This section describes some details of Weave Net’s built-in encryption:

Establishing the Ephemeral Session Key

For every connection between peers, a fresh public/private key pair is created at both ends, using NaCl’s GenerateKey function. The public key portion is sent to the other end as part of the initial handshake performed over TCP. Peers that were started with a password do not continue with connection establishment unless they receive a public key from the remote peer. Thus either all peers in a weave network must be supplied with a password, or none.

When a peer has received a public key from the remote peer, it uses this to form the ephemeral session key for this connection. The public key from the remote peer is combined with the private key for the local peer in the usual Diffie-Hellman way, resulting in both peers arriving at the same shared key. To this is appended the supplied password, and the result is hashed through SHA256, to form the final ephemeral session key.

The supplied password is never exchanged directly, and is thoroughly mixed into the shared secret. Furthermore, the rate at which TCP connections are accepted is limited by Weave to 10Hz, which thwarts online dictionary attacks on reasonably strong passwords.

The shared key formed by Diffie-Hellman is 256 bits long. Appending the password to this obviously makes it longer by an unknown amount, and the use of SHA256 reduces this back to 256 bits, to form the final ephemeral session key. This late combination with the password eliminates any “Man In The Middle” attacks: sniffing the public key exchange between the two peers and faking their responses will not grant an attacker knowledge of the password, and therefore, an attacker would not be able to form valid ephemeral session keys.

The same ephemeral session key is used for both TCP and UDP traffic between two peers.

Key Generation and The Linux CSPRNG

Generating fresh keys for every connection provides forward secrecy at the cost of placing a demand on the Linux CSPRNG (accessed by GenerateKey via /dev/urandom) proportional to the number of inbound connection attempts. Weave Net has accept throttling to mitigate against denial of service attacks that seek to deplete the CSPRNG entropy pool, however even at the lower bound of ten requests per second, there may not be enough entropy gathered on a headless system to keep pace.

Under such conditions, the consequences will be limited to slowing down processes reading from the blocking /dev/random device as the kernel waits for enough new entropy to be harvested. It is important to note that contrary to intuition, this low entropy state does not compromise the ongoing use of /dev/urandom. Expert opinion asserts that as long as the CSPRNG is seeded with enough entropy (for example, 256 bits) before random number generation commences, then the output is entirely safe for use as key material.

By way of comparison, this is exactly how OpenSSL works - it reads 256 bits of entropy at startup, and uses that to seed an internal CSPRNG, which is used to generate keys. While Weave Net could have taken the same approach and built a custom CSPRNG to work around the potential /dev/random blocking issue, the decision was made to rely on the heavily scrutinized Linux random number generator as advised here (page 10, ‘Centralizing randomness’).

Note:The aforementioned notwithstanding, if Weave Net’s demand on /dev/urandom is causing you problems with blocking /dev/random reads, please get in touch with us - we’d love to hear about your use case.

Encypting and Decrypting TCP Messages

TCP connection are only used to exchange topology information between peers, via a message-based protocol. Encryption of each message is carried out by NaCl’s secretbox.Seal function using the ephemeral session key and a nonce. The nonce contains the message sequence number, which is incremented for every message sent, and a bit indicating the polarity of the connection at the sender (‘1’ for outbound). The latter is required by the NaCl Security Model in order to ensure that the two ends of the connection do not use the same nonces.

Decryption of a message at the receiver is carried out by NaCl’s secretbox.Open function using the ephemeral session key and a nonce. The receiver maintains its own message sequence number, which it increments for every message it decrypted successfully. The nonce is constructed from that sequence number and the connection polarity. As a result the receiver will only be able to decrypt a message if it has the expected sequence number. This prevents replay attacks.

Encrypting and Decrypting UDP Packets


UDP connections carry captured traffic between peers. For a UDP packet sent between peers that are using crypto, the encapsulation looks as follows:

| Name of sending peer              |
| Message Sequence No and flags     |
| NaCl SecretBox overheads          |
+-----------------------------------+ -+
| Frame 1: Name of capturing peer   |  |
+-----------------------------------+  | This section is encrypted
| Frame 1: Name of destination peer |  | using the ephemeral session
+-----------------------------------+  | key between the weave peers
| Frame 1: Captured payload length  |  | sending and receiving this
+-----------------------------------+  | packet.
| Frame 1: Captured payload         |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame 2: Name of capturing peer   |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame 2: Name of destination peer |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame 2: Captured payload length  |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame 2: Captured payload         |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
|                ...                |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame N: Name of capturing peer   |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame N: Name of destination peer |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame N: Captured payload length  |  |
+-----------------------------------+  |
| Frame N: Captured payload         |  |
+-----------------------------------+ -+

This is very similar to the non-crypto encapsulation.

All of the frames on a connection are encrypted with the same ephemeral session key, and a nonce constructed from a message sequence number, flags and the connection polarity. This is very similar to the TCP encryption scheme, and encryption is again done with the NaCl secretbox.Seal function. The main difference is that the message sequence number and flags are transmitted as part of the message, unencrypted.

The receiver uses the name of the sending peer to determine which ephemeral session key and local cryptographic state to use for decryption. Frames which are to be forwarded on to some further peer will be re-encrypted with the relevant ephemeral session keys for the onward connections. Thus all traffic is fully decrypted on every peer it passes through.

Decryption is once again carried out by NaCl’s secretbox.Open function using the ephemeral session key and nonce. The latter is constructed from the message sequence number and flags that appeared in the unencrypted portion of the received message, and the connection polarity.

To guard against replay attacks, the receiver maintains some state in which it remembers the highest message sequence number seen. It could simply reject messages with lower sequence numbers, but that could result in excessive message loss when messages are re-ordered. The receiver therefore additionally maintains a set of received message sequence numbers in a window below the highest number seen, and only rejects messages with a sequence number below that window, or contained in the set. The window spans at least 2^20 message sequence numbers, and hence any re-ordering between the most recent ~1 million messages is handled without dropping messages.

Fast Datapath

Encryption in fastdp uses the ESP protocol of IPsec in the transport mode. Each VXLAN packet is encrypted with AES in GCM mode, with 32 byte key and 4 byte salt. This combo provides the following security properties:

  • Data confidentiality.
  • Data origin authentication.
  • Integrity.
  • Anti-replay.
  • Limited traffic flow confidentiality as VXLAN packets are fully encrypted.

For each connection direction, a different AES-GCM key and salt is used. The pairs are derived with HKDF to which we pass a randomly generated 32 byte salt transferred over the encrypted control plane channel between peers.

To prevent from replay attacks, which are possible because of the size of sequence number field in ESP (4 bytes), we use extended sequence numbers implemented by ESN.

Authentication of ESP packet integrity and origin is ensured by 16 byte Integrity Check Value of AES-GCM.

See Also