In the world of open-source router & firewall software, pfSense is my favorite. It has features that rival some of the best commercial products, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to use it. pfSense has several options for allowing remote VPN (virtual private network) connections. OpenVPN is one of these. Once the pfSense box is configured to allow connections from OpenVPN clients, the system administrator can add users and export pre-configured installer files to allow those users to connect and work over any Internet connection of reasonable speed. Here are the steps needed to connect to a pfSense-protected network.
1. Install the OpenVPN client
Install the OpenVPN client using the pre-configured installer exported by pfSense and provided to you by your system administrator. Hopefully, this was provided to you on portable media such as a CD or USB thumb drive. Sending the installer by email defeats part of the security benefit of using VPNs because the installer could be intercepted on the way to its destination.
2. Set the client to run as administrator
If you are using Windows XP, you may skip this step. Locate the “OpenVPN GUI” icon on the desktop. Right-click on the icon and click Properties. Click the Compatibility tab, and place a check beside “Run this program as an administrator”.
3. Connect to the remote network
Take note of the icons that appear in the system tray (bottom-right of the screen beside the time display on the Windows taskbar), and then double-click the OpenVPN GUI icon on the desktop. You will see the OpenVPN icon appear in the system tray area. Double-click that icon to connect the VPN. You will be prompted for the username and password provided by your system administrator. Once the connection is established, you’ll see a message show up in the system tray indicating that you are connected.
4. Connect to the remote computer
Now that the VPN connection is established, all you have to do is use the remote desktop software included in Windows to connect to the computer of your choice. That is normally found in the Start menu under Accessories. Look for Remote Desktop Connection. If you wish, you can place this icon on the desktop by right-clicking on it and clicking Send to > Desktop (Create shortcut). When you start Remote Desktop Connection, enter the name of the computer you wish to connect to. You will also be prompted for a username and password to sign into the computer.
In the future, connecting will just be a matter of repeating steps 3 and 4. In the near future, I will be posting some additional tweaks that automate the process even further.