Posted: 2019-06-26 08:38:57 by Alasdair Keyes

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Last year I made a post on Wireguard and wrote a Nagios plugin to allow monitoring of connected peers. I mentioned that I would likely do a post about my thoughts on Wireguard later, and here it is...

Before I begin, this isn't a copy and past piece about how it's a slim code base and listing off the encryption algos, that is all important, but is covered in-depth in every article about Wireguard on the internet. This is viewed from a more user/admin point of view.

I will also refer to Server/Client paradigm however Wireguard seems to only operate on the idea of Peers, essentially, a "Server" would be a server with lots of peers connecting and routing traffic through it and a "Client" would be a Peer that connects to a single (or limited number) of peers and routes some/all of it's traffic across the interface.

It should be noted that this is tested using Debian Linux. Wireguard is available for lesser operating systems.

The Good

  1. Clear and limited encryption

Moving on from the fact that I won't just list off the protocols it uses internally, Wireguard's use of limited encryption algorithms, ciphers etc means that as a sysadmin, I know that I can not actively downgrade or harm my VPN's security.

With tools like OpenVPN, having a range of ciphers and ability to choose different key lengths is good, but at some point I will forget to update these and eventually be running it with a key size that's too small or a cipher that has a known flaw. Large companies may security review their setups regularly but small companies or personal users will most likely not.

This does lead to the potential problem of one vulnerability potentially affecting all Wireguard installs due to similar configuration, however this can occur with any software and I don't have to worry that my lack of knowledge or ability are actively making the tunnel less secure than it should be.

Other nice extras are that Wireguard operates on asymmetric cryptography with public/private keys but also gives the option of a pre-shared key per-client for extra security (especially for say post-quantum world) and it also offers Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) so even if private keys are leaked previous session data is still secure.

  1. Ease of end user configuration.

The client (or 'peer' in Wireguard parlance) configuration file is very light weight. Often less than 10 lines of config, Private/Public and optional pre-shared keys are all included in-line in the file and are very small. No more need to hand out CA certs, private keys etc on top of config files to users.

The config file can also contain PreUp, PostUp etc. type commands to enable firewall changes or other relevant tasks that should be performed so you don't have to find ingenious ways of hooking it in with other things on your system.

Versions of Gnome Network Manager have support for Wireguard making configuration even easier for the non-tech savvy.

  1. Tooling

This part is quite impressive and well thought out. Wireguard config is stored in a single file and can either be edited directly in the file if the interface is down, or configured in realtime using the wg tool when the interface is up (You have the option as to whether these changes are persisted or temporary until the interface is brought down).

The tools and man pages have great detail and are easy to follow and the general amount of limited options mean that there's not too much to get wrong with configuration.

There is also a wg-quick tool which will bring up interfaces and configure default routing for you too.

Having the functionality for editing config via CLI is great for automation. I built a puppet module this weekend to configure a Wireguard server and the wg and wg-quick tools were invaluable.

The Bad

  1. Security reviews

As far as I know Wireguard hasn't been security reviewed. This is not surprising, it's still in development and it takes a lot of time and effort for software to be reviewed but it will be interesting to see the results when it finally does happen.

  1. No definite connection numbers

Due to the connection-less way Wireguard works there is not defined list of peers that are connected/unconnected. The server knows how long it has been since a handshake has occurred and started a new PFS session with peers but not if a peer is actually connected. This is also in part due to the use of UDP (Tunnelling TCP over TCP has some problems so UDP is best here). Connection information can be extrapolated (as the Nagios plugin does), but it would be nice to know how many connections there are. Connection numbers can be a good way of knowing early on if there are any problems.

  1. 'Nameless' peers

When viewing the output of Wireguard's configuration all peers are defined only by their public key. This is good for providing some level of anonymity, but if you were running a large organisation with a lot of Wireguard peers, it would be handy to have a nice-name field to indicate either a particular real-world person or perhaps the data-centre that is on the other end of the interface. This can be added into the config file as a comment, but it would be nice to see it added as an optional extra in the config.

The stuff I'm too lazy to properly look into

Wireguard is touted as being very fast due to both it's slim code and the way it's designed to operate.

My VPN servers generally don't have too many users so I can't make a direct useful comparison. The Client's network speed seemed neither faster or slower than an OpenVPN connection. If I had done some in-depth checks I may have seen a reduction in CPU/RAM/Network use, but really, who has the time?

All in all I like Wireguard and plan on moving to it soon. Maybe in tandem with my existing VPN software until I have confidence that it is suitable.

I've written a puppet configuration to roll out once I'm ready. The only thing holding me back is waiting for my desktop OS to ship Network Manager with a Wireguard plugin so I can play nicely with my general network configuration.

There are a million articles on line for how to get Wireguard up and running and if you use VPNs I would suggest at least looking in to it.

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© Alasdair Keyes

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