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pfSense 2.x – How to fix Strict NAT for XBox One

pfSense 2.x – How to fix Strict NAT for XBox One
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I’m always up for playing with new toys, and this time I did build a firewall using pfSense. I wanted to play with OpenVPN and my NetGear R7000 Nighthawk (running Asus xWRT) capped out at 5Mbps. So I migrated to pfSense.

However, doing so, my XBox One decided to not like this and detected STRICT NAT – which results in limitations with online gaming.

In this article I’ll show you how I fixed this with pfSense so NAT now shows as OPEN (keep in mind that I’m NOT an expert).

Note: This may apply to PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, XBox 360 and other consoles as well.




What is pfSense?

Well, if you are unfamiliar with pfSense, then this article may not be for you … unless you want to go build your own firewall as well of course.

pfSense is one of the most used open source firewalls which runs on it’s own dedicated hardware. Having played with it, and using it right now: it’s awesome!

The common “at home” setup for pfSense is shown below, I even included the XBox One – which initially showed STRICT NAT … (drawn with Draw.io)

In this diagram you’ll see the pfSense firewall as a separate box, which indeed the case in my setup. I’ve used a small computer for this.
The ISP Modem is set in bridge mode, so it’s basically a dumb device translating the signals from the ISP (cable, fiber, ISDN, etc) to network signals. So no DHCP, no Firewall, etc. – pfSense handles it all.

pfSense - Network Diagram

pfSense – Network Diagram

Off the bat, pfSense is configured pretty good. Just one problem I ran into … my XBox One was very limited when it comes to online gaming due to a STRICT NAT. This implies that you can join a multiplayer game and that you can chat … but you cannot host a multiplayer game. Not to mention all kinds of unexpected errors making live miserable.

pfSense – How to fix STRICT NAT

There are several ways to fix the STRICT NAT situation.

Placing the XBox One in a DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone), means that your XBox will be exposed to the Internet without any protection – which actually may be fine. I used a small computer with 4 Ethernet port (network) ports. One port used for WAN (Internet) and one for LAN (my devices). I could use one of the remaining ports specifically for DMZ purposes. If you’re interested in this approach then consider reading this article: How to create a DMZ with pfSense 2.4.2.

Personally I try to avoid using the DMZ approach if I can. Just feels like I’m opening more than I should to make things work. But … it most certainly is an option.

My preferred method is by setting the appropriate rules and only allow and open what is really needed – there is no need to leave the door wide open.

pfSense – OPEN NAT for your XBox One

The following method should work for the XBox One to get rid of STRICT NAT and end up with an OPEN NAT, and can be applied for multiple XBox One devices.
Unfortunately, I do not have other consoles like the Play Station 4 or the Nintendo Switch (nasty thing with money – you can spend only once).
From what I have seen; this most likely works with other consoles as well. Your milage may vary.

Not a Firewall Expert 

Just a warning: I’m most certainly not a firewall or a pfSense expert.
Everything presented here is from what I have read and tested on my own setup.
Suggestions, and improvements are most welcome.

 

Step 1: Give your XBox One a fixed IP address in pfSense

We are going to be adding some rules to the pfSense firewall. To make sure these rules apply to the right devices, we must have a known IP address for our XBox One device(s).

This can be done it two ways: either you assign a static IP address to your XBox One or you reserver the IP address for you XBox One in the DHCP of your pfSense setup.

Since I use DHCP for my network, I decided to use the most obvious: tell my DHCP to use a fixed IP address for my XBox One. You can apply this to all your XBox One devices in case you have multiple.

Determine an IP Address for your XBox One

Note: I assume that your LAN connection is called “LAN” in your pfSense enviroment.

In pfSense go to Services DHCP Server LAN.

Go to the “General Options” and take note of the range used by your DHCP – we will need this to pick an IP address.

pfSense - IP range used by your DHCP

pfSense – IP range used by your DHCP

You will have to determine what the fixed IP address of your XBox One should be.
Make sure you pick an IP address that does not fall in the range used by your DHCP!

As example:
The example DHCP uses the range 192.168.2.10 – 192.168.2.150.
So for our XBox we should pick an IP address lower than 192.168.2.10, greater than 192.168.2.150, and not yet in use by another device.
In my example I picked 192.168.2.239.

Note: If you have more than one XBox One, pick a unique IP address for those as well.
Note: If the range prevents you from picking one outside of the range, then please change your DHCP range to make some room.

Define a fixed IP Address for your XBox One

Next; scroll all the way to the bottom (under “DHCP Static Mappings for this Interface“) and click the “Add” button. A new page will load.

Here we will need the MAC address of your XBox One – you can find this in the network details of your XBox One, or in the DHCP log of pfSense (menu: Status DHCP Leases).

Fill in the form as shown below, and make sure you pick the IP address you selected for your XBox One.

  1. The MAC address of your XBox One,
  2. A name or Client identifier for your XBox One (avoid using single or double quotes!!),
  3. The IP address you picked for your XBox One (192.168.2.239 in my example),
  4. A Hostname for your XBox One (this can be anything, just do not use special characters or spaces, and keep it short),
  5. Optional: description so you can recognize the device in pfSense lists and log. For example “XBox One X Livingroom”.
  6. Click the “Save” button.
pfSense - Define Fixed IP Address for your XBox One

pfSense – Define Fixed IP Address for your XBox One

After click the “Save” button you will get a message, stating that static mapping has changed. Click the “Apply Changes” button.

pfSense - Apply Changes

pfSense – Apply Changes

Repeat these steps for additional consoles devices.

Step 2: Enable UPnP & NAT-PMP in pfSense

The next step is to enable UPnP in your pfSense setup, to do this, go to: Services UPnP & NAT-PMP.

In the image below, we did the following settings:

  1. CheckEnable UPnP $ NAT-PMP“,
  2. CheckAllow UPnP Port Mapping“,
  3. CheckAllow NAT-PMP Port Mapping“,
  4. Select your WAN at the “External Interface“,
  5. Select your LAN at the “Interfaces” list,
  6. CheckDeny access to UPnP & NAT-PMP by default
  7. At “ACL Entries” we will need to add an entry for each of your XBox Device in the following format, where a.b.c.d should be replaced with the IP address we just set for our XBox One:
    allow 53-65535 0.0.0.0/32 53-65535.
    So in my example this is:
    allow 53-65535 192.168.2.239/32 53-65535.
    This says:
    for the specific IP address 192.168.2.239, UPnP can be used for any target (/32) and for the external ports “53-65535” and internal ports “53-65535”.
  8. Click the “Add” button,
  9. Click “Save” when done.

 

Note: repeat steps 7 and 8 for each additional XBox One you have.

pfSense - Enable UPnP for your XBox One

pfSense – Enable UPnP for your XBox One

 

Step 3: Configure Outbound NAT for pfSense

We’re almost done, we just need to modify our NAT settings a little bit.

In pfSense go to Firewall NAT Outbound. Don’t forget to click “Outbound”!

First we need to set our outbound NAT to Hybrid:

pfSense - Set NAT to Hybrid

pfSense – Set NAT to Hybrid

We additionally need to add a so called mapping rule: click under “Mappings” the Add” button that points up.

Note: Make sure you did NOT check “Disable this rule”.

  1. Select WAN at the “Interface” field,
  2. Set “Protocol” to “any“.
  3. Set “Source” to “Network” and enter the IP address of your Xbox One, and the following field to “/32“,
  4. Set “Destination” to “any” and leave the other fields as they are,
  5. Set “Address” to “Interface Address“,
  6. CheckStatic Port” (so the pfSense NAT will not use a different port number),
  7. Enter some kind of description (so you can find it again later, and recall why you’ve added this rule),
  8. and finally click the “Save” button.

 

Note: For additional XBox One devices, rinse an repeat these 8 steps for each console you’d like to add.

pfSense - Outbound NAT rule for XBox One

pfSense – Outbound NAT rule for XBox One

Step 4: Reboot your devices

Now this may or may not be required, but I did it anyway.

  1. Shutdown your XBox One – completely so remove the power cord after doing a console shutdown.
  2. Reboot your pfSense Firewall – this may not be required.
  3. After reboot verify your XBox One Network details – You should have an OPEN NAT now and STRICT NAT should be an issue of the past.

 

Useful resources

A few links that provide useful information related to this topic:

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