On security of GRE/IPsec scenarios

As we've already discussed, there are many ways to setup GRE (or something else) over IPsec and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Recently an issue was brought to my attention: which ones are safe against unencrypted GRE traffic being sent?

The reason this issue can appear at all is that GRE and IPsec are related to each other more like routing and NAT: in some setups their configuration has to be carefully coordinated, but in general they can easily be used without each other. Lack of tight coupling between features allows greater flexibility, but it may also create situations when the setup stops working as intended without a clear indication as to why it happened.

Let's review the knowingly safe scenarios:

VTI

This one is least flexible, but also foolproof by design: the VTI interface (which is secretly simply IPIP) is brought up only when an IPsec tunnel associated with it is up, and goes down when the tunnel goes down. No traffic will ever be sent over a VTI interface until IKE succeeds.

Tunnel sourced from a loopback address

If you have missed it, the basic idea of this setup is the following:

set interfaces dummy dum0 address 192.168.1.100/32

set interfaces tunnel tun0 local-ip 192.168.1.100/32
set interfaces tunnel tun0 remote-ip 192.168.1.101/32 # assigned to dum0 on the remote side

set vpn ipsec site-to-site peer 203.0.113.50 tunnel 1 local prefix 192.168.1.100/32
set vpn ipsec site-to-site peer 203.0.113.50 tunnel 1 remote prefix 192.168.1.101/32

Most often it's used when the routers are behind NAT, or one side lacks a static address, which makes selecting traffic for encryptions by protocol alone impossible. However, it also introduces tight coupling between IPsec and GRE: since the remote end of the GRE tunnel can only be reached via an IPsec tunnel, no communication between the routers over GRE is possible unless the IPsec tunnel is up. If you fear that any packets may be sent via the default route, you can nullroute the IPsec tunnel network to be sure.

The complicated case

Now let's examine the simplest kind of setup:

set interfaces tunnel tun0 local-ip 192.0.2.100 # WAN address
set interfaces tunnel tun0 remote-ip 203.0.113.200

set vpn ipsec site-to-site peer 203.0.113.200 tunnel 1 protocol gre

In this case IPsec is setup to encrypt the GRE traffic to 203.0.113.200, but the GRE tunnel itself can work without IPsec. In fact, it will work without IPsec, just without encryption, and that is the concern for some people. If the IPsec tunnel goes down due to misconfiguration, it will fall back to the common, unencrypted GRE.

What can you do about it?

As a user, if your requirement is to prevent unencrypted traffic from ever being sent, you should use VTI or use loopback addresses for tunnel endpoints.

For developers this question is more complicated.

What should be done about it?

The opinions are divided. I'll summarize the arguments here.

Arguments for fixing it:

  • Cisco does it that way (attempts to detect that GRE and IPsec are related — at least in some implementations and at least when it's referenced as IPsec profile in the GRE tunnel)
  • The current behaviour is against user's intentions

Arguments against fixing it:

  • Attempts to guess user's intentions are doomed to fail at least some of the time (for example, what if a user intentionally brings an IPsec tunnel down to isolate GRE setup issues?)
  • The only way to guarantee that unencrypted traffic is never sent is checking for a live SA matching protocol and source before forwarding every packet — that's not good for performance).

Practical considerations:

  • Since IKE is in the userspace, the kernel can't even know that an SA is supposed to exist until IKE succeeds: automatic detection would be a big change that is unlikely to be accepted in the mainline kernel.
  • Configuration changes required to avoid the issue are simple
If you have any thoughts on the issue, please share with us!

The meltdown and spectre vulnerabilities

Everyone is talking about the meltdown and the spectre vulnerabilities now. If you are late to the party, read https://meltdownattack.com/ 

Of course we are aware of it and took time to assess the risks for VyOS. Since both vulnerabilities can only be exploited locally, the risk for a typical VyOS installation is very low: if an untrusted person managed to login to your router, you are already deep in trouble and unathorized access to the OS memory is arguably the least of your concerns since even operator level users can make traffic dumps.

The fix will not be included in 1.1.9. Since the fix is associated with an up to 30% performance penalty, in 1.2.x, we will make it optional is feasible.

Update on the AWS SSH key fetching issue

We have fixed the issue with key fetching and submitted the updated AMI for review. It passed the automated scan, but manual review and deployment to the marketplace will take some time.

The new AMI also includes updates for dnsmasq security vulnerabilities that will be included in 1.1.8. If you want to install those updates on 1.1.7 by hand, you can use these packages: http://dev.packages.vyos.net/tmp/dnsmasq/