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10.2. Virtual Private Network

A Virtual Private Network (VPN for short) is a way to link two different local networks through the Internet by way of a tunnel; the tunnel is usually encrypted for confidentiality. VPNs are often used to integrate a remote machine within a company's local network.
Several tools provide this. OpenVPN is an efficient solution, easy to deploy and maintain, based on SSL/TLS. Another possibility is using IPsec to encrypt IP traffic between two machines; this encryption is transparent, which means that applications running on these hosts need not be modified to take the VPN into account. SSH can also be used to provide a VPN, in addition to its more conventional features. Finally, a VPN can be established using Microsoft's PPTP protocol. Other solutions exist, but are beyond the focus of this book.

10.2.1. OpenVPN

OpenVPN is a piece of software dedicated to creating virtual private networks. Its setup involves creating virtual network interfaces on the VPN server and on the client(s); both tun (for IP-level tunnels) and tap (for Ethernet-level tunnels) interfaces are supported. In practice, tun interfaces will most often be used except when the VPN clients are meant to be integrated into the server's local network by way of an Ethernet bridge.
OpenVPN relies on OpenSSL for all the SSL/TLS cryptography and associated features (confidentiality, authentication, integrity, non-repudiation). It can be configured either with a shared private key or using X.509 certificates based on a public key infrastructure. The latter configuration is strongly preferred since it allows greater flexibility when faced with a growing number of roaming users accessing the VPN.

10.2.1.1. Public Key Infrastructure: easy-rsa

The RSA algorithm is widely used in public-key cryptography. It involves a “key pair”, comprised of a private and a public key. The two keys are closely linked to each other, and their mathematical properties are such that a message encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted by someone knowing the private key, which ensures confidentiality. In the opposite direction, a message encrypted with the private key can be decrypted by anyone knowing the public key, which allows authenticating the origin of a message since only someone with access to the private key could generate it. When associated with a digital hash function (MD5, SHA1, or a more recent variant), this leads to a signature mechanism that can be applied to any message.
However, anyone can create a key pair, store any identity on it, and pretend to be the identity of their choice. One solution involves the concept of a Certification Authority (CA), formalized by the X.509 standard. This term covers an entity that holds a trusted key pair known as a root certificate. This certificate is only used to sign other certificates (key pairs), after proper steps have been undertaken to check the identity stored on the key pair. Applications using X.509 can then check the certificates presented to them, if they know about the trusted root certificates.
OpenVPN follows this rule. Since public CAs only emit certificates in exchange for a (hefty) fee, it is also possible to create a private certification authority within the company. The easy-rsa package provides tools to serve as an X.509 certification infrastructure, implemented as a set of scripts using the openssl command.
The Falcot Corp administrators use this tool to create the required certificates, both for the server and the clients. This allows the configuration of all clients to be similar since they will only have to be set up so as to trust certificates coming from Falcot's local CA. This CA is the first certificate to create; to this end, the administrators set up a directory with the files required for the CA in an appropriate location, preferably on a machine not connected to the network in order to mitigate the risk of the CA's private key being stolen.
$ make-cadir pki-falcot
$ cd pki-falcot
They then store the required parameters into the vars file, especially those named with a KEY_ prefix; these variables are then integrated into the environment:
$ vim vars
$ grep KEY_ vars
export KEY_CONFIG=`$EASY_RSA/whichopensslcnf $EASY_RSA`
export KEY_DIR="$EASY_RSA/keys"
echo NOTE: If you run ./clean-all, I will be doing a rm -rf on $KEY_DIR
export KEY_SIZE=2048
export KEY_EXPIRE=3650
export KEY_COUNTRY="FR"
export KEY_PROVINCE="Loire"
export KEY_CITY="Saint-Étienne"
export KEY_ORG="Falcot Corp"
export KEY_EMAIL="admin@falcot.com"
export KEY_OU="Certificate authority"
export KEY_NAME="Certificate authority for Falcot Corp"
# If you'd like to sign all keys with the same Common Name, uncomment the KEY_CN export below
# export KEY_CN="CommonName"
$ . ./vars
NOTE: If you run ./clean-all, I will be doing a rm -rf on /home/roland/pki-falcot/keys
$ ./clean-all
The next step is the creation of the CA's key pair itself (the two parts of the key pair will be stored under keys/ca.crt and keys/ca.key during this step):
$ ./build-ca
Generating a 2048 bit RSA private key
...................................................................+++
...+++
writing new private key to 'ca.key'
-----
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
-----
Country Name (2 letter code) [FR]:
State or Province Name (full name) [Loire]:
Locality Name (eg, city) [Saint-Étienne]:
Organization Name (eg, company) [Falcot Corp]:
Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) [Certificate authority]:
Common Name (eg, your name or your server's hostname) [Falcot Corp CA]:
Name [Certificate authority for Falcot Corp]:
Email Address [admin@falcot.com]:
The certificate for the VPN server can now be created, as well as the Diffie-Hellman parameters required for the server side of an SSL/TLS connection. The VPN server is identified by its DNS name vpn.falcot.com; this name is re-used for the generated key files (keys/vpn.falcot.com.crt for the public certificate, keys/vpn.falcot.com.key for the private key):
$ ./build-key-server vpn.falcot.com
Generating a 2048 bit RSA private key
.....................................................................................................................+++
...........+++
writing new private key to 'vpn.falcot.com.key'
-----
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
-----
Country Name (2 letter code) [FR]:
State or Province Name (full name) [Loire]:
Locality Name (eg, city) [Saint-Étienne]:
Organization Name (eg, company) [Falcot Corp]:
Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) [Certificate authority]:
Common Name (eg, your name or your server's hostname) [vpn.falcot.com]:
Name [Certificate authority for Falcot Corp]:
Email Address [admin@falcot.com]:

Please enter the following 'extra' attributes
to be sent with your certificate request
A challenge password []:
An optional company name []:
Using configuration from /home/roland/pki-falcot/openssl-1.0.0.cnf
Check that the request matches the signature
Signature ok
The Subject's Distinguished Name is as follows
countryName           :PRINTABLE:'FR'
stateOrProvinceName   :PRINTABLE:'Loire'
localityName          :T61STRING:'Saint-\0xFFFFFFC3\0xFFFFFF89tienne'
organizationName      :PRINTABLE:'Falcot Corp'
organizationalUnitName:PRINTABLE:'Certificate authority'
commonName            :PRINTABLE:'vpn.falcot.com'
name                  :PRINTABLE:'Certificate authority for Falcot Corp'
emailAddress          :IA5STRING:'admin@falcot.com'
Certificate is to be certified until Mar  6 14:54:56 2025 GMT (3650 days)
Sign the certificate? [y/n]:y


1 out of 1 certificate requests certified, commit? [y/n]y
Write out database with 1 new entries
Data Base Updated
$ ./build-dh
Generating DH parameters, 2048 bit long safe prime, generator 2
This is going to take a long time
[…]
The following step creates certificates for the VPN clients; one certificate is required for each computer or person allowed to use the VPN:
$ ./build-key JoeSmith
Generating a 2048 bit RSA private key
................................+++
..............................................+++
writing new private key to 'JoeSmith.key'
-----
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
-----
Country Name (2 letter code) [FR]:
State or Province Name (full name) [Loire]:
Locality Name (eg, city) [Saint-Étienne]:
Organization Name (eg, company) [Falcot Corp]:
Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) [Certificate authority]:Development unit
Common Name (eg, your name or your server's hostname) [JoeSmith]:Joe Smith
[…]
Now all certificates have been created, they need to be copied where appropriate: the root certificate's public key (keys/ca.crt) will be stored on all machines (both server and clients) as /etc/ssl/certs/Falcot_CA.crt. The server's certificate is installed only on the server (keys/vpn.falcot.com.crt goes to /etc/ssl/vpn.falcot.com.crt, and keys/vpn.falcot.com.key goes to /etc/ssl/private/vpn.falcot.com.key with restricted permissions so that only the administrator can read it), with the corresponding Diffie-Hellman parameters (keys/dh2048.pem) installed to /etc/openvpn/dh2048.pem. Client certificates are installed on the corresponding VPN client in a similar fashion.

10.2.1.2. Configuring the OpenVPN Server

By default, the OpenVPN initialization script tries starting all virtual private networks defined in /etc/openvpn/*.conf. Setting up a VPN server is therefore a matter of storing a corresponding configuration file in this directory. A good starting point is /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/server.conf.gz, which leads to a rather standard server. Of course, some parameters need to be adapted: ca, cert, key and dh need to describe the selected locations (respectively, /etc/ssl/certs/Falcot_CA.crt, /etc/ssl/vpn.falcot.com.crt, /etc/ssl/private/vpn.falcot.com.key and /etc/openvpn/dh2048.pem). The server 10.8.0.0 255.255.255.0 directive defines the subnet to be used by the VPN; the server uses the first IP address in that range (10.8.0.1) and the rest of the addresses are allocated to clients.
With this configuration, starting OpenVPN creates the virtual network interface, usually under the tun0 name. However, firewalls are often configured at the same time as the real network interfaces, which happens before OpenVPN starts. Good practice therefore recommends creating a persistent virtual network interface, and configuring OpenVPN to use this pre-existing interface. This further allows choosing the name for this interface. To this end, openvpn --mktun --dev vpn --dev-type tun creates a virtual network interface named vpn with type tun; this command can easily be integrated in the firewall configuration script, or in an up directive of the /etc/network/interfaces file. The OpenVPN configuration file must also be updated accordingly, with the dev vpn and dev-type tun directives.
Barring further action, VPN clients can only access the VPN server itself by way of the 10.8.0.1 address. Granting the clients access to the local network (192.168.0.0/24), requires adding a push route 192.168.0.0 255.255.255.0 directive to the OpenVPN configuration so that VPN clients automatically get a network route telling them that this network is reachable by way of the VPN. Furthermore, machines on the local network also need to be informed that the route to the VPN goes through the VPN server (this automatically works when the VPN server is installed on the gateway). Alternatively, the VPN server can be configured to perform IP masquerading so that connections coming from VPN clients appear as if they are coming from the VPN server instead (see Τμήμα 10.1, «Gateway»).

10.2.1.3. Configuring the OpenVPN Client

Setting up an OpenVPN client also requires creating a configuration file in /etc/openvpn/. A standard configuration can be obtained by using /usr/share/doc/openvpn/examples/sample-config-files/client.conf as a starting point. The remote vpn.falcot.com 1194 directive describes the address and port of the OpenVPN server; the ca, cert and key also need to be adapted to describe the locations of the key files.
If the VPN should not be started automatically on boot, set the AUTOSTART directive to none in the /etc/default/openvpn file. Starting or stopping a given VPN connection is always possible with the commands service openvpn@name start and service openvpn@name stop (where the connection name matches the one defined in /etc/openvpn/name.conf).
The network-manager-openvpn-gnome package contains an extension to Network Manager (see Τμήμα 8.2.4, «Automatic Network Configuration for Roaming Users») that allows managing OpenVPN virtual private networks. This allows every user to configure OpenVPN connections graphically and to control them from the network management icon.

10.2.2. Virtual Private Network with SSH

There are actually two ways of creating a virtual private network with SSH. The historic one involves establishing a PPP layer over the SSH link. This method is described in a HOWTO document:
The second method is more recent, and was introduced with OpenSSH 4.3; it is now possible for OpenSSH to create virtual network interfaces (tun*) on both sides of an SSH connection, and these virtual interfaces can be configured exactly as if they were physical interfaces. The tunneling system must first be enabled by setting PermitTunnel to “yes” in the SSH server configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config). When establishing the SSH connection, the creation of a tunnel must be explicitly requested with the -w any:any option (any can be replaced with the desired tun device number). This requires the user to have administrator privilege on both sides, so as to be able to create the network device (in other words, the connection must be established as root).
Both methods for creating a virtual private network over SSH are quite straightforward. However, the VPN they provide is not the most efficient available; in particular, it does not handle high levels of traffic very well.
The explanation is that when a TCP/IP stack is encapsulated within a TCP/IP connection (for SSH), the TCP protocol is used twice, once for the SSH connection and once within the tunnel. This leads to problems, especially due to the way TCP adapts to network conditions by altering timeout delays. The following site describes the problem in more detail: VPNs over SSH should therefore be restricted to one-off tunnels with no performance constraints.

10.2.3. IPsec

IPsec, despite being the standard in IP VPNs, is rather more involved in its implementation. The IPsec engine itself is integrated in the Linux kernel; the required user-space parts, the control and configuration tools, are provided by the ipsec-tools package. In concrete terms, each host's /etc/ipsec-tools.conf contains the parameters for IPsec tunnels (or Security Associations, in the IPsec terminology) that the host is concerned with; the /etc/init.d/setkey script provides a way to start and stop a tunnel (each tunnel is a secure link to another host connected to the virtual private network). This file can be built by hand from the documentation provided by the setkey(8) manual page. However, explicitly writing the parameters for all hosts in a non-trivial set of machines quickly becomes an arduous task, since the number of tunnels grows fast. Installing an IKE daemon (for IPsec Key Exchange) such as racoon or strongswan makes the process much simpler by bringing administration together at a central point, and more secure by rotating the keys periodically.
In spite of its status as the reference, the complexity of setting up IPsec restricts its usage in practice. OpenVPN-based solutions will generally be preferred when the required tunnels are neither too many nor too dynamic.

10.2.4. PPTP

PPTP (for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol) uses two communication channels, one for control data and one for payload data; the latter uses the GRE protocol (Generic Routing Encapsulation). A standard PPP link is then set up over the data exchange channel.

10.2.4.1. Configuring the Client

The pptp-linux package contains an easily-configured PPTP client for Linux. The following instructions take their inspiration from the official documentation:
The Falcot administrators created several files: /etc/ppp/options.pptp, /etc/ppp/peers/falcot, /etc/ppp/ip-up.d/falcot, and /etc/ppp/ip-down.d/falcot.

Παράδειγμα 10.2. The /etc/ppp/options.pptp file

# PPP options used for a PPTP connection
lock
noauth
nobsdcomp
nodeflate

Παράδειγμα 10.3. The /etc/ppp/peers/falcot file

# vpn.falcot.com is the PPTP server
pty "pptp vpn.falcot.com --nolaunchpppd"
# the connection will identify as the "vpn" user
user vpn
remotename pptp
# encryption is needed
require-mppe-128
file /etc/ppp/options.pptp
ipparam falcot

Παράδειγμα 10.4. The /etc/ppp/ip-up.d/falcot file

# Create the route to the Falcot network
if [ "$6" = "falcot" ]; then
  # 192.168.0.0/24 is the (remote) Falcot network
  route add -net 192.168.0.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 dev $1
fi

Παράδειγμα 10.5. The /etc/ppp/ip-down.d/falcot file

# Delete the route to the Falcot network
if [ "$6" = "falcot" ]; then
  # 192.168.0.0/24 is the (remote) Falcot network
  route del -net 192.168.0.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 dev $1
fi

10.2.4.2. Configuring the Server

pptpd is the PPTP server for Linux. Its main configuration file, /etc/pptpd.conf, requires very few changes: localip (local IP address) and remoteip (remote IP address). In the example below, the PPTP server always uses the 192.168.0.199 address, and PPTP clients receive IP addresses from 192.168.0.200 to 192.168.0.250.

Παράδειγμα 10.6. The /etc/pptpd.conf file

# TAG: speed
#
#       Specifies the speed for the PPP daemon to talk at.
#
speed 115200

# TAG: option
#
#       Specifies the location of the PPP options file.
#       By default PPP looks in '/etc/ppp/options'
#
option /etc/ppp/pptpd-options

# TAG: debug
#
#       Turns on (more) debugging to syslog
#
# debug

# TAG: localip
# TAG: remoteip
#
#       Specifies the local and remote IP address ranges.
#
#       You can specify single IP addresses separated by commas or you can
#       specify ranges, or both. For example:
#
#               192.168.0.234,192.168.0.245-249,192.168.0.254
#
#       IMPORTANT RESTRICTIONS:
#
#       1. No spaces are permitted between commas or within addresses.
#
#       2. If you give more IP addresses than MAX_CONNECTIONS, it will
#          start at the beginning of the list and go until it gets
#          MAX_CONNECTIONS IPs. Others will be ignored.
#
#       3. No shortcuts in ranges! ie. 234-8 does not mean 234 to 238,
#          you must type 234-238 if you mean this.
#
#       4. If you give a single localIP, that's ok - all local IPs will
#          be set to the given one. You MUST still give at least one remote
#          IP for each simultaneous client.
#
#localip 192.168.0.234-238,192.168.0.245
#remoteip 192.168.1.234-238,192.168.1.245
#localip 10.0.1.1
#remoteip 10.0.1.2-100
localip 192.168.0.199
remoteip 192.168.0.200-250
The PPP configuration used by the PPTP server also requires a few changes in /etc/ppp/pptpd-options. The important parameters are the server name (pptp), the domain name (falcot.com), and the IP addresses for DNS and WINS servers.

Παράδειγμα 10.7. The /etc/ppp/pptpd-options file

## turn pppd syslog debugging on
#debug

## change 'servername' to whatever you specify as your server name in chap-secrets
name pptp
## change the domainname to your local domain
domain falcot.com

## these are reasonable defaults for WinXXXX clients
## for the security related settings
# The Debian pppd package now supports both MSCHAP and MPPE, so enable them
# here. Please note that the kernel support for MPPE must also be present!
auth
require-chap
require-mschap
require-mschap-v2
require-mppe-128

## Fill in your addresses
ms-dns 192.168.0.1
ms-wins 192.168.0.1

## Fill in your netmask
netmask 255.255.255.0

## some defaults
nodefaultroute
proxyarp
lock
The last step involves registering the vpn user (and the associated password) in the /etc/ppp/chap-secrets file. Contrary to other instances where an asterisk (*) would work, the server name must be filled explicitly here. Furthermore, Windows PPTP clients identify themselves under the DOMAIN\\USER form, instead of only providing a user name. This explains why the file also mentions the FALCOT\\vpn user. It is also possible to specify individual IP addresses for users; an asterisk in this field specifies that dynamic addressing should be used.

Παράδειγμα 10.8. The /etc/ppp/chap-secrets file

# Secrets for authentication using CHAP
# client        server  secret      IP addresses
vpn             pptp    f@Lc3au     *
FALCOT\\vpn     pptp    f@Lc3au     *