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Considerations on Application - Network Collaboration Using Path Signals

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft whose latest revision state is "Replaced".
Authors Jari Arkko , Ted Hardie , Tommy Pauly
Last updated 2021-07-12
Replaced by draft-iab-path-signals-collaboration, RFC 9419
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Network Working Group                                           J. Arkko
Internet-Draft                                                  Ericsson
Intended status: Informational                                 T. Hardie
Expires: 13 January 2022                                           Cisco
                                                                T. Pauly
                                                            M. Kühlewind
                                                            12 July 2021

Considerations on Application - Network Collaboration Using Path Signals


   Encryption and other security mechanisms are on the rise on all
   layers of the stack, protecting user data and making network
   operations more secured.  Further, encryption is also a tool to
   address ossification that has been observed on various layers of the
   stack over time.  Separation of functions into layers and enforcement
   of layer boundaries based on encryption supports selected exposure to
   those entities that are addressed by a function on a certain layer.
   A clear separation supports innovation and also enables new
   opportunities for collaborative functions.  RFC 8558 describes path
   signals as messages to or from on-path elements.  This document
   states principles for designing mechanisms that use or provide path
   signals and calls for actions on specific valuable cases.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on 13 January 2022.

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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2021 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

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   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
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   provided without warranty as described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Past Guidance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   3.  Principles  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.1.  Intentional Distribution  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     3.2.  Minimum Set of Entities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     3.3.  Consent of Parties  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     3.4.  Minimum Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     3.5.  Protecting Information and Authentication . . . . . . . .   9
   4.  Further Work  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   5.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   6.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13

1.  Introduction

   Encryption, besides its important role in security in general,
   provides a tool to control information access and protects again
   ossification by avoiding unintended dependencies and requiring active
   maintenance.  The increased deployment of encryption provides an
   opportunity to reconsider parts of Internet architecture that have
   rather used implicit derivation of input signals for on-path
   functions than explicit signaling, as recommended by RFC 8558

   RFC 8558 defines the term path signals as signals to or from on-path
   elements.  Today path signals are often implicit, e.g. derived from
   in-clear end-to-end information by e.g. examining transport
   protocols.  For instance, on-path elements use various fields of the
   TCP header [RFC0793] to derive information about end-to-end latency
   as well as congestion.  These techniques have evolved because the
   information was simply available and use of this information is

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   easier and therefore also cheaper than any explicit and potentially
   complex cooperative approach.

   As such, applications and networks have evolved their interaction
   without comprehensive design for how this interaction should happen
   or which information would be desired for a certain function.  This
   has lead to a situation where sometimes information is used that
   maybe incomplete or incorrect or often indirectly only derives the
   information that was actually desired.  Further, dependencies on
   information and mechanisms that were designed for a different
   function limits the evolvability of the original intends.

   This kind of interaction ends up having several negative effects:

   *  Ossifying protocols by introducing unintended parties that may not
      be updating

   *  Creating systemic incentives against deploying more secure or
      private versions of protocols

   *  Basing network behaviour on information that may be incomplete or

   *  Creating a model where network entities expect to be able to use
      rich information about sessions passing through

   For instance, features such as DNS resolution or TLS setup have been
   used beyond their original intent, such as name filtering, MAC
   addresses used for access control, captive portal implementations
   that employ taking over cleartext HTTP sessions, and so on.

   Increased deployment of encryption can and will change this
   situation.  E.g.  QUIC replaces TCP for various application and
   protects all end-to-end signals to only be accessible by the
   endpoint, ensuring evolvability [RFC9000].  QUIC does expose
   information dedicated for on-path elements to consume by design
   explicit signal for specific use cases, such as the Spin bit for
   latency measurements or connection ID that can be used by load
   balancers [I-D.ietf-quic-manageability] but information is limited to
   only those use cases.  Each new use cases requires additional action.

   Such explicit signals that are specifically designed for the use of
   on-path function, while all other information is appropriately
   protected, enables an architecturally clean approach with the aims to
   use and manage the existing network infrastructure most efficiently
   as well as improve the quality of experience for those this
   technology is build for - the user.

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   This draft discusses different approaches for explicit collaboration
   and provides guidance on architectural principles to design new
   mechanisms.  Section 2 discusses past guidance, Section 3 principles
   that good design can follow, along with some examples as well
   explanation of situations that not following these principles can
   lead to.  Section 4 points to topics that need more to be looked at
   more carefully before any guidance can be given.

2.  Past Guidance

   Incentives are a well understood problem in general but perhaps not
   fully internalised for various designs attempting to establish
   collaboration between applications and path elements.  The principle
   is that both receiver and sender of information must acquire tangible
   and immediate benefits from the communication, such as improved

   A related issue is understanding whether a business model or
   ecosystem change is needed.  Some designs may work well without any
   monetary or payment or cross-administrative domains agreements.  For
   instance, I could ask my packets to be prioritised relative to each
   other and that shouldn't affect anything else.  Some other designs
   may require a matching business ecosystem change to support what is
   being proposed, and may be much harder to achieve.  For instance,
   requesting prioritisation over other people's traffic may imply that
   you have to pay for that which may not be easy even for a single
   provider let alone across many.

   But on to more technical aspects.

   The main guidance in [RFC8558] is to be aware that implicit signals
   will be used whether intended or not.  Protocol designers should
   consider either hiding these signals when the information should not
   be visible, or using explicit signals when it should be.

   [I-D.irtf-panrg-what-not-to-do] discusses many past failure cases, a
   catalogue of past issues to avoid.  It also provides relevant
   guidelines for new work, from discussion of incentives to more
   specific observations, such as the need for outperforming end-to-end
   mechanisms (Section 4.4), considering the need for per-connection
   state (Section 4.6), taking into account the latency involved in
   reacting to distant signals, and so on.

   There are also more general guidance documents, e.g., [RFC5218]
   discusses protocol successes and failures, and provides general
   advice on incremental deployability etc.  Internet Technology
   Adoption and Transition (ITAT) workshop report [RFC7305] is also
   recommended reading on this same general topic.  And [RFC6709]

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   discusses protocol extensibility, and provides general advice on the
   importance of global interoperability and so on.

3.  Principles

   This section attempts to provide some architecture-level principles
   that would help future designers and recommend useful models to

   A large number of our protocol mechanisms today fall into one of two
   categories: authenticated and private communication that is only
   visible by the end-to-end nodes; and unauthenticated public
   communication that is visible to all nodes on a path.  RFC 8558
   explores the line between data that is protected and path signals.

   There is a danger in taking a position that is too extreme towards
   either exposing all information to the path, or hiding all
   information from the path.  Exposed information encourages pervasive
   monitoring, which is described in RFC 7258 [RFC7258].

   But a lack of all path signaling, on the other hand, may be harmful
   to network management, debugging, or the ability for networks to
   provide the most efficient services.  There are many cases where
   elements on the network path can provide beneficial services, but
   only if they can coordinate with the endpoints.  This tradeoff
   between privacy and network functions has in some cases led to an
   adversarial stance between privacy and the ability for the network
   path to provide intended functions.  It also affects the ability of
   service providers and others observe why problems occur

   One way to resolve this conflict is to add more explicit trust and
   coordination between endpoints and network devices.  VPNs are a good
   example of a case where there is an explicit authentication and
   negotiation with a network path element that's used to optimize
   behavior or gain access to specific resources.

   The goal of improving privacy and trust on the Internet does not
   necessarily need to remove the ability for network elements to
   perform beneficial functions.  We should instead improve the way that
   these functions are achieved.  Our goals should be:

   *  To ensure that information is distributed intentionally, not

   *  to understand the privacy and other implications of any
      distributed information; and

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   *  to gate the distribution of information on the consent of the
      relevant parties

   These goals for distribution apply equally to senders, receivers, and
   path elements.

   We can establish some basic questions that any new network path
   functions should consider:

   *  What is the minimum set of entities that need to be involved?

   *  What is the minimum information each entity in this set needs?

   *  Which entities must consent to the information exchange?

   If we look at many of the ways network path functions are achieved
   today, we find that many if not most of them fall short the standard
   set up by the questions above.  Too often, they rely on information
   being sent without limiting the scope of distribution or providing
   any negotiation or consent.

   Going forward, new standards work in the IETF needs to focus on
   addressing this gap by providing better alternatives and mechanisms
   for providing path functions.  Note that not all of these functions
   can be achieved in a way that preserves a high level of user privacy
   from the network; in such cases, it is incumbent upon us to not
   ignore the use case, but instead to define the high bar for consent
   and trust, and thus define a limited applicability for those

3.1.  Intentional Distribution

   This guideline is best expressed in RFC 8558:

   "Fundamentally, this document recommends that implicit signals should
   be avoided and that an implicit signal should be replaced with an
   explicit signal only when the signal's originator intends that it be
   used by the network elements on the path.  For many flows, this may
   result in the signal being absent but allows it to be present when

   Intentional distribution applies to other informal flow directions as
   well.  For instance, a network element should not unintentionally
   leak information that is visible to endpoints.  An explicit decision
   is needed for a specific information to be provided, along with
   analysis of the security and privacy implications of that

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3.2.  Minimum Set of Entities

   It is recommended that a design identify the minimum number of
   entities needed to share a specific signal required for an identified
   function.  In some cases this will be a very limited set, e.g. when
   the application needs to provide a signal to a specific gateway
   function.  In other cases, such as congestion control, a signal might
   be shared with every router along the path, since each should be
   aware of the congestion.

3.3.  Consent of Parties

   Consent and trust must determine the distribution of information.
   The set of entities that need to consent is determined by the scope
   and specificity of the information being shared.

   Three distinct types of consent are recommended for collaboration or
   information sharing:

   *  A corollary of the intentional distribution is that the sender
      needs to agree to sending the information.  Or that the requester
      for an action needs to agree to make a request; it should not be
      an implicit decision by the receiver that information was sent or
      a request was made, just because a packet happened to be formed in
      a particular way.

   *  At the same time, the recipient of information or the target of a
      request should agree to wishing to receive the information.  It
      should not be burdened with extra processing if it does not have
      willigness or a need to do so.  This happens naturally in most
      protocol designs, but has been a problem for some cases where
      "slow path" packet processing is required or implied, and the
      recipient or router did not have willingness for this.

   *  Internet communications are not made for the applications, they
      are ultimately made on behalf of users.  Information relating to
      the users is something that both networks and applications should
      be careful with, and not be shared without the user's consent.
      This is not always easy, as the interests of the user and (for
      instance) application developer may not always be inline; some
      applications may wish to collect more information about the user
      than the user would like.

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3.4.  Minimum Information

   Parties should provide only the information that is needed for the
   other party to perform the collaboration task that is desired by this
   party, and not more.  This applies to information sent by an
   application about itself, information sent about users, or
   information sent by the network.

   An architecture can follow the guideline from RFC 8558 in using
   explicit signals, but still fail to differentiate properly between
   information that should be kept private and information that should
   be shared.

   In looking at what information can or cannot easily be passed, we can
   look at both information from the network to the application, and
   from the application to the network.

   For the application to the network direction, user-identifying
   information can be problematic for privacy and tracking reasons.
   Similarly, application identity can be problematic, if it might form
   the basis for prioritization or discrimination that the that
   application provider may not wish to happen.  It may also have
   undesirable economic consequences, such as extra charges for the
   consumer from a priority service where a regular service would have

   On the other hand, as noted above, information about general classes
   of applications may be desirable to be given by application
   providers, if it enables prioritization that would improve service,
   e.g., differentiation between interactive and non-interactive

   For the network to application direction there is similarly sensitive
   information, such as the precise location of the user.  On the other
   hand, various generic network conditions, predictive bandwidth and
   latency capabilities, and so on might be attractive information that
   applications can use to determine, for instance, optimal strategies
   for changing codecs.  However, information given by the network about
   load conditions and so on should not form a mechanism to provide a
   side-channel into what other users are doing.

   While information needs to be specific and provided on a per-need
   basis, it is often beneficial to provide declarative information
   that, for instance, expresses application needs than makes specific
   requests for action.

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3.5.  Protecting Information and Authentication

   Some simple forms of information often exist in cleartext form, e.g,
   ECN bits from routers are generally not authenticated or integrity
   protected.  This is possible when the information exchanges are
   advisory in their nature, and do not carry any significantly
   sensitive information from the parties.

   In other cases it may be necessary to establish a secure channel for
   communication with a specific other party, e.g., between a network
   element and an application.  This channel may need to be
   authenticated, integrity protected and encrypted.  This is necessary,
   for instance, if the particular information or request needs to be
   share in confidency only with a particular, trusted node, or there's
   a danger of an attack where someone else may forge messages that
   could endanger the communication.

   However, it is important to note that authentication does not equal
   trust.  Whether a communication is with an application server or
   network element that can be shown to be associated with a particular
   domain name, it does not follow that information about the user can
   be safely sent to it.

   In some cases, the ability of a party to show that it is on the path
   can be beneficial.  For instance, an ICMP error that refers to a
   valid flow may be more trustworthy than any ICMP error claiming to
   come from an address.

   Other cases may require more substantial assurances.  For instance, a
   specific trust arrangement may be established between a particular
   network and application.  Or technologies such as confidential
   computing can be applied to provide an assurance that information
   processed by a party is handled in an appropriate manner.

4.  Further Work

   This is a developing field, and it is expected that our understanding
   continues to grow.  The recent changes with regards to much higher
   use of encryption at different protocol layers, the consolidation or
   more and more traffic to the same destinations, and so on have also
   greatly impacted the field.

   While there are some examples of modern, well-designed collaboration
   mechanisms, clearly more work is needed.  Many complex cases would
   require significant developments in order to become feasible.

   Some of the most difficult areas are listed below.  Research on these
   topics would be welcome.

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   *  Business arrangements.  Many designs - for instance those related
      to quality-of-service - involve an expectation of paying for a
      service.  This is possible and has been successful within
      individual domains, e.g., users can pay for higher data rates or
      data caps in their ISP networks.  However, it is a business-wise
      much harder proposition for end-to-end connections across multiple
      administrative domains [Claffy2015]

   *  Secure communications with path elements.  This has been a
      difficult topic, both from the mechanics and scalability point
      view, but also because there is no easy way to find out which
      parties to trust or what trust roots would be appropriate.  Some
      application-network element interaction designs have focused on
      information (such as ECN bits) that is distributed openly within a
      path, but there are limited examples of designs with secure
      information exchange with specific nodes.

   *  The use of path signals for reducing the effects of denial-of-
      service attacks, e.g., in the form of modern "source quench"

   *  Ways of protecting information when held by network elements or
      servers, beyond communications security.  For instance, host
      applications commonly share sensitive information about the user's
      actions with other nodes, starting from basic data such as domain
      names learned by DNS infrastructure or source and destination
      addresses and protocol header information learned by all routers
      on the path, to detailed end user identity and other information
      learned by the servers.  Some solutions are starting to exist for
      this but are not widely deployed, at least not today [Oblivious]
      [PDoT] [I-D.arkko-dns-confidential] [I-D.thomson-http-oblivious].
      These solutions address also very specific parts of the issue, and
      more work remains.

   *  Sharing information from networks to applications.  Some proposals
      have been made in this space (see, e.g.,
      [I-D.flinck-mobile-throughput-guidance]) but there are no
      successful or deployed mechanisms today.

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5.  Acknowledgments

   The authors would like to thank everyone at the IETF, the IAB, and
   our day jobs for interesting thoughts and proposals in this space.
   Fragments of this document were also in
   [I-D.per-app-networking-considerations] and
   [I-D.arkko-path-signals-information] that were published earlier.  We
   would also like to acknowledge [I-D.trammell-stackevo-explicit-coop]
   for presenting similar thoughts.

6.  Informative References

              kc Claffy, . and D. Clark, "Adding Enhanced Services to
              the Internet: Lessons from History", TPRC 43: The 43rd
              Research Conference on Communication, Information and
              Internet Policy Paper , April 2015.

              Arkko, J. and J. Novotny, "Privacy Improvements for DNS
              Resolution with Confidential Computing", Work in Progress,
              Internet-Draft, draft-arkko-dns-confidential-02, 2 July
              2021, <

              Arkko, J., "Considerations on Information Passed between
              Networks and Applications", Work in Progress, Internet-
              Draft, draft-arkko-path-signals-information-00, 22
              February 2021, <

              Jain, A., Terzis, A., Flinck, H., Sprecher, N.,
              Arunachalam, S., Smith, K., Devarapalli, V., and R. B.
              Yanai, "Mobile Throughput Guidance Inband Signaling
              Protocol", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-flinck-
              mobile-throughput-guidance-04, 13 March 2017,

              Arkko, J., Farrell, S., Kühlewind, M., and C. Perkins,
              "Report from the IAB COVID-19 Network Impacts Workshop
              2020", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-iab-
              covid19-workshop-03, 5 May 2021,

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              Kuehlewind, M. and B. Trammell, "Manageability of the QUIC
              Transport Protocol", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft,
              draft-ietf-quic-manageability-12, 30 June 2021,

              Dawkins, S., "Path Aware Networking: Obstacles to
              Deployment (A Bestiary of Roads Not Taken)", Work in
              Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-irtf-panrg-what-not-to-do-
              19, 26 March 2021, <

              Colitti, L. and T. Pauly, "Per-Application Networking
              Considerations", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-
              per-app-networking-considerations-00, 15 November 2020,

              Thomson, M. and C. A. Wood, "Oblivious HTTP", Work in
              Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-thomson-http-oblivious-01,
              21 February 2021, <

              Trammell, B., "Architectural Considerations for Transport
              Evolution with Explicit Path Cooperation", Work in
              Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-trammell-stackevo-
              explicit-coop-00, 23 September 2015,

              Schmitt, P., "Oblivious DNS: Practical privacy for DNS
              queries", Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies
              2019.2: 228-244 , 2019.

   [PDoT]     Nakatsuka, Y., Paverd, A., and G. Tsudik, "PDoT: Private
              DNS-over-TLS with TEE Support", Digit. Threat.: Res.
              Pract., Vol. 2, No. 1, Article 3,
     , February

   [RFC0793]  Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7,

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              RFC 793, DOI 10.17487/RFC0793, September 1981,

   [RFC5218]  Thaler, D. and B. Aboba, "What Makes for a Successful
              Protocol?", RFC 5218, DOI 10.17487/RFC5218, July 2008,

   [RFC6709]  Carpenter, B., Aboba, B., Ed., and S. Cheshire, "Design
              Considerations for Protocol Extensions", RFC 6709,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC6709, September 2012,

   [RFC7258]  Farrell, S. and H. Tschofenig, "Pervasive Monitoring Is an
              Attack", BCP 188, RFC 7258, DOI 10.17487/RFC7258, May
              2014, <>.

   [RFC7305]  Lear, E., Ed., "Report from the IAB Workshop on Internet
              Technology Adoption and Transition (ITAT)", RFC 7305,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC7305, July 2014,

   [RFC8558]  Hardie, T., Ed., "Transport Protocol Path Signals",
              RFC 8558, DOI 10.17487/RFC8558, April 2019,

   [RFC9000]  Iyengar, J., Ed. and M. Thomson, Ed., "QUIC: A UDP-Based
              Multiplexed and Secure Transport", RFC 9000,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC9000, May 2021,

Authors' Addresses

   Jari Arkko


   Ted Hardie


   Tommy Pauly


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   Mirja Kühlewind


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