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> Chapter 27 - SSL VPN > SSL VPN Overview > SSL VPN modes of operation

SSL VPN modes of operation

When a remote client connects to the FortiGate unit, the FortiGate unit authenticates the user based on username, password, and authentication domain. A successful login determines the access rights of remote users according to user group. The user group settings specify whether the connection will operate in web-only mode or tunnel mode.

Web-only mode

Web-only mode provides remote users with a fast and efficient way to access server applications from any thin client computer equipped with a web browser. Web-only mode offers true clientless network access using any web browser that has built-in SSL encryption and the Sun Java Runtime Environment (note that there is no minimum Java/JRE version requirement—any version of Java/JRE currently supported by the supplier of the Java/JRE for the operating system should work).

Support for SSL VPN web-only mode is built into FortiOS. The feature comprises of an SSL daemon running on the FortiGate unit, and a web portal, which provides users with access to network services and resources including HTTP/HTTPS, Telnet, FTP, SMB/CIFS, VNC, RDP, and SSH.

In web-only mode, the FortiGate unit acts as a secure HTTP/HTTPS gateway and authenticates remote users as members of a user group. After successful authentication, the FortiGate unit redirects the web browser to the web portal home page and the user can access the server applications behind the FortiGate unit.

When the FortiGate unit provides services in web-only mode, a secure connection between the remote client and the FortiGate unit is established through the SSL VPN security in the FortiGate unit and the SSL security in the web browser. After the connection has been established, the FortiGate unit provides access to selected services and network resources through a web portal.

FortiGate SSL VPN web portals have a 1- or 2-column page layout and portal functionality is provided through small applets called widgets. Widget windows can be moved or minimized. The controls within each widget depend on its function. There are predefined web portals and the administrator can create additional portals.

Configuring the FortiGate unit involves selecting the appropriate web portal configuration in the user group settings. These configuration settings determine which server applications can be accessed. SSL encryption is used to ensure traffic confidentiality.

The following table lists the operating systems and web browsers supported by SSL VPN web-only mode.

VPN Web-only Mode, supported operating systems and web browsers
Operating System Web Browser
Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 (32-bit/64-bit)
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer version 11
  • Mozilla Firefox version 46
Microsoft Windows 8/8.1 (32-bit/64-bit)
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer version 11
  • Mozilla Firefox version 46
Mac OS 10.9
  • Safari 7
Linux CentOS version 6.5
  • Mozilla Firefox version 46

Other operating systems and web browsers may function correctly, but are not supported by Fortinet.

Tunnel mode

In Tunnel mode, remote clients connect to a FortiGate unit that acts as a secure HTTP/HTTPS gateway and authenticates remote users as members of a user group.

The SSL VPN client encrypts all traffic from the remote client computer and sends it to the FortiGate unit through an SSL VPN tunnel over the HTTPS link between the user and the FortiGate unit. Another option is split tunneling, which ensures that only the traffic for the private network is sent to the SSL VPN gateway. Internet traffic is sent through the usual unencrypted route. This conserves bandwidth and alleviates bottlenecks.

When the user initiates a VPN connection with the FortiGate unit through the SSL VPN client, the FortiGate unit establishes a tunnel with the client and assigns the client a virtual IP address from a range of reserved addresses. The client uses the assigned IP address as its source address for the duration of the connection. After the tunnel has been established, the user can access the network behind the FortiGate unit.

SSL VPN conserve mode

FortiGate units perform all security profile processing in physical RAM. Since each model has a limited amount of memory, Kernel conserve mode is activated when the remaining free memory is nearly exhausted or the AV proxy has reached the maximum number of sessions it can service.

SSL VPN also has its own conserve mode. The FortiGate enters the SSL VPN conserve mode before the Kernel conserve mode in an attempt to prevent the Kernel conserve mode from triggering. During the SSL VPN conserve mode, no new SSL connections are allowed. It starts when free memory is <25% of the total memory (when the memory on the FortiGate is less than 512Mb) or <10% of the total memory (when the FortiGate has more than 512Mb built in).

To determine if the FortiGate has entered SSL VPN conserve mode - CLI

Run the following command in the CLI Console:

diagnose vpn ssl statistics


Result (showing conserve mode state in red):

SSLVPN statistics:
Memory unit: 			1
System total memory: 		2118737920
System free memory: 		218537984
SSLVPN memory margin: 		314572800
SSLVPN state: 			conserve

Max number of users: 		2
Max number of tunnels: 	0
Max number of connections: 	13

Current number of users: 	1
Current number of tunnels: 	0
Current number of connections: 1