IPSec VPN – Key Terms

The following article is a brief introduction to IPSec VPN that is utilized to provide a logical connection between 2 sites (Site to Site) or a client and a site (Client to Site). The article is written to provide the key terms behind IPSec VPN implementation in a Cisco ASA Firewall or any other similar device.

IPSec Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides the following services:

  1. Authentication
  2. Confidentiality
  3. Integrity
  4. Anti-Replay

ISAKMP: Internet Security Association and Key Management Protocol

IKE: Internet Key Exchange

IPSec: Internet Protocol Security

ISAKMP is the framework for secure communication channel establishment. IKE is the actual implementation of ISAKMP framework. There are 2 main versions of IKE – IKEv1 and IKEv2. In this article, we will stick with IKEv1.

IKE runs over UDP 500 and consists of 2 Phases.IKE Phase I can utilize either one of 2 modes – Main or Aggressive mode in order to establish a ISAKMP SA. IKE Phase II utilizes Quick Mode in order to establish IPSec SA. ISAKMP SA established in IKE Phase I is bidirectional. Two unidirectional IPSec SAs are established in IKE Phase II.

F5 Certification – Concepts

F5 certification bridges the gap between Networking and Advanced Application Layer Stack. It takes about 8-12 months to develop a test. I was fortunate to be part of the Item Development Workshop (IDW) for F5 201v2 exam and wanted to share some of the information I learned during the IDW.

Key Development Concepts utilized during the IDW:

Reliability: Consistent and precise questions.

Fairness: Does not put any group under disadvantage.

Validity: Accurately and appropriately measures what is relevant.

Reliability is not just related to the individual items but the exam as a whole. In essence, reliability of an exam is measured by the consistency of an individual’s score over multiple attempts, assuming the individual’s ability hasn’t changed substantially over the many attempts.

Validity is similarly not just about an item but the overall exam. Validity is how well the proposed purpose of the exam meets the outcomes of the exam.

Minimal Competency:

Minimally Qualified Candidate (MQC) is someone who meets the minimum requirements defined by the syllabus. A rough definition of MQC is that of an MQC Lawyer who may or may not have the skills to become a Supreme Court Judge but society is comfortable with them practicing law as the MQC Lawyer satisfies widely accepted qualification standards.

Cognitive Complexity and Difficulty:

The difference between low and high difficulty is knowing pi is 3.14 or 3.1415926535. Cognitive Complexity is using pi to find the area of circle with specific radius. Based on the blueprint of the exam, up to the 3xx level exams, only Remember and U/A were used extensively in the topics. A/E shows up more in the 4xx level exam. The difference in cognitive complexity for multiple topics are provided in the blueprint of the exam.

Cognitive Complexity:

  1. Remember (R)
  2. Understand / Apply (U/A)
  3. Analyze / Evaluate (A/E)
  4. Create (C)

Remember:

The Remember cognitive complexity generally tests rote memorization and information retrieval. There is a general preference against Remember (R) questions. So, instead of asking a question to list the TCP flags, a question that requires understanding of TCP flags in order to answer the question is preferred.

Understand/Apply:

U/A is utilized to test application of concepts within standard operations. U/A requires an understanding of processes and the ability to pick the right process to solve a problem while being able to compare multiple processes.

Analyze/Evaluate:

A/E tests the ability integrate new information with existing information to provide answers. Diagnose a problem and understand the relationship between the concepts and how one concept influences other concepts.

Create:

Create (C) tests the ability to create new products/solutions by utilizing new or existing concepts.

Items:

Items are the questions and possible options that show up in the exam. An item consists of a Stem and Options. Stem is a combination of Problem statement and Question Statement. Options can be Distractor options or Key option(s). The Key option(s) is the right answer in the item.

Remember requires only question statement. Problem statement is required for U/A, A/E and C. An ideal MQC should be able to determine the Key without having to read the options. This is one of the reasons why time is an important aspect to differentiate the competence of an exam taker. An ideal MQC should know the answer without looking at the options. Others may have to check all the options which means they will end up spending more time per question and may run short on time.

The Stems were constructed with positive words (Positive Construction). Almost all the stems eschew negative words like NOT, NEVER, EXCEPT that could potentially lead to a wrong answer as the candidate may miss the key negative word while reading the Stem.

Each item is intended to focus on a single trait that is being tested instead of multiple traits as much as possible. A trait is a subtopic that is utilized within the blueprint. Higher complexity question could have multiple traits utilized. The item is intended to be congruent to cognitive complexity & content identified in the exam blueprint without introducing any irrelevant variance that is not required to answer the question.

Response options (Distractor options and Key options) should be similar in terms of length and logic in order to prevent the option from being an obvious wrong/right answer.

Delayed ACK and Nagle’s Algorithm

In this article, I am taking a shot at trying to explain the interaction between Delayed ACK and Nagle’s algorithm and how this could add latency during TCP session that requires transmission of small packets.

MSS:

Maximum Segment Size or MSS denotes the data that is being sent in the “Segment” utilized in the TCP layer of the OSI model. Default MSS is 536 Bytes. Default MTU is 576 Bytes.

MTU = MSS + 20B (TCP Header) + 20B (IP Header)

TCP Transmission:

RFC 1122 talks about the conditions under which data can be transmitted in TCP implementations. Data is transmitted when any of the following 3 conditions is met.

1. Immediately, if a full MSS or more can be sent.

2. {[No unacknowledged data] && 
    [(PSH flag is set) || 
     (Buffered data > 1/2*(SND Window))]}

3. {(PSH flag set) && (Override timeout expired)}

1/2*(SND Window) is implementation dependent and can differ across Operating System and within different versions of Operating System. Override timeout is roughly 200ms. This value could change between OS too. ACK Number represents bytes and not packets.

Delayed ACK:

Delayed ACK helps in avoiding “Silly-Window-Syndrome” (SWS) at the Receiver. The Receiver will delay sending an ACK in response to data received when all the 3 conditions match.

1. When there are no 2 packets / 2*MSS received.

2. When the client has no data to send.

3. When the Delayed ACK timer has not yet expired.

In the UNIX World, 2*MSS has to be received by Receiver in order for it to send an ACK and in the Windows World, 2 packets of any size has to be received by Received in order for it to send an ACK.

Nagle’s Algorithm (RFC896):

The goal of Nagle’s algorithm is to lower the number of small packets exchanged during a TCP session. This helps in avoiding “Silly-Window-Syndrome” (SWS) at the Transmitter.

Nagles algorithm can be summarized as follows:

A. If there are unacknowledged data 
   (i.e., data in flight > 0 Bytes), 
   new data is buffered.

B. If data to be sent is less than MSS, it is 
   buffered till the data to be sent is 
   greater than or equal to MSS.

Problem:

Under the right conditions, the 1-3 points outlined under Delayed ACK and A-B points outlined in Nagle’s Algorithm will freeze the interaction between the sender and the receiver for the duration of timeout which is roughly 200ms. This is often seen in applications that rely on smaller packet sizes.

A Simple Scenario:

Sender is a client machine that updates the Receiver with information. Receiver could be some kind of a data warehouse which stores information on financial transactions. In this case, the Sender has data to send to the Receiver and the Receiver acknowledges the data received and does not transmit any data to the client in response other than a simple ACK.

During the course of a TCP session, Sender has just sent 500B of data to the Receiver and this matches condition A outlined in Nagle’s algorithm. The application at the Sender side moves 400B of data to the TCP stack. At this point, Sender has not yet received an ACK from the Receiver and because the next 400B of data meets the B condition outlined in Nagle’s algorithm.

Thus, the 400B of data will be buffered till either one of the Nagle’s condition is met:

A. ACK is received from Receiver for the 
   previously sent 500B of data.

B. Application sends the TCP stack more data 
   that will push the existing buffered data 
   (400B) more than MSS i.e., application needs 
   to send 136B or more to the TCP stack in 
   order to push the buffered data to or beyond
   the MSS limit.

On the Receiver side, the receiver will refrain from sending an ACK after receiving the first 500B of data because the 1-3 conditions outlined under Delayed ACK hasn’t been met.

1. Only 1 packet of 500B (less than MSS) has been 
   received.

2. Receiver does not have any data to transmit, 
   other than ACK.

3. Delayed ACK timer has not yet expired.

Sender keeps the 400B of data buffered. Receiver will not ACK the previously sent 500B of data. Effectively, there will be a communication freeze between the Sender and the Receiver till the timeout expires. Usually this timeout is 200ms in different OS implementations.

For further understanding, I would highly recommend this youtube video on this subject by Hansang Bae.

Ansible – The Why ?

What ?

Ansible is a simple IT automation tool.

Ansible exists as CLI & GUI. GUI is called the Ansible Tower and Ansible, Inc., which is owned by RedHat, officially supports this.

Controlling Nodes:

The Network infrastructure is managed from Controlling Nodes. In an Enterprise environment, Controlling Nodes are typically Linux bastion servers.

Managed Nodes:

Managed Nodes are the Network Devices that is being managed by the Controlling Nodes. Managed Nodes are typically of Cisco, Juniper, and Arista make and can be classified as Switches, Routers, Firewalls and Load Balancers based on their function from a Network Engineer’s perspective.

Why ?

There are many automation tools like Chef, Puppet, CFEngine but in my opinion, Ansible is suited for Network Automation for the following reasons:

  1. Ansible does not require an agent to be installed in the Managed Node (Network Device).
  2. Ansible requires Python on the Managed Node and most Network Devices support Python.
  3. Ansible relies on YAML as the descriptive language and Jinja2 for templates.

Among the points mentioned above, most Network Vendors do not support the installation of agents and even if they did support the installation, it would be tough to get the relevant permissions within an organization to install the agents in an Enterprise environment that has different Network Teams managing different aspects of the infrastructure.

Fortunately, most network vendors provide native support for Python and Ansible rely on this to execute automation tasks on the “Managed Nodes”.

As a Network Engineer working in an environment with significant scale (1,000s of Network Devices across multiple datacenters), Ansible has been quite useful in obtaining data and deploying configuration. Ansible seems to have widespread support among the Network Engineers seeking automation to manage at scale and there are resources online that can be leveraged to implement Network Automation Solutions.

F5 iRule – URI Masking

Requirement:

Client sends request to http://xyz.com/

Server needs to process http://xyz.com/append but client should only see http://xyz.com/ i.e., the URI  /append should not be visible to the client.

when HTTP_REQUEST { 
if { ([HTTP::host] equals "www.xyz.com") and ([HTTP::uri] eq "/") } { 
HTTP::uri "/append" 
} 
} 
when HTTP_RESPONSE {
if { [HTTP::header values Location] contains "/append" } {
HTTP::header replace Location [string map {/append /} [HTTP::header value Location]]
}
}

The F5 will complete the following steps using the iRule provided above:

F5 will add URI “/append” to the incoming request.

F5 will replace “/append” with “/” in the response from the server to the client.

Reference:

Mask URI – Devcentral Thread

Github

SRX Performance Testing

For a project, I had to gather data in order to measure the SRX performance under different traffic loads. This was done for a SRX chassis system in cluster mode. The following commands were utilized in order to capture metrics when the system was subjected to traffic load:

show system uptime 
show system statistics
 
show chassis routing-engine 
show chassis fpc 
show chassis cluster status 
show chassis cluster information 
show chassis cluster interfaces 
 
show security monitoring 
show security monitoring performance spu 
show security flow statistics

show interfaces reth0 statistics
show security monitoring fpc node all <fpc-slot>

Github with scripts to execute the above commands and save it in a file.

Ansible – Cisco Config Implementation

The goal of this article is to explain configuration implementation on Cisco IOS after the config has been generated as shown in Ansible Config Generator III:

config-implementation.yml

---
- hosts: switch
  gather_facts: true
  connection: local
 
  tasks:
  - name: OBTAIN LOGIN CREDENTIALS
    include_vars: secrets.yml
 
  - name: DEFINE PROVIDER
    set_fact:
      provider:
        host: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
        username: "{{ creds['username'] }}"
        password: "{{ creds['password'] }}"
        auth_pass: "{{ creds['auth_pass'] }}"
 
  - name: CONFIGURE INTERFACE
    ios_config:
      provider: "{{ provider }}"
      authorize: yes
      lines:
        - "{{ lookup('file', './config-output/{{ inventory_hostname }}.conf') }}"

The “hosts” file contains the switch names:

[switch]
switch-1
switch-2
switch-3
switch-4

secrets.yml

---
creds:
  username: cisco
  password: ciscopassword
  auth_pass: ciscoauthpassword

“./config-output/” directory contains the following files:

switch-1.conf
switch-2.conf
switch-3.conf
switch-4.conf

The inventory file (hosts) contains the switches in which the configuration from corresponding file name will be added. “switch-1.conf” file contents will be utilized to configure “switch-1” so on and so forth.

~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-1.conf 
            
int Gi1/1                   
switchport access vlan 195
            
int Gi1/10                   
switchport access vlan 188
 
~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-2.conf 
            
int Gi1/2                   
switchport access vlan 295
            
int Gi1/20                   
switchport access vlan 288
 
~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-3.conf 
            
int Gi1/3                   
switchport access vlan 395
            
int Gi1/30                   
switchport access vlan 388
 
~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-4.conf 
            
int Gi1/4                   
switchport access vlan 495
            
int Gi1/40                   
switchport access vlan 488

Ansible – Config Generator III

For Part I & Part II of this series.

The goal of this playbook is to be able to generate unique configuration for each switch. In this case, we are configuring a port to work as an access-port for a specific vlan. The port and vlan variable is different for each switch.

config-gen.yml

---
- hosts: 127.0.0.1
  connection: local
  gather_facts: no

  tasks:
  - name: GET DATA
    include_vars: ./host_vars/file.yml

  - name: GENERATE CONFIG
    template:
      src: ./templates/accessvlan.j2
      dest: ./config-output/{{ item.switch }}.conf
    with_items: "{{ file_vlan }}"

file.yml

---
file_vlan:
- { switch: switch-1, port: Gi1/8,  vlan: 395 }
- { switch: switch-1, port: Gi1/23, vlan: 388 }
- { switch: switch-2, port: Gi1/8,  vlan: 395 }
- { switch: switch-2, port: Gi1/23, vlan: 388 }
- { switch: switch-3, port: Gi1/9,  vlan: 395 }
- { switch: switch-3, port: Gi1/24, vlan: 388 }
- { switch: switch-4, port: Gi1/9,  vlan: 395 }
- { switch: switch-4, port: Gi1/24, vlan: 388 }

accessvlan.j2

{% for grouper, host in file_vlan|groupby('switch') %}
{% if item.switch == grouper %}
{% for item in host %}            
int {{ item.port }}                   
switchport access vlan {{ item.vlan }}
{% endfor %}
{% endif %}
{% endfor %}

When the “config-gen.yml” playbook is executed:

ansible-playbook config-gen.yml

we get the following output files:

~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-1.conf 
            
int Gi1/1                   
switchport access vlan 195
            
int Gi1/10                   
switchport access vlan 188
 
~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-2.conf 
            
int Gi1/2                   
switchport access vlan 295
            
int Gi1/20                   
switchport access vlan 288
 
~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-3.conf 
            
int Gi1/3                   
switchport access vlan 395
            
int Gi1/30                   
switchport access vlan 388
 
~/ansible_play/config-output$ cat switch-4.conf 
            
int Gi1/4                   
switchport access vlan 495
            
int Gi1/40                   
switchport access vlan 488

Ansible – Config Generator – II

For the first part of this series, check this – 1st part of this series.

---
- hosts: local
  connection: local
  gather_facts: no

  tasks:
  - name: GET DATA
    include_vars: ./host_vars/file.yml

  - name: GENERATE CONFIG
    template:
      src: ./SVI.j2
      dest: ./{{ item.vlan }}.conf
    with_items: "{{ file_vlan }}"

 

This is the file.yml that is being referenced in the “include_vars”

---
file_vlan:
- { vrf: NET1, vlan: 502, vlanname: VLAN-502-NAME, net: 10.80.120.128/29 }
- { vrf: NET1, vlan: 503, vlanname: VLAN-503-NAME, net: 10.80.120.136/29 }

Compared to the 1st part of this series, we are moving the contents of the “with_items” to a separate YAML file and calling it based on the variable name “file_vlan” that is part of the file content.