Android VPN Rage

Having obtained a shiny new Nexus S to replace my aging HTC Magic, I’ve been spending the last few days setting it up as I want it – favorite apps, settings, email, etc.

The setup is a little more complex for me, since I run most of my services behind a secure internal VPN – this includes email, SIP and other services.


On my HTC Magic, I ran OpenVPN which was included in Cynogenmod – this is ideal, since I run OpenVPN elsewhere on all my laptops and servers and it’s a very reliable, robust VPN solution.

With the Nexus S, I want to stick to stock firmware, but this means I only have the options of a PPTP or IPsec/L2TP VPN solution, both of which I consider to be very unpleasant solutions.

I ended up setting up IPsec (OpenSwan) + L2TP (xl2tp + ppp) and got this to work with my Android phone to provide VPN connectivity. For simplicity, I configured the tunnel to act as a default route for all traffic.


Some instant deal breakers I’ve discovered:

  1. Android won’t remember the VPN user password – I can fix this for myself by potentially moving to certificates, but this is a deal breaker for my work VPN with it’s lovely 32-char password as mandated by infrastructure team.
  2. Android disconnects from the VPN when changing networks – eg from 3G to wifi….. and won’t automatically reconnect.
  3. I’m unable to get the VPN to stand up on my internal RFC 1918 wifi range, for some reason the VPN establishes and then drops, yet works fine over 3G to the same server.


I love Android and I suspect many other platforms won’t be much better, but this really is a bit shit – I can only see a few options:

  1. Get OpenVPN modules onto my phone and setup OpenVPN tunnels for the stock firmware – for this, I will need to root the device, compile the Nexus kernel with tun module support, copy onto the phone and then install one of the UIs for managing the VPN.
  2. Switch to Cynogenmod to gain these features, at the cost of the stability of using the stable releases from Google/Samsung.
  3. Re-compile the source released by Samsung and apply the patches I want for OpenVPN support in the GUI from Cynogenmod.
  4. Re-compile the source released by Samsung and apply patches to the VPN controls in Android to fix VPN handling properly. Although this still doesn’t fix the fact that IPsec is a bit shit in general.


All of these are somewhat time intensive activities as well as being way beyond the level of a normal user, or even most technical users for that matter.

I’m wondering if option 3 is going to be the best from a learning curve and control perspective, but I might end up doing 1 or 2 just to get the thing up and running so I can start using it properly.

It’s very frustrating, since there’s some cool stuff I can now do on Android 2.3, like native SIP support that I just need to get the VPN online for first. :-(

3 thoughts on “Android VPN Rage

  1. Android

    I believe you don’t need to compile the tun module for your phone since tun support is already built in your kernel. I also have a Nexus phone and all I did is root my phone, And then I installed Tun.ko installer for openvpn to enable tun in my phone. The app will display “path to tun.ko is not found”, that is normal since tun support is actually built within your kernel. And that’s it OpenVPN is now working on my phone.

    1. Jethro Carr Post author

      From what I see with the link you’ve provided, the application provides a tun.ko modules suitable for the kernel being used on your device, so it’s actually installing the module for you.

      Some builds of Android do include the tunnel modules, when building AOSP (Android Open Source Project), I found that the default kernel configuration included tunneling.

      However I definitely needed to load a tun.ko module with the original factory Android install for my Nexus S.


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