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      Stunnel

      How To Connect to a Managed Redis Instance over TLS with Stunnel and redis-cli


      Introduction

      A managed Redis instance can provide benefits like high availability and automated updates. However, any time you make a connection to a remote database server, you run the risk of malicious actors sniffing the sensitive information you send to it.

      redis-cli, the Redis command line interface, doesn’t natively support connections over TLS, a cryptographic protocol that allows for secure communications over a network. This means that without further configuration, redis-cli is not a secure way to connect to a remote Redis server. One way to establish a secure connection to a managed Redis instance is to create a tunnel that uses the TLS protocol.

      Stunnel is an open-source proxy used to create secure tunnels, allowing you to communicate with other machines over TLS. In this guide, we will walk through installing and configuring stunnel so you can connect to a managed Redis instance over TLS with redis-cli.

      Prerequisites

      To complete this guide, you will need:

      • Access to an Ubuntu 18.04 server. This server should have a non-root user with administrative privileges and a firewall configured with ufw. To set this up, follow our initial server setup guide for Ubuntu 18.04.
      • A managed Redis database instance. The steps outlined in this tutorial were tested on a DigitalOcean Managed Redis Database, though they should generally work for managed databases from any cloud provider. To provision a DigitalOcean Managed Redis Database, follow our Managed Redis product documentation.

      Step 1 — Installing Stunnel and redis-cli

      When you install a Redis server, it usually comes packaged with redis-cli. However, you can install redis-cli without the Redis server by installing the redis-tools package from the default Ubuntu repositories. You can also install stunnel from the default Ubuntu repositories by downloading the stunnel4 package.

      First, update your server’s package index if you’ve not done so recently:

      Then install the redis-tools and stunnel4 packages with APT:

      • sudo apt install redis-tools stunnel4

      When prompted, press ENTER to confirm that you want to install the packages.

      You can check whether stunnel was installed correctly and its systemd service is working by running the following command:

      • sudo systemctl status stunnel4

      Output

      ● stunnel4.service - LSB: Start or stop stunnel 4.x (TLS tunnel for network daemons) Loaded: loaded (/etc/init.d/stunnel4; generated) Active: active (exited) since Thu 2019-09-12 14:34:05 UTC; 8s ago Docs: man:systemd-sysv-generator(8) Tasks: 0 (limit: 2362) CGroup: /system.slice/stunnel4.service Sep 12 14:34:05 stunnel systemd[1]: Starting LSB: Start or stop stunnel 4.x (TLS tunnel for network daemons)... Sep 12 14:34:05 stunnel stunnel4[2034]: TLS tunnels disabled, see /etc/default/stunnel4 Sep 12 14:34:05 stunnel systemd[1]: Started LSB: Start or stop stunnel 4.x (TLS tunnel for network daemons).

      Here, you can see that the stunnel service is active, though the process immediately exited. This tells us that stunnel is running, but it isn’t able to actually do anything since we haven’t yet configured it.

      Step 2 — Configuring Stunnel

      Modern Linux systems rely on systemd for initializing and managing services and daemons. However, stunnel uses a SysV-style init script, which is based on the older UNIX System V init system, for startup. You’ll need to modify the /etc/default/stunnel4 file to enable this init script.

      Open this file with your preferred text editor. Here, we’ll use nano:

      • sudo nano /etc/default/stunnel4

      Find the ENABLED option near the top of the file. It will be set to 0 by default, but change this to 1 to enable stunnel to start at boot:

      /etc/default/stunnel4

      # /etc/default/stunnel
      # Julien LEMOINE <speedblue@debian.org>
      # September 2003
      
      # Change to one to enable stunnel automatic startup
      ENABLED=1
      . . .
      

      Save and close the file. If you used nano to edit the file, do so by pressing CTRL+X, Y, then ENTER.

      Next, you will need to create a configuration file for stunnel which will tell the program where it needs to route traffic.

      Open a new file called stunnel.conf under the /etc/stunnel directory:

      • sudo nano /etc/stunnel/stunnel.conf

      Add the following content to this file:

      /etc/stunnel/stunnel.conf

      fips = no
      setuid = nobody
      setgid = nogroup
      pid =
      debug = 7
      [redis-cli]
        client = yes
        accept = 127.0.0.1:8000
        connect = managed_redis_hostname_or_ip:managed_redis_port
      

      The first five lines in the file are global options, meaning they will apply to every service you include in this file:

      • fips: Enables or disables stunnel’s FIPS 140-2 mode. In this mode, stunnel will validate that the connection meets the Federal Information Processing Standard. Setting this to no disables this feature. Note that disabling this is not any less secure, but keeping it enabled (as it is by default) would require some extra configuration.
      • setuid: Defines the Unix user ID under which stunnel will run. By default, the stunnel process is owned by the root user. However, the stunnel documentation recommends that you drop administrative privileges once the tunnel starts, as failing to do so poses a security risk. Setting the setuid parameter to nobody will cause nobody, an unprivileged user, to take ownership over the stunnel process once the tunnel has been established.
      • setgid: Defines the Unix group ID under which stunnel will run. As with setuid, this configuration specifies a group without any special privileges — nogroup — to avoid any potential security issues.
      • pid: Defines a file location where stunnel will create a .pid file, a type of file that contains a process’s PID. .pid files are typically used by other programs to find the PID of a running process. By default, stunnel creates a .pid file in the /var/run/stunnel4/ directory. Because the nobody user doesn’t have permission to access that directory, it will prevent the tunnel from starting correctly. By not providing any argument to the pid parameter in this configuration we’re disabling this behavior, as a .pid file isn’t necessary for the purposes of this tutorial. If you do need a .pid file for your use case, though, be sure to set this to a file that nobody has permission to write to.
      • debug: Sets stunnel’s debugging level, which can range from 0 to 7. In this example we’ll set it to 7, the highest level available, as that will provide the most detailed information if stunnel runs into any issues. You can set it to any level you like, but be aware that the default setting is 5.

      The remaining lines are service-level options, and only apply to the tunnel we’ll create for redis-cli:

      • [redis-cli]: This is a service name and specifies that the following lines represent an individual service configuration for a client program. You can have more than one service in a stunnel configuration file, though each must be associated with an existing client application and you can’t have two services for the same application.
      • client: Setting this to yes tells stunnel to run in client mode, meaning that stunnel will connect to a TLS server (the managed Redis instance) rather than act as a TLS server.
      • accept: Defines the host and port on which stunnel will accept connections from the client. Here, we specify the IP address 127.0.0.1, which is an IPv4 loopback address used to represent localhost, and port 8000. This means stunnel will listen for connections originating from the Ubuntu server on port 8000 and encrypt them. Note that you can set the port to any port number you like as long as it’s not already in use.
      • connect: Defines the remote address and port to which stunnel will make the connection. Be sure to change this parameter to align with your managed database’s port and hostname or IP address.

      Note: The hostname or IP address and port you should specify in the connect directive will be specific to your own managed Redis database. These can usually be found in your cloud provider’s database management user interface where you provisioned your Redis instance.

      If you’re using a DigitalOcean Managed Redis Database, you can find this information by going to your Control Panel and clicking on Databases in the left-hand sidebar menu. Then, click on the name of the Redis instance you want to connect to and scroll down to the Connection Details section. There, you will find fields describing your database’s host and port.

      This is a fairly minimal configuration that leaves many of stunnel’s default settings in place. The program has many options available for you to create tunnels that suit your particular needs. See the official documentation for more details.

      After adding this content, save and close the file.

      Then, restart the stunnel4 service so stunnel will read the new configuration file:

      • sudo systemctl restart stunnel4

      Following that, you can test whether stunnel has created with netstat, a command line utility used to display network connections. Run the following command, which pipelines the netstat output into a grep command, which then searches it for every instance of stunnel:

      • sudo netstat -plunt | grep stunnel

      Output

      tcp 0 0 127.0.0.1:8000 0.0.0.0:* LISTEN 17868/stunnel

      This output shows that stunnel is listening for connections on local port 8000.

      You can also confirm that the nobody user has taken ownership over the stunnel process with ps, a program that displays all currently-running processes:

      Output

      nobody 15674 0.0 0.1 121912 3180 ? Ssl 19:28 0:00 /usr/bin/stunnel4 /etc/stunnel/stunnel.conf . . .

      Here, you can see that nobody has indeed taken over the stunnel process.

      Stunnel is now fully configured and running on your system. You’re ready to connect to your managed Redis instance and test that the tunnel is working as expected.

      Step 3 — Connecting To Your Managed Database over TLS

      Now that you’ve installed redis-cli and configured stunnel on your server, you’re ready to connect to your managed database over TLS.

      Based on the settings defined in the configuration file created in Step 2, you would connect to your managed database with the following command:

      • redis-cli -h localhost -p 8000

      This command includes the -h flag, which tells redis-cli that the next argument will be the host to connect to. In this case, it’s localhost since we’re connecting to a tunnel created locally on the server. After that is the -p flag, which precedes the port of the local tunnel we’re connecting to, which in this case is port 8000.

      After running that command, you will be connected to your managed Redis server. Your prompt will change to reflect that you’ve connected and are in redis-cli’s interactive mode:

      Note: Oftentimes, managed databases are configured to require users to authenticate with a password when they connect. If your managed Redis instance requires a password, you can include the -a flag in your redis-cli command, followed by your password:

      • redis-cli -h localhost -p 8000 -a password

      Alternatively, you can authenticate by running the auth command followed by your password after establishing the connection:

      If you’re using a DigitalOcean Managed Database, you can find your Redis instance’s password in the same place you found its hostname and port. In your Control Panel, click on Databases in the left-hand sidebar menu. Then, click on the name of the Redis instance you’ve connected to. Scroll down to the Connection Details section, and there you’ll find a field labeled password. Click on the show button to reveal the password, then copy and paste it into either of these commands — replacing password — in order to authenticate.

      You can test whether the tunnel is working as expected by running the ping command from Redis’s interactive mode:

      If the connection is alive it will return PONG:

      Output

      PONG

      If, however, stunnel is not tunnelling traffic from your server to your Redis instance correctly, you may see an error message like this before being disconnected from Redis:

      Output

      Error: Server closed the connection

      If you receive this or a similar error, double check that you’ve entered your Redis instance’s hostname and port correctly in your stunnel.conf file. Likewise, be sure that you entered the correct port number in your redis-cli command.

      Once you’ve confirmed that the tunnel is working, go ahead and disconnect from your Redis instance:

      If you ever change stunnel’s configuration, you’ll need to reload or restart the stunnel4 service so stunnel will notice the changes:

      • sudo systemctl reload stunnel4

      However, if at any point in the future you want to close the TLS tunnel, you won’t be able to close it with systemctl. Instead, you’ll need to kill the process with the pkill command:

      After the tunnel has ben closed, you can reopen the tunnel by restarting the service:

      • sudo systemctl restart stunnel4

      Now that you’ve successfully configured stunnel, you’re all set to begin adding data to your managed Redis instance with redis-cli.

      Conclusion

      Stunnel is a handy tool for creating TLS tunnels and establishing secure connections to remote servers. This is especially useful in cases where the secure transport of information between machines is critical, as with a remote database.

      From here, you can begin exploring Redis and integrating it with your next application. If you’re new to working with Redis, you may find our series on How To Manage a Redis Database useful.



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