Sometimes my work require me to do stuff that is so interesting I work overtime without actually telling anybody to make it work better, like I’ve done for Munin and Icinga — most of the time, though, my work is just boring, repetitive, but that’s okay, excitement goes a long way to ruin a person’s health. Especially when said excitement hits you on the jawbone with a network where Ethernet ports are authenticated with 802.1x…
You might not know it but there is a way to authenticate clients more or less the same way you do on WiFi when you use actual wired Ethernet. This is done through 802.1x and RADIUS. What is RADIUS? Well, it’s basically an authentication and accounting protocol, which I guess was originally developed for dial-up Internet access… remember those 56k modem days? No? Sigh, I feel old now. At any rate, for that reason, you’ll find the FreeRADIUS server in
net-dialup/freeradius as of this moment .. it really should be moved to
sys-auth/freeradius-server but I don’t want to bother with that right now.
So what happens during 802.1x is simple: the switch act as a proxy between the client and the RADIUS server (called authenticator), passing through the authentication messages, most of the case EAP-based. Until the authentication is passed, all other packets sent over the network are simply dropped. Now depending on how you set up the network and the capability of your switch, you can make it so that if authentication does not happen in a given time you go to a guest VLAN, or you just keep dropping packets waiting for authentication. Unfortunately if you go with default DHCP configuration, with the default timeouts, it’s likely that you won’t get any network, which is the problem we hit with our device (comparatively, OSX had the same issue, and you had to renew the DHCP lease after about a minute of connecting the Ethernet cable).
So I bought the cheapest 802.1x capable switch I could find on Amazon (an eight ports Cisco SG-200, if you’re interested) and started setting up to simulate an 802.1x network — this switch does not support the guest vlan as far as I can tell, which is actually what bothers me quite a bit, but on the whole it looks okay for our testing. I actually found out after the whole work was done, that it was technically possible to authenticate against a local database instead of having to deal with an external authenticator, but I’ve not been able to get it running that way, so it’s okay.
For what concerns the main topic of this discussion from the Gentoo point of view, I was quite lucky actually; there is good documentation for it on nothing less than TLDP — it’s a 2004 howto but it’s still almost perfect. The only difference in syntax for FreeRADIUS’s configuration is the way the password is designed in the users configuration file. I’ve not checked the client-side configuration of course, since that is probably completely out of date nowadays thanks to WPA Supplicant and NetworkManager.
The big hurdle was getting FreeRADIUS in a decent shape: simply emerging it and trying to start it would get it to fail silently, so I had to kick it into submission, hard. It so happened that a new version of the server was just released in September, so I decided to update to that one version and get it working as a proper ebuild. The new ebuild in tree should work quite nicely, the problem is that if you look at it, it’s hideous. The big problem is that their build system is a complete fsckup, and you have to resolve to deleting whole subdirectories to configure the features to build, and it has quite a few of them as it has over half a dozen database backends, and so many integrations that it’s really not funny to deal with those optional dependencies.
If you used the older ebuilds, or compare the new one to the old ones you can probably notice that I dropped a number of USE flags, especially those that were so specific to FreeRADIUS that they had a
fr- prefix. This is because I’ve followed my usual general idea, that USE flags are great, if you’re turning on/off features that are heavy, or that have external dependencies, but if you just enable/disable codepaths that are barely noticeable, they just add to the noise. For this reason there is now only one local USE flag for pcap (which is actually a global flag with a more detailed description).
Also, when you build with SSL (which you want to do when doing 802.1x!) you need a CA to sign the users’ certificates. While you can set up your own CA relatively easily, like you already do for OpenVPN, I’ve made it much easier by wiring the originally-provided script to the
--config option for the package (so you just need to run
emerge --config freeradius for it to work).
As I said, the build system is extremely bad, to the point that they are actually committing to their GIT repository the whole autotools-generated files, which is not a good idea. At least this time around I was able to free up the files directory as all the patches are handled as tarballed patchsets on my devspace; if you want to see the patches in a more friendly way, I also got a copy of the repository on Gentoo’s GitHub account — you can also find a number of other projects that I patched the same way, including Munin.
Due to security issues, the new version of FreeRADIUS I put in tree is now stable on the two arches that were stable before, and all the old versions are gone, together with their patches (it cleaned up nicely) for the love for our rsyncs. Hopefully that doesn’t screw with anybody’s plans — if somebody has a problem with my changes, feel free to prod me.