How can I make VPN work over a Virgin Media broadband connection?
July 16, 2012 5:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the UK with Virgin Media as my ISP. The combo modem/router they provide does not allow VPN to work (and I am not alone in my experience, according to the internet). Can anyone recommend a way around this?

I just moved to the UK and I'm telecommuting to my office back in the US. This means I need to use our VPN for email, network access, etc. I travel literally around the world on a regular basis and I've never had an issue with our VPN working, except here in the UK any time I'm on a network that uses Virgin Media residential as an ISP. I can connect and authenticate, but nothing resolves. According to the internet, this is a well-known problem: Virgin Media does not support VPN on their residential connections.

Cable connection in wall -- combination modem/wireless router hardware -- wired or wifi connection to laptop.

Things I have tried:
(1) Getting a different ISP. No dice, I live in a managed apartment complex.
(2) Changing pass-through settings, ensuring IPSec connections are enabled, changing/adding/removing various DNS servers, and everything else I can think of to screw with in the router settings. Nada.
(3) Changing the router firmware. Unfortunately it's a special Netgear unit they make especially for Virgin, so there is no generic firmware available for it.
(4) Asking Virgin for ideas, either for settings or for hardware upgrades. They blame my company's VPN, despite the fact that this issue is well-documented.
(5) Buying a generic Motorola cable modem from the US (since it is apparently impossible to find them here?) and plugging into that. Nope. It goes through its startup sequence, each status LED blinking then going solid, but before the "Online" LED goes solid it starts the sequence over again and never comes fully online.

So I'm pretty frustrated. I need VPN access to do my job, and right now my only alternative has been pay-as-you-go 3G access via my iPhone tether or a USB modem. This works, but is expensive, since I frequently have to transfer large files back and forth, and I feel ridiculous paying an entirely separate internet fee when I have otherwise perfectly good (and much faster) broadband at home anyway for our other computers, Netflix streaming, etc.

So, friends. What have I not thought of trying yet? Has anyone here managed to figure this out for themselves? The Virgin Media tech support forums have managed to confirm that this problem is well known, but most of the "solutions" are for older, different hardware and don't address the newer Superhubs.

Any help would be very much appreciated.
posted by olinerd to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
On the using a generic modem...After hooking it up, did you call Virgin customer support to provision the new modem?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:49 AM on July 16, 2012

Does the router/modem have the ability to work only as a modem if you connect a router to it?
posted by Apoch at 5:55 AM on July 16, 2012

I would run a packet trace on your attempts to connect and give Virgin that information since it will show them exactly where/when the connection drops, since they are blaming your office VPN.

Also, one person from their forums tried this and had success with it:
"I had this problem i resolved it by logging onto the superhub via the go to advance settings then content filtering services u need to enable Ipsec PassThrough, PPTP PassThrough and Port Scan Detection.. then you should be good to go..."
posted by 8dot3 at 6:09 AM on July 16, 2012

I have the latest VM cable modem (due to a free upgrade a couple of months ago), and it has an option that allows you to switch it into 'modem mode' where all of the router functionality is off. Works just fine with my old WRT54G router.
posted by pipeski at 6:14 AM on July 16, 2012

The one I have right now does not have a modem-only mode. And I already tried enabling those pass-through settings in the configuration; nothing changed. The people on the forums may have a different device than I do if it worked for them. (There are several recent units they call the "Superhub")

pipeski, "works just fine" for VPN or just work just fine in general?

Thorzdad, do I have to do that? In my past experience with American ISPs I don't think I've ever had to do that...
posted by olinerd at 6:49 AM on July 16, 2012

I haven't actually set up a VPN yet - although I'm installing a NAS at my employer's office in a week or so and will be (hopefully) getting the VPN stuff working so that I can access it from home. A friend of mine works from home via a VPN over Virgin cable, so I'm pretty sure it's something that can be done. But it's going to be a week or so before I'll be able to offer specific advice based on my own experience.

Will VM upgrade you to one of their 'Super Hubs' that have the 'modem mode' feature?

As far as I'm aware, Virgin don't like people using third-party product to connect to their cable, so that may not be an option worth pursuing.
posted by pipeski at 7:13 AM on July 16, 2012

This is sort of a possible alternate solution: I couldn't get an IPSec connection to my company through a specific modem at one place I work at. Then, asking around, I discovered my company also offered an SSL VPN connection and have been happily using that instead.
posted by vacapinta at 7:56 AM on July 16, 2012

Thorzdad, do I have to do that? In my past experience with American ISPs I don't think I've ever had to do that...

If true, this would be very, very surprising to me. If you don't tell your cable company about the modem, they have no way to know to whom they should bill the service; they probably know the general neighborhood you're connecting from, but not which house. I just moved and bought a cable modem of my own. My provider (Comcast) definitely had to have all sorts of information in their database about the modem before it would connect.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:14 AM on July 16, 2012

fwiw, I have Virgin as my ISP, a recently installed superhub, and I can use my work VPN. If you want me to check any settings for comparison with yours I'm happy to do so if you memail me what you want.
posted by crocomancer at 8:21 AM on July 16, 2012

Thorzdad, do I have to do that? In my past experience with American ISPs I don't think I've ever had to do that...

It's been my experience that you do.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:46 PM on July 16, 2012

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