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Linkable Identifiers

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This is an older version of an Internet-Draft whose latest revision state is "Expired".
Author Christopher A. Wood
Last updated 2018-10-22
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Network Working Group                                            C. Wood
Internet-Draft                                                Apple Inc.
Intended status: Informational                          October 22, 2018
Expires: April 25, 2019

                          Linkable Identifiers


   Rotating public identifiers is encouraged as best practice as a means
   of protecting endpoint privacy.  For example, regular MAC address
   randomization helps mitigate device tracking across time and space.
   Other protocols beyond those in the link layer also have public
   identifiers or parameters that should rotate over time, in unison
   with coupled protocol identifiers, and perhaps with application level
   identifiers.  This document surveys such privacy-related identifiers
   exposed by common Internet protocols at various layers in a network
   stack.  It provides advice for rotating linked identifiers such that
   privacy violations do not occur from rotating one identifier while
   neglecting to rotate coupled identifiers.

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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   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 25, 2019.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2018 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
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of

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   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
   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.  Sticky Protocol Identifiers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.1.  Internet and Link Layer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     2.2.  Transport and Session Layer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.3.  Application Layer:  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
   3.  Identifier Scope and Threat Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.  Limiting Linkable Identifiers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     4.1.  Time and Path Linkability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   5.  Timing Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   6.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   7.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   8.  Privacy Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   9.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   10. Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   Author's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10

1.  Introduction

   [RFC6973] defines the correlation of information relevant to or
   associated with a specific user as a significant attack on privacy.
   Different layers of the network stack use identifiers to uniquely
   address hosts or information flows.  To mitigate the privacy concern,
   many standards suggest randomizing or otherwise rotating such
   identifiers on a regular basis.  For example, a MAC address may be
   used to link otherwise unrelated network packets to a single device.
   Rotating the MAC address prevents this association at the link layer.
   However, when multiple identifiers are simultaneously present on
   different layers of the stack, breaking the association at any
   individual layer might be insufficient to disassociate a host from
   their network traffic.  Linkability can also occur across protocols
   and/or across layers.  For example, TLS connections are commonly
   preceded by DNS queries for a particular endpoint (host name), e.g.  Moreover, in the TLS handshake, this same host name is
   sent in cleartext in the Server Name Indication extension.  Thus,
   observing either the DNS query or TLS SNI reveals information about
   the other.  Similarly, while an IP address of a device may rotate, if
   web browser cookies do not, then, a website can track the various IP
   addresses of a given cookie over time.

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   Huitema et al.  [I-D.ietf-dnssd-privacy] say, "it is important that
   the obfuscation of instance names is performed at the right time, and
   that the obfuscated names change in synchrony with other identifiers,
   such as MAC Addresses, IP Addresses or host names."  Consider the
   following example where this advice is not followed, wherein an IP
   address is changed yet the MAC address is not.

   +---------------+        +---------------+
   |      ...      |  ....  |      ...      |
   +---------------+        +---------------+
   | IP Address  A <---//---> IP Address  B |
   +---------------+        +---------------+
   | MAC Address A <--------> MAC Address A |
   +---------------+        +---------------+


   A network adversary may trivially link these packets based on their
   common MAC address and continue to associate traffic with this
   particular host based on IP address B even if the MAC address
   eventually changes in the future.  In this document, we outline
   simple rules that SHOULD be followed by protocol implementations to
   avoid such linkability.  We then survey protocols developed inside
   the IETF and out, and identify their sticky identifiers.  Results
   were obtained by analyzing protocol documentation and specifications,
   and also scanning packet traces captured from protocols in practice
   on common systems.

2.  Sticky Protocol Identifiers

   In this section, we survey existing protocols developed inside and
   out of the IETF, and identify sticky protocol identifiers for each.
   A sticky identifier is one that persists across logically grouped
   data exchanges between a client and server.  This may include state-
   generating servers or, commonly, client algorithm, software
   configuration, or device-specific fields.  We categorize surveyed
   protocols by the OSI layer at which they operate.  Specifically, we
   focus on Link, Internet, Transport, Session, and Application layers.
   (Our taxonomy may not match traditional OSI models, though we
   consider it sufficiently representative.)

2.1.  Internet and Link Layer

   o  Ethernet, 802.11, and Bluetooth: MAC addresses are fixed to
      specific devices.  Unless frequently rotated, they are sticky
      identifiers.  Simply rotating the MAC address may or may not be
      sufficient depending on other information sent at the protocol

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      layer with the a (rotated) MAC address.  For example, in 802.11,
      frames have an incrementing sequence number and if the sequence
      number is not reset in unison with a MAC address change, the
      sequence number can be used to re-correlate randomized MAC

   o  IPv4 and IPv6: Static or infrequently rotating addresses are
      sticky identifiers when exposed on the network.  Privacy
      Extensions for Stateless Address Autoconfiguration [RFC4941]
      enhance IPv6 client privacy by, e.g., issuing new IPv6 /64
      prefixes every day.  The 64-bit IID suffix remains random to deter

   o  IKEv2: Initiator Security Parameters Indexes (SPIs) are used as
      connection identifiers instead of IP addresses.  They are required
      to rotate for each new SA.

2.2.  Transport and Session Layer

   o  TCP [RFC0793]: TCP source ports may be sticky if reused across
      senders.  For example, most operating systems allocate allocate
      ephemeral (short lived) ports to each new connection.  Per IANA
      allocations, ephemeral ports range from 49152 to 65535 (2^15+2^14
      to 2^16-1) [].
      However, this does not prevent an application from re-using port
      across connections.  Destination are also intentionally sticky,
      since they identify services offered by endpoints.  Therefore,
      reusing a destination port does not lead to decreased linkability.
      Moreover, with TCP Fast Open (TFO) [RFC7413], servers give clients
      plaintext cookies that must be re-used when resuming a TCP+TFO
      connection.  Clients do not modify these server cookies, which
      therefore means they can be tracked.

   o  MPTCP [RFC6824]: Connection tokens or IDs are explicitly used to
      link MPTCP subflows between IP address pairs.  These tokens are
      only exposed during flow management operations, e.g., when
      creating new subflows.  Normal data transfer uses TCP sequence
      numbers to bypass middlebox interference and an additional data
      sequence number (DSN) TCP option to allow receivers to deal with
      out-of-order subflow packet arrival.  The union of packet DSNs
      across subflows should yield a contiguous packet number sequence.

   o  TLS [RFC5246] [RFC8446]: Prior to TLS 1.3, significant information
      is exposed during TLS handshakes, including: session identifiers
      (or re-used PSK identifiers in TLS 1.3), timestamps, random
      nonces, supported ciphersuites, certificates, and extensions.
      Many of these are common across all TLS clients - specifically,
      ciphersuites, nonces, and timestamps.  However, others may persist

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      across active sessions, including: session identifiers (in TLS 1.2
      and earlier versions) and re-used PSK identifiers (in TLS 1.3).
      Without rotation, these re-used identifers are sticky.

   o  DTLS [RFC6347]: Datagram TLS is a slightly modified variant of TLS
      aimed to run over datagram protocols such as UDP.  In addition to
      identifiers exposed via TLS, DTLS adds cookie-based denial-of-
      service countermeasures.  Servers issue stateless cookies to
      clients during a handshake, which must be replayed in cleartext by
      clients to prove ownership of its IP address.  (This is similar to
      TFO cookies described above.)  Additionally, DTLS is considering
      support of a static connection identifier (CID)
      [I-D.ietf-tls-dtls-connection-id], which permits client address
      mobility.  CIDs are specifically designed to not change across

   o  QUIC [I-D.ietf-quic-transport]: QUIC is another secure transport
      protocol originally developed by Google and now being standardized
      by the IETF.  IETF-QUIC [I-D.ietf-quic-transport] uses TLS 1.3 for
      its handshake.  In addition to identifiers exposed by TLS 1.3,
      QUIC has its own connection identifier (CID) used to permit
      address mobility.

2.3.  Application Layer:

   o  HTTP [RFC2616]: While HTTP is a stateless protocol, it enables
      applications to define state-keeping mechanisms in header fields.
      The fields might carry the state itself or tokens pointing to
      state kept at the endpoints.  The Cookie header field [RFC6265] is
      de-facto the mechanism for web applications to uniquely identify
      their clients by generating a token and instructing the client to
      attach to any future requests.  The ETag header field [RFC7232]
      enables applications to uniquely reference a resource which the
      client may cache.  Applications may return unique reference tokens
      to distinct clients.

   o  DNS [RFC1035]: SRV records often contain human-readable
      information specific to particular devices, clients, or users.
      For example, printers may advertise its services with SRV records
      that contain a human-readable instance name.  These are often not
      rotated as services change.

   o  NTP [RFC5905]: By default, mode 3 for NTP - client to server -
      sends several source-specific fields in the clear to NTP servers,
      including: timestamps, poll, and precision.  These fields should
      be left empty or randomized as per
      [I-D.ietf-ntp-data-minimization].  Other fields that may link to

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      clients include: Stratum, Root Delay, Root Dispersion, Ref ID, Ref
      Timestamp, Origin Timestamp, and Receive Timestamp.

3.  Identifier Scope and Threat Model

   Not all packet identifiers are visible end-to-end in a client-server
   interaction.  For example, MAC addresses are only visible to those
   with physical access to the medium - the local subnet for Ethernet
   and proximity for Wi-Fi; we will consider both of these "on-path" for
   the sake of this analysis.  IP addresses are only visible between
   endpoints.  (In systems such as Tor, source and destination addresses
   change at each circuit hop.)  Thus, identifier linkability depends on
   the threat model under consideration.  Off-path adversaries, e.g.
   those without physical access to the medium, are not considered a
   problem since they do not have access to packets in flight.  On-path
   adversaries may exist at various locations relative to an endpoint
   (sender or receiver) on a path, e.g., in a local subnet, as an
   intermediate router or middlebox between two endpoints, or as a TLS
   terminating reverse proxy.  In this document, we categorize these
   three types of adversaries as follows:

   1.  Local: An on-path adversary belonging to the same local subnet as
       an endpoint, e.g., a switch.

   2.  Intermediate: An on-path adversary that observes datagrams in
       flight but does not terminate a (TCP or TLS) connection, e.g., a
       middlebox or performance enhancing proxy (PEP).

   3.  Terminator: An on-path adversary that terminates a connection,
       e.g., a TLS- terminating reverse proxy.  Note that there can be
       distinct terminators for individual layers of network stack.
       E.g., one for TLS and another for HTTP.

   The scope of an identifier includes are all other protocols and
   layers observable by the same adversary.

4.  Limiting Linkable Identifiers

   The introductory example illustrating packet linkability using MAC
   addresses is one of many possible ways in which an attacker may link
   packets.  As another hypothetical example, assume that IP address and
   MAC addresses were properly rotated, whereas TLS session identifiers
   were reused over time, as shown below.

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   +---------------+        +---------------+
   | TLS Session X <--------> TLS Session X |
   +---------------+        +---------------+
   |      ...      |  ....  |      ...      |
   +---------------+        +---------------+
   | IP Address  A <---//---> IP Address  B |
   +---------------+        +---------------+
   | MAC Address A <---//---> MAC Address C |
   +---------------+        +---------------+


   Despite rotating all protocol identifiers beneath TLS, a static
   session identifier makes packet linkability trivial.  Thus, a strict,
   yet safe rule for removing packet linkability is to rotate all linked
   identifiers in unison.  Unfortunately, this strategy is problematic
   in practice.  It would imply terminating active connections whenever
   an identifier changes (otherwise, linkability remains trivial).  For
   example, if MAC addresses are rotated on a regular basis, e.g., every
   15 minutes, then connection lifetimes would be limited to this

   A more sensible policy would be to restrict identifier rotation to
   layers which are exposed to the same adversary.  For example, origin
   MAC addresses may not be visible to the destination.  In this case,
   rotating IP addresses and TLS session identifiers is not required to
   prevent packet linkability by an adversary who does not see the
   origin MAC address.  A realistic threat model is one in which IP- to
   TLS-layer information is exposed to the same on-path adversary.
   Identifiers beneath IP are visible to local adversaries, which may
   not be an issue, and those above TLS are visible to authenticated

4.1.  Time and Path Linkability

   There are multiple dimensions along which identifiers may be linked:
   (1) time, as identifiers are used and re-used by senders, and (2)
   space, as identifiers are duplicated across multiple disjoint network
   paths, possibly by different protocols.  We refer to these dimensions
   as time and path linkability, respectively.

   Time linkability is arguably simpler to mitigate, since new
   connections over time may opt to use new identifiers.  For example,
   instead of resuming a TLS session with an existing session ID, a
   client may initiate a fresh handshake.  As a simple rule, if an
   identifier in the same scope changes, endpoints SHOULD use fresh
   identifiers for all other protocols in that scope.  This means that,

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   for identifiers visible to intermediate adversaries, new TLS sessions
   SHOULD be initiated from an endpoint with a fresh IP address and TCP
   source port.  Note that clients behind NATs may not need to generate
   a fresh IP address, as they enjoy some measure of anonymity by
   design.  If local adversaries were considered part of the threat
   model, then a fresh MAC address may also be needed.

   In contrast, path linkability is more difficult to achieve, as it
   requires using fresh identifiers for each protocol field.  This may
   not always be technically feasible.  For example, DNS query names are
   also intentionally used as the TLS SNI.  Moreover, protocols such as
   QUIC explicitly try to enable path linkability via connection-level
   identifiers (CIDs) to support multihoming or mobile endpoints.  This
   makes path linkability impossible to mitigate.  However, as multiple,
   disjoint paths may be operated by different entities (e.g., ISPs),
   collusion may be less common.

5.  Timing Considerations

   Advice in this document SHOULD NOT be interpreted as guarantees for
   preventing linkability.  Rather, it aims to increase linkability
   complexity.  It is difficult to prevent path-linkability without
   modifying protocols above the layer at which identifiers rotate.  For
   example, assuming MPTCP subflows were unlinkable across paths, shared
   transport state controlling the rate of data transmission may be
   sufficient to link these flows.

6.  IANA Considerations

   This document has no request to IANA.

7.  Security Considerations

   This document does not introduce any new security protocol.

8.  Privacy Considerations

   This document describes considerations and suggestions for improving
   privacy in the context of many IETF protocols.  It does not introduce
   any new features or protocol behavior that would adversely impact

9.  Acknowledgments

   The authors thank Martin Thompson and Brian Trammell for comments on
   earlier versions of this document.

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10.  Normative References

              Huitema, C. and D. Kaiser, "Privacy Extensions for DNS-
              SD", draft-ietf-dnssd-privacy-05 (work in progress),
              October 2018.

              Franke, D. and A. Malhotra, "NTP Client Data
              Minimization", draft-ietf-ntp-data-minimization-03 (work
              in progress), September 2018.

              Iyengar, J. and M. Thomson, "QUIC: A UDP-Based Multiplexed
              and Secure Transport", draft-ietf-quic-transport-15 (work
              in progress), October 2018.

              Rescorla, E., Tschofenig, H., Fossati, T., and T. Gondrom,
              "The Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS) Connection
              Identifier", draft-ietf-tls-dtls-connection-id-01 (work in
              progress), July 2018.

   [RFC0793]  Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7,
              RFC 793, DOI 10.17487/RFC0793, September 1981,

   [RFC1035]  Mockapetris, P., "Domain names - implementation and
              specification", STD 13, RFC 1035, DOI 10.17487/RFC1035,
              November 1987, <>.

   [RFC2508]  Casner, S. and V. Jacobson, "Compressing IP/UDP/RTP
              Headers for Low-Speed Serial Links", RFC 2508,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2508, February 1999, <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC2616]  Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H.,
              Masinter, L., Leach, P., and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext
              Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2616, June 1999, <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC4941]  Narten, T., Draves, R., and S. Krishnan, "Privacy
              Extensions for Stateless Address Autoconfiguration in
              IPv6", RFC 4941, DOI 10.17487/RFC4941, September 2007,

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   [RFC5246]  Dierks, T. and E. Rescorla, "The Transport Layer Security
              (TLS) Protocol Version 1.2", RFC 5246,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC5246, August 2008, <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC5905]  Mills, D., Martin, J., Ed., Burbank, J., and W. Kasch,
              "Network Time Protocol Version 4: Protocol and Algorithms
              Specification", RFC 5905, DOI 10.17487/RFC5905, June 2010,

   [RFC6265]  Barth, A., "HTTP State Management Mechanism", RFC 6265,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC6265, April 2011, <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC6347]  Rescorla, E. and N. Modadugu, "Datagram Transport Layer
              Security Version 1.2", RFC 6347, DOI 10.17487/RFC6347,
              January 2012, <>.

   [RFC6824]  Ford, A., Raiciu, C., Handley, M., and O. Bonaventure,
              "TCP Extensions for Multipath Operation with Multiple
              Addresses", RFC 6824, DOI 10.17487/RFC6824, January 2013,

   [RFC6973]  Cooper, A., Tschofenig, H., Aboba, B., Peterson, J.,
              Morris, J., Hansen, M., and R. Smith, "Privacy
              Considerations for Internet Protocols", RFC 6973,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC6973, July 2013, <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC7232]  Fielding, R., Ed. and J. Reschke, Ed., "Hypertext Transfer
              Protocol (HTTP/1.1): Conditional Requests", RFC 7232,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC7232, June 2014, <https://www.rfc-

   [RFC7413]  Cheng, Y., Chu, J., Radhakrishnan, S., and A. Jain, "TCP
              Fast Open", RFC 7413, DOI 10.17487/RFC7413, December 2014,

   [RFC8446]  Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol
              Version 1.3", RFC 8446, DOI 10.17487/RFC8446, August 2018,

Author's Address

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   Christopher A. Wood
   Apple Inc.
   One Apple Park Way
   Cupertino, California 95014
   United States of America


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