Caveats and Gotchas¶
While the configuration XML file kept by pfSense® software includes all of the settings, it does not include any changes that may have been made to the system by hand, such as manual modifications of source code. Additionally some packages require extra backup methods for their data.
The configuration file may contain sensitive information such as VPN keys or certificates, and passwords (other than the admin password) in plain text in some cases. Some passwords must be available in plain text during run time, making secure hashing of those passwords impossible. Any obfuscation would be trivial to reverse for anyone with access to the source code i.e. everyone. A conscious design decision was made in m0n0wall, and continued in pfSense, to leave those passwords in clear to make it exceedingly clear that the file contains sensitive content and must be protected as such. Hence backup copies of these files must also be protected in some way. If they are stored on removable media, take care with physical security of that media and/or encrypt the drive.
If the WebGUI must be used over the WAN without a VPN connection, at least use HTTPS. Otherwise, a backup is transmitted in the clear, including any sensitive information inside that backup file. We strongly recommend using a trusted network or encrypted connection.