Auto-connecting a VPN on a Wi-Fi connection from a mobile router on Debian 11

I’m travelling for work a little more now than I have been for a couple of years. I tether my laptop to my phone, rather than rely on Wi-Fi, and I need more data than I currently have in my phone’s plan.

A pre-paid SIM and a Mi-Fi

I could upgrade the plan - for another £12ish per month, I could get “unlimited” data - but £144/year seemed a lot for occasional connectivity.

I could move providers, but that’s not really an option for me at the moment.

So, since I’ve got a Mi-Fi - a small, battery-powered, router - I thought I’d try a pre-paid SIM with a reasonable amount of data.

I used this handy blogpost, “Best Bulk Data PAYG SIMs in the UK”, by Terence Eden to identify a suitable pre-paid SIM.

I went for the first item in his table: 120GB of data, valid for 12 months, for £50, pre-paid.

(Yes, I could have done this more cheaply if I were willing to take out a contract for an additional SIM. If I blitz through the 120GB, perhaps.)

Reminder for future me, when the data stops work:

One gotcha that hit a couple of us recently with the EE 120GB SIMs: approx 6 months after first use, they got deactivated for inactivity.

Needed temporarily moving to a device that could make voice calls, and a call to 150 followed by “dial 1 to reactivate”…

Auto-connecting a VPN

I’m using Debian 11, with GNOME.

The Wi-Fi connectivity tab in the normal “Settings” application does not allow me to automatically connect to a VPN when connecting to a specific Wi-Fi access point.

Oddly - to me, at least - I can do this when tethering to a mobile device. But not a Wi-Fi connection.

Fortunately, the Advanced Network Configuration tool does have this functionality. To do this, you:

Screenshot of GNOME settings

You might need to turn Wi-Fi off then on again, or connect to another network and back to the one you’ve configured to connect to the VPN automatically, before this takes effect.

A better Mi-Fi?

The Mi-Fi I have is quite old. It works, and it is such a shame to ditch working electronics.

But it has not had security updates for quite a few years, and that’s not great.

I quite like the GL.iNet routers. In particular, I like the fact that they use OpenWRT, and have Tor and WireGuard clients built in.