VPN server for remote clients using IKEv1 XAUTH with Certificates

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There are different methods for providing a VPN server for roaming (dynamic) clients. Which method to use depends on the clients that need to be supported.


XAUTH / RSA a.k.a "Cisco IPsec mode"

Supported clients:

  • All Apple iphones, ipads
  • Mac OSX (see below)
  • Android 4.x (ICS and newer)
  • Linux with NetworkManager or commandline
  • Microsoft Windows using a third party client such as the Cisco client, or the free Shrew Soft client


Notably, Microsoft Windows does not support XAUTH natively. Blackberry devices also do not support this method.

These days, IKEv1 / XAUTH is the most commonly used IPsec connection method. It can be deployed using a group shared key (PSK) or X.509 certificates. In this scenario, libreswan is configured with an IP address pool, and it assigns an IP to connecting clients. Apart from the X.509 authentication, XAUTH also requires a username and password. The password can also contain a one time password (OTP) such as Google Authenticator

Server ipsec.conf for XAUTH/RSA

# libreswan /etc/ipsec.conf configuration file
config setup
  protostack=netkey
  # exclude networks used on server side by adding %v4:!a.b.c.0/24
  virtual_private=%v4:10.0.0.0/8,%v4:192.168.0.0/16,%v4:172.16.0.0/12,%v4:25.0.0.0/8,%v4:!10.231.247.0/24,%v4:!10.231.246.0/24

conn xauth-rsa
    authby=rsasig
    pfs=no
    auto=add
    rekey=no
    left=YourPublicIP
    leftcert=vpn.example.com
    leftid=@vpn.nohats.ca
    leftsendcert=always
    leftsubnet=0.0.0.0/0
    rightaddresspool=10.231.247.1-10.231.247.254
    right=%any
    rightid=%fromcert
    rightrsasigkey=%cert
    modecfgdns=193.110.157.123,8.8.8.8
    # Versions up to 3.22 used modecfgdns1 and modecfgdns2
    #modecfgdns1=193.110.157.123
    #modecfgdns2=8.8.8.8
    leftxauthserver=yes
    rightxauthclient=yes
    leftmodecfgserver=yes
    rightmodecfgclient=yes
    modecfgpull=yes
    xauthby=alwaysok
    ike-frag=yes
    # xauthby=pam
    # xauthfail=soft
    # Can be played with below
    # dpddelay=30
    # dpdtimeout=120
    # dpdaction=clear

In this example, the IP pool is 10.231.247.0/24 so on the VPN server you would need to provide some NAT rules if you wish to offer full internet connectivity through the VPN. Assuming that your office servers behind this VPN server uses 10.231.246.0/24, you would add the following iptables rules on the VPN server:

iptables -t nat -I POSTROUTING -s 10.231.247.0/24 -d 10.231.246.0/24  -j RETURN
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s 10.231.247.0/24 -d 0.0.0.0/8 -j MASQUERADE


Client ipsec.conf XAUTH/RSA

This is mostly a mirror image of the server side


conn xauth-rsa
    authby=rsasig
    pfs=no
    auto=add
    rekey=no
    left=%defaultroute
    leftcert=YourCert.example.com
    leftid=%fromcert
    leftsendcert=always
    leftxauthusername=YourName
    rightsubnet=0.0.0.0/0
    right=vpn.example.com
    rightid=%fromcert
    rightxauthserver=yes
    leftxauthclient=yes
    rightmodecfgserver=yes
    leftmodecfgclient=yes
    modecfgpull=yes
    xauthby=alwaysok
    ike-frag=yes
    # xauthby=pam
    # xauthfail=soft
    # Can be played with below
    # dpddelay=30
    # dpdtimeout=120
    # dpdaction=clear
    #
    # Commonly needed to talk to Cisco server
    # Might also need _exact_ ike= and esp= lines
    remote_peer_type=cisco
    aggrmode=yes

You can store your XAUTH password in /etc/ipsec.secrets if you do not use NetworkManager and if you're not using a one time token:

# /etc/ipsec.secrets
@YOUR_ID: XAUTH "password"

When using PSK instead of RSA/certificates, you usually require a "GroupPSK" which is the XAUTH secret, and also need to use leftid=@GroupID instead of using the ID of your certificate.


Aggressive Mode

On Android, there is a field called "IPSec identifier" and on iOS/OSX there is a field called "Group Name". When these fields are blank, Aggressive Mode is used. When these are not blank, Main Mode is used and the value is the rightid=@String. Unfortunately, iOS/OSX sends these as hex, which can be matched using rightid=@[String] but then it no longer works for Android or NetworkManager. These values are best left unset when using libreswan as a server. When connecting to a Ciso with libreswan as a client, you will need to use rightid=@String and aggrmode=yes.


User/password authentication for XAUTH

Libreswan has three options for the user/password authentication. This is specified using the xauthby= option. If using X.509 certificates, which are issued to individual devices/users and which can be revoked, there is no real need to have an additional username/password layer. In that case, xauthby=alwaysok can be used. This should not be used when using a PSK.

If there are only a handful of users that need to be authenticated, xauthby=file can be used. The format of this file is similar to the Apache htpasswd file, and the htpasswd command can be used to create the file and the user/passwords. The only difference is an additional third column specifying the connection name. An example of an /etc/ipsec.d/passwd file for the above example connection (using xauthby=file) would be:

john:$apr1$5h/bAg4p$Q5/c2XjwSzYy3sh/1j8Bp/:xauth-rsa
paul:$apr1$YiVSo114$um2oIM6AqucFuMeXl/1ab0:xauth-rsa

The last method that can be used is xauthby=pam. Using this configuration, libreswan uses the /etc/pam.d/pluto pam configuration file to authenticate users. An /etc/pam.d/pluto example file:

#%PAM-1.0
# Regular System auth
auth include system-auth
#
# Google Authenticator with Regular System auth in combined prompt mode
# (OTP is added to the password at the password prompt without separator)
# auth required pam_google_authenticator.so forward_pass
# auth include system-auth use_first_pass
#
# Common
account required pam_nologin.so
account include system-auth
password include system-auth
session optional pam_keyinit.so force revoke
session include system-auth
session required pam_loginuid.so

xauthfail= option

Some deployments wish to catch the user when their password is wrong or disabled and notify them. When the option xauthfail=soft is set, the authentication failure is ignored and the IPsec tunnel is allowed to establish. The "updown" script is signaled with the environment variable XAUTHFAIL=soft. This can be used to NAT this user to a specific web page where they can renew their VPN subscription.

ike-frag= option

It is recommended to use the ike-frag=yes option to make the IKE connection more reliable. This is particularly important when using X.509 certificates, which tend to cause fragmentation when used with 2048 bit RSA keys.

IPsec with L2TP

See VPN_server_for_remote_clients_using_IKEv1_with_L2TP