Provided by: gvpe_2.24-2_i386
The GNU-VPE Protocols
GVPE can make use of a number of protocols. One of them is the GNU VPE
protocol which is used to authenticate tunnels and send encrypted data
packets. This protocol is described in more detail the second part of
The first part of this document describes the transport protocols which
are used by GVPE to send it's data packets over the network.
PART 1: Transport protocols
GVPE offers a wide range of transport protocols that can be used to
interchange data between nodes. Protocols differ in their overhead,
speed, reliability, and robustness.
The following sections describe each transport protocol in more detail.
They are sorted by overhead/efficiency, the most efficient transport is
This protocol is the best choice, performance-wise, as the minimum
overhead per packet is only 38 bytes.
It works by sending the VPN payload using raw IP frames (using the
protocol set by ip-proto).
Using raw IP frames has the drawback that many firewalls block
"unknown" protocols, so this transport only works if you have full IP
connectivity between nodes.
This protocol offers very low overhead (minimum 42 bytes), and can
sometimes tunnel through firewalls when other protocols can not.
It works by prepending an ICMP header with type icmp-type and a code of
255. The default icmp-type is echo-reply, so the resulting packets look
like echo replies, which looks rather strange to network
This transport should only be used if other transports (i.e. raw IP)
are not available or undesirable (due to their overhead).
This is a good general choice for the transport protocol as UDP packets
tunnel well through most firewalls and routers, and the overhead per
packet is moderate (minimum 58 bytes).
It should be used if RAW IP is not available.
This protocol is a very bad choice, as it not only has high overhead
(more than 60 bytes), but the transport also retries on it's own, which
leads to congestion when the link has moderate packet loss (as both the
TCP transport and the tunneled traffic will retry, increasing
congestion more and more). It also has high latency and is quite
It's only useful when tunneling through firewalls that block better
protocols. If a node doesn't have direct internet access but a HTTP
proxy that supports the CONNECT method it can be used to tunnel through
a web proxy. For this to work, the tcp-port should be 443 (https), as
most proxies do not allow connections to other ports.
It is an abuse of the usage a proxy was designed for, so make sure you
are allowed to use it for GVPE.
This protocol also has server and client sides. If the tcp-port is set
to zero, other nodes cannot connect to this node directly. If the
tcp-port is non-zero, the node can act both as a client as well as a
WARNING: Parsing and generating DNS packets is rather tricky. The code
almost certainly contains buffer overflows and other, likely
exploitable, bugs. You have been warned.
This is the worst choice of transport protocol with respect to overhead
(overhead can be 2-3 times higher than the transferred data), and
latency (which can be many seconds). Some DNS servers might not be
prepared to handle the traffic and drop or corrupt packets. The client
also has to constantly poll the server for data, so the client will
constantly create traffic even if it doesn't need to transport packets.
In addition, the same problems as the TCP transport also plague this
It's only use is to tunnel through firewalls that do not allow direct
internet access. Similar to using a HTTP proxy (as the TCP transport
does), it uses a local DNS server/forwarder (given by the dns-forw-host
configuration value) as a proxy to send and receive data as a client,
and an NS record pointing to the GVPE server (as given by the
The only good side of this protocol is that it can tunnel through most
firewalls mostly undetected, iff the local DNS server/forwarder is sane
(which is true for most routers, wireless LAN gateways and
Fine-tuning needs to be done by editing src/vpn_dns.C directly.
PART 2: The GNU VPE protocol
This section, unfortunately, is not yet finished, although the protocol
is stable (until bugs in the cryptography are found, which will likely
completely change the following description). Nevertheless, it should
give you some overview over the protocol.
Anatomy of a VPN packet
The exact layout and field lengths of a VPN packet is determined at
compile time and doesn't change. The same structure is used for all
transport protocols, be it RAWIP or TCP.
| HMAC | TYPE | SRCDST | DATA |
The HMAC field is present in all packets, even if not used (e.g. in
auth request packets), in which case it is set to all zeroes. The
checksum itself is calculated over the TYPE, SRCDST and DATA fields in
The TYPE field is a single byte and determines the purpose of the
packet (e.g. RESET, COMPRESSED/UNCOMPRESSED DATA, PING, AUTH
REQUEST/RESPONSE, CONNECT REQUEST/INFO etc.).
SRCDST is a three byte field which contains the source and destination
node IDs (12 bits each).
The DATA portion differs between each packet type, naturally, and is
the only part that can be encrypted. Data packets contain more fields,
| HMAC | TYPE | SRCDST | RAND | SEQNO | DATA |
RAND is a sequence of fully random bytes, used to increase the entropy
of the data for encryption purposes.
SEQNO is a 32-bit sequence number. It is negotiated at every connection
initialization and starts at some random 31 bit value. VPE currently
uses a sliding window of 512 packets/sequence numbers to detect
reordering, duplication and replay attacks.
The authentication protocol
Before nodes can exchange packets, they need to establish authenticity
of the other side and a key. Every node has a private RSA key and the
public RSA keys of all other nodes.
A host establishes a simplex connection by sending the other node an
RSA encrypted challenge containing a random challenge (consisting of
the encryption key to use when sending packets, more random data and
PKCS1_OAEP padding) and a random 16 byte "challenge-id" (used to detect
duplicate auth packets). The destination node will respond by replying
with an (unencrypted) RIPEMD160 hash of the decrypted challenge, which
will authenticate that node. The destination node will also set the
outgoing encryption parameters as given in the packet.
When the source node receives a correct auth reply (by verifying the
hash and the id, which will expire after 120 seconds), it will start to
accept data packets from the destination node.
This means that a node can only initiate a simplex connection, telling
the other side the key it has to use when it sends packets. The
challenge reply is only used to set the current IP address of the other
side and protocol parameters.
This protocol is completely symmetric, so to be able to send packets
the destination node must send a challenge in the exact same way as
already described (so, in essence, two simplex connections are created
per node pair).
When there is no response to an auth request, the node will send auth
requests in bursts with an exponential back-off. After some time it
will resort to PING packets, which are very small (8 bytes + protocol
header) and lightweight (no RSA operations required). A node that
receives ping requests from an unconnected peer will respond by trying
to create a connection.
In addition to the exponential back-off, there is a global rate-limit
on a per-IP base. It allows long bursts but will limit total packet
rate to something like one control packet every ten seconds, to avoid
accidental floods due to protocol problems (like a RSA key file
mismatch between two nodes).
The intervals between retries are limited by the max-retry
configuration value. A node with connect = always will always retry, a
node with connect = ondemand will only try (and re-try) to connect as
long as there are packets in the queue, usually this limits the retry
period to max-ttl seconds.
Sending packets over the VPN will reset the retry intervals as well,
which means as long as somebody is trying to send packets to a given
node, GVPE will try to connect every few seconds.
Routing and Protocol translation
The GVPE routing algorithm is easy: there isn't much routing to speak
of: When routing packets to another node, GVPE trues the following
options, in order:
If the two nodes should be able to reach each other directly (common
protocol, port known), then GVPE will send the packet directly to the
If this isn't possible (e.g. because the node doesn't have a hostname
or known port), but the nodes speak a common protocol and a router is
available, then GVPE will ask a router to "mediate" between both nodes
If a direct connection isn't possible (no common protocols) or
forbidden (deny-direct) and there are any routers, then GVPE will try
to send packets to the router with the highest priority that is
connected already and is able (as specified by the config file) to
connect directly to the target node.
If no such router exists, then GVPE will simply send the packet to the
node with the highest priority available.
Failing all that, the packet will be dropped.
A host can usually declare itself unreachable directly by setting it's
port number(s) to zero. It can declare other hosts as unreachable by
using a config-file that disables all protocols for these other hosts.
Another option is to disable all protocols on that host in the other
If two hosts cannot connect to each other because their IP address(es)
are not known (such as dial-up hosts), one side will send a mediated
connection request to a router (routers must be configured to act as
routers!), which will send both the originating and the destination
host a connection info request with protocol information and IP address
of the other host (if known). Both hosts will then try to establish a
direct connection to the other peer, which is usually possible even
when both hosts are behind a NAT gateway.
Routing via other nodes works because the SRCDST field is not
encrypted, so the router can just forward the packet to the destination
host. Since each host uses it's own private key, the router will not be
able to decrypt or encrypt packets, it will just act as a simple router
and protocol translator.