Network Working Group                                             S. Roy
Internet-Draft                                                 A. Durand
Expires: August 31, 2004                                        J. Paugh
                                                  Sun Microsystems, Inc.
                                                           March 2, 2004

     IPv6 Neighbor Discovery On-Link Assumption Considered Harmful

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004). All Rights Reserved.


   This document proposes a change to the IPv6 Neighbor Discovery
   conceptual host sending algorithm.  According to the algorithm, when
   a host's default router list is empty, the host assumes that all
   destinations are on-link.  This is particularly problematic with
   IPv6-capable nodes that do not have off-link IPv6 connectivity (e.g.,
   no default router).  This document describes how making this
   assumption causes problems, and describes how these problems outweigh
   the benefits of this part of the conceptual sending algorithm.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Background on the On-link Assumption . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   3.  Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   3.1 First Rule of Destination Address Selection  . . . . . . . . .  3
   3.2 Delays Associated with Address Resolution  . . . . . . . . . .  4
   3.3 Multi-homing Ambiguity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   3.4 Security Related Issues  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   4.  Proposed Changes to RFC2461  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   5.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
       Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
       Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
       Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   A.  Acknowledgments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   B.  Changes from draft-ietf-v6ops-onlinkassumption-00  . . . . . .  7
       Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . .  8

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1. Introduction

   Neighbor Discovery for IPv6 [ND] defines a conceptual sending
   algorithm for hosts.  This algorithm states that if a host's default
   router list is empty, then the host assumes that all destinations are

   This assumption is problematic with IPv6-capable nodes that do not
   have off-link IPv6 connectivity.  Specifically, it creates problems
   for destination address selection as defined in [ADDRSEL], and adds
   connection delays associated with unnecessary address resolution and
   neighbor unreachability detection.  The behavior associated with the
   assumption is undefined in multihomed scenarios, and has some subtle
   security implications.  All of these issues are discussed in this

2. Background on the On-link Assumption

   This part of Neighbor Discovery's [ND] conceptual sending algorithm
   was created to facilitate communication on a single link between
   systems manually configured with different global prefixes.  For
   example, consider the case where two systems on separate links are
   manually configured with global addresses, and are then plugged in
   back-to-back.  They can still communicate with each other via their
   global addresses because they'll correctly assume that each is

   Without the on-link assumption, the above scenario wouldn't work as
   seamlessly.  One workaround would be to use link-local addresses for
   this communication.  Another is to configure new global addresses
   using the same /64 prefix on these systems, either by manually
   configuring such addresses, or by placing a router on-link that
   advertises this prefix.

3. Problems

   The on-link assumption causes the following problems.

3.1 First Rule of Destination Address Selection

   Default Address Selection for IPv6 [ADDRSEL] defines a destination
   address selection algorithm that takes an unordered list of
   destination addresses as input, and produces a sorted list of
   destination addresses as output.  The algorithm consists of
   destination address sorting rules, the first of which is "Avoid
   unusable destinations".  The idea behind this rule is to place
   unreachable destinations at the end of the sorted list so that
   applications will be least likely to try to communicate with those

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   addresses first.

   The unreachability determination for a destination as it pertains to
   this rule is an implementation detail.  One implementable method is
   to do a simple forwarding table lookup on the destination, and to
   deem the destination as reachable if the lookup succeeds.  The
   Neighbor Discovery on-link assumption makes this method somewhat
   irrelevant, however, as an implementation of the assumption could
   simply be to insert an IPv6 default on-link route into the system's
   forwarding table when the default router list is empty.  The
   side-effect is that the rule would always determine that all IPv6
   destinations are reachable.

   On a network where there is no IPv6 router (all off-link IPv6
   destinations are unreachable) and there is off-link IPv4
   connectivity, the on-link assumption causes the rule to not
   necessarily prefer reachable IPv4 destinations over unreachable IPv6
   destinations.  This results in unreachable destinations being placed
   at the front of the sorted list.

3.2 Delays Associated with Address Resolution

   Users expect that applications quickly connect to a given destination
   regardless of the number of IP addresses assigned to that
   destination.  If a destination name resolves to multiple addresses
   and the application attempts to communicate to each address until one
   succeeds, this process shouldn't take an unreasonable amount of time.
   It is therefore important that the system quickly determine if IPv6
   destinations are unreachable so that the application can try other
   destinations when those IPv6 destinations are unreachable.

   For an IPv6 enabled host deployed on a network that has no IPv6
   routers, the result of the on-link assumption is that link-layer
   address resolution must be performed on all IPv6 addresses to which
   the host sends packets.  The Application will not receive
   acknowledgment of the unreachability of destinations that are not
   on-link until at least address resolution has failed, which is no
   less than three seconds (MAX_MULTICAST_SOLICIT * RETRANS_TIMER)
   (amplified by transport protocol delays).  When the application has a
   large list of off-link unreachable IPv6 addresses followed by at
   least one reachable IPv4 address, the delay associated with Neighbor
   Unreachability Detection (NUD) of each IPv6 addresses before
   successful communication with the IPv4 address is unacceptable.

3.3 Multi-homing Ambiguity

   There is no defined way to implement this aspect of the sending
   algorithm on a multi-homed node.  From an implementor's point of

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   view, there are three ways to handle sending an IPv6 packet to a
   destination in the face of the on-link assumption on a multi-homed

   1.  Attempt to resolve the destination on a single link.

   2.  Attempt to resolve the destination on every link.

   3.  Drop the packet.

   If the destination is indeed on-link, the first option might not
   succeed since the wrong link could be picked.  The second option
   might succeed in reaching a destination (assuming that one is
   reachable) but is more complex to implement, and isn't guaranteed to
   pick the correct destination.  For example, there is still ambiguity
   about which link to use if more than one node answers the
   solicitations on multiple links.  Dropping the packet is equivalent
   to not making the on-link assumption at all.  In other words, if
   there is no route to the destination, don't attempt to send the

3.4 Security Related Issues

   The on-link assumption discussed here introduces a security
   vulnerability to the Neighbor Discovery protocol described in section
   4.2.2 of IPv6 Neighbor Discovery Trust Models and Threats [PSREQ]
   titled "Default router is 'killed'".  There is a threat that a host's
   router can be maliciously killed in order to cause the host to start
   sending all packets on-link.  The attacker can then spoof off-link
   nodes by sending packets on the same link as the host.  The
   vulnerability is discussed in detail in [PSREQ].

   Another security related side-effect of the on-link assumption has to
   do with VPN's.  It has been observed that some commercially available
   VPN software solutions that don't support IPv6 send IPv6 packets to
   the local media in the clear (their security policy doesn't simply
   drop IPv6 packets).  Consider a scenario where a system has a single
   Ethernet interface with VPN software that encrypts and encapsulates
   certain packets.  The system attempts to send a packet to an IPv6
   destination that it obtained by doing a DNS lookup, and the packet
   ends up going in the clear to the local media.  A malicious second
   party could then spoof the destination on-link.

4. Proposed Changes to RFC2461

   This document suggests the following changes to the Neighbor
   Discovery [ND] specification:

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      The last sentence of the second paragraph of section 5.2
      ("Conceptual Sending Algorithm") should be removed.  This sentence
      is currently, "If the Default Router List is empty, the sender
      assumes that the destination is on-link.

      Bullet item 3) in section 6.3.6 ("Default Router Selection")
      should be removed.  The item currently reads, "If the Default
      Router List is empty, assume that all destinations are on-link as
      specified in Section 5.2."

   The result of these changes is that destinations are considered
   unreachable when there is no routing information for that destination
   (through a default router or otherwise).  Instead of attempting
   link-layer address resolution when sending to such a destination, a
   node should send an ICMPv6 Destination Unreachable message (code 0 -
   no route to destination) message up the stack.

5. Security Considerations

   The removal of the on-link assumption from Neighbor Discovery removes
   some security related vulnerabilities of the protocol as described in
   Section 3.4.

Normative References

   [ADDRSEL]  Draves, R., "Default Address Selection for Internet
              Protocol version 6 (IPv6)", RFC 3484, February 2003.

   [ND]       Narten, T., Nordmark, E. and W. Simpson, "Neighbor
              Discovery for IP Version 6 (IPv6)", RFC 2461, December

   [PSREQ]    Nikander, P., Kempf, J. and E. Nordmark, "IPv6 Neighbor
              Discovery trust models and threats", October 2003.


Informative References

              Thomson, S. and T. Narten, "IPv6 Stateless Address
              Autoconfiguration", RFC 2462, December 1998.

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Authors' Addresses

   Sebastien Roy
   Sun Microsystems, Inc.
   1 Network Drive
   Burlington, MA  01801


   Alain Durand
   Sun Microsystems, Inc.
   17 Network Circle
   Menlo Park, CA  94025


   James Paugh
   Sun Microsystems, Inc.
   17 Network Circle
   Menlo Park, CA  94025


Appendix A. Acknowledgments

   The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Jim Bound,
   Mika Liljeberg, Erik Nordmark, Pekka Savola, and Ronald van der Pol.

Appendix B. Changes from draft-ietf-v6ops-onlinkassumption-00

   o  Clarrified in the abstract and introduction that the problem is
      with systems that are IPv6 enabled but have no off-link

   o  In section Section 3.3, clarified that soliciting on all links
      could have ambiguous results.

   o  The old Security Considerations section was moved to section
      Section 3.4, and the new Security Considerations section refers to
      that new section.

   o  Miscelaneous editorial changes.

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