This article details a guide for FreeNAS setup via a VPN platform to create the best anonymous file server. FreeNAS is a free open-source software dedicated for Network Attached Storage purposes. FreeNAS is also known as NAS4Free, the latest iteration in its name for version 7, but we will focus on the advanced FreeNAS 8 in this tutorial.
In short, FreeNAS is a software that is designed to convert an existing computer, a set of hard drives or a storage system within a network into a file sharing device. NAS units are different from large file servers or server farms, in the sense that NAS systems are used for a distinct function under a smaller environment such as for storing/streaming media, using torrent applications, backing up files and centralizing data storage.
There are multiple advantages to creating a Network Attached Storage (NAS) within a small network. In LAN networks such as homes and small offices, NAS devices will facilitate easy storage of data at a centralized system, help in file sharing, and allow streaming file storage within the network.
There are several NAS systems available off the shelf that offers excellent features and functionalities. They even come pre-loaded with dedicated NAS software, but most of them usually require a subscription after the trial period or after the novelty wears off. FreeNAS is an open-source software, and hence, is free for non-commercial use. This is why FreeNAS makes the perfect NAS platform for either reviving your old PC as a NAS system, or for customizing your new NAS system.
Using NAS over a public network does have its own disadvantages, mainly in the form of data theft and privacy. That is why it is essential to use FreeNAS with VPN to encrypt the data and keep the flow of data within the network private and anonymous. We will discuss in detail on how to install FreeNAS with a VPN in the later stages, but now, let us take a look at the various steps involved in setting up FreeNAS on your existing system.
FreeNAS Setup On Your PC
Currently, there are two FreeNAS versions available for download, the FreeNAS 7 (now known as the NAS4Free version) and FreeNAS 8. NAS4Free is still popular and in huge demand for older computers with fewer resources, but the latest FreeNAS 8 version comes loaded with some great new features and functions. Some of the noteworthy additions to the platform include dedicated plugins for Torrents, Usenet and offers better media streaming compatibility. It is also easier and much more efficient than NAS4Free. In this tutorial, we will stick to setting up FreeNAS 8 version due to its superiority over the NAS4Free version.
FreeNAS Hardware Requirements
1. Minimum 2 GB RAM
FreeNAS requires a system with free RAM of not less than 2GB, however, 4GB is highly recommended. This is also prominent for systems using 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. 64-bit with 8GB RAM is the best possible combination to achieve the maximum speed and efficiency for using FreeNAS with ZFS file system. You can also use 2GB using 32-bit architecture, for which you might be required to use the UFS file system.
2. Minimum 4GB USB Flash Drive
When it comes to installation, the download file for FreeNAS comes as an ISO image, which should be burnt on a disc or on a USB flash drive. It is preferable for you to use an external disc or USB flash drive and avoid using a hard drive. You can use a hard drive for installation, but the installation process locks the entire space of the drive partition, rendering the free space obsolete. That is why you should always use a plain disc or flash drive for the installation process.
3. No External PC Components
Since NAS systems are stand-alone systems and can be operated via any system connected to the NAS in the network, you won’t need any monitor, mouse or keyboard. You can install FreeNAS on your system, boot it and then forget about it. NAS systems are mostly low in sound and low in power usage, hence, it won’t take much resource to operate.
4. Old PC Or Existing Personal Computer
If you have an old computer that you rarely use, you can use it for setting up FreeNAS as well. There are dedicated NAS systems available off the shelf, but it is wise to use your existing system and top it up with extended hard drives to save the extra cost. While using an existing system, ensure that it has at least 2GB of RAM as free storage.
FreeNAS Setup Instructions
FreeNAS is available for Windows and MAC users. Windows users can download the image for 32-bit or 64-bit operating systems. Due to the popularity of Windows OS and since FreeNAS is mostly used for Windows operating systems; we are concentrating more on setting up FreeNAS on Windows OS. Here is a detailed FreeNAS setup guide for Windows users:
- Visit the FreeNAS website and download the image file
- Unzip the image file with any file compression/decompression software such as WinZIP, WinRAR or 7-ZIP
- Plug in the Flash Drive to your USB (the computer or hard drive system that you intend to use for creating your NAS) and make sure that it is empty and formatted
- Run the FreeNAS IMG file using any image mounting tools such as Magic ISO, DEAMON Tools or Win32DiskImager
- Choose the USB flash drive as the destination location for burning the image file. Click on ‘Burn’ or ‘Write’ as applicable to the IMAGE burning software that you use
- Shut down your computer and make sure that the Flash Drive is plugged in. Reboot your computer from the Flash drive
- The boot-up from the Flash Drive will take some time during which the FreeNAS interface configures your computer. After a few moments, you will receive an IP address at the bottom of the screen. Go to any other computer in your network and open the internet browser. Enter the IP address obtained into the navigation bar. This should finally take you to the FreeNAS platform
- It would be wise for you to take care of user information and login credentials during the initial phase to secure your network and data. You can use the FreeNAS interface account information to add users, change passwords, create groups and grant access to other computers in the network. Your primary concern should be to protect the FreeNAS user interface with an user id and password, after which, you can go on to change admin details and add users
- Once you have the users set up and the login credentials in order, you have to configure the security and internet connection settings. For this, you have to go to the Systems settings menu and change several settings such as your location, timezone and encryption protocol. You can even configure the Network settings from the Network menu customize your NAS’s internet gateway’s settings to match your internet router’s settings
- The next stage in the installation process is adding hard disks or configuring the space available in your NAS. Click on the Storage menu and go to Volume Manager. Choose one hard disk drive from the available slots and rename the drive. You should also change the file system, typically, ZFS is recommended for computers with good resources such as a minimum of 4 GB of available RAM. But if your system is low on resources, you can also use UFS, which is pretty reliable and efficient
- Finally, once you are satisfied with your settings, choose Add Volume, which will format the existing drive and enable it to be used as a NAS. This step will completely erase existing data on the drive; therefore, if you are importing files from an old FreeNAS drive, you should choose the Import Volume option from the Storage Menu in the first place
- Change the user permissions settings of the hard drive to set the user access as per your requirements. Different users require different levels of access, which is why it is up to you to decide which kind of permissions and access works best for different computers in the network. Steps 10 through 12 should be repeated for each hard drive connected to the system
- Once your NAS is set up with all the hard drives, you should now share the NAS with all the systems in the network. There are numerous options for hard drive sharing, but CIFS is the best option available due to its windows compatibility and the ability to use CIFS with differing and varying operating systems within a single network
- Choose the Sharing option by going to Sharing >> Windows Shares (CIFS) >> Add Windows Share. Designate any name for the sharing option and choose the drive that you want to share. Edit the settings according to your preference. You can also leave the default settings on, as it should get the job done. Don’t click ‘Yes’ for the Enable CIFS services prompt yet. Instead, go back and do the same for all the other drives that you want to share. Once you are done with editing the settings and are happy with the drives that you have set for shared permissions, you can finally go to Services >> Control services and turn on the CIFS. This will help you change all of your shared settings globally instead of doing it one by one
- You have fully setup FreeNAS on your network and you can access the NAS system by accessing the Network shortcut from the Windows Explorer, which should display the NAS system along with your designated NAS name. You will be required to enter login username and password while editing, creating, storing and retrieving files, which are the same parameters that you created while editing the user settings
There are numerous options for customizations and adding plugins, which will further increase the functionality of your NAS systems. However, in this tutorial, we are concentrating on basic FreeNAS setup and using a VPN for complete anonymity and security.
Setup FreeNAS With VPN
Every FreeNAS enabled NAS systems should be connected over a public network to function properly. The problem with most public networks are that they are insecure and attracts a lot of unwanted attention from prying eyes in the form of hackers, Government regulatory agencies, ISPs, copyright protection agencies, and other similar information phishing agents.
The basic premise for such intrusion to curb illegal activities, however, due to the amount of information theft that takes place, no amount of data is secure if it goes over a public network without any security measures. This is why it is important to setup FreeNAS with VPN to ensure 100% encryption of data within a NAS network.
Installing new plugins and apps into FreeNAS cannot be done without setting up ‘jail’ on your system. To do this, you will have to SSH into your Network Attached Storage system. This can be done by installing PuTTY and accessing the ‘root’ domain (just enter the IP address of your NAS into the PuTTY platform) with the user credentials that you used during your FreeNAS setup procedure.
- The first step in the setup process is to create folders that can be used to install apps. To do this, you have to mount them on to the NAS. Visit the NAS website or download their tutorial to enter the specific program codes relevant to your system and drive settings
- The only option available for FreeNAS with VPN is through OpenVPN protocol. Therefore, you have to choose a VPN service provider that offers OpenVPN and NAS support. We have a list of top VPN service providers that offer excellent NAS support. You will have to install OpenVPN on your NAS and enter the VPN login information to connect your NAS system to the network via a VPN. Once again, it is preferable for you to contact your VPN service provider for specific input on installing and configuring NAS into your system. Any change in VPN parameters will prevent smooth access to the internet, therefore, along with FreeNAS tutorials, you are better off with help from experienced professionals
- Once you have installed OpenVPN into your NAS system, it will be readily available from your FreeNAS GUI. You can change a whole list of settings when it comes to VPN, and before you connect your NAS to the internet, make sure your firewall settings are in order. Since this is a complicated procedure, there is every chance for you to take a few wrong turns along the way; but that is unless you know what you are doing, therefore, always keep the customer support numbers of your VPN service provider handy while performing a setup for FreeNAS with VPN
It is extremely important to follow the correct FreeNAS setup via VPN instructions to ensure 100% online security and anonymity. It is always dangerous to leave your data unsecure, especially over a public network. VPN is the only alternative that will help you keep your private data secure.