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Building an OpenBSD wireless access point

networking, OpenBSD | December 30, 2013

I have a Cisco/Linksys wireless access point to provide me with WiFi at home. I was never satisfied with the device, from day one, and it caused lots of trouble. I would never buy Cisco/Linksys again. Some time ago it even started crashing / rebooting very frequently. Which by the way also feels very creepy after watching @ioerror's talk at #30c3. Anyway, I'm totally fed up with the "broken" device so today I decided to see what hardware I had lying around to build a replacement.

My home network is protected by an OpenBSD NAT/firewall which also does things like DHCP and DNS. It runs on a Soekris net5501. I also have an older, less powerful net4801 that is not in use. I found a wireless USB adapter and a wireless miniPCI adapter that I "recovered" from an old D-Link router. Let's get things running!


The net5501 was set up with pxeboot capabilities. That is actually very easy. Just adding a single line in the /etc/dhcpd.conf:

filename "pxeboot";

Off course the tftp service must be running too. Uncommenting one line in /etc/inetd.conf will do just that:

tftp dgram udp wait root /usr/libexec/tftpd tftpd -s /tftpboot

The tftp service points to the directory /tftpboot. Which was created and populated like this:

# mkdir -p /tftpboot # cd /tftpboot # wget ftp://ftp.belnet.be/pub/OpenBSD/5.4/i386/bsd.rd # wget ftp://ftp.belnet.be/pub/OpenBSD/5.4/i386/pxeboot # mkdir etc # cat << EOF > etc/boot.conf stty com0 19200 set tty com0 boot tftp:/bsd.rd EOF

I think the default baud rate of a Soekris is also 19200, so I'm just adapting the OpenBSD console to that.

Installing base

For installing the base system I hooked up the Soekris with my laptop using a serial to USB cable. There are a lot of Linux tools available that can connect to a serial device. For example cu, screen (not tmux unfortunately) and ckermit. I used ckermit:

$ sudo apt-get install ckermit $ kermit C-Kermit>set line /dev/ttyUSB0 C-Kermit>set speed 19200 C-Kermit>set carrier-watch off C-Kermit>connect

When the power is connected, the system starts comBIOS and allows you to jump into configuration by pressing ctrl+p. At the comBIOS prompt, start network boot with this instruction:

boot f0

The system will use DHCP and the net5501 will give it instructions for pxeboot. The bsd.rd (ramdisk) kernel is loaded and the installation starts. A default installation was just fine in this case.

... comBIOS output ... switching console to com0 >> OpenBSD/i386 PXEBOOT 3.19 booting tftp:/bsd.rd: 6043500+433856 [52+235056+223307]=0x69d650 entry point at 0x200120 Copyright (c) 1982, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1993 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 1995-2013 OpenBSD. All rights reserved. http://www.OpenBSD.org OpenBSD 5.4 (RAMDISK_CD) #34: Tue Jul 30 12:20:01 MDT 2013 deraadt@i386.openbsd.org:/usr/src/sys/arch/i386/compile/RAMDISK_CD ... dmesg output ... Welcome to the OpenBSD/i386 5.4 installation program. (I)nstall, (U)pgrade or (S)hell?

Network interfaces

The net5501 assigns a fixed IP for the device based on it's MAC address. The wired interface is /etc/hostname.sis0:


For the machine to allow forwarding traffic between interfaces, the following system control must be active and uncommented in /etc/sysctl.conf:


The two wireless interfaces appeared as acx and athn. These two both use non-free firmware that must be installed first with the fw_update command.

The athn interface should support WPA for security but unfortunately the device gives timeouts and is therefore unusable as an access point. The acx device works fine but only supports WEP which is not secure. But, I like that more than constant reboots, and the speed is ok (confirmed by sudo wavemon). The device is configured in /etc/hostname.acx0:

inet mediaopt hostap nwid ctors nwkey abcde

When using WPA, that last line would have to be changed to something like:

wpakey abcdeSecurePassw0rd

The wireless network has it's own IP range 10.0.1/24. The net4801 will hand out IP's for it on the acx interface. A DHCP service is started like this in /etc/rc.conf.local:


The DHCP service config is in /etc/dhcpd.conf:

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

To make the new subnet reachable from you wired network, add this to the net5501's internal network interface /etc/hostname.vr1. would be the IP of the access point's wired interface:

!route add -net 10.0.1/24


This software is all installed by default on an OpenBSD system and just needs some configuration. I'm always surprised how easy these things are to set up with OpenBSD. This is also explained very well in the documentation, man pages and FAQ. OpenBSD is a system that is completely usable with just the manual pages. It has always been a pleasure to use.

I do have to look out for another wireless network interface. I heard ral is stable, well supported and has WPA support. This is what the access point looks like:

Soekris net4801