Tag Archives: tls

NBD with TLS-PSK

The Network Block Device (NBD) protocol is really useful to us when we deal with virtual machines and disk images. It lets us share disk images between machines and is also the universal protocol we use for communicating disk images between different bits of software. I wrote a pluggable NBD server called nbdkit to make this even easier.

However there was a problem: The protocol has no concept of logins. If you have an open NBD port, then anyone can connect and read or write your disk image. This is not quite as terrible as it sounds since when two processes are talking NBD to each other, we use a Unix domain socket and we hide the socket in a directory with restrictive permissions. But there are still cases — such as communicating between separate servers — where authentication would be useful.

NBD does let you upgrade the protocol to use TLS, and all the important NBD servers support that. You can use TLS to do client authentication but it’s seriously clunky and difficult to set up because you have to use X.509 certificates, and if we’ve learned anything from the web we know that X.509 is a plot by the NSA to stop us using encryption (only joking, spooks!)

It turns out there’s a more sensible corner of the TLS specification called TLS-PSK. This uses usernames and randomly generated Pre-Shared Keys (PSK). As long as you can ensure that both the client and server can read a simple username:key file of keys, and the keys are kept secret, you can both authenticate and communicate securely.

Unfortunately just implementing TLS doesn’t get you PSK as well, and no existing NBD server supports TLS-PSK.

So I had to add support. To qemu and qemu-nbd. And to nbdkit.

Amazingly it all works, and qemu and nbdkit interoperate too. Here’s how you could use it:

$ mkdir -m 0700 /tmp/keys
$ psktool -u rich -p /tmp/keys/keys.psk
$ nbdkit -n \
    --tls=require --tls-psk=/tmp/keys/keys.psk \
    file file=disk.img
$ qemu-img info \
    --object "tls-creds-psk,id=tls0,endpoint=client,username=rich,dir=/tmp/keys" \
    --image-opts "file.driver=nbd,file.host=localhost,file.port=10809,file.tls-creds=tls0"

The qemu command line is a bit clunky, but it’s overall much simpler than setting up certificates, although not as scalable for large installations.

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nbdkit finally supports TLS (encryption)

nbdkit is a liberally licensed NBD server which a stable plugin API for serving disks from unconventional sources.

Finally I got around to adding TLS (encryption and authentication) support. The support is complete and appears to interoperate with QEMU. It also supports a certificate authority, client certificate verification, certificate revocation, server verification (by the client), and configurable algorithms.

Actually using TLS with NBD is no easy matter. It takes a few pages of instructions just to explain how to set up the public-key infrastructure. On the client (QEMU) side, the command line parameter for connecting to a TLS-enabled NBD server is lengthy.

Then there’s the question of how you ensure TLS is being used. In nbdkit as in other NBD servers you can either turn on TLS in which case it’s used when the client requests it, or you can require TLS. In the latter case nbdkit will reject non-TLS connections (thus ensuring TLS is really being used), but most clients won’t be able to connect to such a server.

As usual, where SSH got it right, SSL/TLS/HTTPS got it all horribly wrong.

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