This paper discusses the implementation of virtual Ethernet tunnels using OpenBSD. The current release of OpenBSD at the time of writing (2001) was version 2.9, so some of the material may be fairly dated. I haven’t revisited the details since then.
Without going too deep into the technical details, a virtual Ethernet tunnel uses packet encapsulation, Ethernet bridging, and IPSec encryption to tunnel a subnet from one host to another host over a public network (generally, the Internet).
The best way to explain how this works is by describing each of the pieces involved.
We’ll start with packet encapsulation. Ethernet frames can be encapsulation
within an IP packet and transported to a remote host, who can then strip off
the surrounding IP headers and retrieve the original, unmodified Ethernet
frame. This is the essence of tunneling packets from one network to another
over an intermediate network. OpenBSD supports this type of encapsulated
tunnel using the
Bridging is definitely not a new networking technology, but once the OpenBSD
code was expanded to allow the inclusion of virtual interfaces in bridge
groups along with traditional physical interfaces, it opened up a number of
new possibilities. In our case, it allows us to group the generic
interfaces (which represent our Ethernet tunnel, as previously described) with
a physical interface. This allows the physical interfaces to share traffic
with the tunnel interface as though they existing on the same subnet. And
because the tunnel interface is really a stream of encapsulated packets from
some other host, we can effectively link two segments of the same subnet using
two bridges (one on each host) and an encapsulated tunnel to span the hosts.
(bridged interfaces) (bridged interfaces) | | | | v +--------+ v v +--------+ v /----| Host 1 |-----[ public network ]-----| Host 2 |----\ | +--------+ ^ <-(gif tunnel)-> ^ +--------+ | private | | private network gif gif network
The final piece of the system is IPSec. While not absolutely required to tunnel between our bridged interfaces, it adds a welcome layer of security and helps maintain the privacy of our “private” network. The IPSec part of the equation is perhaps the most complex and difficult to set up, but it scarcely causes problems once it’s running, and it’s not really as hard to get going as it may sound.
Before your system can forward packets between interfaces or handle the IPSec
protocols, the following sysctls need to be enabled (i.e. set to
OpenBSD can enable these settings on boot based on the contents of
/etc/sysctl.conf. Make sure you have at least the following lines
net.inet.ip.forwarding=1 # 1=Permit forwarding (routing) of packets net.inet.esp.enable=1 # 1=Enable the ESP IPSec protocol net.inet.ah.enable=1 # 1=Enable the AH IPSec protocol
These parameters can also be modified at runtime using the sysctl tool.
OpenBSD includes a tool named ipsecadm that is used for managing the system’s security associations (SA’s) and flows. The tool accepts a number of arguments, but we’ll mainly be working with the SA creation syntax:
ipsecadm new esp -spi 2000 -dst 188.8.131.52 -src 184.108.40.206 -enc 3des \ -auth sha1 -key d09fffc3ebaee12362d65b38068dd381df89e4961ed282b3 -authkey \ 5ee0fc2cc2197fe24417934cac6db483b53eace3
This command will create a new security association using the esp IPSec protocol. We’ve assigned this entry an SPI (unique index) of 2000. We also set the source and destination addresses for this SA. Note that these are specific to the SA and don’t assume anything about the host, meaning that the source address isn’t necessarily the local machine’s address.
We continue by defining the desired encryption algorithm (
authentication algorithm, and the two encryption keys. We’ll cover key
generation in the Generating Keys section below.
The following is an example of a second, complementary SA:
ipsecadm new esp -spi 2001 -dst 220.127.116.11 -src 18.104.22.168 -enc 3des \ -auth sha1 -key d09fffc3ebaee12362d65b38068dd381df89e4961ed282b3 -authkey \ 5ee0fc2cc2197fe24417934cac6db483b53eace3
This entry is nearly the same as the previous SA. Note, however, that we’ve assigned it a different SPI (2001). We’ve also swapped the source and destination addresses.
We now have two SA’s defined, one for each direction of packet flow. These two SA’s must be defined identically on both hosts – don’t change the ordering of the addresses or alter the encryption protocols or keys on one of the hosts! Because the SPI is included with each encrypted packet - and each host uses the SPI to determine how the packet should be routed, encrypted, or decrypted - the ordering must remain consistent. In other words, security associations are unique to the connection, not the hosts.
The last thing we need to do is define a flow. A flow determines what security parameters a packet should have for either input or output. Here’s an example:
ipsecadm flow -dst 22.214.171.124 -out -transport etherip -require -addr \ 126.96.36.199 255.255.255.255 188.8.131.52 255.255.255.255
This command defines a flow for packets destined for 184.108.40.206. We specify that we’ll be transporting these packets using “Ethernet in IP” encapsulation, and the packets will be traveling from us at 220.127.116.11 to our destination at 18.104.22.168.
Unlike security associations, flows are unique to the individual host’s configuration. The command for the opposite host would be:
ipsecadm flow -dst 22.214.171.124 -out -transport etherip -require -addr \ 126.96.36.199 255.255.255.255 188.8.131.52 255.255.255.255
Note that all we’ve done here is change the flow’s destination address and swap the source and destination address of the connection.
The key’s size depends on the encryption protocol. DES and 3DES use 8 and 24 bits, respectively. The sizes for the other protocols (Rijndael, Blowfish, CAST) may vary.
Keys can be generated using the following command:
openssl rand 24 | hexdump -e '24/1 "%02x"' && echo ""
This will generate a hexadecimal representation of a 24-bit key. If a different key size is needed, replace the occurrences of 24 with the desired bit size.
Two Ethernet interfaces on each host are required for this sort of tunneling. Each interface must sit on a different subnet. One of those subnets should obviously be the one whose addresses you want to tunnel. In our example, that network is 184.108.40.206/24. The other network can be pretty much anything (a cable modem network, for example).
The easiest way to configure the network interfaces is by using the
/etc/hostname.interface file. OpenBSD will execute the interface
configuration commands listed inside this file upon boot, which is generally
desirable for this kind of setup.
We’ll begin by configuring the “public” interface (
inet 220.127.116.11 255.255.255.128 NONE
Be sure to set up this interface correctly (including the netmask!). In this case, the interface sits on a nine-bit subnet, so we set the netmask accordingly. Test that this interface works correctly before proceeding.
Now we’ll configure the second network interface, the one that sits on the
subnet that we want to tunnel (
/etc/hostname.dc0, for me):
inet 18.104.22.168 255.255.255.0 NONE
It is important to note that each host’s gateway address must be set to the “public” network’s gateway (not the subnet that you are tunneling!). Things will not work correctly otherwise.
The system’s gateway address can be statically configured using the
/etc/mygate file. It might contain a line like this:
If your host uses DHCP to configure its gateway address (in the case of a cable modem provider), this will all be handled for you and there is no need to configure your gateway address by hand.
The generic interface (
gif) is used for the actual tunneling between the
hosts. This interface is purely virtual, meaning it is not necessarily bound
to any physical interface on the system. Instead, it is given a source and a
destination address between which to tunnel its encapsulated by packets.
More detailed information is available in the manpage.
gif interface can be configured at boot via the
file. Here is the
/etc/hostname.gif0 file that I use:
giftunnel 22.214.171.124 126.96.36.199 up
The first line establishes the tunnel between the local (source) address and the remote (destination) address. The second line activates the interface.
Both of these command strings are passed directly to
OpenBSD includes excellent Ethernet bridging support. Each bridge is
represented by a
bridge interface (e.g.
configuration is performed using the
Each bridge can have an arbitrary number of interfaces added to it. These
interfaces can either be physical network interfaces or virtual encapsulation
interfaces (such as the
More detailed information is available in the manpage.
Bridge configuration can also be performed upon boot. This is accomplished
/etc/bridgename.bridge0 file. Here’s mine:
add gif0 add dc0 # !ipsecadm flush !ipsecadm new esp -spi 2000 -dst 188.8.131.52 -src 184.108.40.206 -enc 3des \ -auth sha1 -key d09fffc3ebaee12362d65b38068dd381df89e4961ed282b3 -authkey \ 5ee0fc2cc2197fe24417934cac6db483b53eace3 !ipsecadm new esp -spi 2001 -dst 220.127.116.11 -src 18.104.22.168 -enc 3des \ -auth sha1 -key d09fffc3ebaee12362d65b38068dd381df89e4961ed282b3 -authkey \ 5ee0fc2cc2197fe24417934cac6db483b53eace3 !ipsecadm flow -dst 22.214.171.124 -out -transport etherip -require -addr \ 126.96.36.199 255.255.255.255 188.8.131.52 255.255.255.255 # up
The contents of this file will require a little bit of explanation.
The first two lines add the
dc0 interfaces to this bridge
interface. Once these two interfaces are placed in a bridge group, packets
will be able to move freely between them, as if they existing on the same
physical Ethernet segment.
The second set of commands are all prefixed with a exclamation point (
This indicates that these commands are not
ifconfig parameters. Instead,
they should be executed on their own during the configuration sequence.
These commands set up the various security associations using
was discussed earlier. Note that the first thing we do is flush any existing
security associations and flows. This starts us with a clean slate every
The last line simply activates the bridge interface.
kernfs virtual file system exports some useful information on the
system’s current IPSec settings. This information can be very handy when
debugging setups and gathering statistics.
To begin, you must first mount the kernfs file system (which isn’t done as
part of a default installation). You’ll need to create a new mount point
/kern is typical):
# mkdir /kern
Next, you’ll need to add the following line to you
/kern /kern kernfs ro 0 0
You can now mount the kernfs file system using the command:
# mount /kern
The information we want is stored in
/kern/ipsec. It can be viewed simply
cat‘ing the file:
% cat /kern/ipsec
After you’ve set up a couple of security associations, your output will look something like this:
Hashmask: 31, policy entries: 1 SPI = 00002000, Destination = 184.108.40.206, Sproto = 50 Established 1283589 seconds ago Source = 220.127.116.11 Flags (00000000) = Crypto ID: 1 xform = Encryption = <3DES> Authentication = 174365335 bytes processed by this SA Expirations: (none) SPI = 00002001, Destination = 18.104.22.168, Sproto = 50 Established 1283589 seconds ago Source = 22.214.171.124 Flags (00000000) = Crypto ID: 2 xform = Encryption = <3DES> Authentication = 405224 bytes processed by this SA Expirations: (none)
Because each virtual Ethernet tunnel requires one
gif interface and one
bridge interface, a stock OpenBSD installation can only support two tunnels
bridge interfaces are available by default in OpenBSD 2.9).
Increasing the number of available is fairly trivial, however. The downside is that it currently requires a kernel recompilation, which inherently requires a reboot in order to see the effects of the new kernel.
Note that the details of building a kernel under OpenBSD are outside the scope of this document, but the topic is conferred pretty well as part of the OpenBSD FAQ.
Begin by editing your kernel configuration file. Note that the definitions
bridge devices are in the GENERIC kernel configuration
file, which your configuration file probably includes. We’ll simply be
overriding these default entries.
Add the following lines to your kernel configuration file:
pseudo-device gif 8 # IPv over IPv tunnel (RFC1933) pseudo-device bridge 8 # network bridging support
Feel free to replace the number of devices (8, in this case) with a number of your own choosing. It’s up to you and your setup.
Continue on building your custom kernel. Note that
config might complain
about the redefinition of the above interfaces, but the warning is only
informational. Your new values will override the defaults.
A reboot using your new kernel is required for the new devices to become available.