Skip to main content

Host Threats to Protocol Independent Multicast (PIM)

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 5294.
Authors James Lingard , Pekka Savola
Last updated 2015-10-14 (Latest revision 2008-05-08)
Replaces draft-savola-pim-lasthop-threats
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Informational
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state Became RFC 5294 (Informational)
Action Holders
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD David Ward
Send notices to (None)
PIM WG                                                         P. Savola
Internet-Draft                                                 CSC/FUNET
Intended status: Informational                                J. Lingard
Expires: November 9, 2008                                        Arastra
                                                             May 8, 2008

          Host Threats to Protocol Independent Multicast (PIM)

Status of this Memo

   By submitting this Internet-Draft, each author represents that any
   applicable patent or other IPR claims of which he or she is aware
   have been or will be disclosed, and any of which he or she becomes
   aware will be disclosed, in accordance with Section 6 of BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups.  Note that
   other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-

   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."

   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

   The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at

   This Internet-Draft will expire on November 9, 2008.


   This memo complements the list of multicast infrastructure security
   threat analysis documents by describing Protocol Independent
   Multicast (PIM) threats specific to router interfaces connecting

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 1]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Host-interface PIM Vulnerabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
     2.1.  Nodes May Send Illegitimate PIM Register Messages  . . . .  4
     2.2.  Nodes May Become Illegitimate PIM Neighbors  . . . . . . .  4
     2.3.  Routers May Accept PIM Messages From Non-Neighbors . . . .  4
     2.4.  An Illegitimate Node May Be Elected as the PIM DR or DF  .  4
       2.4.1.  PIM-SM Designated Router Election  . . . . . . . . . .  4
       2.4.2.  BIDIR-PIM Designated Forwarder Election  . . . . . . .  4
     2.5.  A Node May Become an Illegitimate PIM Asserted
           Forwarder  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
     2.6.  BIDIR-PIM Does Not Use RPF Check . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   3.  On-link Threats  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.1.  Denial-of-Service Attack on the Link . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.2.  Denial-of-Service Attack on the Outside  . . . . . . . . .  6
     3.3.  Confidentiality, Integrity or Authorization Violations . .  7
   4.  Mitigation Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     4.1.  Passive Mode for PIM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     4.2.  Use of IPsec among PIM Routers . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     4.3.  IP Filtering PIM Messages  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     4.4.  Summary of Vulnerabilities and Mitigation Methods  . . . .  9
   5.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   6.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   7.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   8.  References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
     8.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
     8.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . . . 13

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 2]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

1.  Introduction

   There has been some analysis of the security threats to the multicast
   routing infrastructures [RFC4609], some work on implementing
   confidentiality, integrity and authorization in the multicast payload
   [RFC3740], and also some analysis of security threats in IGMP/MLD
   [I-D.daley-magma-smld-prob], but no comprehensive analysis of
   security threats to PIM at the host-connecting (typically "Local Area
   Network") links.

   We define these PIM host threats to include:

   o  Nodes using PIM to attack or deny service to hosts on the same

   o  Nodes using PIM to attack or deny service to valid multicast
      routers on the link, or

   o  Nodes using PIM (Register messages) to bypass the controls of
      multicast routers on the link.

   The attacking node is typically a host or a host acting as an
   illegitimate router.

   A node originating multicast data can disturb existing receivers of
   the group on the same link, but this issue is not PIM-specific so it
   is out of scope.  Subverting legitimate routers is out of scope.
   Security implications on multicast routing infrastructure are
   described in [RFC4609].

   This document analyzes the PIM host-interface vulnerabilities,
   formulates a few specific threats, proposes some potential ways to
   mitigate these problems and analyzes how well those methods
   accomplish fixing the issues.

   It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the basic concepts of

2.  Host-interface PIM Vulnerabilities

   This section describes briefly the main attacks against host-
   interface PIM signalling, before we get to the actual threats and
   mitigation methods in the next sections.

   The attacking node may be either a malicious host or an illegitimate

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 3]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

2.1.  Nodes May Send Illegitimate PIM Register Messages

   PIM Register messages are sent unicast, and contain encapsulated
   multicast data packets.  Malicious hosts or routers could also send
   Register messages themselves, for example to get around rate-limits
   or to interfere with foreign Rendezvous Points (RPs) as described in

   The Register message can be targeted to any IP address, whether in or
   out of the local PIM domain.  The source address may be spoofed
   unless spoofing has been prevented [RFC3704], to create arbitrary
   state at the RPs.

2.2.  Nodes May Become Illegitimate PIM Neighbors

   When PIM has been enabled on a router's host interface, any node can
   also become a PIM neighbor using PIM Hello messages.  Having become a
   PIM neighbor in this way, the node is able to send other PIM messages
   to the router and may use those messages to attack the router.

2.3.  Routers May Accept PIM Messages From Non-Neighbors

   The PIM-SM specification recommends that PIM messages other than
   Hellos should not be accepted except from valid PIM neighbors.
   BIDIR-PIM [RFC5015] specification (Section 5.2) specifies that
   packets from non-neighbors "SHOULD NOT" be accepted.  However, the
   specification does not mandate this, and so some implementations may
   be susceptible to attack from PIM messages sent by non-neighbors.

2.4.  An Illegitimate Node May Be Elected as the PIM DR or DF

2.4.1.  PIM-SM Designated Router Election

   In PIM-SM, the Designated Router (DR) on a Local Area Network (LAN)
   is responsible for Register-encapsulating data from new sources on
   the LAN, and for generating PIM Join/Prune messages on behalf of
   group members on the LAN.

   A node which can become a PIM neighbor can also cause itself to be
   elected DR, whether or not the DR Priority option is being used in
   PIM Hello messages on the LAN.

2.4.2.  BIDIR-PIM Designated Forwarder Election

   In BIDIR-PIM [RFC5015] a Designated Forwarder (DF) is elected per
   link.  The DF is responsible for forwarding data downstream onto the
   link, and also for forwarding data from its link upstream.

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 4]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

   A node which can become a BIDIR-PIM neighbor (this is just like
   becoming a PIM neighbor, except that the PIM Hello messages must
   include the Bidirectional Capable PIM-Hello option) can cause itself
   to be elected DF by sending DF Offer messages with a better metric
   than its neighbors.

   There are also some other BIDIR-PIM attacks related to DF election,
   including spoofing DF Offer and DF Winner messages (e.g., using a
   legitimate router's IP address), making all but the impersonated
   router believe that router is the DF.  Also an attacker might prevent
   the DF election from converging by sending an infinite sequence of DF
   Offer messages.

   For further discussion of BIDIR-PIM threats we refer to the security
   considerations section in [RFC5015].

2.5.  A Node May Become an Illegitimate PIM Asserted Forwarder

   With a PIM Assert message, a router can be elected to be in charge of
   forwarding all traffic for a particular (S,G) or (*,G) onto the LAN.
   This overrides DR behaviour.

   The specification says that Assert messages should only be accepted
   from known PIM neighbors, and "SHOULD" be discarded otherwise.  So,
   either the node must be able to spoof an IP address of a current
   neighbor, form a PIM adjacency first, or count on these checks being

   The Assert Timer, by default, is 3 minutes; the state must be
   refreshed or it will be removed automatically.

   As noted before, it is also possible to spoof an Assert (e.g., using
   a legitimate router's IP address) to cause a temporary disruption on
   the LAN.

2.6.  BIDIR-PIM Does Not Use RPF Check

   PIM protocols do not perform RPF check on the shared tree (e.g., in
   PIM-SM from the RP to local receivers).  On the other hand, RPF check
   is performed e.g., on stub host interfaces.  Because all forwarding
   in BIDIR-PIM is based on the shared tree principle, it does not use
   RPF check to verify that the forwarded packets are being received
   from a "topologically correct" direction.  This has two immediately
   obvious implications:

   1.  A node may maintain a forwarding loop until the TTL runs out by
       passing packets from interface A to B. This is not believed to
       cause significant new risk as with a similar ease such a node

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 5]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

       could generate original packets which would loop back to its
       another interface.

   2.  A node may spoof source IP addresses in multicast packets it
       sends.  Other PIM protocols drop such packets when performing the
       RPF check.  BIDIR-PIM accepts such packets allowing easier DoS
       attacks on the multicast delivery tree and making the attacker
       less traceable.

3.  On-link Threats

   The previous section described some PIM vulnerabilities; this section
   gives an overview of the more concrete threats exploiting those

3.1.  Denial-of-Service Attack on the Link

   The easiest attack is to deny the multicast service on the link.
   This could mean either not forwarding all (or parts of) multicast
   traffic from upstream onto the link, or not registering or forwarding
   upstream the multicast transmissions originated on the link.

   These attacks can be done multiple ways: the most typical one would
   be becoming the DR through becoming a neighbor with Hello messages
   and winning the DR election.  After that, one could for example:

   o  Not send any PIM Join/Prune messages based on the IGMP reports, or

   o  Not forward or register any sourced packets.

   Sending PIM Prune messages may also be an effective attack vector
   even if the attacking node is not elected DR, since PIM Prune
   messages are accepted from downstream interfaces even if the router
   is not a DR.

   An alternative mechanism is to send a PIM Assert message, spoofed to
   come from a valid PIM neighbor or non-spoofed if a PIM adjacency has
   already been formed.  For the particular (S,G) or (*,G) from the
   Assert message, this creates the same result as getting elected as a
   DR.  With BIDIR-PIM similar attacks can be done by becoming the DF or
   by preventing the DF election from converging.

3.2.  Denial-of-Service Attack on the Outside

   It is also possible to perform Denial-of-Service attacks on nodes
   beyond the link, especially in environments where a multicast router
   and/or a DR is considered to be a trusted node.

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 6]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

   In particular, if DRs perform some form of rate-limiting, for example
   on new Join/Prune messages, becoming a DR and sending those messages
   yourself allows one to subvert these restrictions: therefore rate-
   limiting functions need to be deployed at multiple layers as
   described in [RFC4609].

   In addition, any host can send PIM Register messages on their own, to
   whichever RP it wants; further, if unicast RPF (Reverse Path
   Forwarding) mechanisms [RFC3704] have not been applied, the packet
   may be spoofed.  This can be done to get around rate-limits, and/or
   to attack remote RPs and/or to interfere with the integrity of an ASM
   group.  This attack is also described in [RFC4609].

   Also, BIDIR-PIM does not prevent nodes from using topologically
   incorrect addresses (source address spoofing) making such an attack
   more difficulty to trace.

3.3.  Confidentiality, Integrity or Authorization Violations

   Contrary to unicast, any node is able to legitimately receive all
   multicast transmission on the link by just adjusting the appropriate
   link-layer multicast filters.  Confidentiality (if needed) must be
   obtained by cryptography.

   If a node can become a DR, it is able to violate the integrity of any
   data streams sent by sources on the LAN, by modifying (possibly in
   subtle, unnoticeable ways) the packets sent by the sources before
   Register-encapsulating them.

   If a node can form a PIM neighbor adjacency or spoof the IP address
   of a current neighbor, then if it has external connectivity by some
   other means other than the LAN, the node is able to violate the
   integrity of any data streams sent by external sources onto the LAN.
   It would do this by sending an appropriate Assert message onto the
   LAN to prevent the genuine PIM routers forwarding the valid data,
   obtaining the multicast traffic via its other connection, and
   modifying those data packets before forwarding them onto the LAN.

   In either of the above two cases, the node could operate as normal
   for some traffic, while violating integrity for some other traffic.

   A more elaborate attack is on authorization.  There are some very
   questionable models [I-D.hayashi-igap] where the current multicast
   architecture is used to provide paid multicast service, and where the
   authorization/authentication is added to the group management
   protocols such as IGMP.  Needless to say, if a host would be able to
   act as a router, it might be possible to perform all kinds of
   attacks: subscribe to multicast service without using IGMP (i.e.,

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 7]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

   without having to pay for it), deny the service for the others on the
   same link, etc.  In short, to be able to ensure authorization, a
   better architecture should be used instead (e.g., [RFC3740]).

4.  Mitigation Methods

   This section lists some ways to mitigate the vulnerabilities and
   threats listed in previous sections.

4.1.  Passive Mode for PIM

   The current PIM specification seems to mandate running the PIM Hello
   protocol on all PIM-enabled interfaces.  Most implementations require
   PIM to be enabled on an interface in order to send PIM Register
   messages for data sent by sources on that interface or to do any
   other PIM processing.

   As described in [RFC4609], running full PIM, with Hello messages and
   all, is unnecessary for those stub networks for which only one router
   is providing multicast service.  Therefore such implementations
   should provide an option to specify that the interface is "passive"
   with regard to PIM: no PIM packets are sent or processed (if
   received), but hosts can still send and receive multicast on that

4.2.  Use of IPsec among PIM Routers

   Instead of passive mode, or when multiple PIM routers exist on a
   single link, one could also use IPsec to secure the PIM messaging, to
   prevent anyone from subverting it.  The actual procedures have been
   described in [RFC4601] and [I-D.ietf-pim-sm-linklocal].

   However, it is worth noting that setting up IPsec Security
   Associations (SAs) manually can be a very tedious process, and the
   routers might not even support IPsec; further automatic key
   negotiation may not be feasible in these scenarios either.  A Group
   Domain of Interpretation (GDOI) [RFC3547] server might be able to
   mitigate this negotiation.

4.3.  IP Filtering PIM Messages

   To eliminate both the unicast and multicast PIM messages, in similar
   scenarios to those for which PIM passive mode is applicable, it might
   be possible to block IP protocol 103 (all PIM messages) in an input
   access-list.  This is more effective than PIM passive mode, as this
   also blocks Register messages.

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 8]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

   This is also acceptable when there is more than one PIM router on the
   link if IPsec is used (because the access-list processing sees the
   valid PIM messages as IPsec AH/ESP packets).  However, this presumes
   that the link is not used to transit unicast packets between the PIM
   routers, or that the Register messages are also being sent with

   When multiple routers exist on a link, IPsec is not required if it is
   possible to prevent hosts from sending PIM messages at Ethernet
   switch (or equivalent) host ports.  This could be accomplished in at
   least two ways:

   1.  Use IP access lists on the stub routers to allow PIM messages
       from the valid neighbor IP addresses only, and implement IP
       spoofing prevention at Ethernet switch port level using
       proprietary mechanisms, or

   2.  Filter out all PIM messages at configured host ports on Ethernet
       switches instead of doing it on the routers.

   The main benefit of this approach is that multiple stub routers can
   still communicate through the LAN without IPsec but hosts are not
   able to disturb the PIM protocol.  The drawback is that Ethernet
   switches need to implement much finer-grained IP layer filtering and
   the operational requirements of carefully maintaining these filters
   could be significant.

4.4.  Summary of Vulnerabilities and Mitigation Methods

   This section summarizes the vulnerabilities, and how well the
   mitigation methods are able to cope with them.

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008                [Page 9]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

   Summary of vulnerabilities and mitigations:

     | Sec | Vulnerability       | One stub router | >1 stub routers |
     |     |                     | PASV|IPsec|Filt | PASV|IPsec|Filt |
     | 2.1 | Hosts Registering   |  N  | N+  |  Y  |  N  | N+  | Ysw |
     | 2.2 | Invalid Neighbor    |  Y  |  Y  |  Y  |  *  |  Y  | Ysw |
     | 2.3 | Adjacency Not Reqd  |  Y  |  Y  |  Y  |  *  |  Y  | Ysw |
     | 2.4 | Invalid DR /DF      |  Y  |  Y  |  Y  |  *  |  Y  | Ysw |
     | 2.5 | Invalid Forwarder   |  Y  |  Y  |  Y  |  *  |  Y  | Ysw |
     | 2.6 | No RPF Check (BIDIR)|  x  |  x  |  x  |  x  |  x  |  x  |

                                 Figure 1

   "*" means Yes if IPsec is used in addition; No otherwise

   "Ysw" means Yes if IPsec is used in addition or IP filtering is done
   on Ethernet switches on all host ports; No otherwise.

   "N+" means that the use of IPsec between the on-link routers does not
   protect from this; IPsec would have to be used at RPs.

   "x" means that with BIDIR-PIM, IP access lists or RPF mechanisms need
   to be applied in stub interfaces to prevent originating packets with
   topologically incorrect source addresses.  This needs to be done in
   addition to any other chosen approach.

   To summarize, IP protocol filtering for all PIM messages appears to
   be the most complete solution when coupled with the use of IPsec
   between the real stub routers when there are more than one of them.
   However, IPsec is not required if PIM message filtering or certain
   kind of IP spoofing prevention is applied on all the host ports on
   Ethernet switches.  If hosts performing registering is not considered
   a serious problem, IP protocol filtering and passive-mode PIM seem to
   be equivalent approaches.  Additionally if BIDIR-PIM is used, ingress
   filtering will need to be applied in stub interfaces to multicast
   packets as well as unicast to prevent hosts using wrong source

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008               [Page 10]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

5.  Acknowledgements

   Greg Daley and Gopi Durup wrote an excellent analysis of MLD security
   issues [I-D.daley-magma-smld-prob], which gave inspiration in
   exploring the on-link PIM threats problem space.

   Ayan Roy-Chowdhury, Beau Williamson, Bharat Joshi, Dino Farinacci,
   John Zwiebel, Stig Venaas, Yiqun Cai, and Eric Gray provided good
   feedback for this memo.

6.  IANA Considerations

   This memo includes no request to IANA.

7.  Security Considerations

   This memo analyzes the threats to the PIM multicast routing protocol
   on host interfaces and proposes some possible mitigation techniques.

8.  References

8.1.  Normative References

   [RFC4601]  Fenner, B., Handley, M., Holbrook, H., and I. Kouvelas,
              "Protocol Independent Multicast - Sparse Mode (PIM-SM):
              Protocol Specification (Revised)", RFC 4601, August 2006.

   [RFC4609]  Savola, P., Lehtonen, R., and D. Meyer, "Protocol
              Independent Multicast - Sparse Mode (PIM-SM) Multicast
              Routing Security Issues and Enhancements", RFC 4609,
              October 2006.

   [RFC5015]  Handley, M., Kouvelas, I., Speakman, T., and L. Vicisano,
              "Bidirectional Protocol Independent Multicast (BIDIR-
              PIM)", RFC 5015, October 2007.

8.2.  Informative References

              Daley, G. and G. Kurup, "Trust Models and Security in
              Multicast Listener Discovery",
              draft-daley-magma-smld-prob-00 (work in progress),
              July 2004.


Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008               [Page 11]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

              Hayashi, T., "Internet Group membership Authentication
              Protocol (IGAP)", draft-hayashi-igap-03 (work in
              progress), August 2003.

              Atwood, J., Islam, S., and M. Siami, "Authentication and
              Confidentiality in PIM-SM Link-local Messages",
              draft-ietf-pim-sm-linklocal-03 (work in progress),
              February 2008.

   [RFC3547]  Baugher, M., Weis, B., Hardjono, T., and H. Harney, "The
              Group Domain of Interpretation", RFC 3547, July 2003.

   [RFC3704]  Baker, F. and P. Savola, "Ingress Filtering for Multihomed
              Networks", BCP 84, RFC 3704, March 2004.

   [RFC3740]  Hardjono, T. and B. Weis, "The Multicast Group Security
              Architecture", RFC 3740, March 2004.

Authors' Addresses

   Pekka Savola
   CSC - Scientific Computing Ltd.


   James Lingard
   Arastra, Inc.
   P.O. Box 10905
   Palo Alto, CA  94303


Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008               [Page 12]
Internet-Draft             Host Threats to PIM                  May 2008

Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The IETF Trust (2008).

   This document is subject to the rights, licenses and restrictions
   contained in BCP 78, and except as set forth therein, the authors
   retain all their rights.

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Intellectual Property

   The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
   Intellectual Property Rights or other rights that might be claimed to
   pertain to the implementation or use of the technology described in
   this document or the extent to which any license under such rights
   might or might not be available; nor does it represent that it has
   made any independent effort to identify any such rights.  Information
   on the procedures with respect to rights in RFC documents can be
   found in BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Copies of IPR disclosures made to the IETF Secretariat and any
   assurances of licenses to be made available, or the result of an
   attempt made to obtain a general license or permission for the use of
   such proprietary rights by implementers or users of this
   specification can be obtained from the IETF on-line IPR repository at

   The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention any
   copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other proprietary
   rights that may cover technology that may be required to implement
   this standard.  Please address the information to the IETF at

Savola & Lingard        Expires November 9, 2008               [Page 13]