Network Working Group                                     R. Sparks, Ed.
Internet-Draft                                          Estacado Systems
Updates: 3261 (if approved)                                  S. Lawrence
Expires: March 9, 2007                                     Pingtel Corp.
                                                          A. Hawrylyshen
                                                    Ditech Networks Inc.
                                                       September 5, 2006

Addressing an Amplification Vulnerability in Session Initiation Protocol
                         (SIP) Forking Proxies

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 March 9, 2007.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


   This document normatively updates RFC 3261, the Session Initiation
   Protocol (SIP), to address a security vulnerability identified in SIP
   proxy behavior.  This vulnerability enables an attack against SIP
   networks where a small number of legitimate, even authorized, SIP

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 1]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

   requests can stimulate massive amounts of proxy-to-proxy traffic.

   This document strengthens loop-detection requirements on SIP proxies
   when they fork requests (that is, forward a request to more than one
   destination).  It also corrects and clarifies the description of the
   loop-detection algorithm such proxies are required to implement.

Table of Contents

   1.  Conventions and Definitions  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   3.  Vulnerability: Leveraging Forking to Flood a Network . . . . .  3
   4.  Normative changes to RFC 3261  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
     4.1.  Strengthening the requirement to perform loop-detection  .  5
     4.2.  Correcting and clarifying the RFC 3261 loop-detection
           algorithm  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
       4.2.1.  Update to section 16.6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
       4.2.2.  Update to section 16.3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
       4.2.3.  Note to Implementers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   5.  Impact on overall network performance  . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   6.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   7.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   8.  Acknowledgments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   9.  Change Log . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     9.1.  -02 to -03 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     9.2.  -01 to -02 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   10. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
     10.1. Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
     10.2. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . . . 13

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 2]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

1.  Conventions and Definitions

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in RFC-2119 [RFC2119].

2.  Introduction

   Interoperability testing uncovered a vulnerability in the behavior of
   forking SIP proxies as defined in [RFC3261].  This vulnerability can
   be leveraged to cause a small number of valid SIP requests to
   generate an extremely large number of proxy-to-proxy messages.  A
   version of this attack demonstrates fewer than ten messages
   stimulating potentially 2^70 messages.

   This document specifies normative changes to the SIP protocol to
   address this vulnerability.  According to this update, when a SIP
   proxy forks a request to more than one destination, it is required to
   ensure it is not participating in a request loop.

3.  Vulnerability: Leveraging Forking to Flood a Network

   This section describes setting up an attack with a simplifying
   assumption, that two accounts on each of two different RFC 3261
   compliant proxy/registrar servers that do not perform loop-detection
   are available to an attacker.  This assumption is not necessary for
   the attack, but makes representing the scenario simpler.  The same
   attack can be realized with a single account on a single server.

   Consider two proxy/registrar services, P1 and P2, and four Addresses
   of Record, a@P1, b@P1, a@P2, and b@P2.  Using normal REGISTER
   requests, establish bindings to these AoRs as follows (non-essential
   details elided):

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 3]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

           REGISTER sip:P1 SIP/2.0
           To: <sip:a@P1>
           Contact: <sip:a@P2>, <sip:b@P2>

           REGISTER sip:P1 SIP/2.0
           To: <sip:b@P1>
           Contact: <sip:a@P2>, <sip:b@P2>

           REGISTER sip:P2 SIP/2.0
           To: <sip:a@P2>
           Contact: <sip:a@P1>, <sip:b@P1>

           REGISTER sip:P2 SIP/2.0
           To: <sip:b@P2>
           Contact: <sip:a@P1>, <sip:b@P1>

   With these bindings in place, introduce an INVITE to any of the four
   AoRs, say a@P1.  This request will fork to two requests handled by
   P2, which will fork to four requests handled by P1, which will fork
   to eight messages handled by P2, and so on.  This message flow is
   represented in Figure 2.

                                      /       \
                                    /           \
                                  /               \
                                /                   \
                             a@P2                   b@P2
                             /  \                   /  \
                           /      \               /      \
                          /        \             /        \
                        a@P1       b@P1        a@P1       b@P1
                        /  \       /  \        /  \       /  \
                     a@P2  b@P2 a@P2  b@P2  a@P2  b@P2 a@P2  b@P2
                      /\    /\   /\    /\    /\    /\   /\    /\

   Figure 2: Attack request propagation

   Requests will continue to propagate down this tree until Max-Forwards
   reaches zero.  If the endpoint and two proxies involved follow RFC
   3261 recommendations, the tree will be 70 rows deep, representing
   2^70 requests.  The actual number of messages may be much larger if
   the time to process the entire tree worth of requests is longer than
   Timer C at either proxy.  In this case, a storm of 408s, and/or a

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 4]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

   storm of CANCELs will also be propagating through the tree along with
   the INVITEs.  Remember that there are only two proxies involved in
   this scenario - each having to hold the state for all the
   transactions it sees (at least 2^69 simultaneously active
   transactions near the end of the scenario).

   The attack can be simplified to one account at one server if the
   service can be convinced that contacts with varying attributes
   (parameters, schemes, embedded headers) are sufficiently distinct,
   and these parameters are not used as part of AOR comparisons when
   forwarding a new request.  Since RFC 3261 mandates that all URI
   parameters must be removed from a URI before looking it up in a
   location service and that the URIs from the Contact header are
   compared using URI equality, the following registration should be
   sufficient to set this attack up using a single REGISTER request to a
   single account:

   REGISTER sip:P1 SIP/2.0
   To: <sip:a@P1>
   Contact: <sip:a@P1;unknown-param=whack>,<sip:a@P1;unknown-param=thud>

   This attack was realized in practice during one of the SIP
   Interoperability Test (SIPit) sessions.  The scenario was extended to
   include more than two proxies, and the participating proxies all
   limited Max-Forwards to be no larger than 20.  After a handful of
   messages to construct the attack, the participating proxies began
   bombarding each other.  Extrapolating from the several hours the
   experiment was allowed to run, the scenario would have completed in
   just under 10 days.  Had the proxies used the RFC 3261 recommended
   Max-Forwards value of 70, and assuming they performed linearly as the
   state they held increases, it would have taken 3 trillion years to
   complete the processing of the single INVITE that initiated the
   attack.  It is interesting to note that a few proxies rebooted during
   the scenario, and rejoined in the attack when they restarted (as long
   as they maintained registration state across reboots).  This points
   out that if this attack were launched on the Internet at large, it
   might require coordination among all the affected elements to stop

4.  Normative changes to RFC 3261

4.1.  Strengthening the requirement to perform loop-detection

   The following requirements mitigate the risk of a proxy falling
   victim to the attack described in this document.

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 5]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

   When a SIP proxy forks a particular request to more than one
   destination, it MUST ensure that request is not looping through this
   proxy.  It is RECOMMENDED that proxies meet this requirement by
   performing the Loop-Detection steps defined in this document.

   The requirement to use this document's refinement of the loop-
   detection algorithm in RFC 3261 is set at should-strength to allow
   for future standards track mechanisms that will allow a proxy to
   determine it is not looping.  For example, a proxy forking to
   destinations established using the sip-outbound mechanism [I-D.ietf-
   sip-outbound] would know those branches will not loop.

   A SIP proxy forwarding a request to only one location MAY perform
   loop detection but is not required to.  When forwarding to only one
   location, the amplification risk being exploited is not present, and
   the Max-Forwards mechanism is sufficient to protect the network.  A
   proxy is not required to perform loop detection when forwarding a
   request to a single location even if it happened to have previously
   forked that request (and performed loop detection) in its progression
   through the network.

4.2.  Correcting and clarifying the RFC 3261 loop-detection algorithm

4.2.1.  Update to section 16.6

   This section replaces all of item 8 in section 16.6 of RFC 3261 (item
   8 begins on page 105 and ends on page 106 of RFC 3261).

   8.  Add a Via header field value

   The proxy MUST insert a Via header field value into the copy before
   the existing Via header field values.  The construction of this value
   follows the same guidelines of Section  This implies that
   the proxy will compute its own branch parameter, which will be
   globally unique for that branch, and will contain the requisite magic
   cookie.  Note that following only the guidelines in Section
   will result in a branch parameter that will be different for
   different instances of a spiraled or looped request through a proxy.

   Proxies required to perform loop-detection by RFC XXXX (RFC-Editor:
   replace XXXX with the RFC number of this document) have an additional
   constraint on the value they place in the Via header field.  Such
   proxies SHOULD create a branch value separable into two parts in any
   implementation dependent way.  The first part MUST satisfy the
   constraints of Section  The second part is used to perform
   loop detection and distinguish loops from spirals.

   This second part MUST vary with any field used by the location

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 6]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

   service logic in determining where to retarget or forward this
   request.  This is necessary to distinguish looped requests from
   spirals by allowing the proxy to recognize if none of the values
   affecting the processing of the request have changed.  Hence, The
   second part MUST depend at least on the received Request-URI and any
   Route header field values used when processing the received request.
   Implementers need to take care to include all fields used by the
   location service logic in that particular implementation.

   This second part MUST NOT include the request method.  CANCEL and
   non-200 ACK requests MUST have the same branch parameter value as the
   corresponding request they cancel or acknowledge.  This branch
   parameter value is used in correlating those requests at the server
   handling them (see Sections 17.2.3 and 9.2).

4.2.2.  Update to section 16.3

   This section replaces all of item 4 in section 16.3 of RFC 3261 (item
   4 appears on page 95 RFC 3261).

   4.  Loop Detection Check

   Proxies required to perform loop-detection by RFC-XXXX (RFC-Editor:
   replace XXXX with the RFC number of this document) MUST perform the
   following loop-detection test before forwarding a request.  Each Via
   header field value in the request whose sent-by value matches a value
   placed into previous requests by this proxy MUST be inspected for the
   "second part" defined in Section 4.2.1 of RFC-XXXX.  This second part
   will not be present if the message was not forked when that Via
   header field value was added.  If the second field is present, the
   proxy MUST perform the second part calculation described in
   Section 4.2.1 of RFC-XXXX on this request and compare the result to
   the value from the Via header field.  If these values are equal, the
   request has looped and the proxy MUST reject the request with a 482
   (Loop Detected) response.  If the values differ, the request is
   spiraling and processing continues to the next step.

4.2.3.  Note to Implementers

   A common way to create the second part of the branch parameter value
   when forking a request is to compute a hash over the concatenation of
   the Request-URI, any Route header field values used during processing
   the request and any other values used by the location service logic
   while processing this request.  An MD5 [RFC1321] hash expressed in
   hexadecimal (base64 is not permissible for a token) is a reasonable
   choice of a hash function.  Any hash function chosen should have the
   property of very low probability of collision.  Hashes resulting in
   fewer than 128 bits are not recommended.

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 7]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

   A common point of failure to interoperate at SIPit events has been
   due to parsers objecting to the contents of other's Via header field
   values when inspecting the Via stack for loops.  Implementers need to
   take care to avoid making assumptions about the format of another
   element's Via header field value beyond the basic constraints placed
   on that format by RFC 3261.  In particular, parsing a header field
   value with unknown parameter names, parameters with no values,
   parameters values with and without quoted strings must not cause an
   implementation to fail.

5.  Impact on overall network performance

   These requirements and the recommendation to use the loop-detection
   mechanisms in this document make the favorable trade of exponential
   message growth for work that is at worst case order n^2 as a message
   crosses n proxies.  Specifically, this work is order m*n where m is
   the number of proxies in the path that fork the request to more than
   one location.  In practice, m is expected to be small.

      The loop detection algorithm expressed in this document requires a
      proxy to inspect each Via element in a received request.  In the
      worst case where a message crosses N proxies, each of which loop
      detect, proxy k does k inspections, and the overall number of
      inspections spread across the proxies handling this request is the
      sum of k from k=1 to k=N which is N(N+1)/2.

6.  IANA Considerations


7.  Security Considerations

   This document is entirely about documenting and addressing a
   vulnerability in SIP proxies as defined by RFC 3261 that can lead to
   an exponentially growing message exchange attack.

   Alternative solutions that were discussed included

   Doing nothing - rely on suing the offender :  While systems that have
      accounts have logs that can be mined to locate abusers, it isn't
      clear that this provides a credible deterrent or defense against
      the attack described in this document.  Systems that don't
      recognize the situation and take corrective/preventative action
      are likely to experience failure of a magnitude that precludes
      retrieval of the records documenting the setup of the attack.  (In

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 8]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

      one scenario, the registrations can occur in a radically different
      time period than the invite.  The invite itself may have come from
      an innocent).  It's even possible that the scenario may be set up
      unintentionally.  Furthermore, for some existing deployments, the
      cost and audit ability of an account is simply an email address.
      Finding someone to punish may be impossible.  Finally, there are
      individuals who will not respond to any threat of legal action,
      and the effect of even a single successful instance of this kind
      of attack would be devastating to a service-provider.

   Putting a smaller cap on Max-Forwards:  The effect of the attack is
      exponential with respect to the initial Max-Forwards value.
      Turning this value down limits the effect of the attack.  This
      comes at the expense of severely limiting the reach of requests in
      the network, possibly to the point that existing architectures
      will begin to fail.

   Controlling the number of concurrent requests :  Bounding the total
      number branches to which the original request can be forwarded
      simultaneously limits the impact of the attack at any given point
      in time.  Proposals for limiting mechanisms where considered, but
      no consensus to adopt them currently exists.

   Disallowing registration bindings to arbitrary contacts :  The way
      registration binding is currently defined is a key part of the
      success of the kind of attack documented here.  The alternative of
      limiting registration bindings to allow only binding to the
      network element performing the registration, perhaps to the
      extreme of ignoring bits provided in the Contact in favor of
      transport artifacts observed in the registration request has been
      discussed (particularly in the context of the mechanisms being
      defined in [I-D.ietf-sip-outbound].  Mechanisms like this may be
      considered again in the future, but are currently insufficiently
      developed to address the present threat.

   Deprecate forking :  This attack does not exist in a system that
      relies entirely on redirection and initiation of new requests by
      the original endpoint.  Removing such a large architectural
      component from the system at this time was deemed a too extreme

8.  Acknowledgments

   Thanks go to the implementors that subjected their code to this
   scenario and helped analyze the results at SIPit 17.

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                 [Page 9]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

9.  Change Log

   RFC Editor - Remove this section before publication

9.1.  -02 to -03

      Closed Open Issue 1 "Why are we including all of the Route headers
      values?".  The text has been modified to include only those values
      used in processing the request.

      Closed Open Issues 2 and 3 "Why did 3261 include Call-ID To-tag,
      and From-tag and CSeq?" and "Why did 3261 include Proxy-Require
      and Proxy-Authorization?".  The group has not been able to
      identify why these fields would be included in the hash generally,
      and successful interoperability tests have not included them.
      Since they were not included in the text for -02, the text for
      this version was not affected.

      Removed the word "cryptographic" from the hash description in the
      non-normative note to implementers (per list discussion) and added
      characterization of the properties the hash chosen should have.

9.2.  -01 to -02

      Integrated several editorial fixes suggested by Jonathan Rosenberg

      Noted that the reduction of the attack to a single registration
      against a single URI as documented in previous versions, is, in
      fact, going to be effective against implementations conforming to
      the standards before this repair.

      Re-incorporated motivation from the original maxforwards-problem
      draft into the security considerations section based on feedback
      from Cullen Jennings

      Introduced replacement text for the loop detection algorithm
      description in RFC 3261, fixing the bug 648 (the topmost Via value
      must not be included in the second part) and clarifying the
      algorithm.  Removed several other fields suggested by 3261 and
      placed open issues around their presence.

      Added a Notes to Implementors section capturing the "common way"
      text and pointing to the interoperability issues that have been
      observed with loop detection at previous SIPits

10.  References

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                [Page 10]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

10.1.  Normative References

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [RFC3261]  Rosenberg, J., Schulzrinne, H., Camarillo, G., Johnston,
              A., Peterson, J., Sparks, R., Handley, M., and E.
              Schooler, "SIP: Session Initiation Protocol", RFC 3261,
              June 2002.

10.2.  Informative References

              Jennings, C. and R. Mahy, "Managing Client Initiated
              Connections in the Session Initiation Protocol  (SIP)",
              draft-ietf-sip-outbound-04 (work in progress), June 2006.

   [RFC1321]  Rivest, R., "The MD5 Message-Digest Algorithm", RFC 1321,
              April 1992.

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                [Page 11]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

Authors' Addresses

   Robert Sparks (editor)
   Estacado Systems
   17210 Campbell Road
   Suite 250
   Dallas, Texas  75254-4203


   Scott Lawrence
   Pingtel Corp.
   400 West Cummings Park
   Suite 2200
   Woburn, MA  01801

   Phone: +1 781 938 5306

   Alan Hawrylyshen
   Ditech Networks Inc.
   1167 Kensington Rd NW
   Suite 200
   Calgary, Alberta  T2N 1X7

   Phone: +1 403 806 3366

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                [Page 12]

Internet-Draft                fork-loop-fix               September 2006

Intellectual Property Statement

   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

Disclaimer of Validity

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).  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.


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.

Sparks, et al.            Expires March 9, 2007                [Page 13]