pfSense 2.1 setup with AirVPN

Published 1 November 2014.

NOTE: Please see the updated pfSense 2.3 guide here which makes use of the DNS Resolver and VLAN’s as it improves on this guide in several areas.


I wanted to put up a basic pfSense VPN configuration which can be used as a foundation for some of the other guides I’ve posted. There are a few VPN configuration guides published already but the best one by far in my opinion is the one created by ‘pfSense_fan’ over on the AirVPN forums. I’ve built upon his base configuration to enable local host lookups and WPAD/PAC auto configuration of desktop and tablet clients. I’m hoping to expand this collection of how-to’s to cover the additional of potential home network devices such as NAS’s and DMZ’s.


I wanted the ability to provide dual local networks, one being an unencrypted ‘clearnet’ connection, the other being VPN encrypted. It was a requirement to be easily able to easily jump between these two networks without recabling my routers or wifi access points. To support this setup you’ll need your own AirVPN subscription and a router with at least three network ports.

Why AirVPN?

There are a number of VPN providers on the market but the reasons why I went with AirVPN are primarily:

I found AirVPN speeds were best in class when I benchmarked a few of the other top ranked providers earlier this year. I’ve now been with AirVPN for nearly a year and have suffered downtime counted in single digit minutes.
If you haven’t got an Air subscription, you can take out a subscription here.


I’m using a Virgin Media 120mbps service that supports 120mbps download and 10mbps upload capabilities. Engaging VPN encryption reduces throughput by approximately 10%.

The following diagram illustrates the basic network topology we’ll end up with at the end of this guide.

Intended topology

Hardware selection

Although it is possible to build a pfSense router from pretty much any old hardware, I wanted to build something which was powerful enough to handle VPN encryption on a 100mbps+ connection with minimal losses with headroom to spare in order to run some additional security and packet filtering packages (i.e Snort, Suricata etc). I also plan on this router being in production use for a number of years so wanted to ensure it was able to manage future requirements as my Internet connection increases.

I settled on the following hardware:

Motherboard: Supermicro A1SRM
Processor: Intel Atom processor C2758 2.4Ghz, 8-core, 20W
RAM: 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3 1600Mhz
System Disk: Intel 40GB 320 Series SSD 2.5”
Case & PSU: DV Industrial DS27 Janus 2U server case with 50W fanless PSU
Depending on your networking requirements, you may or may not need require additional network interfaces. In my case I’ve installed two additional network interface cards: Intel X520 2x10gbps and Intel i350-T4 4x1gbps

NB: I’ll try and find some time to write some thoughts on the reasons why I selected the above hardware and document the build process.

Install pfSense

Download and create bootable pfSense USB based installer

Download latest pfSense image from here. I used the AMD64, Live CD with installer on USB.
Burn the .img file to a USB stick with at least 2GB of space. I used Windows 8.1 and ‘Win32 disk Imager’ which can be downloaded from here.

Write USB image to USB stick

Begin the install

Insert the USB stick into a motherboard port.
Use the BIOS boot menu (F11) or set the BIOS to prioritise booting from USB.

After a few minutes you’ll be prompted to press ‘I’ to launch the installer which will install pfSense to the system hard disk.

Press 'I' to launch the installer

Accept the configuration console screen settings.

Screen settings

If you are installing to the first hard disk in the system, select the Quick/Easy install option. The custom option allows you to select other drives or customise the geometry which is beyond the scope of this article.

When prompted to select a kernel, select Symmetric processing (multi-core).

At the Reboot screen, remove the USB key and allow the system to boot from the system hard drive. Eventually you will be presented with a ‘Welcome to pfSense’ menu, let the timer run out or select the default option to boot if you are impatient.

Create interfaces

When pfSense boots it will display the detected NICs and prompt you to configure your interfaces. Depending on which cards you have installed (and supported) your screen may look slightly different to mine.

Create Interfaces

When asked if you want to configure VLANs, enter [N].

When asked for WAN and LAN ports, you can either enter their names at or use the automatic mode to detect the port. The automatic mode can reduce confusion for new users and requires a network cable to be inserted into each port in turn.

When asked for the WAN port, enter the name of the port which will be connected to the internet modem, in my case this was [igb4].

When asked for the first LAN port, enter the name of the port which will be connected to the local network. in my case this was [igb5].

You can configure additional ports here or later within the GUI interface. I went on to add the rest of my interfaces at this stage. My NICs enumerate with the motherboard ports at igb4-7, my additional Intel quad port i350s are igb0-3 and my Intel x520s ports are ix0-1.


When you have configured the remaining ports, you will be prompted to confirm your selection and continue. Enter [Y] when you are happy or [N] to restart the configuration stage.


At this stage you can now enter the web GUI.

Initial configuration

Log into web interface with your browser at address displayed on the console, typically You may need to configure your clients interface with a specific IP address in the same subnet to connect as pfSenses DHCP server is not activated and able to auto configure clients yet.

Log in with default credentials: username ‘admin’ and password ‘pfsense’.

Enter the following information in the General Information settings. We’ll use OpenDNS servers initially (208.67.x.x).

Time server information

WAN configuration

Configure LAN Interface

Set Admin GUI password

Congratulations, you’ve completed the first stage of configuring pfSense.


Click on ‘here’ to continue to the pfSense Webconfigurator where we will conduct the remaining configuration steps. You should now see the pfSense dashboard which should look something like this.


pfSense Configuration

We’ll set up some general configuration options first, using the menu bar at the top of the page navigate through to

System > Advanced > Admin Access

Proceed down the page configuring the sections as outlined below.

Web Configurator
To increase security set the GUI access to be via HTTPS and chose a port other than 443, I use 445. One of the reasons for this is to ensure we can generate safe anti-lockout rules which will prevent us locking ourselves out of the GUI when we start creating firewall rules later.

Secure Shell
Enable SSH access to pfSense which we’ll make use of later. I use a custom port of 422.
Secure Shell

At this point you will be logged out and back in again on the new secure port, i.e When you log back in the banner will flash to advise pfSense has started creating SSH keys. Click on the warning and ‘Acknowledge All Notices’ to stop the flashing.

SSH keys generated

Firewall Advanced

Note: These numbers are set high enough to facilitate enabling some packet filtering software later. If you are running on a machine with very little RAM you may want to be adjust these numbers down accordingly.

Bogon Networks

Network Interfaces

Power Savings

Cryptographic Hardware Acceleration
If you are using an Intel processor select the following.

Please set your domain name to something sensible but avoid ‘local’ as that will cause problems later.

We will use OpenDNS servers. OpenNIC are very a good alternative but they are country specific so you would have to look up the ones relevant to your location.

Setup LAN interface

General Configuration

Static IPv4 configuration

Private Networks

Click Save & Apply changes.

Here’s a screen capture of my LAN interface page for reference.

LAN Interface Setup

Configure LAN DHCP

Here’s a screen capture of my LAN DHCP page for reference.

LAN Interface Setup

Setup VPN_LAN Interface

Select an available OPTx interface to use for our VPN_LAN and set up the interface as follows.

General Configuration

Configure VPN_LAN DHCP

Select VPN_LAN tab

Install AirVPN certificates

Now we’ll download our AirVPN certificates from Log into your account and navigate to Client Area > Config Generator and enter the following settings.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and agree to terms of service.
Click on [Generate] and download the resulting files to your desktop. We’ll use these various files to configure the OpenVPN client in pfSense in the next step.

Back in pfSense’s GUI, we’ll create the Certificate Authority first.

Add certificate authority

This is what the certificate authority should look like once you’ve added it

Certificate authority

And now we’ll add the certificate.

Add certificate

This is what the certificate should look like once you’ve added it


Create VPN connection

We’ll now configure the VPN connection itself.

General Information

User Authentication Settings

Cryptographic settings

Tunnel Settings

Advanced Configuration
Paste the following into the advanced box

remote-cert-tls server;tls-cipher TLS-DHE-RSA-WITH-AES-256-CBC-SHA;tls-exit;keysize 256;auth SHA1;key-method 2;key-direction 1;comp-lzo no;verb 4;explicit-exit-notify 5;bcast-buffers 4096;fast-io;mlock;topology net30;keepalive 5 30;route-nopull;prng sha512 64;

Assign OpenVPN interface

Setup AirVPN Gateway

Its important make sure you click on the ‘+’ alongside the VPN_WAN_VPNV4 line.

Add AirVPN gateway

After configuring the gateway, the summary page should look like this.

Gateway Summary

To reduce the chance of any leaks in the event the VPN goes down for any reason.

Set DNS Forwarder

The complexity and operational requirements of my network require my DNS forwarder to also support local name lookups for servers but also for device auto configuration via WPAD.
There are several ways to handle DNS lookups securely without introducing leaks and I believe this is a good compromise between functionality and security. I’ve spent some time verifying there are no leaks with this setup. With v2.2 of pfSense we will be able to migrate to a better DNS Resolver which will provide additional functionality that will help improve this area further. I’ll update this guide once 2.2 has been released.

Configure DNS Forwarder

Its worth verifying that basic DNS lookups work before we complicate it by introducing the VPN DNS servers.

You should see a series of IP addresses returned and times taken for the various servers to respond.

Verify DNS servers

Now we’ll add in the AirVPN DNS server. Its important this is placed at the top of the following list and that sequential checking was applied in the DNS Forwarder to prevent DNS leaks.

Set DNS servers as follows. Note the address is via the VPN_WAN gateway.

Your setup should look something like the image below.

Configure DNS Servers

Set up outgoing NAT for LAN & Localhost

A number of rules will be created automatically, you can delete any with ‘500’ in the Destination Port column as we won’t need these.

Click the ‘e’ next to / 8 line.

Click the ‘e’ next to line.

Click the ‘e’ next to line.

When you are complete, the NAT: Outbound page should look like this.

Localhost & LAN NAT

Create Aliases for firewall rules

We are going to create a few aliases which we will use in the creation of the firewall rules. These simplify the job of making changes in future especially as we add more interfaces and functionality to our network.

First we will create an alias to define the internal subnets, at this stage this only consists of two but it will expand as we grow our network.

We will create a list to define which ports administration traffic flows on, we’ll green light these with a dedicated rule on key interfaces to ensure we don’t lock ourselves out when configuring the firewall. Make sure these ports match the ones you set earlier on the Advanced > Admin Access page.

We will create a list of ports to define which ports can reach the internet. You should amend this as per your networks requirements.

Setup Firewall Rules

First we’ll set up the WAN interface. With no rules, any present traffic is still blocked, it just isn’t logged. We’ll add a catch all rule that prevents and crucially logs inbound traffic which wasn’t initiated by an internal device so we know whats trying to gain access.

WAN rules

Your WAN interface should look this this when done.

WAN Firewall ruleset

VPN_WAN rules

Now we’ll create a similar block rule on the VPN_WAN interface.

Your VPN_WAN interface should look this this when done.

VPN_WAN Firewall ruleset

LAN rules

Now we will create the rules for our LAN interface. The LAN rulesets are more complicated as we need to ensure traffic can flow between internal subnets and the external internet on specific ports.

This rule allow Pings to be leave the interface which are useful for network debugging.

This rule ensures traffic targeted on any of our Admin ports is allowed. This is our anti-lockout rule.

Our DNS rule only allows DNS lookups on the local interface, i.e our DNS Forwarder. This prevents any DNS hijacking on attached clients from redirecting DNS towards hostile resources. DNS primarily works over UDP but does have a fallback state to TCP which I’ve allowed as well.

Only allow Network Time Protocol syncing on the local interface which prevents any traceable lookups from alternative sources. pfSense itself uses for its lookups which is configured on the System > General page. Its a good idea to keep everything on your internal networks synced to the same time source.

Allow all traffic to our other local subnets. You can lock this down to a limited number of ports if preferred using an alias to define ALLOWED_OUT_PORTS_LAN for example.

Allow traffic to the internet, (which is )defined as anywhere NOT a local subnet). We close this access down to the list of ports within the AALLOWED_OUT_PORTS_WAN alias we created.

and finally a rule to block and importantly log any traffic which hasn’t been handled by one of the above rules.

Your LAN rules should look something like this now.

Firewall ruleset - LAN

As we have created our own Anti-lockout rule above, you can disable the system generated anti-lockout rule in System > Advanced > Anti-lockout.

VPN_LAN rules

Now we will create a set of rules for the VPN_LAN interface too. These are largely the same but with a changes to allow for the use of our VPN gateway for external traffic.

This rule allow Pings to be generated which are useful for network debugging.

This rule ensures traffic targeted on either of our Admin ports is allowed.

Our DNS rule only allows DNS lookups on the local interface.

Only allow Network Time Protocol syncing on the local interface.

Allow traffic to our other local subnets.

Allow traffic to leave for the internet which is defined as anywhere NOT a local subnet. Note the different gateway address for this.

and finally a rule to block and log any traffic which hasn’t been handled by one of the above rules.

Firewall ruleset - VPN_LAN

At this stage it would be worthwhile rebooting your router. When you log back in to the dashboard you should hopefully see the interfaces panel displaying four active interfaces with green arrows.

Connected Interfaces


Its worth adding a few additional control panels to the dashboard to monitor the status and health of your system.
Click the ‘+’ in the top left corner and add the following.

A few have local widget control options which you can access by clicking the spanner icon, remember to click [Save] when you have configured them how you want them.

Testing and verifying functionality

You should now have two LAN inputs, one providing access to a clear net connection, and one providing access via AirVPNs network. I have separate Apple Airport devices connected to these which provide the ability to jump from clearnet to VPN connections easily from laptops or tablets.

To verify both connections are working correctly, go to At the bottom of the page you’ll see a status which reflects if you are connected to their network or not. Check it reflects which LAN port you are connected to.

When connecting via your VPN you should see the following:

and when connecting via your clearnet you should see the following:
Not Connected

Verify no DNS Leaks

Its worth verifying your system isn’t leaking DNS lookups by visiting
Having run a test you should not observe your real IP address displayed, if you do you have a configuration issue you should resolve it.

DNS Leak test

Verify Local DNS lookups

One of the reason for configuring the DNS Forwarder as I did is to allow internal DNS lookups. To verify this is working open a command prompt and perform a nslookup on some internal devices. Here is a screenshot of my tests on both an internal (pfSense router) and external ( address.

$ nslookup pfsense

Name:   pfsense.home.local.lan

$ nslookup

Non-authoritative answer:

or using dig

$ dig pfsense

; <<>> DiG 9.8.3-P1 <<>> pfsense
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 16423
;; flags: qr aa rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;pfsense.           IN  A

pfsense.        3600    IN  A

;; Query time: 4 msec
;; WHEN: Sun Jan 24 10:30:25 2016
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 41

$ dig

; <<>> DiG 9.8.3-P1 <<>>
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 23854
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 6, ADDITIONAL: 12

;            IN  A

;; ANSWER SECTION:     215 IN  A

org.            79522   IN  NS
org.            79522   IN  NS
org.            79522   IN  NS
org.            79522   IN  NS
org.            79522   IN  NS
org.            79522   IN  NS

;; ADDITIONAL SECTION: 153761 IN  A 153761 IN  AAAA    2001:500:e::1 63787  IN  A 150267 IN  AAAA    2001:500:40::1 63867   IN  A 63867   IN  AAAA    2001:500:c::1 63867   IN  A 63867   IN  AAAA    2001:500:48::1 71058  IN  A 71058  IN  AAAA    2001:500:b::1 63867   IN  A 63867   IN  AAAA    2001:500:f::1

;; Query time: 3 msec
;; WHEN: Sun Jan 24 10:30:32 2016
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 446


Here’s a Speedtest comparison of my speeds on a direct connection via Virgin and a connection via AirVPN.

Without AirVPN - Virgin media direct

Virgin Direct

With AirVPN

AirVPN connection