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Administration Guide

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SSL VPN best practices

Securing remote access to network resources is a critical part of security operations. SSL VPN allows administrators to configure, administer, and deploy a remote access strategy for their remote workers.

Choosing the correct mode of operation and applying the proper levels of security are integral to providing optimal performance and user experience, and keeping your user data safe.

The below guidelines outline selecting the correct SSL VPN mode for your deployment and employing best practices to ensure that your data are protected.

Information about SSL VPN throughput and maximum concurrent users is available on your device's datasheet; see Next-Generation Firewalls Models and Specifications.

Tunnel mode

In tunnel mode, the SSL VPN client encrypts all traffic from the remote client computer and sends it to the FortiGate through an SSL VPN tunnel over the HTTPS link between the user and the FortiGate.

The FortiGate establishes a tunnel with the client, and assigns a virtual IP (VIP) address to the client from a range reserved addresses. While the underlying protocols are different, the outcome is very similar to a IPsec VPN tunnel. All client traffic is encrypted, allowing the users and networks to exchange a wide range of traffic, regardless of the application or protocols.

Use this mode if you require:

  • A wide range of applications and protocols to be accessed by the remote client.
  • No proxying is done by the FortiGate.
  • Straightforward configuration and administration, as traffic is controlled by firewall policies.
  • A transparent experience for the end user. For example, a user that needs to RDP to their server only requires a tunnel connection; they can then use the usual client application, like Windows Remote Desktop, to connect.

Full tunneling forces all traffic to pass through the FortiGate (see SSL VPN full tunnel for remote user). Split tunneling only routes traffic to the designated network through the FortiGate (see SSL VPN split tunnel for remote user).

Limitations

Tunnel mode requires that the FortiClient VPN client be installed on the remote end. The standalone FortiClient VPN client is free to use, and can accommodate SSL VPN and IPsec VPN tunnels. For supported operating systems, see the FortiClient Technical Specifications.

Web mode

Web-only mode provides clientless network access using a web browser with built-in SSL encryption. Users authenticate to FortiGate's SSL VPN Web Portal, which provides access to network services and resources, including HTTP/HTTPS, Telnet, FTP, SMB/CIFS, VNC, RDP, and SSH. When a user starts a connection to a server from the web portal, FortiOS proxies this communication with the server. All communication between the FortiGate and the user continues to be over HTTPS, regardless of the service that is being accesssed.

Use this mode if you require:

  • A clientless solution in which all remote services are access through a web portal.
  • Tight control over the contents of the web portal.
  • Limited services provided to the remote users.

Limitations

  • Multiple applications and protocols are not supported.
  • VNC and RDP access might have limitations, such as certain shortcut keys not being supported.
  • In some configurations RDP can consume a significant amount of memory and CPU time.
  • Firewall performance might decrease as remote usage increases.
  • Highly customized web pages might not render correctly.

Security best practices

Integrate with authentication servers

For networks with many users, integrate your user configuration with existing authentication servers through LDAP, RADIUS, or FortiAuthenticator.

By integrating with existing authentication servers, such as Windows AD, there is a lower change of making mistakes when configuring local users and user groups. Your administration effort is also reduces.

See SSL VPN with LDAP user authentication for more information.

Use a non-factory SSL certificate for the SSL VPN portal

Your certificate should identify your domain so that a remote user can recognize the identity of the server or portal that they are accessing through a trusted CA.

The default Fortinet factory self-signed certificates are provided to simplify initial installation and testing. If you use these certificates you are vulnerable to man‑in‑the‑middle attacks, where an attacker spoofs your certificate, compromises your connection, and steals your personal information. It is highly recommended that you purchase a server certificate from a trusted CA to allow remote users to connect to SSL VPN with confidence. See Purchase and import a signed SSL certificate for more information.

Enabling the Do not Warn Invalid Server Certificate option on the client disables the certificate warning message, potentially allowing users to accidentally connect to untrusted servers. Disabling invalid server certificate warnings is not recommended.

Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) ensures that the end-user is who they claim to be by requiring at least two factors - a piece of information that the user knows (password), and an asset that the user has (OTP). A third factor, something a user is (fingerprint or face), may be enabled as well. FortiToken Mobile is typically used for MFA.

FortiGate comes with two free FortiTokens, and more can be purchased from the FortiToken Mobile iOS app or through Fortinet partners.

See SSL VPN with FortiToken mobile push authentication for more information.

2FA, a subset of MFA, can also be set up with email tokens. See Email Two-Factor Authentication on FortiGate for information.

Deploy user certificates for remote SSL VPN users

This method of 2FA uses a user certificate as the second authentication factor. This is more secure, as it identifies the end user using a certificate. The configuration and administration of this solution is significantly more complicated, and requires administrators with advanced knowledge of the FortiGate and certificate deployment.

See SSL VPN with certificate authentication for more information.

Define your minimum supported TLS version and cipher suites

Minimum and maximum supported TLS version can be configured in the FortiGate CLI. The cipher algorithm can also be customized.

See How to control the SSL version and cipher suite for SSL VPN for more information.

Properly administer firewall policies and profiles against only the access level required for the remote user

Users do not all require the same access. Access should only be granted after careful considerations. Typically, users are placed in groups, and each group is allowed access to limited resources.

Using SSL VPN realms simplifies defining the control structure for mapping users and groups to the appropriate resources.

See SSL VPN multi-realm for more information.

SSL VPN best practices

Securing remote access to network resources is a critical part of security operations. SSL VPN allows administrators to configure, administer, and deploy a remote access strategy for their remote workers.

Choosing the correct mode of operation and applying the proper levels of security are integral to providing optimal performance and user experience, and keeping your user data safe.

The below guidelines outline selecting the correct SSL VPN mode for your deployment and employing best practices to ensure that your data are protected.

Information about SSL VPN throughput and maximum concurrent users is available on your device's datasheet; see Next-Generation Firewalls Models and Specifications.

Tunnel mode

In tunnel mode, the SSL VPN client encrypts all traffic from the remote client computer and sends it to the FortiGate through an SSL VPN tunnel over the HTTPS link between the user and the FortiGate.

The FortiGate establishes a tunnel with the client, and assigns a virtual IP (VIP) address to the client from a range reserved addresses. While the underlying protocols are different, the outcome is very similar to a IPsec VPN tunnel. All client traffic is encrypted, allowing the users and networks to exchange a wide range of traffic, regardless of the application or protocols.

Use this mode if you require:

  • A wide range of applications and protocols to be accessed by the remote client.
  • No proxying is done by the FortiGate.
  • Straightforward configuration and administration, as traffic is controlled by firewall policies.
  • A transparent experience for the end user. For example, a user that needs to RDP to their server only requires a tunnel connection; they can then use the usual client application, like Windows Remote Desktop, to connect.

Full tunneling forces all traffic to pass through the FortiGate (see SSL VPN full tunnel for remote user). Split tunneling only routes traffic to the designated network through the FortiGate (see SSL VPN split tunnel for remote user).

Limitations

Tunnel mode requires that the FortiClient VPN client be installed on the remote end. The standalone FortiClient VPN client is free to use, and can accommodate SSL VPN and IPsec VPN tunnels. For supported operating systems, see the FortiClient Technical Specifications.

Web mode

Web-only mode provides clientless network access using a web browser with built-in SSL encryption. Users authenticate to FortiGate's SSL VPN Web Portal, which provides access to network services and resources, including HTTP/HTTPS, Telnet, FTP, SMB/CIFS, VNC, RDP, and SSH. When a user starts a connection to a server from the web portal, FortiOS proxies this communication with the server. All communication between the FortiGate and the user continues to be over HTTPS, regardless of the service that is being accesssed.

Use this mode if you require:

  • A clientless solution in which all remote services are access through a web portal.
  • Tight control over the contents of the web portal.
  • Limited services provided to the remote users.

Limitations

  • Multiple applications and protocols are not supported.
  • VNC and RDP access might have limitations, such as certain shortcut keys not being supported.
  • In some configurations RDP can consume a significant amount of memory and CPU time.
  • Firewall performance might decrease as remote usage increases.
  • Highly customized web pages might not render correctly.

Security best practices

Integrate with authentication servers

For networks with many users, integrate your user configuration with existing authentication servers through LDAP, RADIUS, or FortiAuthenticator.

By integrating with existing authentication servers, such as Windows AD, there is a lower change of making mistakes when configuring local users and user groups. Your administration effort is also reduces.

See SSL VPN with LDAP user authentication for more information.

Use a non-factory SSL certificate for the SSL VPN portal

Your certificate should identify your domain so that a remote user can recognize the identity of the server or portal that they are accessing through a trusted CA.

The default Fortinet factory self-signed certificates are provided to simplify initial installation and testing. If you use these certificates you are vulnerable to man‑in‑the‑middle attacks, where an attacker spoofs your certificate, compromises your connection, and steals your personal information. It is highly recommended that you purchase a server certificate from a trusted CA to allow remote users to connect to SSL VPN with confidence. See Purchase and import a signed SSL certificate for more information.

Enabling the Do not Warn Invalid Server Certificate option on the client disables the certificate warning message, potentially allowing users to accidentally connect to untrusted servers. Disabling invalid server certificate warnings is not recommended.

Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) ensures that the end-user is who they claim to be by requiring at least two factors - a piece of information that the user knows (password), and an asset that the user has (OTP). A third factor, something a user is (fingerprint or face), may be enabled as well. FortiToken Mobile is typically used for MFA.

FortiGate comes with two free FortiTokens, and more can be purchased from the FortiToken Mobile iOS app or through Fortinet partners.

See SSL VPN with FortiToken mobile push authentication for more information.

2FA, a subset of MFA, can also be set up with email tokens. See Email Two-Factor Authentication on FortiGate for information.

Deploy user certificates for remote SSL VPN users

This method of 2FA uses a user certificate as the second authentication factor. This is more secure, as it identifies the end user using a certificate. The configuration and administration of this solution is significantly more complicated, and requires administrators with advanced knowledge of the FortiGate and certificate deployment.

See SSL VPN with certificate authentication for more information.

Define your minimum supported TLS version and cipher suites

Minimum and maximum supported TLS version can be configured in the FortiGate CLI. The cipher algorithm can also be customized.

See How to control the SSL version and cipher suite for SSL VPN for more information.

Properly administer firewall policies and profiles against only the access level required for the remote user

Users do not all require the same access. Access should only be granted after careful considerations. Typically, users are placed in groups, and each group is allowed access to limited resources.

Using SSL VPN realms simplifies defining the control structure for mapping users and groups to the appropriate resources.

See SSL VPN multi-realm for more information.