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Last Call Review of draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp-23

Request Review of draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp-23
Requested revision 23 (document currently at 28)
Type Last Call Review
Team Security Area Directorate (secdir)
Deadline 2020-03-12
Requested 2020-03-12
Requested by Tero Kivinen
Authors Daniel Fox Franke , Dieter Sibold , Kristof Teichel , Marcus Dansarie , Ragnar Sundblad
I-D last updated 2020-03-12
Completed reviews Genart Last Call review of -22 by Dan Romascanu (diff)
Genart Telechat review of -23 by Dan Romascanu (diff)
Secdir Last Call review of -23 by Sandra L. Murphy (diff)
Assignment Reviewer Sandra L. Murphy
State Completed
Request Last Call review on draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp by Security Area Directorate Assigned
Posted at
Reviewed revision 23 (document currently at 28)
Result Has issues
Completed 2020-03-10
I reviewed draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp out of personal interest.

Daniel Franke, the principal author, noted yesterday that no secdir assignment
had been made.  He and Tero decided that my review should stand as the secdir

Here is my message to the ntp wg and the detailed comments.


> Begin forwarded message:
> From: Sandra Murphy <>
> Subject: Re: [Ntp] comments on draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp-23
> Date: March 5, 2020 at 9:57:10 AM EST
> To:
> Cc: Sandra Murphy <>
> I realize that I did not include one concern about the security
considerations.  Section 9.7 NTS Stripping talks about the client being
deceived into reverting to plain NTP.  There’s no discussion of the server
being deceived into responding with plain NTP.  An adversary who stripped the
NTS extensions from the a NTP request would lead the server to reply without
the expected NTS extensions in the response.  What should/would the client do
if it receives a non-NTS enhanced response to a NTS enhanced request? > >
[Steve Bellovin would frequently suggest that there should be a way for a
recipient to know to expect security protections to prevent such downgrade
attacks.  I don’t think there is a way in this case.] > > —Sandy > >> On Mar 4,
2020, at 7:06 PM, Sandra Murphy <> wrote: >> >> I am not an
NTP participant but curious about vulnerabilities of NTP so I looked at NTS on
last Fri, 28 Feb. >> >> Unfortunately, that was the last day of the IETF last
call, so I have comments and they are arriving after the last call. >> >> So
give these comments the consideration they deserve - they come late from
someone who lacks context. >> >> Detailed comments attached.  Overall comments
here: >> >> Section 1 makes it clear that there is an intentional separation
between the NTS-KE server and the NTP server, although it is allowed that both
services could be resident on the same host.  Figure 1 also makes it appear
that the NTS-KE server may be associated with a large number of NTP servers,
with unspecified means of communicating between them.  Reading through, I was
struck by how much the NTS-KE server must know about the NTP server - in
Section 4.1.5 what algorithms it would support, in Section 6 the keying
material it would accept.  I was puzzled at how this could work in the set of volunteer NTP servers.  Then in Section 6, I saw a
reference to “load-balanced cluster”, which would easily account for the NTS-KE
server’s knowledge of the NTP servers’ configurations.  More explanations of
the supportable (current and potential) architectures would be very helpful. >>
>> I believe it would be helpful for the implementers to have an explicit list
of what the NTS-KE server must know about the NTP servers (address, algorithms
supported, shared keys in use, cookie construction, protocol IDs accepted,
anything else?) and what the communication between the NTS-KE server and the
NTP server must provide (what Figure 1 calls “Shared cookie encryption
parameters”). >> >> Some of the text concerns the interactions with the NTS-KE
server, some concerns the interactions with the NTP server.  The word “server”
is used throughout.  There are cases where it is not clear which type of server
is meant from context. >> >> I found several cases where I was not sure what
the error conditions should be handled, when requirements are not met, when an
exchange fails, when an error condition is received, etc.  In some sections,
the receiver’s action upon receiving one message is explained but for other
messages is not. >> >> Normative language: There are places where the text says
“should” not “SHOULD” and it was not clear the RFC2119 language was intended. 
In particular, Section 6 uses “should” many times.  Perhaps that was
intentional since this section is not normative.  I’m not sure what should
(sic) be the usage in that case.  “In general” appears many times, which begs
the question of when it is or is not the case.  On page 21, the text says “In
general, however, the server MUST”.  I’m not sure what that means to an
implementer.  The following language talks about exceptions, so perhaps the “In
general” means “where there is no exception”. >> >> The document sets up an
IANA registry for the Protocol ID.  Is it necessary to stipulate what a
specification of a new Protocol ID must include?  Must it include a cookie
format, for example? >> >> On page 21, the caption for Figure 5 should be
“NTS-protected NTP Time Synchronization Messages”.  It is an NTP exchange, not
an NTS exchange. >> >> Section 9.4 page 36 - Is there a reference for
“NTP_PHASE_MAX?”  A web search found only references to this draft and to a
“kernel constant” in various *nx man pages. >> >> In Section 6, the identifier
“I” is used as a salt.  RFC5869 says the salt is random.  Should the text about
choosing the “non-secret, unique” identifier mention random / unpredictable as
well? >> >> —Sandy >> <draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp.detailedcomments.txt>
>> >> >> _______________________________________________ >> ntp mailing list >> >> >

Detailed comments on


Section 1.2, p 6

   supply of cookies along with an IP address to the NTP server for
   Time synchronization proceeds with one of the indicated NTP servers

The cookies are for one server, what are "the indicated NTP servers"

Section 4, p 8

   in the TLS-protected channel.  Then, the server SHALL send a single
   The client's request and the server's response
                                                    Requests and
   non-error responses each SHALL include exactly one NTS Next Protocol
   Negotiation record.

Is there a single request and single response, or plural requests
and responses?  If there are many, do they have to have the same
Next Protocol?

Section 4, page 9

      unrecognized Record Type MUST ignore the record if the Critical
      Bit is 0 and MUST treat it as an error if the Critical Bit is 1.
If it is an error, what then?  The server can reply with an Error record
type, if so, what would the code be?  What would the client do?

   significant bit of the first octet.  In C, given a network buffer

There is a bit called "C" discussed on this page, took me aback a bit.
Probably not a problem, but if there's an opportunity to say "In the C
language", maybe you should.

Section 4.1.2 page 11

   Protocol IDs listed in the server's response MUST comprise a subset
   of those listed in the request and denote those protocols which the
   server is willing and able to speak using the key material
   established through this NTS-KE session.

It is clear that the server in "server's response" is the NTS-KE server,
but I believe that the server in "server is willing and able to speak" is
the NTP server that the client will eventually contact.  Right?

                        The request MUST list at least one protocol,
   but the response MAY be empty.

If the request is empty, what is the client to do?  retry with a
different set of protocols?  Close the TLS channel?

[There is text saying the the TLS session has minimal impact because
only one request and one response are exchanged, but retries change
that. And Section 4 intro page 8 says
   client SHALL send a single request as Application Data encapsulated
   in the TLS-protected channel.  Then, the server SHALL send a single
   response followed by a TLS "Close notify" alert and then discard the
   channel state.
which makes retries unlikely.]

Protocol ID 0 is the only defined protocol now, but is it MTI for
the server to support Protocol ID 0 always?

Section 4.1.3 page 11

   Clients MUST NOT include Error records in their request.

What if it does?  Does the server drop, respond with an Error, send the
TLS "Close notify" alert, what? If responding with Error, what code -
Bad Request or Internal Error?  (I'm not sure format errors fit in the
Bad Request description, tho' they certainly fit the name.)

                                                  If clients
   receive a server response which includes an Error record, they MUST
   discard any negotiated key material and MUST NOT proceed to the Next

Does "negotiated key material" mean the TLS negotiated material?

Does the client retry with a new request? (next paragraph would seem to
indicate retries are possible with modification, Section 4 intro pg 8
makes retries sound impossible.)

If the client is discarding the TLS negotiated materials, does the client close
the TLS channel and start over from the beginning?  That Section 4 intro page 8
makes it sound like the client will be forced start over.

   The following error codes are defined:

In all these cases, what does the server do after it sends the Error

Section 4.1.5, page 12

                                                             It is
   empty if the server supports none of the algorithms offered.

If it is empty, what does the client do?  retry with a new request?
(yadayada about whether the Section 4 intro page 8 means that can't be)
or declare failure and communicate with the NTP server without NTS protections?
 should the server send the TLS "Close notify" alert after sending the empty
algorithms list?

   Server implementations of NTS extension fields for NTPv4 (Section 5)
   MUST support AEAD_AES_SIV_CMAC_256

Does this apply to the client as well?  If so, is it advisable for
the client to always include that algorithm?  Is it mandatory for the
client to include that algorithm?

Section 4.1.6 page 13

   Clients MUST NOT send records of this type.
What does the server do if the client does?  Send an Error and if
so with what code?

                                              Servers MUST send at
   least one record of this type
What does the client do if the server does not?  Send a new request?

Section 4.1.7 page 13

                                           Servers MUST NOT
   send more than one record of this type.
What does the client do if the server does?  Choose the first?
Drop the response and retry the request?  Close the TLS channel?
Randomly pick one?

   When this record is sent by the client, it indicates that the client
   wishes to associate with the specified NTP server.
What if the client wishes to associate with more than one NTP server?
(that's recommended practice, so likely.)  Does that mean multiple
requests to the NTS-KE server under the same TLS channel?  [Section 4
intro page 8 makes that sound impossible.] does it mean opening
multiple TLS channels to the NTS-KE server?

Section 4.2 page 14

Inputs to the exporter function are
   to be constructed in a manner specific to the negotiated Next
   Protocol. However, all protocols which utilize NTS-KE MUST conform
   to the following two rules:

So must all protocols with utilize NTS-KE be time protocols?

There are requirements here about what a Next Protocol must provide.
The cookie construction is another.  Should there be a statement
about what a Next Protocol spec must include?

Section 5.7 page 20 (nit)

   already sent, it SHOULD initiate a re-run the NTS-KE protocol.  The

"initiate a re-run of the NTS-KE protocol" or "SHOULD re-run the NTS-KE

Section 5.7 page 21

                Figure 5: NTS Time Synchronization Messages
The caption should be "NTS-protected NTP Time Synchronization Messages".
The exchange in the figure is of NTP messages, not NTS messages.

   general, however, the server MUST discard any unauthenticated
   extension fields

I am not sure what "In general, ... the server MUST" could mean,
but given that later text says

        Servers MAY implement exceptions to this requirement for
   particular extension fields if their specification explicitly
   provides for such.

I figure this means something like:

   The server MUST discard any unauthenticated extension fields,
   UNLESS an exception is implemented for specific extension fields
   whose specification explicitly provides for unauthenticated


Section 5.7 page 22

   general, however, the client MUST discard any unauthenticated
   extension fields and process the packet as though they were not
   present.  Clients MAY implement exceptions to this requirement for
   particular extension fields if their specification explicitly
   provides for such.

Same complaint as on page 21 about "In general, ... the client
MUST discard..... and "MAY implement exceptions"

Section 5.7 page 23

   If the server is unable to validate the cookie or authenticate the
   request, it SHOULD respond with a Kiss-o'-Death (KoD) packet


                       A client MAY automatically re-run the NTS-KE
   protocol upon forced disassociation from an NTP server.

Is there a suggestion there that the server may force a disassociation
from the NTP server after sending the NTS NAK?  (I don't know what
force that would be, NTP doesn't really have a session-connection-
channel-state on the server side.)

Section 6 page 24

This section uses "should" a lot, not SHOULD, in cases where it seems
to be describing recommended optional behavior and sometimes when it
is describing required behavior.
Perhaps that is because this is non-normative text, but distinguishing
between the required behavior and optional behavior in this text
is desirable, so I suggest deciding which uses of "should" are really
RFC21119 requirements language and make it SHOULD, MUST, SHALL, etc.

   This section is non-normative.  It gives a suggested way for servers
   to construct NTS cookies.
and manage the server (NTS-KE and NTP) keys

   Servers should select an AEAD algorithm which they will use to
   encrypt and authenticate cookies.
NTS-KE encrypt cookies with this algorithm, NTP servers authenticate
cookies with this algorithm, so in this case "servers" means both of
them, right?
And both must make the same choice, right?
(And this is one of the places where it really sounds like you mean

              Servers should additionally choose a non-secret, unique
   value `I` as key-identifier for `K`.
   of this approach is to use HKDF [RFC5869] to derive new keys, using
   the key's predecessor as Input Keying Material and its key identifier
   as a salt.
RFC5869 says the salt is random.  Should the text about choosing the
“non-secret, unique” identifier mention random / unpredictable as well?

   Servers should periodically (e.g., once daily) generate a new pair
                       Immediately following each such key rotation,
   servers should securely erase any keys generated two or more rotation
   periods prior.
Does this mean that a client's cookies to its chosen NTP server will
no longer be usable after two daily rotations?  (This presumes it does
no polls in those two days, because any new response would provide
a new cookie.) Must it go back to forming a TLS channel and an NTS-KE exchange?
 If the NTS-KE server gives it a cookie for a different NTP server, won't its
time synchronization process revert to unsynchronized?

Section 7.6 page 28

   Applications for new entries SHALL specify the contents of the
   Description, Set Critical Bit, and Reference fields as well as which
"Set Critical Bit" is not a field in the registry entries' field
descriptions above and not included in the table below.

Section 9.2

                                          In addition to dropping
   packets and attacks such as those described in Section 9.5, an on-
   path attacker can send spoofed kiss-o'-death replies, which are not
   authenticated, in response to NTP requests.  This could result in
   significantly increased load on the NTS-KE server.

Why?  I presume this text means that the KoD is a NTS-NAK and client
who sees the NTS-NAK would restart the whole process with the
NTS-KE server.  That is optional behavior in Section 5.7 page 23,
and then only "upon forced disassociation" from the server, which
the text does not require of the NTP server that sent an NTS-NAK.

Section 9.4 page 36

      error less than NTP_PHASE_MAX.  In this case, the clock SHOULD be
Is there a reference for the "NTP_PHASE_MAX"? It is not in RFC5905.
A web search finds only hits in this draft and in various *nx man
pages as being a "kernel constant"

Section 9.4 page 37

                                                          take care not
      to cause an inadvertent denial-of-service attack on the NTS-KE
      server, for example by picking a random time in the week preceding
      certificate expiry to perform the new handshake.

This order makes it sound like the example is about the attack, not the
way to "take care not to cause".

Appendix A

(I wasn't going to note this nit, but since you have a list...)

NTS NAK should be on this list.

Actually, NTS NAK is not defined before it is used.  In Section 5.7, page 23
it says "NTS negative-acknowledgment (NAK)" but it does not say
"NTS NAK".  So a search for the acronym does not find its definition.