Thoughts from an F5 APM Multi Factor implementation

Recently I was asked to assist with implementation of MFA in a complex on-premises environment. Beyond the implementation of Okta, all infrastructure was on-premises and neatly presented to external consumers through an F5 APM/LTM solution. This post details my thoughts & lessons I learnt configuring RADIUS authentication for services behind and F5, utilising AAA Okta Radius servers.

Ideal Scenario?

Before I dive into my lessons learnt – I want to preface this article by saying there is a better way. There is almost always a better way to do something. In a perfect world, all services would support token based single sign on. When security of a service can’t be achieved by the best option, always look for the next best thing. Mature organisations excel at finding a balance between what is best, and what is achievable. In my scenario, the best case implementation would have been inline SSO with an external IdP . Under this model, Okta completes SAML authentication with the F5 platform and then the F5 creates and provides relevant assertions to on-premise services.

Unfortunately, the reality of most technology environments is that not everything is new and shiny. My internal applications did not support SAML and so here we are with the Okta Radius agent and a flow that looks something like below (replace step 9 with application auth).

Importantly, this is implementation is not inherently insecure or bad, however it does have a few more areas that could be better. Okta calls this out in the documentation for exactly this reason. Something important to understand is that radius secrets can be and are compromised, and it is relatively trivial to decrypt traffic once you have possession of a secret.

APM Policy

If you have a read of the Okta documentation on this topic. you will quickly be presented with an APM policy example.

You will note there is two Radius Auth blocks – These are intended to separate the login data verification – Radius Auth 1 is responsible for password authentication, and Auth 2 is responsible for verifying a provided token. If you’re using OTP only, you can get away with a simpler APM policy – Okta supports providing both password and an OTP inline and separate by a comma for verification.

Using this option, the policy can be simplified a small amount – Always opt to simplify policy; Less places for things to go wrong!

Inline SSO & Authentication

In a similar fashion to Okta, F5 APM provides administrators the ability to pass credentials through to downstream applications. This is extremely useful when dealing with legacy infrastructure, as credential mapping can be used to correctly authenticate a user against a service using the F5. The below diagram shows this using an initial login with RSA SecurID MFA.

For most of my integrations, I was required to use HTTP forms. When completing this authentication using the APM, having an understanding of exactly how the form is constructed is really critical. The below example is taken from a Exchange form – Leaving out the flags parameter originally left my login failing & me scratching my head.

An annoying detail about forms based inline authentication is that if you already have a session, the F5 will happily auto log back into the target service. This can be a confusing experience for most users as we generally expect to be logged out when we click that logout button. Thankfully, we can handle this conundrum neatly with an iRule.

iRule Policy application

For this implementation, I had a specific set of requirements on when APM policy should be applied to enforce MFA; not all services play nice with extra authentication. Using iRules on virtual services is a really elegant way in which we can control when and APM policy applies. On-Premise Exchange is something that lots of organisations struggle with securing – especially legacy ActiveSync. The below iRule modifies when policy is applied using uri contents & device type.

    if { (([HTTP::header User-Agent] contains "iPhone") || ([HTTP::header User-Agent] contains "iPad")) && (([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "activesync") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/oab")) } {
    } elseif { ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "logoff") } {
        ACCESS::session remove
    } else {
        if { ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp") } {
            if { not (([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/?rfr=owa") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/personalsettings/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/ruleseditor/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/organize/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/teammailbox/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/customize/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/troubleshooting/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/sms/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/security/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/extension/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/scripts/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/themes/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/fonts/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/error.aspx") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/performance/") || ([string tolower [HTTP::uri]] contains "/ecp/ddi")) } {  
                HTTP::redirect "https://[HTTP::host]/owa"

One thing to be aware of when implementing iRules like this is directory traversal – You really do need a concrete understanding of what paths are and are not allowed. If a determined adversary can authenticate against a desired URI, they should NOT be able to switch to an undesired URI. The above example is really great to show this – I want my users to access personal account ECP pages just fine – Remote administrative exchange access? Thats a big no-no and I redirect to an authorised endpoint.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the solution implemented here is quite elegant, considering the age of some infrastructure. I will always advocate for MFA enablement on a service – It prevents so many password based attacks and can really uplift the security of your users. While overall service uplift is always a better option to enable security, you should never discount small steps you can take using existing infrastructure. As always, leave a comment if you found this article useful!

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