Using a HooToo Nano as a magic VPN box

I’ve been getting myself ready for Blackhat. If you’re going you know this conference isn’t like most. You don’t bring your normal gear with you. You turn the tinfoil hat knob up to an 11, then keep turning it until it breaks off. I did do one thing that’s pretty clever this year though, I have no doubt it could be useful for someone else putting together an overengineered tin foil hat security rig.

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
#!/bin/sh
. /etc/profile
#logger the button was $BUTTON and the action was $ACTION
if test “$BUTTON” = ‘BTN_0’; then
if test “$ACTION” = ‘pressed’; then
uci set firewall.@forwarding[0].dest=’vpn’
/etc/init.d/openvpn start
fi
if test “$ACTION” = ‘released’; then
uci set firewall.@forwarding[0].dest=’wan’
/etc/init.d/openvpn stop
/sbin/fw3 reload
fi
fi

As you can see in the script, I set the vpn firewall to my forwarding target. If you name your vpn firewall something else, be sure to change it.

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

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