Today, Laura Poitras and Jake Appelbaum spoke at the 31C3 conference and in collaboration with Der Spiegel published an interesting article on VPN exploitation by the NSA.
The “TL;DR” summary of what follows below is: If you configure your IPsec based VPN properly, you are not affected. Always use Perfect Forward Secrecy (“pfs=yes” wich is the default in libreswan IPsec) and avoid PreSharedKeys (authby=secret which is not the default in libreswan IPsec). If you really need to use PSK, use a strong shared secret that cannot be brute forced. The NSA has their own version of IKEcrack running on millions of dollars worth of CPU’s. Also, the NSA sneaks into your router to steal your PSK’s so they can decrypt all your traffic.
Update 1: from media-35513.pdf (“TURMOIL/APEX/APEX High Level Description Document”):
CES generally requires the packets from both sides of an IKE exchange and knowledge of the associated pre-shared key (PSK) in order to have a chance of recovering a key for the corresponding cipher (ESP). A major goal of APEX is to access two sides of key exchanges of traffic of interest”
Update 2: To stop the NSA HappyDance, I just commited code to libreswan IPsec to warn about weak PSKs with a message notifying the sysadmin that as of July 1st, 2015, libreswan will refuse those weak PSKs. To determine the strength of the PSK, I used the Shannon Entropy value. If the PSK has a Shannon Entropy of less than 3.5, a warning will sound and in 6 months it will refuse to use that PSK.
Update 3: Just to make it clear – To break IKE PSKs, you first need to break the initial DiffieHellman exchange, which is usually MODP1024 or MODP1536 in the bad cases (and MODP2048+ in the good cases). The exception to this is IKEv1 Aggressive Mode, where the MAC computed with the PSK as secret key is sent
in the clear. As a result one can mount an offline dictionary attack.
IPsec is not IKE
First, let’s clarify things a little bit. Although everyone is talking about breaking IPsec, what they really mean is breaking the Internet Key Exchange (IKE) that is used to negotiate and create symmetric keys that are used with IPsec for encryption and decryption. IPsec itself can use various ciphers and algorithms. It can use a separate encryption (AES, CAMELLIA, SERPENT, TWOFISH, 3DES, etc) + integrity (SHA2, SHA1, AES_XCBC, MD5, etc) mode or it can use an AEAD cipher that combines these two into one (AES GCM, AES CCM, CAMELLIA GCM, etc)
But Jake said to stop using IPsec
None of what was said by Jake or published by Der Spiegel shows any attack on these ciphers or algorithms. Even the MD5 use within IPsec (HMAC-MD5) is not as weak as people usually believe it to be by confusing it with non-hmac use of MD5. The comments Jake made and the material in the published slides show attacks against weak IKE configurations, router compromises, and possibly against some IPsec hardware accelerators. Below are my comments on those slides that are interesting in the context of IKE and IPsec.
The focus of the VPN decryption team lies with IPsec and SSH. I think that fits the deployment. These two protocols are the most widely used encryption protocols to transfer bulk data. While the hacker community might focus on OpenVPN, that’s not where the real deployment is. The mention of PPTP is curious. From what I see, PPTP is basically dead as a VPN technology, although it is still widely used in Russia as an encapsulation technique for ISPs to connect endusers. It’s probably just listed there for intercept because it is so trivial to do, you might as well gather it.
This slide is harder to make sense of. I think that here the NSA is talking about IKE and IPsec combined, although they call it IPsec. Perhaps once they decrypt traffic, it goes into XKEYSCORE? They don’t seem to use XKEYSCORE as an input to crack the IKE PSKs? I’m amused by the name VULCAN-DEATHGRIP which might indicate that the HiFN (now Exar) Vulcan IPsec accelerator card might have a flaw in it that allows them to decrypt those IPsec VPNs. Also, I hope they properly mask their perl scripts for malicious decrypted traffic :P
This is probably the most interesting slide. It basically states that IPsec VPNs are compromised by router compromises that steal the IKE PSKs. This might be a good time to upgrade your router firmware to the latest version, and change to new strong PSKs (or switch it over to RSA 2048+ instead)
The AppID refers to the XKEYSCORE signature name. I’m glad to see that IKEv2 is finally catching on, even within the NSA :)
This slide is mentioning IPsec scripts, which might refer back to the previously mentioned genericIPSec_wrapper.pl script. This clearly indicates an IKE PSK brute force decrypting engine. If you are using weak PSKs, the NSA is decrypting your IKE traffic which will give them the keys to decrypt your IPsec traffic. Enabling PFS will help you a bit, but ultimtely you should really just switch to using RSA (or ECP) authentication and skip PSK’s alltogether. Note that the FIPS standard already disallows using PSK’s for IKE/IPsec. The NSA knows it is just too dangerous and weak.
Note to the NSA, please see RFC 4301 Section 1.1 which states:
The spelling “IPsec” is preferred and used throughout this and all related IPsec standards. All other capitalizations of IPsec (e.g., IPSEC, IPSec, ipsec) are deprecated.
On slide 31 it states: IPSec: 6640 (protocols) and 6648 (ports)
I don’t know what that refers to. Possible backhaul transport ports or part of an API port ?
On slide 33 it states: Need all the pieces (IKE and ESP for IPSec)
This really shows that the NSA is breaking IPsec by breaking IKE, which mostly seems to come down to weak PSKs and no PFS. And again, in case you still did not get it on slide 39:
“TAO got the configuration files which provided us the PSKs to enable passive exploitation”
So your IPsec VPN is getting owned because your VPN gateway got owned! Run your VPN on a dedicated machine, preferably opensource, and lock remote access via ssh down using strong keys and IP filtering.
And the last interesting nugget is on page 40:
“NSP had an implant which allows passive exploitation with just ESP”.
I read this to mean that the hardware or software of the system running IPsec was compromised, causing it to send valid protocol ESP packets, but creating those in such a way that these could be decrypted without knowing the ESP session keys (from IKE). Possibly by subverting the hardware number generator, or functions related to IV / ICV’s / nonces that would appear to be random but were not. Or less likely if the hardware/software was using padding bytes to reveal decryption keys.
If anything, I would say that IPsec and IKE have withstood the attacks of the NSA. The fact that the NSA needs implants and needs to use brutce force attacks against IKE PSKs shows that despite its kitchen sink nature, IKE and IPsec are doing quite well if you configure it properly and run it on a secure host. But misconfiguration of IKE is something we did a poor job of preventing. We can and should have more automatic IKE/IPsec deployed using strong default configurations.
And you should hear back from The Libreswan Team in the next two months regarding just that. Opportunistic Encryption: Round Two