Configuring OpenBSD to use RADIUS auth

I have a love-hate relationship with RADIUS. RADIUS is the cheap white glue of authentication. Just about everything speaks it, so you can use it as cheap glue to unify passwords across your gear. But it’s a finicky protocol, with lots of edge cases, and those edges can be SHARP.

Okay, perhaps it’s more of a tolerate-hate relationship. But still.

OpenBSD supports using RADIUS to authenticate user accounts. Why would you possibly want to do this? For one thing, if you’re using authpf, it gives you a way to easily synchronize firewall passwords with your Windows domain through the Microsoft Internet Authentication Service. It’s not ideal — ideal would be making all of your users use public key auth — but it’s better than nothing, reduces your support workload, and helps convince management that your firewall is a real solution.

I’m assuming you already have a RADIUS server. Mine is freeRADIUS-2.1.12, but any basic RADIUS server will work.

OpenBSD uses BSD authentication, a competitor to PAM. The RADIUS auth process is documented in login_radius(8), but I’ll walk through the basics.

Configure your RADIUS server to allow access from your OpenBSD box, and assign it a shared secret. My RADIUS server is, and my secret is the string Insubordinate. (It’s a lousy secret, but it’s just an example, and I’m tired.)

Create a directory for the server list, and set the permissions as per the man page.

# mkdir /etc/raddb
# chgrp _radius /etc/raddb/
# chmod 755 /etc/raddb/

Create the file /etc/raddb/servers. List each server, and its secret, on its own line. Insubordinate

Now switch your default authentication scheme in login.conf.


The change should take effect immediately. Be sure you have a window logged in as root beforehand, so you can switch back if necessary. If you have trouble, check your RADIUS server’s debugging log, or use a packet sniffer to examine the actual RADIUS dialog.

Your host will now check every password against the RADIUS server. That includes root. You probably want to set up an auth-su class, or only have the authpf class use RADIUS, or some combination thereof. I really recommend requiring anyone who can get an actual shell to log in with public key authentication.

And for those who care, you now know exactly what part of Absolute OpenBSD I’m writing.