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Close encounters of the ICMP type 2 kind (near misses with ICMPv6 PTB)

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 7690.
Authors Matt Byerly , Matt Hite , Joel Jaeggli
Last updated 2015-03-02
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v6ops                                                          M. Byerly
Internet-Draft                                                    Fastly
Intended status: Informational                                   M. Hite
Expires: September 2, 2015                                      Evernote
                                                              J. Jaeggli
                                                           March 1, 2015

 Close encounters of the ICMP type 2 kind (near misses with ICMPv6 PTB)


   This document calls attention to the problem of delivering ICMPv6
   type 2 "Packet Too Big" (PTB) messages to the intended destination in
   ECMP load balanced, or anycast network architectures.  It discusses
   operational mitigations that can be employed to address this class of

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
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   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
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   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on September 2, 2015.

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   Copyright (c) 2015 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
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   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must

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   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of
   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   2.  Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
   3.  Mitigation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     3.1.  Alternatives  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.2.  Implementation  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   4.  Improvements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   5.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   6.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   7.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   8.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7

1.  Introduction

   Operators of popular Internet services face complex challenges
   associated with scaling their infrastructure.  One approach is to
   utilize equal-cost multi-path (ECMP) routing to perform stateless
   distribution of incoming TCP or UDP sessions to multiple servers or
   to middle boxes such as load balancers.  Distribution of traffic in
   this manner presents a problem when dealing with ICMP signaling.
   Specifically, an ICMP error is not guaranteed to hash via ECMP to the
   same destination as its corresponding TCP or UDP session.  A case
   where this is particularly problematic operationally is path MTU
   discovery (PMTUD).

2.  Problem

   A common application for stateless load balancing of TCP or UDP flows
   is to perform an initial subdivision of flows in front of a stateful
   load balancer tier or multiple servers, so that the workload becomes
   divided into manageable fractions of the total number of flows.  The
   flow division is performed using ECMP forwarding and a stateless but
   sticky algorithm for hashing across the available paths.  This
   nexthop selection for the purposes of flow distribution is a
   constrained form of anycast topology, where all anycast destinations
   are equidistant from the upstream router responsible for making the
   last next-hop forwarding decision before the flow arrives on the
   destination device.  In this approach, the hash is performed across
   some set of available protocol headers.  Typically, these headers may
   include all or a subset of (IPv6)Flow-Label, IP-source, IP-
   destination, protocol, source-port, destination-port and potentially
   others such as ingress interface.

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   A problem common to this approach of distribution through hashing is
   impact on path MTU discovery.  An ICMPv6 type 2 PTB message generated
   on an intermediate device for a packet sent from an a server that is
   part of an ECMP load balanced service to a client, will have the
   load-balanced anycast address as the destination and would be
   statelessly load balanced to one of the servers.  While the ICMPv6
   PTB message contains as much of the packet that could not be
   forwarded as possible, the payload headers are not considered into
   the forwarding decision and are ignored.  Because the PTB message is
   not identifiable as part of the original flow by the IP or upper
   layer packet headers the results of the ICMPv6 ECMP hash are unlikely
   to be hashed to the same nexthop as packets matching TCP or UDP ECMP

   An example packet flow and topology follow.

   ptb -> router ecmp -> nexthop L4/L7 load balancer -> destination

     router --> load balancer 1 --->
          \\--> load balancer 2 ---> load-balanced service
           \--> load balancer N --->

                                 Figure 1

   The router ECMP decision is used because it is part of the forwarding
   architecture, can be performed at line rate, and does not depend on
   shared state or coordination across a distributed forwarding system
   which may include multiple linecards or routers.  The ECMP routing
   decision is deterministic with respect to packets having the same
   computed hash.

   Atypical case where ICMPv6 PTB messages are received at the load
   balancer is a case where the path MTU from the client to the load
   balancer is limited by a tunnel in which the client itself is not
   aware of.  In the common case of a TCP flow where TLS is employed,
   the first packet sent from the server that is likely to exceed a
   tunnel MTU lower than that specified by the MSS on the client and the
   load balancer/server is the TLS ServerHello and certificate.

   Direct experience says that the frequency of PTB messages is small
   compared to total flows.  One possible conclusion being that tunneled
   IPv6 deployments that cannot carry 1500 mtu packets are relatively
   rare.  Techniques employed by clients such as happy-eyeballs may
   actually contribute some amelioration to the IPv6 client experience
   by preferring IPv4 in cases that might be identified as failures.

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   Still, the expectation of operators is that PMTUD should work and
   that unnecessary breakage of client traffic should be avoided.

   A final observation regarding server tuning is that it is not always
   possible even if it is potentially desirable to be able to
   independently set the TCP MSS for different address families on end-

   The problem as described does also impact IPv4; however, the ability
   to fragment on wire at tunnel ingress points and the relative rarity
   of sub-1500 byte MTUs that are not coupled to changes in client
   behavior (for example, endpoint VPN clients set the tunnel interface
   MTU accordingly for performance reasons) makes the problem
   sufficiently rare that some existing deployments simply choose to
   ignore it.

3.  Mitigation

   Mitigation of the potential for PTB messages to be mis-delivered
   involves ensuring that an ICMPv6 error message is distributed to the
   same anycast server responsible for the flow for which the error is
   generated.  Ideally Mitigation could be done by the mechanism hosts
   use to identify the flow, by looking into the payload of the ICMPv6
   message (to determine which TCP flow it was associated with) before
   making a forwarding decision.  Because the encapsulated IP header
   occurs at a fixed offset in the icmp message it is not outside the
   realm of possibility that routers with sufficient header processing
   capability could parse that far into the payload.  Employing a
   mediation device that handles the parsing and distribution of PTB
   messages after policy routing or on each load-balancer/server is a

   Another mitigation approach is predicated upon distributing the PTB
   message to all anycast servers under the assumption that the one for
   which the message was intended will be able to match it to the flow
   and update the route cache with the new MTU, devices not able to
   match the flow will discard these packets.  Such distribution has
   potentially significant implications for resource consumption and the
   potential for self-inflicted denial-of-service if not carefully
   employed.  Fortunately, in real-world-deployment we have observed
   that, the number of flows for which this problem occurs is relatively
   small (example, 10 or fewer pps on 1Gb/s or more worth of https
   traffic) and sensible ingress rate limiters which will discard
   excessive message volume can be applied to protect even very large
   anycast server tiers with the potential for fallout only under
   circumstances of deliberate duress.

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3.1.  Alternatives

   As an alternative, it may be appropriate to lower the TCP MSS to 1220
   in order to accommodate 1280 byte MTU.  We consider this undesirable
   as hosts may not be able to independently set TCP MSS by address-
   family thereby impacting IPv4, or alternatively that it relies on a
   middle-box to clamp the MSS independently from the end-systems.

3.2.  Implementation

   1.  Filter-based-forwarding matches next-header ICMPv6 type-2 and
       matches a next-hop on a particular subnet directly attached to
       both border routers.  The filter is policed to reasonable limits
       (we chose 1000pps).

   2.  Filter is applied on input side of all external interfaces

   3.  A proxy located at the next-hop forwards ICMPv6 type-2 packets
       received at the next-hop to an Ethernet broadcast address
       (example ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff) on all specified subnets.  This was
       necessitated by router inability (in IPv6) to forward the same
       packet to multiple unicast next-hops.

   4.  Anycast servers receive the PTB error and process packet as

   A simple Python scapy script that can perform the ICMPv6 proxy
   reflection is included.

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         from scapy.all import *

         IFACE_OUT = ["p2p1", "p2p2"]

         def icmp6_callback(pkt):
             if pkt.haslayer(IPv6) and (ICMPv6PacketTooBig in pkt) \
             and pkt[Ether].dst != 'ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff':
                 pkt[Ether].dst = 'ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff'
                 for iface in IFACE_OUT:
                     sendp(pkt, iface=iface)

         def main():
             sniff(prn=icmp6_callback, filter="icmp6 \
             and (ip6[40+0] == 2)", store=0)

         if __name__ == '__main__':

   This example script listens on all interfaces for IPv6 PTB errors
   being forwarded using filter-based-forwarding.  It removes the
   existing Ethernet source and rewrites a new Ethernet destination of
   the Ethernet broadcast address.  It then sends the resulting frame
   out the p2p1 and p2p2 interfaces where our anycast servers reside.

   Alternatively, network designs in which a common layer2 network
   exists could rewrite the destination on the end system, for example
   in using iptables before forwarding the packet back to the network
   containing all of the server or load balancer interfaces.

4.  Improvements

   There are several ways that improvements could be made to the
   situation with respect to ECMP load balancing of ICMPv6 PTB.

   1.  Routers with sufficient capacity within the lookup process could
       parse all the way through the L3 or L4 header in the ICMPv6
       payload beginning at bit offset 32 of the ICMP header.  By
       reordering the elements of the hash to match the inward direction
       of the flow, the PTB error could be directed to the same next-hop
       as the incoming packets in the flow.

   2.  The FIB could be programmed with a multicast distribution tree
       that included all of the necessary next-hops.

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   3.  Ubiquitous implementation of RFC 4821 [RFC4821] Packetization
       Layer Path MTU Discovery would probably go a long way towards
       reducing dependence on ICMPv6 PTB.

5.  Acknowledgements

   The authors would like to thank Mark Andrews, Brian Carpenter, Nick
   Hilliard and Ray Hunter, for review.

6.  IANA Considerations

   This memo includes no request to IANA.

7.  Security Considerations

   The employed mitigation has the potential to greatly amplify the
   impact of a deliberately malicious sending of ICMPv6 PTB messages.
   Sensible ingress rate limiting can reduce the potential for impact;
   however, legitimate traffic may be lost once the rate limit is

   The proxy replication results in devices not associated with the flow
   that generated the PTB being recipients of an ICMPv6 message which
   contains a fragment of a packet.  This could arguably result in
   information disclosure.  Recipient machines should be in a common
   administrative domain.

8.  Informative References

   [RFC4821]  Mathis, M. and J. Heffner, "Packetization Layer Path MTU
              Discovery", RFC 4821, March 2007.

Authors' Addresses

   Matt Byerly
   Kapolei, HI


   Matt Hite
   Redwood City, CA


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   Joel Jaeggli
   Mountain View, CA


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