OpenVPN with FreeRADIUS: How To Use the CN from the User Cert as the Login Name (i.e. the reverse of “username-as-common-name”)

I recently set up handful of OpenVPN servers to provide access to various LAN and AWS VPC resources. Initially I had just the certificate validation configured, but I felt slightly uneasy about not having a password. Especially in the environments where multiple people need access to a resource, in the event one of them no longer should have access (such as when leaving an organization) the only way to block such user would be to add their cert into the CRL. While that should be done anyway when a user’s privilege needs to be revoked, a password would provide a more immediate and easy way to make such changes.

The next step was to install FreeRADIUS which proved to be a very easy task. I’m initially running it with just text-based back-end and will later add MySQL, perhaps with daloRADIUS GUI to make user administration even easier. On Ubuntu/Debian there is a package “openvpn-auth-radius”, which makes it possible to add FreeRADIUS authentication to OpenVPN server with one simple line:

plugin /usr/lib/openvpn/ /etc/openvpn/endpoint_server_radiusplugin.conf

Of course, the client side also needs the auth-user-pass statement in their OpenVPN client configuration.

But there is a problem: The user cert can be that of Bob while the login username/password is that of Alice, and the login would still be valid. Apparently I’m not the only one who has thought about this. While I didn’t want to hack the pam auth plugin, the post had enough clues to help creating a simple bash script that sets the username based on the common-name from the validated user’s certificate:


# $1 provides the temp file name provided by OpenVPN
# file has two lines: username and password, as entered by the user.
# We get the username from the user cert's CN (available via an envvar).

export PATH="/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin"

if [ ! -z ${common_name} ]; then
  username=`echo ${common_name}`

if [ ! -z $1 ] && [ -f $1 ]; then
  password=`tail -1 $1`

# shared secret for localhost (or your RADIUS server) from /etc/freeradius/

AUTHCHECK=`cat << EOF | /usr/bin/radclient -s ${radius_server} auth ${shared_secret} | grep approved | tr -d 'n' | tail -c 1

if [[ $AUTHCHECK = 1 ]]; then
  exit 0
  exit 1

To use this script, simply save it to /etc/openvpn/, make it executable, and edit the file to add the shared secret for the RADIUS server from /etc/freeradius/clients. Finally, add the following lines in your OpenVPN server configuration that already authenticates the users by their certificates:

tmp-dir /dev/shm
auth-user-pass-verify /etc/openvpn/ via-file

Now the login name for RADIUS authentication is taken from the CommonName (CN) of the user's certificate and, in fact, the username that the user enters when prompted for auth-user-pass username/password is ignored, only the password is significant.

The bottom line of this script: It utilizes RADIUS to provide a server-side password validation for the certificate's CN. A user can always remove the password protection from their private key, so this approach functions as an extra layer of security while making it easier to quickly revoke user's access to a resource.

Note: For this to work, the CommonName set in user certificates obviously must be a valid RADIUS login name. A user can't modify the CN in their certificate (unless they're NSA since they apparently have access to RSA-keys, too 🙁 ), so they're locked to use that specific username.

Also note that I wrote this script on Ubuntu, and did not necessarily observe portability, so you may need to modify the script some for other platforms. It is primarily intended as an example (although it does work), as finding something like this would have saved me a few hours of work.

Replacing a Firewall/Gateway and Purging the Upstream ARP Cache with arping in Ubuntu

Over the years I have had to replace various firewall devices at co-location racks, and have equally many times been annoyed by the time it has taken to to clear the upstream (co-lo) router/gateway of the apparent stale ARP entries that point to the MAC of the retiring device. Since the external IP normally stays the same, the upstream router/gateway becomes confused and it takes some time, say, half an hour, until the upstream device cache expiration is reached and the traffic starts to flow normally again.

Facing once again such replacement I this time had to figure it out because the traffic of this particular installation could not be interrupted for 30 minutes (or however long it would take for the upstream cache to clear). I then came across Brian O’Neill’s 2012 article Changing of the Guard – Replacing a firewall and gratuitous ARP that introduced a solution in situations where there is no administrative access to the upstream devices (so that an immediate purge of the ARP cache could be triggered). Exactly what I was looking for!

In the article Brian uses a Linux server temporarily with a spoofed MAC address of the new firewall appliance to trigger the ARP cache flush with help of arping command. In my case I was installing Shorewall on Ubuntu 12.04, so I could use arping from the firewall server itself. I went ahead and installed arping (apt-get install arping), but it turned out the default arping package on Ubuntu does not include the required “-U” (‘unsolicited’, or gratuitous ARP). Fortunately an alternative package “iputils-arping” implements the unsolicited switch. With iputils-arping installed the command is still “arping”, and so the command Brian offered works as-is:

arping –U –c 5 –I eth1

Where “-c” indicates how many times the information is broadcast, “-I” obviously defines the interface connected to the upstream router/gateway, and the IP is the external IP of your firewall/gateway device.

Introducing duplicity-nfs-backup, or How to Use duplicity-backup Safely with NFS/CIFS Shares

After completing nfs_automount script a bit over a week ago, I soon realized rdiff-backup I had planned to use with the now-nearly-guaranteed-to-be-online NFS shares would not work. I then turned to my other favorite *NIX server backup solution, duplicity with wrapper script. It utilizes gzip-based archives, which works much better with NFS/CIFS shares. Besides the other odd problems with rdiff-backup and NFS, it resolves the more obvious issue with conflicting users/permissions between the client and the NFS share host as duplicity doesn’t maintain a direct mirrored copy of the files being backed up.

The only problem was that since duplicity creates incrementals, and I generally like to keep backups around for several months, the incrementals are really never needed beyond couple of weeks. Beyond that in my applications the day-by-day backups are overkill, and should be pruned. Duplicity provides an option to do so (“remove-all-inc-of-but-n-full”), but hadn’t implemented it, so I first contributed a patch to zertrin’s project. Then I proceeded to write a wrapper for the wrapper to add the extra pre-backup checks, and duplicity-nfs-backup was born.

So what is duplicity-nfs-backup? It is a wrapper script designed to ensure that an NFS/CIFS-mounted target directory is indeed accessible before commencing with backup. While can be used to back up to a variety of mediums (ftp, rsync, sftp, local file…), duplicity-nfs-backup is specifically intended to be used with NFS/CIFS shares as backup targets.

The script that was the impetus for writing duplicity-nfs-backup, nfs_automount, attempts to keep the NFS shares online at all times, but the client system can’t always help with such situations. What if the target system becomes unreachable due to a network problem? Or what if a disk, or a filesystem mount fails on the target while the share is still available? In any of these cases duplicity-backup/duplicity would back up into an empty mountpoint. duplicity-nfs-backup adds the necessary checks to ensure that this won’t happen, and it also issues log/syslog warnings when a backup fails due to a share that has gone M.I.A.

I mentioned earlier that duplicity-nfs-backup is “a wrapper for the wrapper.” Paraphrasing zertrin, it is important to note that duplicity-nfs-backup IS NEITHER duplicity, NOR is it duplicity-backup! It is only a wrapper script for duplicity-backup, also written in bash.

This means that you will need to install and configure duplicity and before you can utilize duplicity-nfs-backup. I also recommend that you would make use of nfs_automount as it significantly improves the chances that the NFS target share will be online when duplicity-nfs-backup attempts to access it.

This script is intended to be run from crontab. duplicity-nfs-backup takes no arguments, simply set the configuration parameters in duplicity-nfs-backup.conf and you’re done!

Like nfs_automount, duplicity-nfs-backup is also distributed under MIT license.

Clone or download duplicity-nfs-backup from my GitHub repository, and let me know if you come across any problems (or also if it works fantastically and saves the day! :)). Pull requests are always welcome.