information is embedded.
    • X-pki-embedded.ovpn
  • PKCS#12 - all the PKI information is stored in the PKCS#12 file and referenced by the config. This can be more secure on Android where the OS can store the information in the PKCS#12 file in hardware backed encrypted storage.
    • X-pkcs.ovpn
    • X.p12
  • PKI files - if the above two fail, all clients should support this. All of the PKI information is stored in separate files and referenced by the config.
    • X-pki-files.ovpn
      - OpenVPN configuration
    • ca.pem
      - CA certificate
    • X.key
      - client private key
    • X.pem
      - client certificate

All private keys (embedded in config, pkcs, and .key) are encrypted with a passphrase to facilitate secure distribution to client devices.

For maximum security when copying the PKI files and configs to client devices don't copy the .txt file containing the randomly generated passphrase. Enter the passphrase manually onto the device after the key has been transferred.

Private key passphrases

Entering a pass phrase every time the client is started can be annoying. There are a few options to make this less burdensome after the keys have been securely distributed to the client devices.

  1. When starting the client, use
    openvpn --config [config] --askpass [pass.txt]
    if you don't want to enter the password for the private key

From the OpenVPN man page:

If file is specified, read the password from the first line of file. Keep in mind that storing your password in a file to a certain extent invalidates the extra security provided by using an encrypted key.

  1. Remove or change the passphrase on the private key

    openssl rsa -in enc.key -out not_enc.key

Managing the OpenVPN server


Credentials are generated during the install process and are saved as yml formatted files in the Ansible file hierarchy so they can be used without requiring the playbook caller to take any action. The locations are below.

  • CA Private key passphrase - saved in
  • User account name and password - saved in

After the install.yml playbook has successfully been run, you'll only be able to SSH into the box when connected to the VPN using the account defined in

ssh [created_user]@

Add clients

By default only two clients are created:

. (These defaults can be changed by editing

Connect to the VPN before running the playbook. For example, to create a client named

ansible-playbook playbooks/add_clients.yml -e clients_to_add=cool_client

Advanced - Adding clients using a CSR

Clients can also be added using a certificate signing request, CSR. This is useful if you intend to use keys generated and stored in a TPM. Generating the CSR will depend on your hardware, OS, TPM software, etc. If you're interested in this feature, you can probably figure this out (though

has an example of generating a CSR with openssl). This blog post shows how to create private key stored in a TPM and generate a CSR on Windows.

The variable

specifies the local path to the CSR.
specifies the common name specified when the CSR was created.
ansible-playbook -e "csr_path=~/test.csr [email protected]" playbooks/add_clients.yml

This will generate the client's signed certificate and put it in

fetched_creds/[server ip]/[cn]/
as well as a nearly complete
client configuration file. You'll need to add references to or embed your private key and signed certificate. This will vary based on how your private key is stored. If your following the guide in the blog post mentioned above you'd do this using the OpenVPN option

Revoke client access

First connect to the VPN. To revoke

's access
ansible-playbook playbooks/revoke_client -e client=cool_client

Audit server

First connect to the VPN. Run

ansible-playbook playbooks/audit.yml

The reports will be placed in



Contributions via pull request, feedback, bug reports are all welcome.

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