What is Rockhopper VPN software?

Rockhopper project is developing new VPN software based on modern design and implementation considerations for Linux. Rockhopper

Traditionally, most Open Source implementations of IPsec have been designed consisting of two separate components: the ESP/AH protocol stack in kernel space and the Key Exchange (IKEv1/v2) service in user space. Although this design approach is advantageous with respect to performance and affinity for IP layer implementation, from a secure programming perspective, implementing security functions in kernel space is not advisable because it tends to be more difficult to use security functions and resource management and protection functions coherently as provided by the operating system. Moreover, developing modules in kernel space, such as device drivers, generally requires more complicated debugging steps than implementing applications in user space.

On the contrary, all components of this new software are implemented in user space only, including the ESP protocol stack. This is accomplished by adopting the standard TUN/TAP device driver supported by the most recent UNIX-clone operating systems (Linux and BSD descendants). Since the TUN/TAP device driver emulates virtual Ethernet functionality, similar to the traditional design, the ESP protocol stack in this software is implemented transparently to the TCP/IP network stack in kernel space. This means that when a packet reaches a virtual Ethernet interface instantiated by the TUN/TAP device driver from an application and is read by the software through the TUN/TAP device driver's API, network processing by TCP/IP stacks, such as IP routing and MAC address resolution, is already completed for the packet. Then, the software dispatches the packet to the appropriate IPsec tunnel by searching the mapping table storing the destination MAC address and Security Parameter Index (SPI) related to the IPsec tunnel's peer. The primary purpose of this design decision is to realize a more secure implementation and to provide a more useful development platform for advanced or experimental IPsec functions.

During execution of the proposed software, two independent processes are forked. One of these is used to process protected services executed with privileged administrator capabilities, such as the key store service that manages authentication information like public/private key pairs, digital certificates, and Pre-shared Keys (PSK), and the configuration service provisioning network stacks such as network interfaces and routing tables. The other is used for components that are executed with restricted user capabilities and to handle communication with external entities, for example, the IKE protocol stack or a Web-based management interface using the socket API. Both processes interact with each other to provide the VPN service as a whole.

In addition, this software contains a large variety of functions that modern VPN software should support: Virtual Ethernet (Ethernet over IPsec), Routing-based VPN, Role-based ID management and configuration, AJAX-based (Comet) Web management interface for configuring and monitoring, and so on. All of these functions have been implemented from scratch.

This software adopts a design that maximizes the potential of multi-core processors. For this purpose, to load-balance heavy cryptographic processing of ESP and IKEv2 packets in each network session, a rule-based task load-balancing function is implemented. This function dispatches tasks in each session to the appropriate thread in a pre-established thread pool according to their traffic properties and also supports other subfunctions maintaining sticky persistence of dispatched sessions and prioritizing the tasks. For example, after the IKEv2 cookie function for IKE_SA_INIT exchange has been activated as a result of detecting the possibility of a flooding attack, all processing of packets for sessions not yet authenticated is dispatched to the task queue with the lowest priority to protect other processing for already authenticated and established sessions.

Another interesting feature of this software for developers is that it adopts a flexible pluggable design for many external components: hardware cryptography and ESP/AH protocol off-load engines, the PKI library, software cryptography libraries like OpenSSL, Log and Debug Trace library, Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) library, and so on. Thus, it is relatively easy for users or developers, who need to plug-in their proprietary components, to modify the configuration of this software.

The IPsec specification is still being enhanced by IETF ipsecme WG and many vendors and new issues may arise during the transition to IPv6 and with the adoption of IKEv2. To keep up-to-date with protocol updates and extensions, the software also introduces a message handler structure in the IKEv2 protocol service, similar to the Linux netfilter service. Therefore, by developing and adding a message handler module supporting the new protocol updates or extensions, users and developers can significantly enhance the software.

Rockhopper VPN service exports AJAX-based(Comet) Web management interface. Users or developers can easily develop or customize their original management tools or consoles on Web browsers. For instance, you are able to develop a light-weight Web console providing end users with only Remote Access Client's functionality. This software's package includes a sample implementaiton of Web console powered by The Dojo Toolkit, a sample command-line tool written in Perl and a sample VPN client GUI implemented in GTK2-perl.

This software is released under the LESSER GPL version 2.1.

Please enjoy,

--- Rockhopper Project

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