Mastering Advanced Access Controls with Tailscale on Your Network

In our previous discussions, we've delved into the basics of setting up Tailscale and integrating it with pfSense to create a secure, private network. However, the true power of Tailscale shines when you leverage its advanced Access Control Lists (ACLs) to fine-tune user permissions and network access. This time, let's dive deeper into configuring advanced access controls to ensure that your network is not only secure but also precisely tailored to the needs of your users and services.

Understanding Tailscale ACLs

Tailscale ACLs are JSON-formatted rules that dictate who can access what within your Tailscale network. These rules can be as broad or as granular as needed, controlling access based on user groups, device tags, and even specific ports and protocols.

Key Components of Tailscale ACLs:

  • Groups: Define collections of users or devices for easier management.

  • Tags: Assign labels to devices to apply specific policies.

  • ACL Rules: Specify which groups or tags can access certain resources, such as IP addresses, ports, and protocols.

  • Default Policies: Set baseline permissions that apply when no other rules match.

Step 1: Planning Your Access Structure

Before diving into the Tailscale admin console, it's crucial to plan your access structure. Consider the following:

  • Which users need access to which resources?

  • Are there any services that should only be accessible by specific devices or user roles?

  • Do you need to restrict certain types of traffic, such as SSH or RDP?

Step 2: Defining Groups and Tags

Groups and tags are the building blocks of your ACLs. They help you organize your network entities for more straightforward rule application.

  1. Identify the users and devices that require similar access levels and group them accordingly.

  2. Create tags to represent roles, locations, or device types within your network.

Step 3: Writing ACL Rules

With your groups and tags defined, you can start writing the ACL rules.

  1. Log into the Tailscale admin console and navigate to the Access Controls section.

  2. Edit your ACLs by updating the JSON configuration. Here's an example of a rule that allows the engineering group to access the SSH port on devices tagged as dev-servers:

  "ACLs": [
      "Action": "accept",
      "Users": ["group:engineering"],
      "Ports": ["tag:dev-servers:22"]
  1. Specify as many rules as needed to cover all the necessary access patterns within your network.

Step 4: Implementing Default Policies

Default policies serve as the catch-all rules that apply when no other ACL rules match.

  1. Decide on the least-privileged access level appropriate for your network.

  2. Configure default policies to deny access by default, only allowing specific traffic as defined in your ACL rules.

Step 5: Testing and Verifying Access

After configuring your ACLs:

  1. Apply the changes in the Tailscale admin console.

  2. Test the access controls by attempting to reach the resources defined in your ACL rules from various user accounts and devices.

  3. Verify that the access patterns match your intentions and that there are no unintended permissions.

Step 6: Regularly Review and Update ACLs

Maintaining secure access controls requires ongoing attention:

  • Review your ACLs periodically to ensure they remain relevant to your changing network needs.

  • Update your ACLs as you onboard new services, users, or devices to the network.

  • Audit access logs to detect any unusual activity or access patterns that need addressing.


Advanced access controls are a cornerstone of network security, and Tailscale's ACLs offer a powerful mechanism to enforce precise access permissions within your network. By carefully planning your access structure and implementing granular ACL rules, you can create a secure environment that caters to the specific needs of your users and services.

Remember, the strength of your network security lies not only in the tools you use but also in the policies you enforce. With Tailscale's advanced access controls, you have the power to create a robust, flexible, and secure network that supports the dynamic demands of your users.

Keep experimenting, refining, and learning. Your network is a living entity, and with Tailscale's advanced access controls, you're well-equipped to keep it secure and efficient. For more tips, insights, and guides on network security and management, keep visiting