Monday, November 14, 2011

SSH VPNs: Bridged connection to LAN using tap

In the previous post I showed how to create SSH tunnel that ends on a network  layer (i.e. ppp and point-to-point based vpns) and on a link layer (ethernet type). Now I'm continuing with a series of scenarios that do configuration on a network layer (and few on a link layer too).

This is the first scenario in which I want remote host to look like it is directly attached to a local network. The network layout for this scenario is shown in the following figure:

As you can see there is a local network that has address On that local network there is a gateway ( as well as remote server ( that we are going to use as the end point of a tunnel. What we want to achieve is that our laptop, that is somewhere on the Internet and has IP address, behaves as if it is attached directly on a local network and to use IP address This kind of setup when a single remote machine connects to some network remotely via VPN is offten called road-warrior scenario. To accomplish this we are going to use bridging built into the Linux kernel. In the future post I'll describe variant of this setup that uses forwarding (i.e. routing) to achieve the same thing.

Preparation steps

The idea (for this scenario) is to use briging. But since manipulating bridge and active interface might (and very probably will) disconnect you, it is better to first configure brigde with only a single interface, the one that connects remote computer to a local network. In case you are using CentOS (RHEL/Fedora or some derivative) then do the following on your remote server:
  1. Go into directory /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts.
  2. Copy file ifcfg-eth0 into ifcfg-br0 (I'm assuming that your active interface is eth0, if it is something else change the name accordingly). Also make a copy of that file in case you want to revert changes! Remove UUID line if there is any.
  3. Edit file ifcfg-eth0. Add line BRIDGE=br0, remove all lines that specify IP address and related parameters (broadcast, netmask, gateway, DNS, ...). Also be certain that BOOTPROTO parameter is set to none. Remove UUID line if there is any.
  4. Modify ifcfg-br0. Change type from Ethernet into Brige, also change name from eth0 into br0 and finally add line STP=off.
Now, restart machine and see if everything is OK. First, you should be able to connect to the machine, and second, there should be new interface, br0,  which has to have IP address of interface eth0. Interface eth0 itself should work (UP, LOWER_UP flags) and also it must not have IP address attached.

One other thing you have to take care of, firewall. In case you have firewall configured (which you should!), during this test it's best to disable it and enable it later. To disable firewall on CentOS/Fedora (and similar distributions) do the following:
service iptables stop
This will turn off firewall until you turn it on again, or until you restart machine. To turn it off permanently (strongly not advised!) do the following:
chkconfig iptables off
SELinux might get into your way. In case that you at some point receive the following error message:
channel 0: open failed: administratively prohibited: open failed
it's the indication that tap device hasn't been created because of missing privileges. The simplest way is to turn off temporarily SELinux (again, I do not advise to do that in production environment!):
setenforce 0
If, at any point, something doesn't work three things you can use to debug problems. The first one is option -v to ssh command (or -vv) that will make it verbose and it will print out what's happening. The next thing is to look into log files on the remote machine (for sshd messages). Finally, you should know how to use tcpdump tool.

Creating and configuring tunnel

Ok, for a start, open two terminals on a laptop and in each one of them switch to root user (su command). Then, in one of them execute ssh command like this:
ssh -w any -o Tunnel=ethernet remote_machine
This will connect you to the remote machine (after successful authentication) and create two tap devices, one on the local machine and the other on the remote machine. I'll assume that their name is tap0, on both sides. Now, switch temporarily to other terminal and execute the following command:
ip link set tap0 up
tcpdump -nni tap0
The first command will start interface and the second will run tcpdump command. You'll be able to see traffic from remote network as soon as we attach the other part of the tunnel to bridge br0. Options n instruct tcpdump not to print symbolic names of anything, while option i binds tcpdump to interface tap0. When you want to stop tcpdump, use Ctrl+C keys.

Now, on the remote host execute the following commands:
brctl addif br0 tap0
ip link set tap0 up
The first command will add tap device to bridge (more colloquially switch), and the second one will activate the interface. The moment you execute the other command you'll notice that tcpdump command, running in the second windows, starts to print some output. This output is the traffic from the local network, transferred to the laptop. Of course, you'll see traffic if there is any traffic on the local network.

One final step, to add IP address from the local network to laptop, i.e. But before that, we have to add explicit route for remote host or otherwise things will lock up. The laptop will think that remote host is now directly attached, while it is not and nothing will work. So, execute the following command on laptop (terminate tcpdump or open new windows and switch to root):
ip route add via your_default_route
Change the string your_default_route to your default router (check what it is using 'ip route sh' command, it is an IP address in the same line as the word default). Finally, we are ready to add IP address, also on laptop, in the terminal where you added explicit route, execute the following command:
ip addr add dev tap0
From that moment on, when you communicate with any host on local network this communication will go through the tunnel to the remote host that will send traffic to the local network for you. Hosts on the network won't notice that you are actually somewhere else on the Internet.

One final thing. The question which destinations you want to reach via this tunnel. You can select all, or only a subset of destinations. In any case, you use routing to achieve that, i.e. you use the following command:
ip route add destination via gateway_on_local_network
Change destination to whatever you want to access via tunnel. In case you want everything than use word default (it could happen that you first need to remove existing route for default!). Or, you can set network, or IP address. Let's suppose that you want to reach google via local network. In that case find out IP address (or network) fo google and use that instead of the word destionation.

In place of gateway_on_local_network use gateway on the local network. In our case that is

Finally, to tear down connection, just kill ssh.

Automating access

As a last thing, I'll describe how to automate the whole procedure. If you want fully automated solution, then first you have to configure passwordless login for ssh. Then, create two scripts. The first one will be called, will be placed on remote machine in a directory /usr/local/sbin and will contain the following lines:
ip link set tap0 up
brctl addif br0 tap0
Lets call the second script also and let it be placed in the /usr/local/sbin/ directory. The content of that script should be:
ssh -f -w any -o Tunnel=ethernet remote_machine /usr/local/sbin/
ip route add via your_default_route
ip addr add dev tap0
ip route add destination via gateway_on_local_network
Repeat the last command as many times as necessary and change all the parameters accordingly. Don't forget to make both scripts executable! Now, to run the configuration just execute the script on the laptop:
And that's it! Of course, those scripts might be a lot fancier, but this will do just good!


Ken Sharp said...

As with every single guide I have seen on SSH bridging, this doesn't work at all. There's not even any steps to add a bridge ffs.

Stjepan Groš (sgros) said...

I would comment on your comment if I were to know what is "bridge ffs"?

But, I can say that if every other post you tried and it didn't work then it could be that the problem is in what you were doing. But in any case, you can write your own post that will be better. In the end, that's the whole idea with this posts anyway.

Jay said...


Great post! glad I found it. Worked flawlessly and with a little bridge tweaking I am able to bridge a full class "C" sub-net from one location to another miles away ;)

Thanks again for the time you put into this!!


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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)

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