Internet Engineering Task Force M. Lichvar
Internet-Draft Red Hat
Updates: RFC5905 (if approved) Jun 09, 2020
Intended status: Standards Track
Expires: December 11, 2020

Alternative NTP port


This document specifies an alternative port for the Network Time Protocol (NTP) which is restricted in the supported modes and extensions to not allow traffic amplification in order to make NTP safe for the Internet.

Status of This Memo

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This Internet-Draft will expire on December 11, 2020.

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1. Introduction

There are several modes specified for NTP. NTP packets in versions 2, 3, and 4 have a 3-bit field for the mode. Modes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are used for synchronization of clocks. They are specified in RFC 5905. Modes 6 and 7 are used for other purposes, like monitoring and remote management of NTP servers and clients. The mode 6 is specified in Control Messages Protocol for Use with Network Time Protocol Version 4.

The first group of modes typically does not allow any traffic amplification, i.e. the response is not larger than the request. An exception is Autokey specified in RFC 5906. Autokey is rarely supported on public NTP servers.

However, the modes 6 and 7 allow significant traffic amplification, which has been exploited in large-scale denial-of-service (DoS) attacks over the Internet.

Over time, network operators have been observed to implement the following mitigations:

  1. Blocked UDP packets with destination or source port 123
  2. Blocked UDP packets with destination or source port 123 and specific length (e.g. longer than 48 octets)
  3. Blocked UDP packets with destination or source port 123 and NTP mode 6 or 7
  4. Limited rate of UDP packets with destination or source port 123

From those, only the 3rd approach does not have an impact on synchronization of clocks with NTP.

The number of public servers in the project has dropped in large part due to the mitigations (citation?).

Longer NTP packets (using extension fields) are needed by NTS.

This document specifies an alternative port for NTP which is restricted to the safe modes in order to enable synchronization of clocks in networks where the port 123 is blocked or rate limited.

1.1. Requirements Language

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.

2. Alternative port

The port TBD is an alternative port for NTP. The protocol and the format of NTP packets sent from and to this port is unchanged. Both NTP requests and responses MAY be sent from the port. An NTP packet MUST NOT be sent from the alternative port if it is a response which has a longer UDP payload than the request, or the number of NTP packets in a single response is larger than one.

In NTP versions 2, 3, and 4, only modes 1 (active), 2 (passive), 3 (client), 4 (server), and 5 (broadcast) are generally usable on this port.

An NTP server SHOULD receive requests in the client mode on both the original NTP port (123) and the alternative port (TBD). If it responds, it MUST send the response from the port which received the request. If the server supports any extension fields in NTP packets, it MUST verify that each response is not larger than the request, even if the number of extension fields is constant and they have a constant length.

When an NTP client is started, it SHOULD send the first request to the alternative port. The client SHOULD be switching between the two ports until a valid response is received. The client MAY send a limited number of requests to both ports at the same time in order to speed up the discovery of the responding port. When both ports are responding, the client SHOULD prefer the alternative port.

An NTP server which supports NTS SHOULD include the NTPv4 Port Negotiation record in NTS-KE responses to specify the alternative port as the port to which the client should send NTP requests.

In the symmetric modes (active and passive) NTP packets are considered to be requests and responses at the same time. Therefore, the peers MUST send packets with an equal length in order to synchronize with each other. The peers MAY use different polling intervals (packets sent at subsequent polls are considered to be separate requests and responses).

3. IANA Considerations

IANA is requested to allocate a (system?) UDP/TCP port.

4. Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Daniel Franke and Ragnar Sundblad for their useful comments.

5. References

5.1. Normative References

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997.
[RFC5905] Mills, D., Martin, J., Burbank, J. and W. Kasch, "Network Time Protocol Version 4: Protocol and Algorithms Specification", RFC 5905, DOI 10.17487/RFC5905, June 2010.

5.2. Informative References

[I-D.ietf-ntp-mode-6-cmds] Haberman, B., "Control Messages Protocol for Use with Network Time Protocol Version 4", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-ntp-mode-6-cmds-08, June 2020.
[I-D.ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp] Franke, D., Sibold, D., Teichel, K., Dansarie, M. and R. Sundblad, "Network Time Security for the Network Time Protocol", Internet-Draft draft-ietf-ntp-using-nts-for-ntp-28, March 2020.
[RFC5906] Haberman, B. and D. Mills, "Network Time Protocol Version 4: Autokey Specification", RFC 5906, DOI 10.17487/RFC5906, June 2010.

Author's Address

Miroslav Lichvar Red Hat Purkynova 115 Brno, 612 00 Czech Republic EMail:

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