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Cisco ASA Licensing

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This chapter discusses license mechanisms for the Cisco ASA's advanced security features that add additional layers of protection or accommodate more complex network designs.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter covers the following topics:

  • Licensed features on ASA
  • Managing licenses with activation keys
  • Combined licenses in failover and clustering
  • Shared Premium AnyConnect VPN licensing

ASA offers a very comprehensive feature set that helps secure networks of all shapes and sizes. To deliver the desired functionality within the available budget while allowing for future scalability, you can unlock advanced security capabilities and increase certain system capacities on demand through a flexible system of feature licenses.

Some characteristics of the hardware platform or expansion modules can enable certain feature licenses implicitly. You can also activate additional licenses permanently or for a certain duration of time. When multiple Cisco ASA devices participate in failover or clustering, some licensed capacities automatically aggregate up to the platform hardware limit to maximize your investment. Although this flexible system may seem complicated at first, it actually makes the task of customizing a Cisco ASA for your specific business needs quite easy.

Licensed Features on ASA

Every Cisco ASA platform comes with a certain number of implicitly activated features and capacities as a part of the Base License. In other words, these capabilities are fixed in the given software image for the particular hardware; you cannot selectively disable them. One example of such a feature is Active/Active failover, which is always available on all Cisco ASA 5585-X appliances. Some platforms offer the optional Security Plus license, which may unlock additional features or capacities on top of the Base License. For example, you can increase the maximum concurrent firewall connection count on the Cisco ASA 5505 from 10,000 to 25,000 by installing a Security Plus license.

In addition to the Base and Security Plus licenses, you can activate other advanced security features individually:

  • Some capabilities operate in a simple binary switch fashion whereby the license for the feature type is either enabled or disabled; once enabled, there are typically no direct restrictions on how much the feature can be used. For instance, the Botnet Traffic Filter license will allow you to protect all connections through a Cisco ASA up to the maximum limit for the platform.
  • Other features may carry their own capacity limits that come in quantified tiers. An example of such a feature is the ability to configure security contexts on some Cisco ASA appliances. On the Cisco ASA 5580 platform, the Base License allows creating up to two application contexts, while several premium licenses of different tiered counts allow extending this limit up to 250 contexts in total.

Not all of the licensed features and capabilities are available on all hardware platforms. For instance, at the time of writing, the clustering feature is currently available only on Cisco ASA 5500-X, ASA 5580, and ASA 5585-X appliances. Depending on specific markets and international export regulations, some Cisco ASA models may also ship with the permanent No Payload Encryption license; this license ties to the particular hardware without the option of change or removal. The following licensed features and capacities are not available on any No Payload Encryption hardware models:

  • AnyConnect Premium Peers
  • AnyConnect Essentials
  • Other VPN Peers
  • Total VPN Peers
  • Shared License
  • AnyConnect for Mobile
  • AnyConnect for Cisco VPN Phone
  • Advanced Endpoint Assessment
  • UC Phone Proxy Sessions
  • Total UC Proxy Sessions
  • Intercompany Media Engine

As you identify the correct feature set to take the most advantage of Cisco ASA capabilities while fully protecting your network, it helps to organize the licensed features into the following logical categories:

  • Basic platform capabilities: Typically are relevant to all Cisco ASA deployments
  • Advanced security features: Can satisfy specific network design goals for a particular Cisco ASA installation
  • Tiered capacity features: Depend on the size of a projected user base and allow for future growth

These categories are discussed in turn next.

Basic Platform Capabilities

Basic licensed features define the foundation of the Cisco ASA capabilities that are common to all installations and designs, such as the following:

  • Dictating the elementary characteristics of how an ASA device connects to the network
  • Establishing the quantity and speed capabilities of physical and logical interfaces
  • Limiting the number of protected connections and inside hosts
  • Defining high-availability options
  • Setting the baseline encryption algorithms that the system can use

The following licensed features fall under the category of basic platform capabilities:

  • Firewall Connections: Cisco ASA Software limits the maximum concurrent count of all stateful connections depending on the hardware platform. This limit can only be increased with the Security Plus license on Cisco ASA 5505, ASA 5510, and ASA 5512-X appliances. The system will deny only new attempted connections above the licensed limit; there are no adverse effects for existing connections in this case.
  • Maximum Physical Interfaces: All Cisco ASA platforms always allow you to use all of the available physical interfaces, so this feature either shows the actual number of physical interfaces on the Cisco ASA 5505 or displays Unlimited on all other platforms. There are additional platform-specific limitations on the total number of interfaces that can be configured in the system; the total limit covers physical and redundant interfaces, VLAN subinterfaces, EtherChannels, and bridge groups.
  • Maximum VLANs: Each platform has its own limit on the maximum number of configurable VLANs. This limit can be expanded on Cisco ASA 5505, ASA 5510, and ASA 5512-X models by applying a Security Plus license. Keep in mind that you can create a larger number of subinterfaces on some ASA appliances, but this particular limit only kicks in when you actually assign the given number of subinterfaces to VLANs with the vlan interface command.
  • VLAN Trunk Ports: This feature is applicable only to Cisco ASA 5505 appliances because they have the built-in Ethernet switch. With the Base License, you can configure the physical switch ports only in access mode; with the Security Plus license, you gain the ability to carry multiple VLANs on any of the Cisco ASA 5505 physical interfaces by configuring them as trunks.
  • Dual ISPs: This feature only applies to the Cisco ASA 5505 where the Security Plus license enables it automatically. With the Base License, this platform only allows up to three configured logical interfaces, where the third interface can initiate traffic only to one of the other two; with this limitation, you cannot create a backup interface to provide external connectivity when the primary outside interface fails. When you apply the Security Plus license, the number of available logical interfaces increases to 20; you can then use floating default routes with route tracking to enable interface-level high availability across multiple ISPs.
  • 10GE I/O: This feature is only applicable to Cisco ASA 5585-X models. An SSP-10 and -20 with the Base License only allow you to configure the onboard fiber interfaces at 1-Gigabit Ethernet (GE) speed; the Security Plus license enables configuring these interfaces at 10-GE speed. This capability is always enabled on SSP-40 and -60 and on any expansion 10-GE interface modules. Although not directly related to this license, it should be noted that a Cisco ASA 5510 appliance requires the Security Plus license to configure Ethernet0/0 and Ethernet0/1 interfaces at 1-GE speed. All other models not mentioned here allow you to configure any onboard or external physical Ethernet interfaces up to the maximum supported speed.
  • Inside Hosts: This value defines the maximum number of unique IP addresses behind the trusted interfaces that can establish concurrent connections with endpoints behind the outside interface. When operating in routed mode, the default route determines where the outside interface is; all unique endpoints behind all configured interfaces count toward the limit if the default route is not present. In transparent mode, only the interface with the fewest number of active endpoints counts toward the limit. This feature is set to Unlimited on all platforms except the Cisco ASA 5505, whose default limit of 10 can be expanded to 50 or Unlimited.
  • Failover: The option of configuring a pair of Cisco ASA devices for high availability is available on all platforms, but it requires the Security Plus license on Cisco ASA 5505, ASA 5510, and ASA 5512-X models. Because the Cisco ASA 5505 does not support the Security Contexts feature, only Active/Standby failover is available on this platform. All other ASA models support both Active/Standby and Active/Active failover configurations.
  • Encryption-DES: This license enables the DES algorithm for VPN, Unified Communications Proxy, and management session encryption by default on all Cisco ASA platforms. A weak encryption algorithm such as DES is frequently not acceptable to many remote endpoints that need to establish a secure session with the Cisco ASA; this license is typically not sufficient outside of basic management tasks.
  • Encryption-3DES-AES: This license adds 3DES and AES algorithms in order to provide strong encryption capabilities for VPN, Unified Communications Proxy, and management sessions. Some features, such as VPN Load Balancing, also require this license for proper operation. Export regulations control access to this license, so it may not necessarily come pre-installed on a brand-new Cisco ASA by default. Because the availability of strong encryption ciphers in the Cisco ASA configuration requires this license, obtain and enable it right away if you plan on using any of the relevant cryptographic features.
  • Other VPN Peers: This value defines the maximum number of concurrent IPsec site-to-site tunnels and IKEv1-based remote-access sessions that can terminate on a particular Cisco ASA platform. This capacity can extend from 10 to 25 by installing the Security Plus license on the Cisco ASA 5505; on all of the other models, the software sets this limit depending on the hardware capabilities.
  • Total VPN Peers: This quantity defines the maximum number of any concurrent VPN sessions that can terminate on a given Cisco ASA platform. This licensed capacity is equal to the count of Other VPN Peers on all models with the exception of the Cisco ASA 5505, where it depends on the Security Plus and AnyConnect Essentials licenses.

Advanced Security Features

You can leverage advanced security features on top of the core Cisco ASA capabilities to achieve an additional level of protection or to enable more complex network designs. These features include the following capabilities:

  • Applying the delivery of specialized application protocol inspection
  • Extending the secure network perimeter by supporting mobile platforms
  • Performing client posture validation for VPN connectivity
  • Enabling real-time mitigation of malicious activity
  • Delivering scalable device aggregation capabilities

The following licensed features fall into this category:

  • Intercompany Media Engine: With this feature enabled, a Cisco ASA becomes an active participant in the Intercompany Media Engine infrastructure, where the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) inspection engine operates with TLS proxy to authenticate and secure dynamic incoming VoIP connections. Because there is a particular platform limit on the maximum number of TLS proxy sessions, Intercompany Media Engine shares this limit with other features that rely on TLS proxy. Depending on the export restrictions, the particular license for this feature may allow either a total of 1000 TLS proxy sessions (restricted) or up to the preset platform limit (unrestricted). After applying this license, use the tls-proxy maximum-sessions command to raise the configured session limit as desired. It should be noted that other Unified Communications inspection features that rely on TLS proxy may impose separate limits on the total number of encrypted sessions.
  • GTP/GPRS: This enables the application inspection of the GPRS Tunneling Protocol (GTP), which supports general packet radio service (GPRS) data networks. Mobile service providers commonly use this feature to secure their network infrastructure. After activating the license, use the inspect gtp command to enable the GTP/GPRS inspection engine on applicable traffic under the service policy configuration.
  • AnyConnect for Mobile: This license allows a Cisco ASA to accept SSL VPN connections from certain mobile devices running Apple iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile operating systems. Keep in mind that this is not a standalone feature but rather a special capability available for AnyConnect peers. As such, you can utilize this capability only when an installed AnyConnect Premium Peers or AnyConnect Essentials license allows the underlying SSL VPN session. When the session is using an AnyConnect Essentials license, mobile device posture data is only available for informational purposes. When the mobile device is one of the AnyConnect Premium Peers, you can leverage Dynamic Access Policies (DAP) to permit or deny network access for the given device based on a broad set of attributes.
  • AnyConnect for Cisco VPN Phone: This license allows a Cisco ASA to accept VPN connections from certain hardware Cisco IP phones that provide embedded AnyConnect client capabilities. This is not a standalone feature, because it requires an AnyConnect Premium Peers license to allow the underlying VPN connection in the first place.
  • Advanced Endpoint Assessment: With this feature enabled, ASA can actively enforce certain operational policies on third-party antivirus, antispyware, and personal firewall software packages residing on remote AnyConnect or clientless peers running Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux operating systems. This is another add-on feature that is only available for AnyConnect Premium Peers; by default, such peers can only benefit from the basic reactive posture validation capabilities provided by Host Scan and Dynamic Access Policies.
  • Botnet Traffic Filter: With this feature, you can detect and block inbound and outbound connections that involve known malicious hosts. A Cisco ASA dynamically updates the database of such offending endpoints from Cisco Security Intelligence Operations (SIO), which allows real-time protection even for zero-day attacks. The license enables database updates as well as the Botnet Traffic Filter configuration commands.
  • Cluster: This feature is currently available only on Cisco ASA 5500-X, ASA 5580, and ASA 5585-X appliances. It expands the high-availability advantages of failover by allowing you to aggregate up to 16 physical appliances in exactly the same hardware configuration into a single logical device. Unlike failover, all members of a configured cluster process transit traffic concurrently while compensating for the imperfections of external load-balancing. All devices in a cluster must have this feature enabled. The availability of the Cluster feature and the maximum supported number of cluster members depend on the particular software image version and hardware platform type.
  • IPS Module: This feature is only applicable to Cisco ASA 5500-X appliances. It allows you to implement Cisco ASA Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) with the software package; you do not need it for Cisco ASA Next-Generation Firewall Services with the CX package. This license simply allows you to install the IPS software module on the Cisco ASA and then enable traffic redirection using the service-policy configuration; because the module runs an independent software image, it has its own feature license that you have to obtain and install separately. Hardware IPS modules on Cisco ASA 5505, ASA 5500, and ASA 5585-X appliances require no special license for installation or traffic redirection.

Tiered Capacity Features

Yet another category of licensed features allows a particular advanced functionality for a limited number of users or sessions. This flexibility allows you to provision enough premium licenses according to the specific business needs while allowing plenty of room for future growth. The typical features in this category provide firewall virtualization capabilities, Unified Communications inspection with TLS proxy, and advanced VPN connectivity. The preinstalled Base Licenses typically include a certain number of allowed sessions to take advantage of most of these features; you can obtain a separate license to enable or upgrade any of these capabilities to your desired user or session count. To keep things simple, these features come in specific capacity tiers. For instance, a Cisco ASA 5512-X with the Base License allows up to two Unified Communications (UC) Phone Proxy sessions; you can optionally obtain a license for 24, 50, 100, 250, or 500 sessions. Keep in mind that the capacity tiers cannot be stacked together. In other words, you need to obtain the UC Phone Proxy license for 250 sessions even if you intend to use only up to 150 of them; you cannot simply install a 50-session license followed by a 100-session license on the same device.

The following features belong to this category:

  • Security Contexts: This license allows the creation of multiple virtual firewalls that can operate concurrently on the same physical ASA device. It is not available on the Cisco ASA 5505 platform or Cisco ASA 5510 and ASA 5512-X appliances with the Base License. All other platforms and license combinations allow you to configure up to two virtual application contexts by default; the specific tiered options depend on the platform and can extend up to 250 on a Cisco ASA Services Module and ASA 5585-X appliances with at least an SSP-20. Keep in mind that not all features are currently compatible with the multiple context mode even if you install the appropriate feature license.
  • UC Phone Proxy Sessions: This value determines the maximum number of TLS proxy sessions that the UC Phone Proxy feature can use. This limit does not cover transit VoIP connections that rely on the cleartext application inspection. Keep in mind that the number of active TLS proxy sessions may exceed the number of active VoIP endpoints, depending on their high-availability configuration. Typically, this licensed session count is equivalent to the Total UC Proxy Sessions license, which has the default value of 2 on all platforms. The Cisco ASA Services Module and ASA 5585-X appliances with at least an SSP-20 limit the maximum capacity of this feature to 5000 even with the Total UC Proxy Session license for 10,000 sessions. Refer to the description of the Intercompany Media Engine license for information about raising the default configured limit of TLS proxy sessions and determining additional session limits imposed by the export restrictions.
  • Total UC Proxy Sessions: Similarly to UC Phone Proxy Sessions, this license establishes the maximum number of all connections that use TLS proxy to support Phone Proxy, Presence Federation Proxy, and Encrypted Voice Inspection features; this limit does not include TLS proxy sessions that relate to the Intercompany Media Engine or Mobility Advantage Proxy features. The default licensed capacity of this feature is 2 on all platforms; it can extend up to 10,000 sessions on a Cisco ASA Services Module or ASA 5585-X appliances with at least an SSP-20. Refer to the description of the Intercompany Media Engine license for information about raising the default configured limit of TLS proxy sessions and determining additional session limits imposed by export restrictions.
  • AnyConnect Premium Peers: This value defines the maximum number of concurrent SSL VPN, Clientless SSL VPN, and IPsec IKEv1-based remote-access VPN sessions that can terminate on a particular Cisco ASA platform. This license is a prerequisite for multiple premium features that an AnyConnect Essentials license does not support. Such premium licensed features include AnyConnect for Cisco VPN Phone and Advanced Endpoint Assessment; Cisco Secure Desktop is another example. Keep in mind that the AnyConnect Premium Peers and AnyConnect Essential licenses cannot operate concurrently; even if you install both licenses on a single Cisco ASA device, only one of them stays active at any given time. You must use the no anyconnect-essentials command to enable the AnyConnect Premium Peers license. Although this tiered limit is separate from Other VPN Peers, the total concurrent VPN session count cannot exceed the Total VPN Peers.
  • AnyConnect Essentials: This license allows the given number of SSL VPN and IPsec IKEv1-based remote-access VPN sessions to terminate on a particular Cisco ASA platform; it does not provide the ability to terminate Clientless SSL VPN connections. Refer to the description of the AnyConnect Premium Peers license for additional information on specific differences, concurrency implications, and overall limits that pertain to these related feature licenses.

Displaying License Information

Use the show version or show activation-key command to display the complete list of licensed features and capacities of a particular Cisco ASA device along with the activation information. Example 3-1 shows sample output of the show activation-key command issued on a Cisco ASA 5525-X appliance. Notice that the count of Firewall Connections does not show up as a licensed feature; check the output of the show resource usage command for some of these platform capacities. However, this sample output contains several pieces of additional information: the serial number of the appliance and the remaining active time for each feature. It also lists multiple activation keys that enable the given set of features on this particular device for the specified amount of time. These activation keys enable a straightforward mechanism for adding or removing licensed features on Cisco ASA devices.

Example 3-1 Cisco ASA License Information

ciscoasa# show activation-key
Serial Number:FCH16447Q8L

Running Permanent Activation Key: 0x380df35d 0xe451697e 0xcd509dd4 0xeea888f4


Running Timebased Activation Key: 0x493c3ecd 0xcd6458a1 0x31b5a533 0xc970a48b


Licensed features for this platform:

Maximum Physical Interfaces       : Unlimited      perpetual

Maximum VLANs                     : 200            perpetual

Inside Hosts                      : Unlimited      perpetual

Failover                          : Active/Active  perpetual

Encryption-DES                    : Enabled        perpetual

Encryption-3DES-AES               : Enabled        56 days

Security Contexts                 : 2              perpetual

GTP/GPRS                          : Disabled       perpetual

AnyConnect Premium Peers          : 2              perpetual

AnyConnect Essentials             : Disabled       perpetual

Other VPN Peers                   : 750            perpetual

Total VPN Peers                   : 750            perpetual

Shared License                    : Disabled       perpetual

AnyConnect for Mobile             : Disabled       perpetual

AnyConnect for Cisco VPN Phone    : Disabled       perpetual

Advanced Endpoint Assessment      : Enabled        56 days

UC Phone Proxy Sessions           : 2              perpetual

Total UC Proxy Sessions           : 2              perpetual

Botnet Traffic Filter             : Enabled        56 days

Intercompany Media Engine         : Disabled       perpetual

IPS Module                        : Disabled       perpetual

Cluster                           : Disabled       perpetual

This platform has an ASA5525 VPN Premium license.

The flash permanent activation key is the SAME as the running permanent key.

Active Timebased Activation Key:

0x493c3ecd 0xcd6458a1 0x31b5a533 0xc970a48b 0x05867295

Encryption-3DES-AES             : Enabled    56 days

Advanced Endpoint Assessment    : Enabled    56 days

Botnet Traffic Filter           : Enabled    56 days
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