Setting Up a pfSense Network Firewall¶
Before You Begin¶
First, consider how the firewall will be connected to the Internet. You will need to provision several unique subnets, which should not conflict with the network configuration on the WAN interface. If you are unsure, consult your local system administrator.
Many firewalls, including the recommended pfSense-based devices,
automatically set up the LAN interface on
particular private network is also a very common choice for home and
office routers. If you are connecting the firewall to a router with the
same subnet (common in a small office, home, or testing environment),
you will probably be unable to connect to the network at first. However,
you will be able to connect from the LAN to the pfSense WebGUI
configuration wizard, and from there you will be able to configure the
network so it is working correctly.
Configuring Your Firewall¶
Since our recommended firewalls have at least 4 NICs, we will refer to the relevant ports as WAN, LAN, LAN2, and LAN3. (Bracketed numbers may be present on the physical ports’ labels but not in the pfSense UI.) In this case, we can now use a dedicated port on the network firewall for each component of SecureDrop (Application Server, Monitor Server, and Admin Workstation).
Depending on your network configuration, you should define the IP and subnet values your instance will use before continuing. We recommend the default values below:
IP and subnet definitions:¶
Admin Workstation (LAN):
Application Server (LAN2):
Monitor Server (LAN3) :
Unpack the firewall, connect the power, and power on the device.
We will use the pfSense WebGUI to do the initial configuration of the network firewall. 1
Connect to the pfSense WebGUI¶
If you have not already done so, boot the Admin Workstation into Tails using its designated USB drive. Make sure to enable the unsafe browser on the “Welcome to Tails” screen under “Additional settings”.
Connect the Admin Workstation to the LAN interface. You should see a popup notification in Tails that says “Connection Established”. If you click on the network icon in the upper right of the Tails Desktop, you should see “Wired Connected”:
Make sure your only active connection is the one you just established with the network firewall. If you are connected to another network at the same time (e.g. a wireless network), you may encounter problems trying to connect the pfSense WebGUI.
Launch the Unsafe Browser from the menu bar: Applications ▸ Internet ▸ Unsafe Browser.
The Unsafe Browser is, as the name suggests, unsafe (its traffic is not routed through Tor). However, it is the only option because Tails intentionally disables LAN access in the Tor Browser.
A dialog will ask if you really want to “Launch the Unsafe Browser?”. Click Launch.
You will see a pop-up notification that says “Starting the Unsafe Browser…”
After a few seconds, the Unsafe Browser should launch. The window has a bright red border to remind you to be careful when using it. You should close it once you’re done configuring the firewall and use Tor Browser for any other web browsing you might do on the Admin Workstation.
Navigate to the pfSense WebGUI in the Unsafe Browser:
If you have trouble connecting, go to your network settings and make sure that you have an IPv4 address in the
192.168.1.1/24range. You may need to turn on DHCP, else you can manually configure a static IPv4 address of
192.168.1.xwith a subnet mask of
255.255.255.0. However, make sure not to configure your Tails device to have the same IP as the firewall (
The firewall uses a self-signed certificate, so you will see a “Potential Security Risk Ahead” warning when you connect. This is expected. You can safely continue by clicking Advanced, then Accept the Risk and Continue.
You should see the login page for the pfSense GUI. Log in with the default username and passphrase (
Before you can set up the hardware firewall, you will need to set the
Alternate Hostnames setting after logging in. You will see the Setup
Wizard but you should exit out of it by navigating to System -> Advanced.
In the Alternate Hostnames dialog box, add
192.168.1.1 as well as the
IP address of the Admin Gateway. If you decide against using our recommended
defaults for the Admin Gateway, you should include that value here. After
saving these settings you should be able to go back to System and
select Setup Wizard.
If you are using a different IP for the Admin Gateway you should enter that IP in the Alternate Hostname field. Failure to do so will result in an error with the text “An HTTP_REFERER was detected other than what is defined in System -> Advanced”. If you see this error you may have to do a factory reset of the firewall via the serial console.
If you’re setting up a brand new (or recently factory reset) router, logging in to the pfSense WebGUI will automatically start the Setup Wizard. Click Next, then Next again. Don’t sign up for a pfSense Gold subscription (unless you want to).
On the “General Information” page, we recommend leaving your hostname as the default (pfSense). There is no relevant domain for SecureDrop, so we recommend setting this to
securedrop.localor something similar. Use your preferred DNS servers. If you don’t know what DNS servers to use, we recommend using Google’s DNS servers:
18.104.22.168. Click Next.
Leave the defaults for “Time Server Information”. Click Next.
On “Configure WAN Interface”, enter the appropriate configuration for your network. Consult your local sysadmin if you are unsure what to enter here. For many environments, the default of DHCP will work and the rest of the fields can be left blank. Click Next.
If your firewall is behind another firewall or NAT device, you will need to deselect the Block private networks from entering via WAN option to allow traffic to and from your upstream network.
For “Configure LAN Interface”, use the IP address of the Admin Gateway (
10.20.1.1) and the subnet mask (
/24) of the Admin Subnet. Click Next.
Set a strong admin passphrase. We recommend generating a strong passphrase with KeePassXC, and saving it in the Tails Persistent folder using the provided KeePassXC database template. Click Next.
Click Reload. Once the reload completes and the web page refreshes, click the corresponding “here” link to “continue on to the pfSense webConfigurator”.
At this point, since you (probably) changed the LAN subnet settings from
their defaults, you will no longer be able to connect after reloading
the firewall and the next request will probably time out. This is not an
error - the firewall has reloaded and is working correctly. To connect
to the new LAN interface, unplug and reconnect your network cable to get
a new network address assigned via DHCP. Note that if you used a subnet
with fewer addresses than
/24, the default DHCP configuration in
pfSense may not work. In this case, you should assign the Admin
Workstation a static IP address that is known to be in the subnet to
Now the WebGUI will be available on the Admin Gateway address. Navigate
https://<Admin Gateway IP> in the Unsafe Browser, and login as
before except with the new passphrase you just set for the pfSense WebGUI.
Once you’ve logged in to the WebGUI, you are ready to continue configuring
Connect Interfaces and Test¶
Now that the initial configuration is completed, you can connect the WAN port without potentially conflicting with the default LAN settings (as explained earlier). Connect the WAN port to the external network. You can watch the WAN entry in the Interfaces table on the pfSense WebGUI homepage to see as it changes from down (red arrow pointing down) to up (green arrow pointing up). This usually takes several seconds. The WAN’s IP address will be shown once it comes up.
Finally, test connectivity to make sure you are able to connect to the
Internet through the WAN. The easiest way to do this is to use ping
(Diagnostics → Ping in the WebGUI). Enter an external hostname or IP
that you expect to be up (e.g.
google.com) and click “Ping”.
Disable DHCP on the LAN¶
pfSense runs a DHCP server on the LAN interface by default. At this stage in the documentation, the Admin Workstation likely has an IP address assigned via that DHCP server.
In order to tighten the firewall rules as much as possible, we recommend disabling the DHCP server and assigning a static IP address to the Admin Workstation instead.
Disable DHCP Server on the Firewall¶
To disable DHCP, navigate to Services ▸ DHCP Server in the pfSense WebGUI. Uncheck the box labeled Enable DHCP server on LAN interface, scroll down, and click the Save button.
Assign a Static IP Address to the Admin Workstation¶
Now you will need to assign a static IP to the Admin Workstation.
You can easily check your current IP address by clicking the top right of the menu bar, clicking on the Wired Connection and then clicking Wired Settings.
From here you can click on the cog beside the wired network connection:
This will take you to the network settings. Change to the IPv4 tab. Ensure that IPv4 Method is set to Manual, and that the Automatic switch for DNS is in the “off” position, as highlighted in the screenshot below:
The Unsafe Browser will not launch when using a manual network configuration if it does not have DNS servers configured. This is technically unnecessary for our use case because we are only using it to access IP addresses on the LAN, and do not need to resolve anything with DNS. Nonetheless, you should configure some DNS servers here so you can continue to use the Unsafe Browser to access the WebGUI in future sessions.
We recommend keeping it simple and using the same DNS servers that you used for the network firewall in the setup wizard.
Fill in the static networking information for the Admin Workstation:
Click Apply. If the network does not come up within 15 seconds or so, try disconnecting and reconnecting your network cable to trigger the change. You will need you have succeeded in connecting with your new static IP when you are able to connect using the Tor Connection assistant, and you see the message “Connected to Tor successfully”.
Troubleshooting: DNS Servers and the Unsafe Browser¶
After saving the new network configuration, you may still encounter the “No DNS servers configured” error when trying to launch the Unsafe Browser. If you encounter this issue, you can resolve it by disconnecting from the network and then reconnecting, which causes the network configuration to be reloaded.
To do this, click the network icon in the system toolbar, and click Disconnect under the name of the currently active network connection, which is displayed in bold. After it disconnects, click the network icon again and click the name of the connection to reconnect. You should see a popup notification that says “Connection Established”, and the Tor Connection assistant should show the message “Connected to Tor successfully”.
For the next step, SecureDrop Configuration, you will manually configure the firewall for SecureDrop, using screenshots as a reference.
SecureDrop uses the firewall to achieve two primary goals:
Isolating SecureDrop from the existing network, which may be compromised (especially if it is a venerable network in a large organization like a newsroom).
Isolating the Application Server and the Monitor Server from each other as much as possible, to reduce attack surface.
In order to use the firewall to isolate the Application Server and the Monitor Server from each other, we need to connect them to separate interfaces, and then set up firewall rules that allow them to communicate.
Set Up the Firewall Rules¶
Since there are a variety of firewalls with different configuration interfaces and underlying sets of software, we cannot provide a set of network firewall rules to match every use case.
The easiest way to set up your firewall rules is to look at the screenshots of a correctly configured firewall and edit the interfaces, aliases, and firewall rules on your firewall to match them.
Set Up LAN2¶
We set up the LAN interface during the initial configuration. We now need to set up the LAN2 interface for the Application Server. Start by connecting the Application Server to the LAN2 port. Then use the WebGUI to configure the LAN2 interface. Go to Interfaces ▸ LAN2, and check the box to Enable Interface. Use these settings:
IPv4 Configuration Type: Static IPv4
10.20.2.1(Application Gateway IP)
Make sure that the CIDR routing prefix is correct (
/24). Leave everything else
as the default. Save and Apply Changes.
Set Up LAN3¶
Next, you will have to enable the LAN3 interface. Go to Interfaces ▸ LAN3, and check the box to Enable Interface. LAN3 interface is set up similarly to how we set up LAN2 in the previous section. Use these settings:
IPv4 Configuration Type: Static IPv4
10.20.3.1(Monitor Gateway IP)
Make sure that the CIDR routing prefix is correct (
/24). Leave everything else
as the default. Save and Apply Changes.
Use Screenshots of Firewall Configuration¶
Here are some example screenshots of a working pfSense firewall configuration. You will add the firewall rules until they match what is shown on the screenshots.
First, we will configure IP and port aliases. Navigate to Firewall ▸ Aliases and you should see a screen with no currently defined IP aliases:
Next you will click Add to add each IP alias. You should leave the Type as Host. Make aliases for the following:
Click Save to add the alias.
Keep adding aliases until the screenshot matches what is shown here:
Finally, click Apply Changes. This will save your changes. You should see a message “The changes have been applied successfully”:
Next click “Ports” for the port aliases, and add the following ports:
Your configuration should match this screenshot:
Next we will configure firewall rules for each interface. Navigate to Firewall ▸ Rules to add firewall rules for the LAN1, LAN2, and LAN3 interfaces.
Be sure not to delete the Anti-Lockout Rule on the LAN1 interface. Deleting this rule will lock you out of the pfSense WebGUI.
Add or remove rules until they match the following screenshots by clicking Add to add a rule.
Finally, click Apply Changes. This will save your changes. You should see a message “The changes have been applied successfully”. Once you’ve set up the firewall, exit the Unsafe Browser, and continue with the “Keeping pfSense up to date” section below.
Tips for Setting Up pfSense Firewall Rules¶
Here are some general tips for setting up pfSense firewall rules:
Create aliases for the repeated values (IPs and ports).
pfSense is a stateful firewall, which means that you don’t need corresponding rules to allow incoming traffic in response to outgoing traffic (like you would in, e.g. iptables with
--state ESTABLISHED,RELATED). pfSense does this for you automatically.
You should create the rules on the interface where the traffic originates.
Make sure you delete the default “allow all” rule on the LAN interface. Leave the “Anti-Lockout” rule enabled.
Any traffic that is not explicitly passed is logged and dropped by default in pfSense, so you don’t need to add explicit rules (iptables
LOGNDROP) for that.
Since some of the rules are almost identical except for whether they allow traffic from the Application Server or the Monitor Server, you can use the “add a new rule based on this one” button to save time creating a copy of the rule on the other interface.
If you are troubleshooting connectivity, the firewall logs can be very helpful. You can find them in the WebGUI in Status → System Logs → Firewall.
Keeping pfSense up to Date¶
Periodically, the pfSense project maintainers release an update to the pfSense software running on your firewall. You will be notified by the appearance of text saying that there is a new version in the Version section of the “Status: Dashboard” page (the home page of the WebGUI).
If you see that an update is available, we recommend installing it. Most of these updates are for minor bugfixes, but occasionally they can contain important security fixes. You should keep apprised of updates yourself by checking the pfSense Blog posts with the “releases” tag.
You can subscribe to email updates on https://www.netgate.com.
To install the update, click the Download icon next to the update then click the “Confirm” button:
You will see a page with a progress bar while pfSense performs the upgrade:
This may take a while, so be patient!
Once it is complete, you will see a notification of successful upgrade:
The Network Firewall configuration is now complete, allowing you to move to the next step: setting up the servers.
Tails screenshots are current as of Tails 5.0. Please make an issue on GitHub if you are using the most recent version of Tails and the interface is different from what you see here.