“Just Works”

Somethings I find I’ve unintentionally made something magic happen. This weekend I brought an unprovisioned UniFi Talk phone to our cabin in the mountains, expecting to need to perform some VPN trickery with a VPS to get a local Talk install properly receiving calls behind CGNAT. Imagine my surprise when I plugged it in and my existing Talk install back home discovered the new phone.

It adopted just fine, no problems making and receiving calls through the VPN tunnel.

The “magic” was that I run multicast-relay on all my personal networks and have it configured to also relay to my VPN network. All the wannabe Network Engineers’ heads are exploding at the thought, but I’m sure I had reasons when I decided to do that and, well, My Networks, My Choice.

Then I fired up my new Home Assistant install and quickly realized that auto-discovery across a VPN tunnel is not always a good thing 🤣 When I have more round tuits I will perhaps make things a bit more granular.

UXG Pro exited Early Access

Well, guess I lost a bet on that one. At 21 months since announcement, that has been one incredibly long EA cycle. Still $499 — because why shouldn’t you pay a premium to get lower-spec hardware that runs less software?

Speaking of long EA cycles, I’m still very happy with my UISP Console / UISP-R Pro. Still plenty of functionality to wish for but as a basic router they’ve been rock solid.

UniFi Disappointment Router?

The UniFi fanbois were aflutter when Ubiquiti released this video promoting an upcoming UniFi Dream Router:

It sounded like a substantial upgrade to the UniFi Dream Machine: WiFi 6, two ports of PoE, 128GB SSD, an SD slot for storage expansion, and the ability to run Protect and other Ubiquiti controllers that haven’t been available to UDM users due to the lack of storage.

Then it hit the Early Access store for $79. Huh?

Turns out it’s based on MediaTek’s MT7622 platform. Two slow ARM A53 cores vs four fast ARM A57 cores on the UDM. It’s not a Better UDM, it seems more like a move to bring the “UniFi Dream” vision to the entry-level consumer browsing the shelves at Best Buy.

At the software level, like the UDM Pro SE and UXG Pro that still remain trapped in Early Access, the UDR runs on Debian 9 and ditches the mutant Debian unifi-os container. Hopefully that brings a significant reduction in CPU utilization, because my own UDM Pro typically sits at 30-40% just running Talk and Network without IPS/IDS, and I’d expect that to translate to 75-100% on the UDR’s CPU.

Early reports are that the boot process takes upwards of four minutes, LAN to WAN routing is maxing out around 800Mb/s unidirectional and enabling IPS/IDS drops to around 500Mb/s. I don’t think the routing performance is a significant concern for people who’d buy this product at $79 (or $159) but hopefully there’s more optimization that can be achieved because line-rate ought to be table stakes in 2021.

Where I do think Ubiquiti has missed the mark is on the storage and promoting the UDR as running the full suite of UniFi controllers.

SD cards have a well-deserved bad reputation for reliability. These days there are many cards rated for continuous usage in NVRs but the Average Joe is going to buy the cheapest card on the shelves and there’s the longstanding problem of avoiding counterfeit cards.

They could have made the M.2 socket easily accessible for upgrades, though it’s understandable that they wouldn’t. For the target audience, external USB storage would be the best option and the MT7622 does provide a USB 3.0 host.

On the controller front, given the relatively low-performance CPU and 2GB RAM, promoting this device as running every UniFi controller just seems unwise. The Access and Connect markets shouldn’t be bothered by needing a $379 UDM Pro or $199 CloudKey Gen2 Plus, and while Talk on the UDR potentially has an interesting use case as a teleworker gateway, especially with the direction UID appears t be headed, at the moment Talk is a long way from being suitable for that purpose.


Longer-term, Ubiquiti needs to free these devices from the constraint of being locked to their on-board Network controller. The entry-level buyer whose needs eventually push them to a higher-level “UniFi Dream” router will be left with an attractive piece of e-waste because the onboard AP and switch can’t be adopted to their new UniFi Network controller.

Repeating Old Mistakes

Early last month, my 20-month old UNVR stopped working. I pulled the drives, tried the Reset button, and thanked the Deities that I live in an area where a UNVR is something that I can buy. In a store. On a Sunday.

At the time I’d seen hints that wearing out the internal storage was not uncommon. What I hadn’t learned, yet, was that the internal storage is a USB stick. My discovery of this was accidental — I was mucking around on my new UNVR and decided to run lsbusb -tv and there it was.

With a quick search of the Googles I found fresh knowledge that it is, in fact, a generic USB stick, and that replacing it is as simple as putting in a blank drive and holding the Reset button on boot. I guess they learned some lessons from the EdgeRouter Lite USB failure debacle. Just. Not the lesson that they should never put a USB stick in a device!

Old and Busted. Blast it with a heat gun or your girlfriend’s blow dryer for a moment to release the glue.
New Hotness, Samsung Fit 32GB.

I’m tempted to hack this “extra” UNVR into a NAS, though I have concerns about what could go wrong if the USB fails again. I’ve had great luck with Samsung Fit drives but maybe an M.2 SATA SSD in a USB adapter would be a better option.

UniFi OS Hacking

With the UDM / UDM Pro I’ve been regularly expressing disappointment that Ubiquiti is transitioning to a custom Linux distro that doesn’t have a package manager and doesn’t really have any provisions for persisting anything useful across reboots — particularly configuration changes and mechanisms to launch your own scripts.

With the second-stage transition to “UniFi OS” they’ve been moving more things into containers and it has now spread from the UDM Pro to the UNVR-4, which was previously running straight Debian with no containers.

Yesterday it was pointed out to me that “UniFi OS” isn’t merely a re-branding of the “UbiOS” the UDM debuted with. The unfi-os container is a full Debian environment. A quick investigation on my UDM Pro showed that I could enter the unifi-os container, apt install software packages, and make changes which persist across reboots. It would appear that all changes within the container are persistent via an overlay for / which goes to persistent storage on the host.

This is not at all how Containers are supposed to be used, it is a gross violation of best practices… but it’s a foot in the door to using these devices in ways that Ubiquiti didn’t bless.

I’m super-disappointed that nobody seems to be exploring the unifi-os container in public. Google turns up nothing, there hasn’t been anything meaningful on /r/UniFi or ubntwiki.com. Probably all hidden on the Discord.

I don’t love UniFi Threat Management and neither should you

When Ubiquiti put out the first Beta releases of IDS / IPS, I was surprised by the overall excitement of the enthusiast community. People were snatching up $2,000+ USG-XG-8s just to be able to use this feature without slowing down their WAN. Cheaper line-rate IDS / IPS has been a major force behind the UDM / UDM Pro hype train.

I am far less enthused, about IDS / IPS specifically and UniFi Threat Management in general.

My core issue: It’s Free.

Free is not inherently bad. I use lots of things that are free. Ubiquiti is built on lots of things that are free — VyOS, Linux, OpenWRT, hostapd. But security is different. Security is a process, not a deliverable.

Look at how Ubiquiti is offering security. Did they produce an IDS / IPS product? No, it’s just Suricata. Are they employing an army of security professionals to discover new threats, analyze alerts from their customers, produce new signatures? No, they’re just passing along the free rulesets that any Suricata user has the ability to use. Is Ubiquiti adding any value to Suricata alerts, such as making them easier to interpret or correlate? Heck no.

There’s a saying that If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. Does that apply here? Also, no. Enabling UniFi’s IDS/IPS isn’t passing any value back to the Open Information Security Foundation, the Suricata project, or any of their sponsoring organizations.

My other issue: What Ubiquiti is providing isn’t particularly good.

IDS / IPS: Suricata is purely signature based, like an antivirus program from 30 years ago… only worse. Most signatures are simplistic, prone to false positives, and the alerts they generate do not provide much context to decide whether they warrant further investigation or can be ignored. I’m not positive about this, due to the minimal information provided, but I think many of the alerts I’ve received are for traffic that the firewall was going to drop anyways.

There are many things Ubiquiti could be doing to add value to Suricata alerts — pruning rulesets and providing more context would be a great start — but that would require substantial investment.

Zeek (Bro) is generally considered better than Suricata, in that it’s focussed on flagging anomalous traffic instead of depending on signatures, but turning that into a user-friendly solution also requires significant investment.

DNS Filtering: I’ve previously written about this. In short, they’ve delivered an extremely simplistic filtering solution that depends on redirecting DNS traffic to an undisclosed 3rd-party. The manner in which they’ve implement filtering is unsuitable for a broad range of common DNS scenarios and they’ve provided zero control beyond choosing from the 3rd-party’s three filtering options.

It’s not worth using. Use PiHole and / or OpenDNS at home. Subscribe to Cisco Umbrella for business filtering.

Network Scanners: The Endpoint Scanner is basically a point-in-time nmap. No history, no correlation with UniFi’s Client History data. The Internal Honeypot is also extremely simplistic — it seems to alert simply on connection attempts to particular ports.

GeoIP Filtering: Hey, it does exactly what’s expected! I wish it did more tho. In particular, I might like to drop traffic from some countries to particular ports (VPN-related) but not others (HTTP / HTTPS).

IP Reputation: Tor blocking and Restrict Access to Malicious IP Addresses do what they say, tho again, it’s unclear what the information source is and if 3rd-party disclosures are involved.

Missing Features: Competing Unified Threat Management solutions generally have features that Ubiquiti isn’t (yet) providing: A/V scanning, HTTP / HTTPS interception, email filtering, data loss (PII / PHI exfiltration) protection, integration with Network Access Protection / Network Access Control systems, and more.


 

At some level it’s great that Ubiquiti is making security tooling available to users with less technical expertise or budget. What’s not great is those are the demographics who will read the marketing and believe they’re getting much more than is actually being provided.

The Real MGP

UniFi Management Gateway Pro, that is. Who comes up with these names?

UMG-frontUMG-back

Freshly announced, ahead of being available for Early Access purchase, we have essentially a UDM Pro… minus the switch, minus the HDD bay, half the RAM… and no local controllers! Adopt it to your Cloud Key, cloud-provider, or self-hosted UniFi install.

It also has a built-in UniFi Smart Power Plug. I can understand why — reboot your Cable / DSL “modem” if the Internet goes down — but it’s just such an odd thing to integrate into what is otherwise a plain router.

I’m happy to see this, tho disappointed that it’s not in more of an ER-4 form-factor with an optional rack mount kit. Hopefully this is a sign that a smaller-but-equally-capable desktop unit will come eventually.

I’m also hoping that this is a sign that in the future it will be possible to disable all local controllers on the UDM / UDM Pro.

Update: They’ve tweaked the original post, now it’s “UniFi Managed Gateway Pro” and the UMG Pro will be the first of the “UniFi Managed Gateway Product Line.”

Update #2: Renamed again, UXG-Pro. If Ubiquiti is anything, it’s consistently inconsistent. 

UniFi Internet Security DNS Filtering

Today I was prompted to figure out what exactly the DNS Filters settings in UniFi Internet Security are doing.

unifi-dns-filtering

The main thing that happens is that the DNS queries for the associated VLAN are forwarded to the cleanbrowsing.org public resolver for the chosen filtering category. This is accomplished by creating a new dnsfilter network interface, binding another instance of dnsmasq to it, and using NAT to redirect DNS queries from the associated VLAN.

The implementation is slick from a technical perspective but I have a couple major problems with it.

Firstly, cleanbrowsing.org supports DNS-over-TLS, DNS-over-HTTPS, and DNSCrypt, but Ubiquiti has chosen to forward the queries unencrypted.

Secondly, if you’re using a local DNS server, say Active Directory or PiHole, those NAT rules will prevent the local DNS from functioning when queries are coming from or destined to a filtered VLAN. This might be fixable with some config.gateway.json or scripting hackery on the USG, I have not dug into that, but UDM users are hosed since there is no json replacement nor a way to automatically run a script.

Thirdly, Ubiquiti could have licensed the cleanbrowsing.org RPZs, converted them to dnsmasq format for local blacklisting ala PiHole, and eliminated the need to forward DNS to a 3rd-party and interfere with cross-VLAN DNS.

I cannot recommend using this DNS filtering because it will cause issues if your DNS implementation isn’t “UniFi Default” and the filtering options are minimal. My personal preference for home use is a PiHole in conjunction with OpenDNS Home.

For an office, Cisco Umbrella is the way to go. Do not underestimate the value of having a commercial relationship with a security provider. I <3 PiHole, but if you try to figure out why it blocks, say, zombo.com, and how you’d get it removed, you will immediately recognize that “free” security lists aren’t worth more than you’re paying for it.

Update: Also want to point out that the dnsfilter interfaces use IPs in the 203.0.113.0/24 subnet. That is TESTNET-3 in RFC 5737. It’s unlikely this will ever cause a problem… but over the long haul, every misuse of an IPv4 subnet ends up causing a problem. The loopback range 127.0.0.0/8 or link-local 169.254.0.0/16 would have been more appropriate choices. 

Isolating UniFi Devices

I’ve been lax in firealling my VLANs at home, but with the recent controversy over UniFi devices phoning home without consent, this has taken on renewed importance. I’m also taking on a new tenant in my detached apartment and would like to keep all their stuff segregated from mine.

Fortunately it’s all pretty easy.

For my network, I’m keeping my Cloud Key and Pi-Hole on the main LAN. I have additional Corporate VLANs created for Management, Cameras, and the Apartment.

In the Firewall rules, for WAN_OUT I’ve created two rules to Drop all traffic from the Management and Cameras networks. They cannot reach the Internet at all.

To allow and deny particular cross-VLAN traffic, the first step is to create a group of all the Private IP address ranges:

  • 10.0.0.0/8
  • 192.168.0.0/16
  • 172.16.0.0/12
  • 100.64.0.0/10 (this is CGNAT, might be a bad idea if your ISP uses them)

Back in the Rules area, LAN_IN needs a series of rules:

  • Allow (Management | Cameras) networks access to the CloudKey.
  • Allow (Management | Cameras | Apartment) networks access to the Pi-Hole.
  • Drop (Management | Cameras | Apartment) networks access to the Private IP ranges group.

The Allow rules must be before the Deny rules for each Network.

The gotcha with denying devices access to the Internet is that they cannot directly obtain firmware updates. For UniFi Networking products this can be worked-around by having the UniFi Controller cache the firmware prior to upgrading — see Settings -> Maintenance -> Firmware.

I’m not sure whether Protect can distribute firmware updates to the Cameras. Guess I’ll find out the next time there’s an update available. Once my UniFi Protect NVR arrives I will place that in the Cameras VLAN so that traffic doesn’t have to cross the router and figure out the WAN_OUT / LAN_IN firewall rules needed to keep it happy.