April 18, 2020

Connecting Home

We’re lucky to have found ourselves visiting family in Finland as the physical distancing measures for COVID-19 started in London. Finland appears to be responding well and apparently has been prepping for some time.

However, what began as a trip for 2 weeks is now entering the 5th. We’re already up to the 3rd season of LOST, a rewatch for me, the ending now a distant memory. I’m eager to be disappointed all over again. But there are a few other TV shows we’ve been watching that are downloaded to a Raspberry Pi running LibreELEC at home.

ssh: port 22: Connection Refused

The Pi at home isn’t accessible over the Internet, I’d need to forward a port to my router to be able to SSH. Most routers I’ve owned in the past would need me to be on the local network to do stuff like that.

Luckily the Google Wifi setup we have works a bit differently, it’s is configured via an app – a restriction I’d previously grumbled about. The router picks up it’s configuration via a centrally managed service. This allows for some other nice things such as automatic patch management, which is why I went for Google Wifi in the first place.

So I added the port forwarding rule using a non-standard SSH port, because I’m a coward. Then yay! I’m connected to my Pi at home. It felt a bit strange connecting to home, we’ve been away for so long now. If someone has burgled us at least they left the router plugged in.

Even with my public key configured I still wasn’t comfortable leaving the Pi this way. I wanted to setup some kind of VPN.

Creating a private network with Tailscale

After reading about but never actually trying WireGuard it was seeing Tailscale which made me feel confident to give it a try.

It’s built in Go and the Linux client is open source. Installation was extremely easy as they provide binaries built for all kinds of platform architectures, including ARM for the Pi.

If you’re also using LibreELEC I installed the following systemd unit to /storage/.config/system.d/tailscaled.service:

Description=Tailscale node agent

ExecStart=/storage/tailscale/tailscaled --state=/var/lib/tailscale/tailscaled.state --socket=/run/tailscale/tailscaled.sock --port $PORT $FLAGS




On my laptop I added the Tailscale apt sources and installed the debian package.

Once each node is authorized to join the network they are assigned a fixed IP address from the block specified by rfc6598 for private networks.

The tailscale docs are good but a little tricky to navigate in the knowledgebase tool they have. Once you’re setup you find there is a preconfigured node in your network hello.ipn.dev which runs an IRC server and you’re invited to chat with other Tailscale users. It’s a great way to demo the types of internal services you could easily create if Tailscale were adopted by an organisation.

That point is the one which makes Tailscale interesting beyond the traditional VPN. In my experience VPN software is inevitably used to create a kind of (forgive the analogy) crunchy shell protecting a gooey interior network.

It seems by linking user identity to the node Tailscale may be able to do something far better than that. Thinking about it reminded me of when I first encountered security groups in AWS.

For now my win with Tailscale is that I no longer need to forward any ports directly to my pi. That makes me much more comfortable knowing it can’t be scanned from the big bad Internet.

I’ve added an entry to /etc/hosts to name the pi and can now happily SSH over my private Tailscale network secured by WireGuard. Super easy to configure and setup.

© Dave King 2020 - using Charaka Hugo theme