Fixing OSPFv3 Authentication and Security Mechanism!


Sounds like a presumptuous claim for a blog title, eh? Well, we’ll soon find out that it isnt! OSPFv3, unlike OSPFv2, IS-IS and RIP uses IPsec for authenticating its protocol packets. It relies on the IP Authentication Header (AH)  and the IP Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) to cryptographically sign routing information passed between routers. When using ESP, the null encryption algorithm is used, so the data carried in the OSPFv3 packets is signed, but not encrypted.   This provides data origin authentication for adjacent routers, and data integrity (which gives the assurance that the data transmitted by a router has not changed in transit).  However, it does not provide confidentiality of the information transmitted; this is acceptable because the privacy of the information being carried in the routing protocols need not be kept secret.

Authentication/Confidentiality for OSPFv3” mandates the use of ESP with null encryption for authentication and also does encourage the use of confidentiality to protect the privacy of the routing information transmitted, using ESP encryption. It discusses, at length, the reasoning behind using   manually configured keys, rather than some automated key management   protocol such as IKEv2.  The primary problem is the lack of a suitable key management mechanism, as OSPF adjacencies are formed on a one-to-many basis and most key management mechanisms are designed for a one-to-one communication model. This forces the system administrator to use manually configured security associations  (SAs) and cryptographic keys to provide the authentication and, if desired, confidentiality services. Regarding replay protection, [RFC4552] states the following:

Since it is not possible using the current standards to provide complete replay protection while using manual keying, the proposed solution will not provide protection against replay attacks.

Since there is no replay protection provided there are a number of attacks that are possible for OSPFv3. Some of the them are described here.

Since there is no deterministic way to differentiate between encrypted and unencrypted ESP packets by simply examining the packet, it becomes tricky for some implementations to prioritize certain OSPFv3 packets (Hellos for example) over the others. This is big issue in most service grade routers working in scaled setups.

Then there are some environments, e.g., Mobile Ad-hoc Networks (MANETs), where IPsec is difficult to configure and maintain, and cannot be used for authenticating OSPFv3. There is also an issue with IPsec not being      available on some platforms or it requiring some additional license which may be expensive.

I posted a survey on Nanog asking operators if they were using authentication with OSPFv3.  I only received a few responses, as operators, for a good reason are quite paranoid about their security policies and would not reveal their policies to someone posting a survey on a public mailing list. The results of that survey were interesting; more than half of them cited the issues that i have described above as reasons for not turning on authentication with OSPFv3. They are running OSPFv3 in their v6 networks without any security! This you would note is very different from operators running OSPFv2. It is well known that a majority of the big providers use MD5 with OSPFv2 and their networks are secure. Most vendors have now started work on implementing HMAC-SHA support for OSPFv2 as described in RFC5709. This led me to believe that if we got rid of IPsec for OSPFv3 and somehow got it to use the same infrastructure as OSPFv2, then we would see more people using security with OSPFv3.

The other big issue with using IPsec for OSPFv3 is that it becomes very difficult to prioritize some OSPFv3 control packets over others. This is because deep inspecting ESP-NULL packets is difficult as its not easy to know if the packet is encrypted or not. One alternative is to mandate WESP instead of ESP-NULL. An easier alternative is to write a new mechanism to authenticate OSPFv3 packets. I have written an RFC 6506 – “Supporting Authentication Trailer for OSPFv3” that defines an alternative, non IPsec mechanism, for authenticating and securing OSPFv3 protocol packets.

We propose to append a special block, called the Authentication Trailer to the end of the OSPFv3 packets. This is similar to the Authentication data thats carried in OSPFv2, where the length of this trailer is NOT included into the length of the OSPFv3 packet, but is accounted for in the IPv6 payload length. Unlike OSPFv2, the AT will also include the contents of the LLS block in its digest which means that the LLS block doesnt need to have its own separate authentication mechanism.

We also describe a new AT (Authentication Trailer) bit in the OSPFv3 options field that the routers must set in the HELLOs and DDs to indicate that this router will include Authentication trailer in all subsequent OSPFv3 packets on the link. In other words, the Authentication trailer is only examined if the AT bit is set. You can read the RFC for more details.

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About Manav Bhatia

Manav Bhatia is a SDN/NFV dataplane architect at Ionos Networks and has co-authored several IETF standards on routing protocols, BFD, IPv6, security, etc. He is also a member of IETF Routing Area Directorate where he helps the Area Directors review the IETF standards for their impact on the Routing Area. View all posts by Manav Bhatia

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