NETCONF Working Group K. Watsen
Internet-Draft Juniper Networks
Updates: 4253 (if approved) October 10, 2014
Intended status: Standards Track
Expires: April 13, 2015



This document presents NETCONF Call Home, which enables a NETCONF server to initiate a secure connection to the NETCONF client. NETCONF Call Home supports both the SSH and TLS transports, and does so in a way that preserves the SSH and TLS roles when compared to standard NETCONF over SSH or TLS connections.

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 working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet-Drafts is at

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."

This Internet-Draft will expire on April 13, 2015.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2014 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 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

This document presents NETCONF Call Home, which enables a NETCONF server to initiate a secure connection to the NETCONF client. NETCONF Call Home supports both the SSH and TLS transports, and does so in a way that preserves the SSH and TLS roles when compared to standard NETCONF over SSH or TLS connections.

The same technique is used to enabled call home for both the SSH and TLS transports. The technique is to have the NETCONF server initiate a TCP connection to the intended NETCONF client. The NETCONF client then uses the established TCP connection to initiate either the SSH or TLS protocols. In this way, the NETCONF server is always the SSH or TLS server, regardless if call home is used or not.

Enabling the NETCONF server to maintain the role of SSH or TLS server is both necessary and desirable. It is necessary for the SSH protocol, as SSH channels and subsystems can only be opened on the SSH server. It is desirable for both the SSH and TLS protocols as it conveniently leverages infrastructure that may be deployed for host-key or certificate verification and user authentication.

1.1. Motivation

Call home is generally useful for both the initial deployment and on-going management of networking elements. Here are some scenarios enabled by call home:

Having call home for NETCONF is particularly useful as NETCONF is the recommended protocol for configuration [iesg-statement], which is needed for provisioning workflows.

1.2. Requirements Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [RFC2119].

1.3. Applicability Statement

The techniques described in this document are suitable for network management scenarios such as the ones described in Section 1.1. However, these techniques SHOULD only be used for a NETCONF server to initiate a connection to a NETCONF client, as described in this document.

The reason for this restriction is that different protocols have different security assumptions. The NETCONF transport specifications require NETCONF clients and servers to verify the identity of the other party before starting the NETCONF protocol (section 2.2 of [RFC6241].

This contrasts with the base SSH and TLS protocols, which do not require programmatic verification of the other party (e.g., section 9.3.4 of [RFC4251] and section 4 of [RFC4252]). In such circumstances, allowing the SSH/TLS server to contact the SSH/TLS client would open new vulnerabilities. Any use of call home with SSH/TLS for purposes other than NETCONF will need a thorough, contextual security analysis.

1.4. Update to RFC 4253

This document updates the SSH Transport Layer Protocol [RFC4253] only by removing the "The client initiates the connection" statement made in Section 4 (Connection Setup). This document assumes that the reference to "connection" refers to the underlying transport connection (e.g., TCP). Security implications related to this change are discussed in Security Considerations (Section 4).

2. The NETCONF Server

2.1. Protocol Operation

2.2. Configuration Data Model

How to configure a NETCONF server to initiate a NETCONF Call Home connection is outside the scope of this document, as implementations can support this protocol using proprietary configuration data models. That said, a YANG [RFC6020] model for configuring NETCONF Call Home is provided in [draft-ietf-netconf-server-model].

3. The NETCONF Client

3.1. Protocol Operation

3.2. Server Identification and Verification

Under normal circumstances, a NETCONF client initiates the NETCONF connection to the NETCONF server. This action provides essential input to verify the NETCONF server's identity. For instance, when using TLS, the input can be compared to the domain names and IP addresses encoded in X.509 certificates. Similarly, when using SSH, the input can be compared to information persisted previously.

However, when receiving a NETCONF Call Home connection, the NETCONF client does not have any context leading it to know the connection is from a particular NETCONF server. Thus the NETCONF client must derive the NETCONF server's identity using information provided by the network and the NETCONF server itself. This section describes strategies a NETCONF client can use to identify a NETCONF server.

In addition to identifying a NETCONF server, a NETCONF client must also be able to verify the NETCONF server's credentials. Verifying a NETCONF server's credentials is necessary under normal circumstances but, due to call home being commonly used for newly deployed NETCONF servers, how to verify its credentials the very first time becomes a prominent concern. Therefore, this section also describes strategies a NETCONF client can use to verify a NETCONF server's credentials.

The first information a NETCONF client learns from a NETCONF Call Home connection is the IP address of the NETCONF server, as provided by the source address of the TCP connection. This IP address could be used as an identifier directly, but doing so would only work in networks that use known static addresses, in which case a standard NETCONF connection would have worked just as well. Due to this limited use, it is not recommended to identify a NETCONF server based on its source IP address.

The next information a NETCONF client learns is provided by the NETCONF server in the form of a host-key or a certificate, for the SSH and TLS protocols respectively. Without examining the contents of the host-key or certificate, it is possible to form an identity for the NETCONF server using it (e.g., a fingerprint), since each NETCONF server is assumed to have a statistically unique public key, even in virtualized environments. This strategy also provides a mechanism to verify the NETCONF server, in that a secure connection can only be established with the NETCONF server having the matching private key. This strategy is commonly implemented by SSH clients, and could be used equally well by TLS-based clients, such as may be required when the NETCONF servers have self-signed certificates. This strategy is viable and useful when the NETCONF servers call home using either SSH with standard RSA/DSA host-keys, or using TLS with self-signed certificates.

Yet another option for identifying a NETCONF server is for its host key or certificate to encode its identity directly (e.g., within the "Subject" field). However, in order to trust the content encoded within a host-key or certificate, it must be signed by a certificate authority trusted by the NETCONF client. This strategy's use of PKI enables a NETCONF client to transparently authenticate NETCONF servers, thus eliminating the need for manual authentication, as required by the previously discussed strategies. Elimination of manual steps is needed to achieve scalable solutions, however one can claim that this merely pushes equivalent work to provisioning the NETCONF servers with signed credentials. This assessment is accurate in general, but not in the case where the manufacturer itself provisions the credentials, such as is described by [Std-802.1AR-2009]. When NETCONF servers are pre-provisioned this way, NETCONF clients can transparently authenticate NETCONF servers using just the manufacturer's trust anchor and a list of expected NETCONF server identifiers, which could be provided along with shipping information. This strategy is recommended for all deployment scenarios.

In discussing the use of certificates, it is worth noting that TLS uses X.509 certificates by default. However, to use X.509 certificates with SSH, both the NETCONF client and server must support [RFC6187].

4. Security Considerations

The security considerations described throughout [RFC6242] and [RFC5539], and by extension [RFC4253] and [RFC5246], apply here as well.

This RFC deviates from standard SSH and TLS usage by having the SSH/TLS server initiate the underlying TCP connection. For SSH, [RFC4253] says "the client initiates the connection", whereas for TLS, [RFC5246] says it is layered on top of "some reliable transport protocol" without further attribution.

For SSH, not having the SSH client initiate the TCP connection means that it does not have a preconceived notion of the SSH server's identity, and therefore must dynamically derive one from information provided by the network or the SSH server itself. Security Considerations for strategies for this are described in Section 3.2.

An attacker could DoS the NETCONF client by having it perform computationally expensive operations, before deducing that the attacker doesn't posses a valid key. This is no different than any secured service and all common precautions apply (e.g., blacklisting the source address after a set number of unsuccessful login attempts).

5. IANA Considerations

This document requests that IANA assigns two TCP port numbers in the "Registered Port Numbers" range with the service names "netconf-ch-ssh" and "netconf-ch-tls". These ports will be the default ports for NETCONF Call Home protocol when using SSH and TLS respectively. Below is the registration template following the rules in [RFC6335].

Service Name:           netconf-ch-ssh
Transport Protocol(s):  TCP
Assignee:               IESG <>
Contact:                IETF Chair <>
Description:            NETCONF Call Home (SSH)
Reference:              RFC XXXX
Port Number:            YYYY

Service Name:           netconf-ch-tls
Transport Protocol(s):  TCP
Assignee:               IESG <>
Contact:                IETF Chair <>
Description:            NETCONF Call Home (TLS)
Reference:              RFC XXXX
Port Number:            ZZZZ

6. Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank for following for lively discussions on list and in the halls (ordered by last name): Andy Bierman, Martin Bjorklund, Mehmet Ersue, Wes Hardaker, Stephen Hanna, David Harrington, Jeffrey Hutzelman, Radek Krejci, Alan Luchuk, Mouse, Russ Mundy, Tom Petch, Peter Saint-Andre, Joe Touch, Sean Turner, Bert Wijnen.

7. References

7.1. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
[RFC4251] Ylonen, T. and C. Lonvick, "The Secure Shell (SSH) Protocol Architecture", RFC 4251, January 2006.
[RFC4252] Ylonen, T. and C. Lonvick, "The Secure Shell (SSH) Authentication Protocol", RFC 4252, January 2006.
[RFC4253] Ylonen, T. and C. Lonvick, "The Secure Shell (SSH) Transport Layer Protocol", RFC 4253, January 2006.
[RFC5246] Dierks, T. and E. Rescorla, "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.2", RFC 5246, August 2008.
[RFC5539] Badra, M., "NETCONF over Transport Layer Security (TLS)", RFC 5539, May 2009.
[RFC6020] Bjorklund, M., "YANG - A Data Modeling Language for the Network Configuration Protocol (NETCONF)", RFC 6020, October 2010.
[RFC6187] Igoe, K. and D. Stebila, "X.509v3 Certificates for Secure Shell Authentication", RFC 6187, March 2011.
[RFC6241] Enns, R., Bjorklund, M., Schoenwaelder, J. and A. Bierman, "Network Configuration Protocol (NETCONF)", RFC 6241, June 2011.
[RFC6242] Wasserman, M., "Using the NETCONF Protocol over Secure Shell (SSH)", RFC 6242, June 2011.
[RFC6335] Cotton, M., Eggert, L., Touch, J., Westerlund, M. and S. Cheshire, "Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Procedures for the Management of the Service Name and Transport Protocol Port Number Registry", BCP 165, RFC 6335, August 2011.

7.2. Informative References

, "
[Std-802.1AR-2009] IEEE SA-Standards Board, IEEE Standard for Local and metropolitan area networks - Secure Device Identity", December 2009.
[draft-ietf-netconf-server-model] Watsen, K. and J. Schoenwaelder, "NETCONF Server Configuration Model", 2014.
[iesg-statement]Writable MIB Module IESG Statement", March 2014.

Appendix A. Change Log

A.1. 00 to 01

Author's Address

Kent Watsen Juniper Networks EMail: