Setting Up a Firewall with Raspberry Pi and OpenBSD

Tired with my current firewall, I have decided to switch over to a Raspberry Pi 4 running OpenBSD. In this post I describe how I did this and the problems that I ran into.

2 Jun 2024
17 min read

For quite a while now I’ve wanted to replace a Watchguard firewall at home. I find Watchguard’s Firebox to be quite troublesome, and I rather dislike that I had to pay hundreds of pounds to buy it, and then pay hundreds more every year to use it.

So this week I took it upon myself to set up a router at the apex of my network using a Raspberry Pi. I decided that I would use OpenBSD for this.

There is an amazing guide called the OpenBSD Router Guide. A lot of what follows was draw from this guide, the OpenBSD manpages, and the OpenBSD PF User Guide.

Why not pfSense?

When I first started thinking about changing my firewall, my immediate thought was to use pfSense or OPNSense. However, I don’t really want to use either of these anymore. My reasons are fairly vague and subjective, and probably not worth going into too much.

My main gripe is that pfSense (and therefore OPNSense) are based on FreeBSD. Not that I have a problem with FreeBSD, but my choice for a firewall appliance would almost always be OpenBSD. OpenBSD is more heavily focused on security and correctness. FreeBSD, on the other hand, focuses more on performance.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love FreeBSD, but it’s not the BSD I’d pick for a firewall.

It seems to me that the main reasons that pfSense and their kin use FreeBSD are:

  1. pfSense was a fork from m0n0wall, which already used FreeBSD.
  2. FreeBSD has much better wireless support than OpenBSD.
  3. FreeBSD has much better network performance (such as multi-processor support for PF packet filters).

On the second point, I’m not hugely in favour of my WAP being built in to my firewall. I’d rather have the device at the apex of my network focused entirely on being the router for that network. I find that using a separate WAP to be preferable. The third issue, that of network performance, is hardly a problem on a small home network with a ~70Mbps Internet connection.

Installing OpenBSD on a Raspberry Pi

I intend to install OpenBSD on a Raspberry Pi and set up the router configuration myself. To start with, I’ll need to install OpenBSD on a Raspberry Pi.

The OpenBSD 7.5 arm64 installation instructions are very informative, and I recommend reading them more thoroughly than I did.

I selected a Raspberry Pi 4B and used a latest Raspberry Pi OS to update the firmware to the latest version so that I could boot from USB. I then changed the boot order using raspi-config to boot from USB before the microSD. Once completed, I was ready to prepare the installation media for OpenBSD.

Raspberry Pi Boot Delays
Now that the Pi is configured to boot from USB, it actually spins for a while waiting for a USB device before attempting to boot from the SD. After installing OpenBSD, this delay might get quite annoying. If you want to change the boot order back, you will need to boot from something like Raspberry Pi OS in order to use the raspi-config tool.

Ruining Partitions

The first problem I had was that I thought I’d need to use the Raspberry Pi UEFI firmware in the OpenBSD ARM64 installation image. This is why we actually read documentation first, rather than waste time doing something unnecessary.

To get the firmware into the installation image, I downloaded v1.37 of the Raspberry Pi firmware, then mounted the FAT16 partition at the start of the OpenBSD installation image (install75.img). I copied all the files from the UEFI firmware into that partition. As usual, there was a problem: the install75.img has the partition configured to be very small. So small that I cannot fit the actual UEFI firmware onto the partition.

In order to get the new firmware onto the boot partition, I decided to just modify the partitions once they were on a USB stick. So, I wrote the install75.img image file to a USB stick, then plugged the stick into a Linux machine. On that machine I was able to use GParted to move the main BSD partition to the right a tad, and then resize the FAT16 boot partition. Of course GParted cannot resize a FAT16 filesystem 😒, so I mounted the boot partition and copied the contents to another directory. I then added to this directory all the UEFI firmware files from the Raspberry Pi firmware distribution, overwriting anything in the process. Then I deleted the existing FAT16 partition and created a new one (remembering to set the boot and LBA flags). I then copied the modified contents back into this new filesystem.

As usual, none of that worked. OpenBSD could not boot finish booting, as there was a problem with the partition that I had moved.

I've broken the partitions

Booting without UEFI Firmware

The very first sentence in the section of the arm64 installation instructions entitled “Install on Raspberry Pi” is as follows:

The standard miniroot supports at least the Raspberry Pi 3 and 4 with no additional firmware.

After actually reading the installation instructions, I tried install75.img without adding any Raspberry Pi UEFI firmware. What a surprise! Turns out that it booted fine 🙄.

However, now there was another issue: typical OpenBSD doesn’t forward the TTY to the frame-buffer, instead expecting you to attach a serial interface. I didn’t have the energy for that noise, and luckily you can interrupt the auto-boot and use set tty fb0 to redirect the TTY to the frame-buffer before continuing with the boot.

Behold! The glorious OpenBSD installation program

Installing OpenBSD

I shan’t belabour with a blow-by-blow account of the installation of OpenBSD. The installation program for OpenBSD is very good, and a joy to use.

I did have a small issue with getting the sets installed as the installer was unable to connect to Instead I had to point it to to continue. After a short while, the installer had downloaded all the sets and was ready to reboot.

OpenBSD installer has completed installation of all sets
OpenBSD installation is complete

With the installation complete and the system rebooted, I can log in using the root password that I set during the installation. Now I can start configuring the OpenBSD system to be my router and a firewall.

Connecting to OpenBSD for the first time

On a side note, I really rather like the way that OpenBSD mails you a list of responses provided during installation.

OpenBSD email of installation responses

Once OpenBSD has been installed it is fairly important to make sure that you add a new user for yourself. You should add this user to the wheel group so that you can su to root. You should also make sure to set PermitRootLogin to no in the SSH daemon configuration. Ideally you would also generate an SSH key for your new user, add it to the authorized keys and then disable password-based access via SSH by setting PasswordAuthentication to no and PubkeyAuthentication to yes in your SSH daemon configuration.

USB Ethernet Adapter

One small drawback to using a Raspberry Pi was that it only had a single Ethernet port. In order to operate as a gateway, I needed to add another Ethernet port. I decided on using a USB Ethernet adapter, and that I would use that adapter for the connection to the ASDL modem, as my Internet connection is only about 65 Mbps.

The only USB Ethernet adapter I had laying around was an old Microsoft adapter that I used to use with a Microsoft Surface. After messing about a little, I found that I could attach it:

Microsoft USB Ethernet adapter attached

This Microsoft adapter identifies to OpenBSD as an RTL8251 PHY and RTL8153:

Snapshot of dmesg output when connected
Faulty Hardware
Unfortunately I am later going to find that this adapter was broken.

Setting Up a Router in OpenBSD

Using ifconfig I was able to take a look at the current state of the network interfaces available:

Output of ifconfig

There are two interfaces in this list that were of interest to me:

  1. The Raspberry Pi’s built-in Ethernet NIC is listed as the bse0 interface, is attached to my LAN switch, and has the IPv4 address (this is how I am connecting over SSH).
  2. The Microsoft USB adapter is ure0 and is not attached to anything presently, hence the no carrier status (ominous rumble of foreboding).

I’m intended to use the built-in bse0 port as the LAN connection, so it will remain connected to my LAN switch. The ure0 USB Ethernet adapter will be connected to my ADSL modem in place of the WatchGuard.

Before I got to the router configuration, I first needed to make sure that I was able to configure OpenBSD to connect to my Internet.

PPPoE for Internet

My ISP requires PPPoE for my Internet connection. I’ve never really configured PPPoE before, so I had to consult the manpages on PPPoE and ifconfig. Even then I ended up making some fairly basic mistakes.

To start with, I needed to setup the PPPoE interface. I did this by creating an /etc/hostname.pppoe0 file with the following contents:

inet NONE \
pppoedev ure0 authproto chap \
authname '<username>' authkey '<password>' up

I was able to get the username and password from the connection details provided by my ISP. They also confirmed that the authentication protocol was CHAP. According to the PPPoE manpage, using the addresses as the local address and as the destination address is sufficient, and both addresses it will be replaced with those suggested by my ISP.

I then created the /etc/hostname.ure0 to configure the Microsoft USB Ethernet interface:


With those settings in place, I used netstart script to apply these configuration changes. I then moved the ADSL modem from the WatchGuard to the USB adapter.

This is where I ran into a problem with the Microsoft USB adapter. The status was always being reported as no carrier. I tried a different cable, and also tried connecting it to my LAN switch. In the end, I had to admit defeat: either the adapter was broken or there was a driver issue.

This somewhat stumped my progress until Amazon could deliver me a TP-Link UE306 the following day.

Once I had received the new interface and got it connected I changed the configuration in the /etc/hostname.pppoe0 to the name of the new device, replacing ure0 with axen0:

inet NONE \
pppoedev axen0 authproto chap \
authname '<username>' authkey '<password>' up

I renamed the old /etc/hostname.ure0 to /etc/hostname.axen0. Then I ran netstart to apply the changes.

After reconnecting the modem to this new USB Ethernet adapter, I checked ifconfig to see how the PPPoE was progressing, only to see that the status of the pppoe0 interface was inactive. To try and identify the cause I set debugging on the pppoe0 interface, took it down, and then brought it back up:

# ifconfig pppoe0 debug
# ifconfig pppoe0 down
# ifconfig pppoe0 up

This caused some information to be written to the syslog (found in /var/log/messages). I could see that the CHAP authentication was proceeding as expected and that it had actually succeeded, but that the rest of the session configuration had failed.

May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: chap success
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: phase network
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: ipcp open(starting)
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: ipv6cp_open(): no IPv6 interface
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp close(opened)
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp opened->closing
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp output <term-req id=0x67 len=4>
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0 (8864) state=3, session=0x1a25 output -> 25:26:2b:1a:aa:0e, len=12
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: phase terminate
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp input(closing): <term-ack id=0x67 len=4 00-...-00>
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp closing->closed
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: phase dead
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: timeout
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: disconnecting
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp down(closed)
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: lcp closed->initial
May 29 15:49:41 white /bsd: pppoe0: Down event (carrier loss), taking interface down.

This drove me on a number of wild chases. The message no IPv6 interface certainly lead me down a rabbit hole, as I checked to make sure my ISP did not support IPv6 addresses and that I was not actually attempting to configure anything IPv6 related. Turns out, a simple reboot made the problem go away 🙄

After a reboot, the debug messages showed the CHAP authentication completing and the network phase completed. My red herring no IPv6 interface message was still there, indicating it was probably fairly benevolent.

Moreover, I could see in the output of ifconfig that the pppoe0 interface was up and running, and that the inet address was reporting the IP address I expected.

        lladdr 7c:c2:c6:3b:38:a2
        index 5 priority 0 llprio 3
        media: Ethernet autoselect (1000baseT full-duplex)
        status: active
        index 6 priority 0 llprio 3
        dev: axen0 state: session
        sid: 0x1a29 PADI retries: 2 PADR retries: 0 time: 03:25:17
        sppp: phase network authproto chap authname "<username>"
        dns: <dns-ip-1> <dns-ip-2>
        groups: pppoe egress
        status: active
        inet <my-ip> --> <isp-ip> netmask 0xffffffff
pflog0: flags=141<UP,RUNNING,PROMISC> mtu 33136
        index 7 priority 0 llprio 3
        groups: pflog

This is where I ran into my next problem: no default route. For some reason, I assumed that PPPoE would automatically add a default route via the pppoe0 interface. Turns out that this is not the case, and that I needed to add it manually with: route add default -ift pppoe0 <isp-ip>. Rather than have to do this every time, the example in the manpage for pppoe suggests adding a line to the end of the /etc/hostname.pppoe0 file to run the route command, substituting the wildcard address for the destination suggested by the ISP (which I had assumed would be automatic).

My /etc/hostname.pppoe0 configuration now reads as follows:

inet NONE \
pppoedev axen0 authproto chap \
authname '<username>' authkey '<password>' up
!/sbin/route add default -ifp pppoe0

After adding the default route I was able to connect to the Internet from the Raspberry Pi without issue.

Router Configuration

Now that I had the PPPoE up and running I needed to set up the device as a router. To begin with, I needed to enable IPv4 forwarding using the sysctl command, and then permanently enable it by writing the setting into the /etc/sysctl.conf file:

# sysctl net.inet.ip.forwarding=1
# echo 'net.inet.ip.fowrarding=1' >> /etc/sysctl.conf
Forwarding for IPv6
I didn’t bother with IPv6, but you can set net.inet6.ip6.forwarding to 1 if you want IPv6 forwarding to be enabled as well.

Next I needed to configure the Raspberry Pi’s built-in Ethernet port, listed as bse0. To do this I created an /etc/hostname.bse0 file with the following contents:

inet NONE

Using /etc/netstart to apply the configuration changes, I could see in the report from ifconfig bse0 that the configuration had applied:

        lladdr dc:a6:32:d1:35:f1
        index 1 priority 0 llprio 3
        media: Ethernet autoselect (1000baseT full-duplex)
        status: active
        inet netmask 0xffffff00 broadcast

Next I wanted to set up the DHCP server. I wanted to allocate addresses on the LAN in the range through This would give me some lower addresses for static allocation (servers and what not). To achieve this I first edited the /etc/dhcpd.conf file as follows:

subnet netmask {
  option domain-name-servers;
  option routers;

Then I enabled and started dhcpd using rcctl:

# rcctl enable dhcpd
# rcctl start dhcpd

I was now able to check that the devices on my LAN were able to obtain IP addresses. Some of the devices needed to be nudged to acquire a new DHCP lease, and one or two needed to be restarted. I think part of the reason for this was that the subnet had changed from to

Binding IP Addresses to Devices

I have a number of devices that do not use DHCP to obtain an IP address, and these live in the lower range of the subnet: through Currently I am configuring each device to use a specific IP address, however there is an alternative approacj.

In the /etc/dhcpd.conf configuration file for the DHCP server, we can bind IP addresses to specific devices via MAC addresses. For example, I could attach the address to the device with the MAC address d8:3a:dd:a5:a4:85 as follows:

subnet netmask {
  option domain-name-servers;
  option routers;

  host {
    hardware ethernet d8:3a:dd:a5:a4:85;
    option host-name "orange"

I chose not to do this, mostly because because I find configuring the devices themselves more useful. No doubt I’ll learn my lesson soon enough.

PF Configuration

My configuration of the packet-filtering firewall was mostly derived from following the description in the OpenBSD Router Guide. Of course the guide contains quite a lot of rules that are related to extra LAN segments, including a DMZ. I have not included those, as I currently only have a single LAN segment.

Dealing with MTU

During early testing I found that there were some problems establishing connections to a small number of servers. I’ve found that this can often be a sign that there might be a problem with the configuration of the MTU/MSS.

To fix this I added the following statement to /etc/pf.conf:

match in all scrub (no-df random-id max-mss 1452)

The intention of this statement is to scrub incoming packets on all interfaces in the following manners:

  1. Clear the dont-fragment (DF) flag from matching IPv4 packets. Typically PF will drop fragmented packets that have this bit set unless no-df is set.
  2. Replace the original IPv4 identification field with a random number by setting random-id.
  3. Changing the maximum segment size (MSS) on TCP SYN packets to be no greater than 1452 bytes.

I initially set the MSS to 1460, thinking that there would be 40 bytes of headroom required in a TCP packet: 20 bytes of IPv4 header and 20 bytes of TCP header. This did not always help, and a colleague recommended 1452 instead, which fixed the issues I was seeing 😊. My colleague reminded me that there would need to be an additional 8 bytes more headroom, as my Internet packets were being encapsulated by PPPoE.

In retrospect, when I was running ping to test the MTU size I was being told exactly what number I should have been using 🙄.

# ping -s 1472 -I eth0 -M do
PING ( from eth0: 1472(1500) bytes of data.
From ( icmp_seq=1 Frag needed and DF set (mtu = 1492)
ping: local error: message too long, mtu=1492

DNS Configuration with Unbound

In order to provide DNS resolution on the LAN, I needed to set up a DNS server. OpenBSD comes with the caching (non-authoritative) DNS server Unbound. Running a local DNS like this has a number of advantages:

  1. As all DNS is outgoing from the router rather than individual devices, the security of DNS lookups can be more closely controlled.

In order to ensure that DNS queries from the LAN interface are only directed to the local DNS server, I added the following PF rule to block UDP/TCP traffic on port 53 (the typical DNS port) that is not destined for the LAN interface:

block return in quick on $lan_if proto { udp tcp } to ! $lan_if port { 53 }

My configuration for unbound mostly follows the OpenBSD Router Guide.

Adding Custom Entries

I have a number of devices that run locally that I want to be able to address by name. Typically this involves editing the /etc/hosts file on various machines. However, now that I have a DNS server that I can understand how to configure, I added a few custom entries to the Unbound configuration in /var/unbound/etc/unbound.conf:

  # ...

  local-data: "cyan.localdomain A"
  local-data: "blue.localdomain A"

I also added local-data statements for a number of ZeroTier peers.

RFC8375 would be better
Whilst writing up this post, I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t use RFC8375’s address.

To apply the changes to the Unbound configuration, I used rcctl to restart it:

# rcctl restart unbound

With these extra entries added to my DNS configuration I was able to delete large portions of my /etc/hosts file. I left the ZeroTier entries, as they would be useful when I’m off the LAN.


Apart from some stumbling blocks, and points where I completely failed to read the instructions, the installation of OpenBSD on a Raspberry Pi went well. Configuring OpenBSD to be a router was mostly extremely simple. The total number of lines in these configuration files is very small:

$ find . -type f | while read file; do if [[ ! "$file" =~ '\.sh$' ]]; then wc $file; fi; done
      58     180    1678 ./unbound.conf
       1       4      36 ./hostname.bse0
      63     382    2266 ./pf.conf
       1       1       3 ./hostname.axen0
       1       1      25 ./sysctl.conf
       4      17     139 ./hostname.pppoe0
       5      15     153 ./dhcpd.conf

I find that having a device that I can simply configure over SSH to be far simpler than wrangling a web interface. This is especially true when compared to the Watchguard interface, which is reminiscent of a 90’s CGI web app.

Being able to add PF rules to match certain traffic patterns, and then use tcpdump to visualize that traffic is mighty handy.