Set up Ubuntu Server 18.04 as an IKEv2 VPN server
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A Bash script that takes Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS (and probably also 17.10, 17.04 or 16.10, but these are no longer tested) from clean install to production-ready IKEv2 VPN with strongSwan. Comments and pull requests welcome.

VPN server

  • The VPN server identifies itself with a Let's Encrypt certificate, so there's no need for clients to install private certificates — they can simply authenticate with username and password (EAP-MSCHAPv2).
  • The box is firewalled with iptables and configured for unattended security upgrades, and the Let's Encrypt certificate is set up to auto-renew, so it should be safe to forget about it all until 18.04 reaches end-of-life in 2023.
  • The cheapest VPSs offered by Linode, OVH, and Vultr, and Scaleway's ARM64-2GB, have all been tested working as VPN servers. On Scaleway, unblock SMTP ports in the admin panel and hard reboot the server first, or your configuration email will not be delivered. On Vultr port 25 may also be blocked, but you won't know, and the only way to fix it is to open a support ticket.

VPN clients

The VPN is tested working with:

  • macOS 10.12 + 10.13, iOS 10 + 11 — Built-in clients. A .mobileconfig profile is generated for Mac and iOS, to set up secure ciphers and enable Connect on demand support.
  • Windows 10 Pro — Built-in client. PowerShell commands are generated to configure the VPN and secure ciphers.
  • Ubuntu 17.04 — Using strongSwan. A Bash script is generated to set this up.
  • Android — Using the strongSwan app.

Configuration files, scripts and instructions are sent by email. They are also dropped in the newly-created non-root user's home directory on the server (this point may be important, because VPS providers sometimes block traffic on port 25 by default, and conscientious email providers will sometimes mark a successfully sent email as spam).


  • The script won't work as-is on 16.04 LTS because the certbot package is outdated, found under the name letsencrypt, and doesn't renew certificates automatically.
  • There's no IPv6 support — and, in fact, IPv6 networking is disabled — because supporting IPv6 prevents the use of forceencaps, and honestly also because I haven't got to grips with the security implications (ip6tables rules and so on).
  • Don't use this unmodified on a server you use for anything else, as it does as it sees fit with various wider settings that may conflict with what you're doing.


  • Start with a clean Ubuntu 18.04 Server installation.

  • Pick a domain name for the VPN server and ensure that it already resolves to the correct IP. Let's Encrypt needs this in order to create your server certificate.

  • Run ./ as root and you'll be prompted to enter all the necessary details. You must use a strong password or passphrase for the login user, or your server will be compromised.


If things don't work out right away ...

  • Make sure you created the client connection using the emailed .mobileconfig file or PowerShell commands. Setting it up manually via the OS GUI will not work, since it will default to insecure ciphers which the server has not been configured to support.

  • Check the server logs on strongSwan startup and when you try to connect, and the client logs when you try to connect.

    • On the server: Log in via SSH, then sudo less +F /var/log/syslog. To see startup logs, log in to another session and sudo ipsec restart there, then switch back. To see what's logged during a connection attempt, try to connect from a client.

    • On the client: On a Mac, open in /Applications/Utilities. If connecting from an iPhone, plug the iPhone into the Mac. Pick the relevant device (in the bar down the left), and filter the output (in the box at top right) to nesession, and try to connect. (On Windows or Linux I don't know where you find the logs — if you know, feel free to write the explanation and send a pull request).

  • The setup script is now idempotent — you can run it repeatedly with no ill effects — so, when you've fixed any issues, simply run it again.


To add or change VPN users, it's:

sudo nano /etc/ipsec.secrets

Edit usernames and passwords as you see fit (but don't touch the first line, which specifies the server certificate). The line format for each user is:

someusername : EAP "somepassword"

To exit nano it's Ctrl + O then Ctrl + X, and to have strongSwan pick up the changes it's:

sudo ipsec secrets


If you're on a pre-18.04 version of Ubuntu, it's probably easiest to make a record of any changes to ipsec.secrets, blow the whole thing away and reinstall.

If you're upgrading anyway, and you previously set this up on Ubuntu 16.10, you will need to manually amend the ike, esp, and uniqueids directives in /etc/ipsec.conf to reflect the current values in after upgrading to 17.04+. The versions of strongSwan in 17.04+ don't like different sorts of ciphers being smooshed together, and uniqueids=no now gives me problems trying to connect from two different devices with the same user name. You will also need to recreate any Windows 10 VPNs using the provided PowerShell commands, since the less secure ciphers supported by GUI-created Windows VPNs are no longer enabled.

Bonus paranoia

Your traffic is not logged on the server, but if you're feeling especially paranoid there are various things you could do to reduce logging further. A simple and somewhat drastic option (once you've got everything working) is:

sudo rm /var/log/syslog && sudo ln -s /dev/null /var/log/syslog
sudo rm /var/log/auth.log && sudo ln -s /dev/null /var/log/auth.log


We use a similar setup as a corporate VPN at PSYT. And I use this to bounce my personal web browsing via Europe, in the hope of giving Theresa May's Investigatory Powers Bill the finger.

Why IKEv2?

  • Fair security
  • Built-in clients for latest iOS, Mac and Windows (+ free install on Android)
  • Connect on demand support on iOS and Mac
  • Robust to connection switching and interruptions via MOBIKE

More on IKEv2 at and