Internet-Draft Defined-Trust Transport (DeftT) April 2023
Nichols, et al. Expires 4 October 2023 [Page]
Network Working Group
Intended Status:
K. Nichols
Pollere LLC
V. Jacobson
R. King
Operant Networks Inc.

Defined-Trust Transport (DeftT) Protocol for Limited Domains


This document describes a broadcast-friendly, many-to-many Defined-trust Transport (DeftT) that makes it simple to express and enforce application and deployment specific integrity, authentication, access control and behavior constraints directly in the protocol stack. DeftT is part of a Defined-trust Communications framework with an example codebase, not a protocol specification. Combined with IPv6 multicast and modern hardware-based methods for securing keys and code, it provides an easy to use foundation for secure and efficient communications in Limited Domains (RFC8799), in particular for Operational Technology (OT) networks.

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 4 October 2023.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Decades of success in providing IP connectivity over any physical media ("IP over everything") has commoditized IP-based communications. This makes IP an attractive option for Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Operational Technologies (OT) applications like building automation, embedded systems and transportation control, that previously required proprietary or analog connectivity. For the energy sector in particular, the growing use of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) like residential solar has created interest in low cost commodity networked devices but with added features for security, robustness and low-power operation [MODOT][OPR][CIDS]. Other emerging uses include connecting controls and sensors in nuclear power plants and carbon capture monitoring [DIGN][IIOT].

While moving to an IP network layer is a major advance for OT, current Internet transport options are a poor match to its needs. TCP generalized the Arpanet transport notion of a packet "phone call" between two endpoints into a generic, reliable, bi-directional bytestream working over IP's stateless unidirectional best-effort delivery model. Just as the voice phone call model spawned a global voice communications infrastructure in the 1900s, TCP/IP's two-party packet sessions are the foundation of today's global data communication infrastructure. But "good for global communication" isn't the same as "good for everything". OT applications tend to be localized and communication-intensive with a primary function of coordination and control and communication patterns that are many-to-many. Implementing many-to-many applications over two-party transport sessions changes the configuration burden and traffic scaling from the native media's O(n) to O(n2) (see Section 1.2). Further, as OT devices have specific, highly prescribed roles with strict constraints on "who can say what to which", the opacity of modern encrypted two-party sessions can make it impossible to enforce or audit these constraints.

This memo describes a new transport protocol, Defined-trust Transport (DeftT) for Limited Domains [RFC8799] in which multipoint communications are enabled through use of a named collection abstraction and secured by an integrated trust management engine. DeftT employs multicast (e.g., IPv6 link-local [RFC4291]), a distributed set reconciliation PDU transport, a flexible pub/sub API, chain-of-trust membership identities, and secured rules that define the local context and communication constraints of a deployment in a declarative language. These rules are used by DeftT's runtime trust management engine to enforce adherence to the constraints. The resulting system is efficient, secure and scalable: communication, signing and validation costs are constant per-publication, independent of the richness and complexity of the deployment's constraints or the number of entites deployed. Like QUIC, DeftT is a user-space transport protocol that sits between an application and a system-provided transport like UDP or UDP multicast (see Figure 1).

defttlayer defttlayer IPv6 Local Multicast UDP DeftT Application Unicast IPv4/6 TCP/QUIC/...
Figure 1: DeftT's place in an IP stack

Device enrollment consists of configuring a device with identity bundles that contains the trust anchor certificate, a compact and secured copy of the communication rules, and a membership identity (for domain communications) which comprises all the certs in its signing chain (which can be used to confer attributes) terminated at the trust anchor. The secret key corresponding to the leaf certificate of the identity should be securely configured while the security of the identity bundle can be deployment-specific. The identity chains of all communicating members share a common trust anchor and the rules that define legal signing chains, so the bundle suffices for a member to authenticate and authorize communication from peers and vice-versa. New members can join and communicate without labor intensive and error-prone device-to-device association configuration.

1.1. Environment and use

Due to physical deployment constraints and the high cost of wiring, OT networks preferentially use radio as their communication medium. Use of wires is impossible in many installations (untethered Things, adding connected devices to home and infrastructure networks, vehicular uses, etc.). Wiring costs far exceed the cost of current System-on-Chip Wi-Fi IoT devices and the cost differential is increasing [WSEN][COST]. For example, the popular ESP32 is a 32bit/320KB SRAM RISC with 60 analog and digital I/O channels plus complete 802.11b/g/n and bluetooth radios on a 5mm die that consumes 70uW in normal operation. It currently costs $0.13 in small quantities while the estimated cost of pulling cable to retrofit nuclear power plants is presently $2000/ft [NPPI].

OT applications are frequently Limited Domain with communications that are local, have a many-to-many pattern, and use application-specific identifiers ("topics") for rendezvous. This fits the generic Publish/Subscribe communications model ("pub/sub") and, as table 1 in [PRAG] shows, nine of the eleven most widely used IoT protocols use a topic-based pub/sub transport. For example MQTT, an open standard developed in 1999 to monitor oil pipelines over satellite [MQTT][MHST], is now likely the most widely used IoT protocol ( Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, and Cloudflare all offer hosted MQTT brokers for collecting and connecting sensor and control data in addition to providing local pub/sub in buildings, factories and homes. Pub/sub protocols communicate by using the same topic but need no knowledge of one another. These protocols are typically implemented as an application layer protocol over a two-party Internet transports like TCP or TLS which require in-advance configuration of peer addresses and credentials at each endpoint and incur unnecessary communications overhead Section 1.2.

1.2. Transporting information

The smart lighting example of Figure 2 illustrates a topic-based pub/sub application layer protocol in a wireless broadcast subnet. Each switch is set up to do triple-duty: one click of its on/off paddle controls some particular light(s), two clicks control all the lights in the room, and three clicks control all available lights (five kitchen plus the four den ceiling). Thus a switch button push may require a message to as many as nine light devices. On a broadcast physical network each packet sent by the switch is heard by all nine devices. IPv6 link-level multicast provides a network layer that can take advantage of this but current IP transport protocols cannot. Instead, each switch needs to establish nine bi-lateral transport associations in order to send the published message for all lights to turn on. Communicating devices must be configured with each other's IP address and enrolled identity so, for n devices, both the configuration burden and traffic scale as O(n2). For example, when an "all" event is triggered, every light's radio will receive nine messages but discard the eight determined to be "not mine." If a device sleeps, is out-of-range, or has partial connectivity, additional application-level mechanisms have to be implemented to accommodate it.

iotDeftt iotDeftt kitchen ceiling kitchen ceiling kitchen all subscriptions den ceiling den ceiling den all subscriptions kitchen counter kitchen counter kitchen all subscriptions den switch den ceiling den all 1: 2: 3: clicks pub topic kitchen switch kitchen counter kitchen all 1: 2: 3: clicks pub topic
Figure 2: Smart lighting use of Pub/Sub

MQTT and other broker-based pub/sub approaches mitigate this by adding a broker where all transport connections terminate (Figure 3). Each entity makes a single TCP transport connection with the broker and tells the broker the topics to which it subscribes. Thus the kitchen switch uses its single transport session to publish commands to topic kitchen/counter, topic kitchen or all. The kitchen counter light uses its broker session to subscribe to those same three topics. The kitchen ceiling lights subscribe to topics kitchen ceiling, kitchen and all while den ceiling lights subscribe to topics den ceiling, den and all. Use of a broker reduces the configuration burden from O(n2) to O(n): 18 transport sessions to 11 for this simple example but for realistic deployments the reduction is often greater. There are other advantages: besides their own IP addresses and identities, devices only need to be configured with those of the broker. Further, the broker can store messages for temporarily unavailable devices and use the transport session to confirm the reception of messages. This approach is popular because the pub/sub application layer protocol provides an easy-to-use API and the broker reduces configuration burden while maintaining secure, reliable delivery and providing short-term in-network storage of messages. Still the broker implementation doubles the per-device configuration burden by adding an entity that exists only to implement transport and traffic still scales as O(n2), e.g., any switch publishing to all lights results in ten (unicast) message transfers over the wifi network. Further, the broker introduces a single point of failure into a network that is richly connected physically.

iotMQTT iotMQTT MQTT broker kitchen ceiling den ceiling kitchen counter den switch den ceiling den all 1: 2: 3: clicks pub topic kitchen switch kitchen counter kitchen all 1: 2: 3: clicks pub topic ←sub : den ceiling, den, all ←sub : kitchen ceiling, kitchen, all ←sub : kitchen counter,             kitchen, all
Figure 3: Brokers enable Pub/Sub over connection/session protocols

Clearly, a transport protocol able to exploit a physical network's broadcast capabilities would better suit this problem. (Since unicast is just multicast restricted to peer sets of size 2, a multicast transport handles all unicast use cases but the converse is not true.) In the distributed systems literature, communication associated with coordinating shared objectives has long been modeled as distributed set reconciliation [WegmanC81][Demers87]. In this approach, each domain of discourse is a named set, e.g., myhouse.iot. Each event or action, e.g., a switch button press, is added as a new element to the instance of myhouse.iot at its point of origin then the reconciliation process ensures that every instance of myhouse.iot has this element. In 2000, [MINSKY03] developed a broadcast-capable set reconciliation algorithm whose communication cost equaled the set instance differences (which is optimal) but its polynomial computational cost impeded adoption. In 2011, [DIFF] used Invertible Bloom Lookup Tables (IBLTs) [IBLT][MPSR] to create a simple distributed set reconciliation algorithm providing optimal in both communication and computational cost. DeftT uses this algorithm (see Section 2.2) and takes advantage of IPv6's self-configuring link local multicast to avoid all manual configuration and external dependencies. This restores the system design to Figure 2 where each device has a single, auto-configured transport that makes use of the broadcast radio medium without need for a broker or multiple transport associations. Each button push is broadcast exactly once to be added to the distributed set.

1.3. Securing information

Conventional session-based transports combine multiple publications with independent topics and purposes under a single session key, providing privacy by encrypting the sessions between endpoints. The credentials of endpoints (e.g., a website) are usually attested by a third party certificate authority (CA) and bound to a DNS name; each secure transport association requires the exchange of these credentials which allows for secure exchange of a nonce symmetric key. In Figure 3 each transport session is a separate security association where each device needs to validate the broker's credential and the broker has to validate each device's. This ensures that transport associations are between two enrolled devices (protecting against outsider and some MITM attacks) but, once the transport session has been established there are no constraints whatsoever on what devices can say. Clearly, this does not protect against the insider attacks that currently plague OT, e.g., [CHPT] description of a lightbulb taking over a network. For example, the basic function of a light switch requires that it be allowed to tell a light to turn on or off but it almost certainly shouldn't be allowed to tell the light to overwrite its firmware (fwupd), even though "on/off" and "fwupd" are both standard capabilities of most smart light APIs. Once a TLS session is established, the transport handles "fwupd" publications the same way as "on/off" publications. Such attacks can be prevented using trust management that operates per-publication, using rules that enable the "fwupd" from the light switch to be rejected. Combining per-publication trust decisions with many-to-many communications over broadcast infrastructure requires per-publication signing rather than session-based signing.

Securing each publication rather than the path it arrives on deals with a wider spectrum of threats while avoiding the quadratic session state and traffic burden. In OT, valid messages conform to rigid standards on syntax and semantics [IEC61850][ISO9506MMS][ONE][MATR][OSCAL][NMUD][ST][ZCL] that can be combined with site-specific requirements on identities and capabilities to create a system's communication rules. These rules can be employed to secure publications in a trust management system such as [DLOG] where each publisher is responsible for supplying all of the "who/what/where/when" information needed for each subscriber to prove the publication complies with system policies.

Instead of vulnerable third-party CAs [W509], sites employ a local root of trust and locally created certificates. When the communication rules are expressed in a declarative language [DLOG], they can be validated for consistency and completeness then converted to a compact runtime form which can be authorized and secured via signing with the system trust anchor. This communication schema can be distributed as a certificate, then validated using on-device trusted enclaves [TPM][HSE][ATZ] as part of the device enrollment process. In DeftT's publication-based transport, the schema is used to both construct and validate publications, guaranteeing that all parts of the system always conform to and enforce the same rules, even as those rules evolve to meet new threats (more in Section 3.1). DeftT embeds the trust management mechanism described above directly in the publish and subscribe data paths as shown below:

trustElements trustElements Device-specific code Communication Schema Shim Subscribe Publish Publication Validator Publication Builder Network Schema Compiler Site Policy Standard Conformance Requirements: On-Device App
Figure 4: Trust management elements of DeftT.

This approach extends LangSec's [LANG] "be definite in what you accept" principle by using the authenticated common ruleset for belt-and-suspenders enforcement at both publication and subscription functions of the transport. If an application asks the Publication Builder to publish something and the schema shows it lacks credentials, an error is thrown and nothing is published. Independently, the Publication Validator ignores publications that:

  • don't have a locally validated, complete signing chain for the credential that signed it
  • the schema shows its signing chain isn't appropriate for this publication
  • have a publication signature that doesn't validate

Note that since an application's subscriptions determine which publications it wants, only certificates from chains that can sign publications matching the subscriptions need to be validated or retained. Thus a device's communication state burden and computation costs are a function of how many different things are allowed to talk to it but not how many things it talks to or the total number of devices in the system. In particular, event driven, publish-only devices like sensors spend no time or space on validation. Unlike most 'secure' systems, adding additional constraints to schemas to reduce attack surface results in devices doing less work.

1.4. Defined-trust Communications Domains

A Defined-trust Communications Limited Domain (or simply, trust domain) is a Limited Domain where all the members communicate via a DeftT Figure 5 and are configured with the same trust anchor, schema, a schema-conformant DeftT identity cert chain that terminates at the trust anchor and the secret key corresponding to the identity chain's leaf cert. The particular rules for any deployment are application-specific (e.g., Is it home IoT or a nuclear power plant?) and site-specific (specific form of credential and idiosyncrasies in rules) which DeftT accommodates by being invoked with a ruleset (schema) particular to a deployment. We anticipate that the efforts to create common data models (e.g., [ONE]) for specific sectors will lead to easier and more forms-based configuration of DeftT deployments.

A trust domain is perimeterless and may operate over one or more subnets, sharing physical media with non-member entities. Member entities throughout the domain publish and subscribe to its topics using Publication Builders and Validators as shown in Figure 4. These Publications become the elements of a set, or named collection, that is confined to each subnet. DeftT uses a distributed set reconciliation protocol on each collection and each subnet independently. Every DeftT maintains at least two collections: pubs for application Publications and cert where identity bundle certs are published. Figure 5

trustdomain trustdomain M M M M M M M collection /pubs collection /cert publish/subscribe Trust Domain subnet set reconciliation
Figure 5: Trust domain

Trust domains are extended across physically separated subnets, subnets using different media and/or subdomains on the same subnet (see Section 2.5) by using Relays that have a DeftT in each subnet and pass Publications between subnets as long as they are valid at the receiving DeftT Figure 6. Since set reconciliation does not accept duplicates, Relays are powerful elements in creating efficient configuration-free meshes. The subnets of the figure could be different colocated media (e.g. bluetooth, wifi, ethernet) or may be physically distant. The triangle Relay-only subnet can be carried over a unicast link. The set reconciliation protocol ensures that items only transit a subnet once: an item must be specifically requested in order to be transmitted. More Relay discussion is in Section 2.5 and Section 5.

relayedtrustdomain relayedtrustdomain Relay M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M M Relay Trust Domain subnet 1 subnet 2 subnet 3 subnet 4
Figure 6: Relayed trust domain

1.5. Current status

An open-source Defined-trust Communications Toolkit [DCT] with an example implementation of DeftT is maintained by the corresponding author's company. [DCT] has examples of using DeftT to implement secure brokerless message-based pub/sub using UDP/IPv6 multicast and unicast UDP/TCP and include extending a Trust Domain via a unicast connection or between two broadcast network segments. Working implementations and performance improvements are occasionally added to the repository.

Massive build out of the renewable energy sector is driving connectivity needs for both monitoring and control. Author King's company, Operant, is currently developing extensions of DeftT in a mix of open-source and proprietary software tailored for commercial deployment in support of distributed energy resources (DER). Current small scale use cases have performed well and expanded usage is planned. Pollere is also working on home IoT uses. Our development philosophy is to start from solving useful problems with a well-defined scope and extend from there. As the needs of our use cases expand, the Defined-trust communications framework will evolve with increased efficiencies. DeftT's code is open source, as befits any communications protocol, but even more critical for one attempting to offer security. DCT itself makes use of the open source cryptographic library libsodium [SOD] and the project is open to feedback on potential security issues as well as hearing from potential collaborators.

The well-known issues with 802.11 multicast [RFC9119] can make DeftT less efficient than it should be. Target OT deployments primarily use smaller packet sizes and DeftT's set reconciliation provides robust delivery that currently mitigates these concerns. DeftT use may become another force for improved multicast on 802.11, joining the critical network infrastructure applications of neighbor discovery, address resolution, DHCP, etc.

Cryptographic signing takes most of the application-to-network time in DeftT. Though not prohibitively costly, increased use of signing in transports may incentivize creation of more efficient signing algorithms.

2. DeftT and Defined-trust Communications

DeftT synchronizes and secures communications between enrolled members of a Limited Domain [RFC8799]. DeftT's multi-party synchronized collections of named, schema-conformant Publications contrast with the bilateral session of TCP or QUIC where a source and a destination coordinate with one another to transport undifferentiated streams of information. DeftTs in a trust domain may hold different subsets of the collection at any time (e.g., immediately after entities add elements to the collection) but the synchronization protocol ensures all converge to holding the complete set of elements within a few round-trip-times following the changes.

Applications use DeftT to add to and access from a collection of Publications. DeftT enforces "who can say what to which" as well as providing required integrity, authenticity and confidentiality. Transparently to applications, a DeftT both constructs and validates all Publications against its schema's formal, validated rules. The compiled binary communications schema is distributed as a trust-root-signed certificate and that certificate's thumbprint (see Section 2.3.2 and Section 7) uniquely identifies each trust domain. Each DeftT is configured with the trust anchor used in the domain, the schema cert, and its own credentials for membership in the domain. To communicate, DeftTs must be in the same domain. Identity credentials comprise a unique private identity key along with a public certificate chain rooted at the domain's trust anchor. Certificates in identity chains are specified in the schema and contain the attributes granted to the identity. Thus, attributes are stored in the identity not on an external server.

Each member publishes its credentials to the certificate collection in order to join the domain. DeftT validates credentials as a certificate chain against the schema and does not accept Publications without a fully validated signer. This unique approach enables fully distributed policy enforcement without a secured-perimeter physical network and/or extensive per-device configuration. DeftT can share an IP network with non-DeftT traffic as well as DeftT traffic of a different omain. Privacy via AEAD encryption is automatically handled within DeftT if selected in the schema.

transportBD0 transportBD0v2 Application system- p r ovided transport DeftT information to convey information of inte r est local adds to collection others’ adds to collection state of collection
Figure 7: DeftT's interaction in a network stack

Figure 7 shows the data flow in and out of a DeftT. DeftT uses its schema to package application information into Publications that are added to its local view of the collection. Application information is packaged in Publications which are carried in cAdd PDUs that are used along with cState PDUs to communicate about and synchronize Collections. cStates are used to report the state of the local collection; cAdds carry Publications to other members that need them. These PDUs are broadcast on their subnet (e.g., UDP multicast).

2.1. Inside DeftT

DeftT's reference implementation [DCT] is organized in functional library modules that interact to prepare application-level information for transport and to extract application-level information from packets, see Figure 8. Extensions and alternate module implementations are possible but the functionality and interfaces must be preserved. Internals of DeftT are completely transparent to an application and the reference implementation is efficient in both lines of code and performance. The schema determines which modules are used. A DeftT participates in two required collections and may participate in others if required by the schema-designated signature managers. One of the required collections, descriptive collection name component pubs, contains application Publications (see Table 2). The other required collection, cert, manages the certificates of the trust domain. Specific signature managers may require group key distribution in descriptively named collection keys.

DeftTmodules DeftTmodules syncps : set synchronization pub/sub protocol syncps : set synchronization pub/sub protocol schemaLib : run-time use of schema cert, identity certs and cert store shim : application- specifics: up calls, timing, lifetimes, API, QoS, seg/reas DeftT face : manage PDU transport via multicast UDP, unicast UDP or TCP distributors : handle all aspects of distributing certs and group keys sigmgrs : sign or validate both PDUs and pubs cState & cAdd packets cState & cAdd PDUs cState & cAdd PDUs publications certs, keys application calls and callbacks
Figure 8: Run-time library modules

A shim serves as the translator between application semantics and the named information objects (Publications) whose format is defined by the schema. The syncps module is the set reconciliation protocol used by DeftT (see Section 2.2). New signature managers, distributors, and face modules may be added to the library to extend features. More detail on each module can be found at [DCT] in both code files and documents.

The signing and validation modules (signature managers) are used for both Publications and cAdds. Following good security practice, DeftT's Publications are constructed and signed early in their creation, then are validated (or discarded) early in the reception process.The schemaLib module provides certificate store access throughout DeftT along with access to distributors of group keys, Publication building and structural validation, and other functions of the trust management engine. This organization of interacting modules is not possible in a strictly layered implementation.

2.2. syncps: a set reconciliation protocol

DeftT requires a method or protocol that keeps collections synchronized, where the collection a set and the Publications are the elements of the set. The syncps protocol uses IBLTs [DIFF][IBLT][MPSR] to solve the multi-party set-difference problem efficiently without the use of prior context and with communication proportional to the size of the difference between the sets being compared. Syncps announces its collection state (set of currently known Publications) by sending a cState PDU containing an IBLT. The cState serves as a query for additional data that isn't reflected in its local state. Receipt of a cState performs three simultaneous functions: (1) announces new Publications, (2) notifies of Publications that member(s) are missing and (3) acknowledges Publication receipt. The first may prompt the recipient to share its cState to get the new Publication(s). The second results in sending a cAdd PDU containing all the missing and locally available Publications that fit. The third may result in a progress notification sent to other local modules so anything waiting for delivery confirmation can proceed.

On broadcast media, syncps uses the cStates it hears to suppress sending its own and listens for any cAdds that add to its cState. This means that one-to-many Publications require one cState and one cAdd to be sent, independently of the number of members desiring the Publication (the theoretical minimum possible for reliable delivery). The digest size of a cState can be controlled by Publication lifetime, dynamically constructing the digest to maximize communication progress [Graphene][Graphene19] and, if necessary for a large network, dynamically adapting topic specificity.

A cAdd with new Publication(s) responds to a particular cState so a receiving syncps removes that cState as a pending query (it will be replaced with a new cState with the addition of the new items). Any DeftT that is missing a Publication (due to being out-of-range or asleep, etc.) can receive it from any other DeftT. A syncps will continue to send cAdds as long as cStates are received that are missing any of its active Publications. This results in reliability that is subscriber-oriented, not publisher-oriented and is efficient for broadcast media, particularly with protocol features designed to prevent multiple redundant broadcasts.

2.3. Formats of DeftT Communications

In DeftT, information containers (i.e., Publications, cAdds, Cstate) hold names, content and signatures in TLVs. Tables 1-3 layout the formats of Publications, cStates, cAdds and certificates, which are a special type of Publication (where keys are the information carried). Publications and cAdds use a compatible format which allows them to use the same library signing/validation modules (sigmgrs) and the same parser. The cState/cAdd formats and dynamics were originally prototyped using Named Data Networking. Although the NDN code and architecture are not used in DeftT or DCT, a restricted version of the NDNv3 TLV encoding is still used, with TLV types from NDN's TLV Type Registry [NDNS], as is its IANA assigned port number [RFC6335].

In Tables 1-3, the Type in level i is contained within the TLV of the previous level i-1 TLV.

2.3.1. Publications

Publications use a Name TLV to encode the name defined in the schema. A Publication is valid if it starts with the correct TLV, its Name validates against the schema and it contains the five required Level 1 TLVs in the right order (top-down in Table 1) and nothing else. MetaInfo contains the ContentType (in DeftT either type Key or Blob). The Content carries the named information and may be empty. SignatureInfo indicates the SignatureType used to select the appropriate signature manager (Figure 8). The SignatureType for a collection's Publications is specified in the schema and each Publication must match it. (A list of current types can be found in [DCT] file include/dct/sigmgrs/sigmgr.hpp.) The KeyLocator holds the thumbprint (see Section 2.3.2) of the certificate that signed this Publication. If the Publication is a certificate, KeyLocator will be followed by the ValidityPeriod. Finally, SignatureValue is determined by the SignatureType and its format is verified by the signature manager.

Table 1: Publication format
Level 0 Level 1 Level 2 Comments
Type the value 6
Name format specified by schema
ContentType either type Key or Blob
Content arbitrary byte sequence; may have length 0
SignatureType Value specified by schema
KeyLocator must be a thumbprint
ValidityPeriod Only for Certificates
SignatureValue format determined by SignatureType

2.3.2. Certificates

Certificates (certs) are Publications with the ContentType set to Key and both a KeyLocator and a ValidityPeriod. DCT certs are compatible with the NDN Certificate standard V2 but adhere to a stricter set of conventions to make them resistant to substitution, work factor and DoS attacks. The only KeyLocator type allowed in a DCT cert is a KeyDigest type that must contain the 32 byte SHA256 digest of the entire signing cert (including SignatureValue). A self-signed cert (such as a trust anchor) must set this digest to all zero. This digest, a cert thumbprint [IOTK], is the only locator allowed in any signed Defined-trust object (e.g., Publications, cAdd, schemas, certs) and must be present in every signed object. A signed object using any other type of locator will be considered unverifiable and silently ignored. Certificate Names use a suffix:


where the cert's thumbprint is the keyID and its creation time is the version.

The original publisher of any signed object must ensure that that all certs, schemas, etc., needed to validate the object have been published before the object is published. If a member receives a signed object that is missing any of its signing dependencies, the object should be considered unverifiable and silently ignored. Such objects must not be propagated.

2.3.3. cState

cState and cAdds are are the PDUs exchanged with the system-level transport in use (e.g., UDP) but are only used by the syncps and face modules Figure 8: syncps creates cState and cAdd PDUs while the face manages the protocol interaction within the trust domain. A cState PDU (see Table 2) is used to report the state of a Collection at its originator. Collections are denoted by structured names which include the identifier of a particular trust domain (thumbprint of its schema cert). in DeftT PDU headers. A cState serves to inform all subscribing entities of a trust domain about Publications currently in the Collection, both so an entity can obtain Publications it is missing and so an entity can add Publications it has that are not reflected in the received cState.

Table 2: cState format
Level 0 Level 1 Level 2 Comments
Type the value 5
Generic trust domain id
Generic descriptive collection name
Generic collection state (sender's view)
Nonce uniquely distinguishes this cState
Lifetime expiry time (ms after arrival)

A cState is valid if it starts with the correct TLV and it contains the three required Level 1 TLVs in the right order (top-down in Table 2) and nothing else. Its Name must start with the trust domain id of the DeftT, then a descriptive Collection name (of at least one component) and finally a representation of the the state of the Collection at the originator. There is no signature for a cState PDU. (The cState format is a restricted subset of an NDNv3 Interest.)

2.3.4. cAdd

A cAdd PDU is used by syncps to add Publications to a collection and carries Publications as Content. syncps creates a cAdd PDU after receiving a cState and only if the recipient has Publications that are not reflected in the received state. A cAdd is valid if it starts with the correct TLV, contains the five required Level 1 TLVs in the right order (top-down in Table 3) and nothing else. A cAdd name is identical to the cState to which it responds.

Table 3: cAdd format
Level 0 Level 1 Level 2 Comments
Type the value 6
Name must match Name of cState it's adding to
ContentType type cAdd
Publication(s) one or more Publications to add to the Collection
SignatureType Value indicates which signature manager
KeyLocator Presence depends on SignatureType
SignatureValue Value holds the signature for this PDU

The structure of the cState and cAdd Names means that nothing about Publication Names (which are application-oriented) are exposed if encrypted cAdds are specified in a schema. (The schema itself may be distributed in an encrypted cAdd if desired).

2.4. Interface between application and network interface

Figure 7 and Figure 8 show the blocks and modules application information passes through in DeftT. Its handling of application information can be illustrated using an example of a new Publication at a trust domain member and following its progress into a collection and its reception by other members. For more detail, see the library at [DCT]. DeftT uses [DCT]'s message-based pub/sub (mbps) shim which kicks off all the necessary DeftT startup when an mbps object is instantiated by the application. After startup, the pub syncps of each member will maintain a cState containing the IBLT of its view of the collection. (In the stable, synchronized state, all IBLTs are the same.)

Applications use an mbps subscribe method to either subscribe to all messages or to a subset by topic, passing a callback function to handle matching items. These application-level subscriptions are turned into syncps subscriptions via mbps. When the application has new information to communicate, topic items (as parameters) and message are passed to mbps with a publish call. Only these topic components and the message, if any, are passed between the application and mbps. The message may be segmented into multiple Publications by mbps, if the message size exceeds Publication content. For each Publication, mbps-specific components are added to the parameter list and the services of schemaLib are invoked in order to build and publish a valid Publication according to the schema (no Publication will be built if the correct attributes are not contained in the member's identity chain). The Publication is signed using the sign method of the appropriate sigmgr and passed to syncps.

syncps adds this Publication to its collection and updates its IBLT to contain the new Publication. Since its application just created it, syncps knows this is a new addition to the collection and it is a response to the current cState. Thus the Publication is packaged into a cAdd and signed using the sign method of the designated sigmgr and passed to the face. The updated IBLT is packaged into a new cState that is handed to the face.

Members of the trust domain specifically respond only to IPv6 cAdds that share their trust domain identifier (Section 2.3.3 and Section 2.3.4). When a new cAdd is received at a member, the face ensures it matches an outstanding cState and, if so, passes it on to matching syncps(es). Syncps validates (both structurally and cryptographically) the cAdd using the appropriate sigmgr's validate and continues, removing Publications, if valid. Each Publication is structurally validated via a sigmgr and valid Publications are added to the local collection and IBLT. syncps passes this updated cState to the local face. If this Publication matches a subscription it is passed to mbps, invoking the sigmgr's decrypt if the Publication is encrypted (Publication decryption is not available at Relays.) mbps receives the Publication and passes any topic components of interest to the application along with the content (if any) to the application via the callback registered when it subscribed. (If the original content was spread across Publications, mbps will wait until all of the content is received. The sCnt component of a mbps Publication Name is used for this.)

2.5. Schema-based information movement

Although the Internet's transport and routing protocols emphasize universal reachability with packet forwarding based on destination, a significant number of applications neither need nor desire to transit the Internet (e.g., see [RFC8799]). This is true for a wide class of OT application. Further, liberal acceptance of packets while depending on the good sending practices of others leaves critical applications open to misconfiguration and attacks. DeftT only moves its Publications in accordance with fully specified communication rules. This approach differs from Internet forwarding but offers new opportunities to address the specific security requirements of applications in many Limited Domains.

DeftTs on the same subnet may be in different trust domains and DeftTs in the same trust domain may not be on the same subnet. In some cases, it is useful to define sub-domains whose DeftTs have a compatible, but more limited, version of the trust domain's communications schema. Compatible means there is at least one publication type and associated signer specification in common or one schema may be a subset of the other. In the case of sub-domains, they be deployed on the same subnet or on different subnets. The rules of a sub-domain compiled to a binary schema distributed as a schema cert will have a different thumbprint from that of the full trust domain.

In the case of DeftTs on the same subnet but in different trust domains or different sub-domains, the cState and cAdd PDUs of different domains are differentiated by the domain id (thumbprint of the domain's schema certificate as in Table 2) which can be used at the face module to determine whether or not to process a PDU. A particular sync collection is managed on a single subnet: cState and cAdds are not forwarded off that subnet nor between DeftTs with different domain ids on the same subnet. Instead, schema-compliant Relays connect Publications between separate sync collections of the same trust domain. Collections are differentiated by both subnet (the physical media) and domain id (a required field of the cState and cAdd PDUs). Consequently, cStates and cAdds are subnet-sprecific while Publications belong to a trust domain (or sub-domain).

A Relay is implemented [DCT] as an entity running on a device with a DeftT interface on each subnet (two or more) or with multiple DeftT interfaces to the same subnet Figure 9 where each uses a different but compatible version of the others' schema. Each DeftT participates in different sync collections and uses a communication identity valid for the schema used by the DeftT. Only Publications (including certs) are relayed between DeftTs and the Publication must validate against the schema of each DeftT. Consequently cAdd encryption is unique per collection while Publication encryption holds across the domain.

As Relays do not originate Publications, their DeftT API module (a "shim", see Section 2.1) performs pass-through of valid Publications. The Relay of Figure 9-left is on three separate wireless subnets. If all three DeftTs are using an identical schema, a new validated cert added to the cert store of an incoming DeftT is then passed to the other two, which each validate the cert before adding to their own cert stores (superfluous in this case, but not a lot of overhead for additional security). When a valid Publication is received at one DeftT, it is passed to the other two DeftTs to validate against their schemas and published if it passes.

relayextend relayextend Relay b r oadcast segment 0 b r oadcast segment 2 b r oadcast segment 1 ch0 ch1 ch2 local network 1 local network 2 Relay Relay cell connection, tcp tunnel, etc.
Figure 9: Relays connect subnets

A Relay may have different identities and schemas for each DeftT but must have the same trust anchor and schemas must be identical copies, proper subsets or overlapping subsets of the domain schema. Publications that are undefined for a particular DeftT will be silently discarded when they do not validate upon relay, just as they are when received from a face. This means the Relay application of Figure 9-left can remain the same but Publications will only be published to a different subnet if its DeftT has that specification in its schema. Relays may filter Publications at the application level or restrict subscriptions on some of their DeftT interfaces. Figure 9-right shows extending a trust domain geographically by using a unicast connection (e.g., over a cell line or tunnel over the Internet) between two Relays which also interface to local broadcast subnets. Everything on each local subnet shows up on the other. A communications schema subset could be used here to limit the types of Publications sent on the remote link, e.g., logs or alerts. Using this approach in Figure 9-right, local communications for subnet 1 can be kept local while subnet 2 might send commands and/or collect log files from subnet 1.

More generally, Relays can form a mesh of broadcast subnets with no additional configuration (i.e., Relays on a broadcast network do not need to be configured with others' identities and can join at any time). The mesh is efficient: publications are only added to an individual DeftT's collection once regardless of how it is received. Relays with overlapping broadcast physical media will only add a Publication to any of its DeftTs once; syncps ensures there are no duplicates. More on the applicability of DeftT meshes is in Section 5.

2.6. Congestion control

Each DeftT manages its collection on a single broadcast subnet (since unicast is a proper subset of multicast, a point-to-point connection is viewed as a trivial broadcast subnet) thus only has to deal with that subnet's congestion. As described in the previous section, a device connected to two or more subnets may create DeftTs having the same collection name on each subnet with a Publication Relay between them but DeftT never forwards PDUs between subnets. It is, of course, possible to run DeftT over an extended broadcast network like a PIM multicast group but the result will generally require more configuration and be less reliable, efficient and secure than DeftT's self-configuring peer-to-peer Relay mesh.

DeftT sends at most one copy of any Publication over any subnet, independent of the number of publishers and subscribers on the subnet. Thus the total DeftT traffic on a subnet is strictly upper bounded by the application-level publication rate. As described in Section 2.2, DeftTs publish a cState specifying the set elements they currently hold. If a DeftT receives a cState specifying the same elements (Publications) it holds, it doesn't send its cState. Thus the upper bound on cState publication rate is the number of members on the subnet divided by the cState lifetime (typically seconds to minutes) but is typically one per cState lifetime due to the duplicate suppression. Each member can send at most one cAdd in response to a cState. This creates a strict request/response flow balance which upper bounds the cAdd traffic rate to (number of members - 1) times the cState publication rate. The flow balance ensures an instance can't send a new cState until it's previous one is either obsoleted by a cAdd or times out. Similarly a cAdd can only be sent in response to the cState which it obsoletes. Thus the number of outstanding PDUs per instance is at most one and DeftT cannot cause subnet congestion collapse.

If a Relay is used to extend a trust domain over a path whose bandwidth delay product is many times larger than typical subnet MTUs (1.5-9KB), the one-outstanding-PDU per member constraint can result in poor performance (1500 bytes per 100ms transcontinental RTT is only 120Kbps). DeftT can run over any lower layer transport and stream-oriented transports like TCP or QUIC allow for a 'virtual MTU' that can be set large enough for DeftT to relay at or above the average publication rate (the default is 64KB which can relay up to 5Mbps of publications into a 100ms RTT). In this case there can be many lower layer packets in flight for each DeftT cAdd PDU but their congestion control is handled by TCP or QUIC.

3. Defined-trust management engine

OT applications are distinguished (from general digital communications) by well-defined roles, behaviors and relationships that constrain the information to be communicated (e.g., as noted in [RFC8520]). Structured abstract profiles characterize the capabilities and attributes of Things and can be machine-readable (e.g., [ONE][RFC8520][ZCL]). Energy applications in particular have defined strict role-based access controls [IEC] though proposed enforcement approaches require interaction of a number of mechanisms across the communications stack [NERC]. Structured profiles and rules strictly define permitted behaviors including what types of messages can be issued or acted on; undefined behaviors are not permitted. These rules, along with local configuration, are incorporated directly into the schemas used by DeftT's integrated trust management engine to both prohibit undefined behaviors and to construct compliant Publications. This not only provides a fine-grained security but a highly usable security, an approach that can make an application writer's job easier since applications do not need to contain local configuration and security considerations.

DCT [DCT] includes a language for expressing the rules of communication, its compiler, and other tools to create the credentials a DeftT needs at run-time. DCT is example code, not currently optimized for performance.

3.1. Communications schemas

Defined-trust's use of communications schemas has been influenced by [SNC][SDSI] and the field of trust management defined by Blaze et. al. [DTM] as the study of security policies, security credentials, and trust relationships. Li et. al. [DLOG] refined some trust management concepts arguing that the expressive language for the rules should be declarative (as opposed to the original work). Communications schemas also have roots in the trust schemas for Named-Data Networking, described by Yu et al [STNDN] as "an overall trust model of an application, i.e., what is (are) legitimate key(s) for each data packet that the application produces or consumes." [STNDN] gave a general description of how trust schema rules might be used by an authenticating interpreter finite state machine to validate packets. A new approach to both a trust schema language and its integration with communications was introduced in [NDNW] and extended in [DNMP][IOTK][DCT]. In this approach, a schema is analogous to the plans for constructing a building. Construction plans serve multiple purposes:

  1. Allow permitting authorities to check that the design meets applicable codes
  2. Show construction workers what to build
  3. Let building inspectors validate that as-permitted matches as-built

Construction plans get this flexibility from being declarative: they describe "what", not "how". As noted in p4 of [DLOG], a declarative trust management specification based on a formal foundation guarantees all parties to a communication have the same notion of what constitutes compliance. This allows a single schema to provide the same protection as dozens of manually configured, per-node ACL rules. This approach is a critical part of Defined-trust Communications which uses the more descriptive term communication schema as the rules define the communications of a trust domain.

VerSec, an approach to creating schemas, is included with the Defined-trust Communications Toolkit [DCT]. VerSec includes a declarative schema specification language with a compiler that checks the formal soundness of a specification (case 1 above) then converts it to a signed, compact, binary form. The diagnostic output of the compiler (including a digraph listing) can be used to inspect that the intent for the communications schema has indeed been implemented. The binary form is used by DeftT to build (case 2) or validate (case 3) the Publications (format covered in Section 2.3.1). Certificates (Section 2.3.2) are a type of Publication, allowing them to be distributed and validated using DeftT, but they are subject to many additional constraints that ensure DeftT's security framework is well-founded.

3.2. A schema language

The VerSec language follows LangSec [LANG] principles to minimize misconfiguration and attack surface. Its structure is amenable to a forms-based input or a translator from the structured data profiles often used by standards [ONE][RFC8520][ZCL]. Declarative languages are expressive and strongly typed, so they can express the constructs of these standards in their rules. VerSec continues to evolve and add new features as its application domain is expanded; the latest released version is at [DCT]. Other languages and compilers are possible as long as they supply the features and output needed for DeftT.

A communication schema expresses the intent for a domain's communications in fine-grained rules: "who can say what." Credentials that define "who" are specified along with complete definitions of "what". Defined-trust communications has been targeted at OT networking where administrative control is explicit and it is not unreasonable to assume that identities and communication rules can be securely configured at every device. The schema details the meaning and relationship of individual components of the filename-like names (URI syntax [RFC3986]) of Publications and certificates. A simple communications schema (Figure 10) defines a Publication in this domain as #pub with a six component name. The strings between the slashes are the tags used to reference each component in the structured format and in the run-time schema library. An example of this usage is the component constraint following the "&" where ts is a timestamp (64-bit unix timepoints in microseconds) which will be set with the current time when a Publication is created. The first component gets its value from the variable "domain" and #pubPrefix is designated as having this value so that the schema contains information on what part of the name is considered common prefix. For the sake of simplicity, the Figure 10 schema puts no constraints on other name components (not the usual case for OT applications) but requires that Publications of template #pub are signed by ("<=") a mbrCert whose format and signing rule (signed by a netCert) is also defined. The Validator lines specify cryptographic signing and validation algorithms from DCT's run-time library for both the Publication and the cAdd PDU that carries Publications. Here, both use EdDSA signing. This schema has no constraints on the inner four name components (additional constraints could be imposed by the application but they won't be enforced by DeftT). Member identity comes from a mbrCert which allows it to create legal communications (using the associated private key in signing). A signing certificate must adhere to the schema; Publications or cAdds with unknown signers are discarded. The timestamp component is used to prevent replay attacks. A DeftT adds its identity certificate chain to the domain certificate collection (see Section 4.2) at its startup, thus announcing its identity to all other members. Using the pre-configured trust anchor and schema, any member can verify the identity of any other member. This approach means members are not pre-configured with identities of other members of a trust domain and new entities can join at any time.

 #pub: /_domain/trgt/topic/loc/arg/_ts & { _ts: timestamp() } <= mbrCert
 mbrCert:       _domain/_mbrType/_mbrId/_keyinfo <= netCert
 netCert:        _domain/_keyinfo
 #pubPrefix:     _domain
 #pubValidator:  "EdDSA"
 #cAddValidator: "EdDSA"
 _domain:        "example"
 _keyinfo:       "KEY"/_/"dct"/_
Figure 10: An example communication schema

To keep the communications schema both compact and secure, it is compiled into a binary format that becomes the content of a schema certificate. The [DCT] schemaCompile converts the text version (e.g. Figure 10) of the schema into binary as well as reporting diagnostics (see Figure 11) used to confirm the intent of the rules (and to flag problems).

Publication #pub:
  parameters: trgt topic loc arg
  tags: /_domain/trgt/topic/loc/arg/_ts
Publication #pubPrefix:
  tags: /_domain
Publication #pubValidator:
  tags: /"EdDSA"
Publication #cAddValidator:
  tags: /"EdDSA"
Certificate templates:
  cert mbrCert: /"example"/_mbrType/_mbrIdId/"KEY"/_/"dct"/_
  cert netCert: /"example"/"KEY"/_/"dct"/_
binary schema is 301 bytes
Figure 11: schemaCompile diagnostic output for example of [Figure 10]

Even this simple schema provides useful security, using enrolled identities both to constrain communications actions (via its #pub format) and to convey membership. To increase security, more detail can be added to Figure 10. For example, different types of members can be created, e.g., "admin" and "sensor", and communications privacy can added by specifying AEAD Validator to encrypt cAdds or AEADSGN (signed AEAD) to encrypt Publications. To make those member types meaningful, a role-based security policy could be employed by defining Publications such that only admins can issue commands and only sensors can issue status. Specifying the AEAD validator for the cAddValidator means that at least one member of a subnet will need a key maker attribute in its signing chain. If AEADSGN is specified for the pubValidator, at least one member of the trust domain will need key maker capability. In Figure 11 key maker capability is added to the signing chain of all sensors. WIth AEAD specified, a key maker is elected during DeftT start up and that key maker creates, publishes, and periodically updates the shared encryption key. (Late joining entities are able to discover that a key maker has already been chosen.) These are the only changes required in order to increase security and add privacy: neither code nor binary needs to change and DeftT handles all aspects of validators. The unique approach to integrating communication rules into the transport makes it easy to produce secure application code.

adminCert:  mbrCert & { _mbrType: "admin" } <= netCert
sensorCert: mbrCert & { _mbrType: "sensor" } <= kmCap
capCert:    _network/"CAP"/_capId/_capArg/_keyinfo <= netCert
kmCap:      capCert & { _capId: "KM" }
#reportPub: #pub & {topic:"status"} <= sensorCert
#commandPub: #pub & {topic:"command"} <= adminCert
#cAddValidator: "EdDSA"
Figure 12: Enhancing security in the example schema

In DeftT, identities include the member cert and its entire signing chain. By adding attributes via capability certificates in a member cert's signing chain, attribute-based security policies can be implemented without the need for separate servers accessed at run-time (and the attendant security weaknesses). More on certs will be covered in Section 4.

Converting desired behavioral structure into a schema is the major task of applying Defined-trust Communications to an application domain. Once completed, all the deployment information is contained in the schema. Although a particular schema cert defines a particular trust domain, the text version of a schema can be re-used for related applications. For example, a home IoT schema could be edited to be specific to a particular home network or a solar rooftop neighborhood and then signed with a chosen trust anchor.

4. Certificates and identity bundles

Defined-trust's approach is partially based on the seminal SDSI [SDSI] approach to create user-friendly namespaces that establish transitive trust through a certificate (cert) chain that validates locally controlled and managed keys, rather than requiring a global Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). When certificates are created, they have a particular context in which they should be utilized and trusted rather than conferring total authority. This is particularly useful in OT where communicating entities share an administrative control and using a third party to certify identity is both unnecessary and a potential security vulnerability. Well-formed certificates and identity deployment are critical elements of this framework. This section describes certificate requirements and the identity bundles that are securely distributed to trust domain members. (DCT includes utilities to create certs and bundles.)

4.1. Obviate CA usage

Use of third party certificate authorities (CAs) is often antithetical to OT security needs. Any use of a CA (remote or local) results in a single point of failure that greatly reduces system reliability. An architecture with a single, local, trust root cert (trust anchor) and no CAs simplifies trust management and avoids the well-known CA federation and delegation issues and other weaknesses of the X.509 architecture (summarized at [W509], original references include [RSK][NVR]). DCT certificates (see Section 2.3.2) can be generated and signed locally (using supplied utilities) so there is no reason to aggregate a plethora of unrelated claims into one cert (avoiding the Aggregation problem [W509]).

A DCT cert's one and only Subject Name is the Name of the Publication that contains the public key as its content and neither name nor content are allowed to contain any optional information or extensions. Certificates are created with a lifetime; local production means cert lifetimes can be just as long as necessary (as recommended in [RFC2693]) so there's no need for the code burden and increased attack surface associated with certificate revocation lists (CRLs) or use of on-line certificate status protocol (OSCP). Keys that require longer lifetimes, like device keys, get new certs before the current ones expire and may be distributed through DeftT (e.g., using a variant of the group key distributors in DCT). If there is a need to exclude previously authorized identities from a domain, there are a variety of options. The most expedient is via use of an AEAD cAdd or Publication validator by ensuring that the group key maker(s) of a domain exclude that entity from subsequent symmetric key distributions until its identity cert expires (and it is not issued an update). Another option is to publish an identity that supplants that of the excluded member. Though more complex, it is also possible to distribute a new schema and identities (without changing the trust anchor), e.g., using remote attestation via the TPM.

From Section 3, a member cert is granted attributes in the schema via the certs that appear in its member identity chain. Member certs are always accompanied by their full chain-of-trust, both when installed and when the member publishes its identity to the cert collection. Every signing chain in the domain has the same trust anchor at its root and its legal form specified in the schema. Without the entire chain, a signer's right to issue Publications cannot be validated. Cert validation is according to the schema which may specify attributes and capabilities for Publication signing from any certificate in the chain. For this model to be well founded, each cert's key locator must uniquely identify the cert that actually signed it. This property ensures that each locator resolves to one and only one signing chain. A cert's key locator is a thumbprint, a SHA256 hash of the entire signer's Publication (name, content, key locator, and signature), ensuring that each locator resolves to one and only one cert and signing chain. Use of the thumbprint locator ensures that certs are not open to the substitution attacks of name-based locators like X.509's "Authority Key Identifier" and "Issuer" [ConfusedDep][CAvuln][TLSvuln].

4.2. Identity bundles

Identity bundles comprise the certificates needed to participate in a trust domain: trust anchor, schema, and the member's identity chain. The private key corresponding to the leaf certificate of the member's identity chain should be installed securely when a device is first commissioned (e.g., out-of-band) for a network. The public certs of the bundle may be placed in a file in a well-known location or may, in addition, have their integrity attested or even be encrypted. Secure device configuration and on-boarding should be carried out using the best practices most applicable to a particular deployment. The process of enrolling a device by provisioning an initial secret and identity in the form of public-private key pair and using this information to securely onboard a device to a network has a long history. Current and emergent industry best practices provide a range of approaches for both secure installation and update of private keys. For example, the private key of the bundle can be secured using the Trusted Platform Module, the best current practice in IoT [TATT][DMR][IAWS][TPM][OTPM][SIOT][QTPM][SKH][RFC8995], or secure enclave or trusted execution environment (TEE) [ATZ]. In that case, an authorized configurer adding a new device can use TPM tools to secure the private signing key and install the rest of the bundle file in a known location before deploying the device in the network. Where entities have public-private key pair identities of any (e.g., non-DCT) type, these can be leveraged for DeftT identity installation. Figure 13 shows the steps involved in configuring entities and their correspondence of the steps to the "building plans" model. (The corresponding tools available in DCT are shown across the bottom and the relationship to the "building plans" model is shown across the top.)

tools.config tools.config text binary make signed identity certs for each entity r epeat for all entities draw up plans validate plans authentic copies of plans schemaCompile make_bundle make_cert schema_cert DCT tools: wrap binary schema in schema cert signed by trust anchor create/adapt communications schema make identity bundle with trust anchor, schema and identity chain certs compile schema
Figure 13: Creating and configuring identity bundles

In the examples at [DCT], an identity bundle is given directly to an application via the command line, useful for development, and the application passes callbacks to utility functions that supply the certs and a signing pair separately. For deployment, good key hygiene using best current practices must be followed e.g., [COMIS]. In deployment, a small application manager may be programmed for two specific purposes. First, it is registered with a supervisor [SPRV] (or similar process control) for its own (re)start to serve as a bootstrap for the application. Second, it can have access to the TPM functions and the ability to create "short-lived" (~hours to several days) public/private key pair(s) that are signed by the installed (commissioned) private identity key using the TPM. This publication signing key pair is created at (re)start and at the periodicity of the signing cert lifetime. Since the signing happens via requests to the TPM, the identity key cannot be exfiltrated.

The DCT examples and library use member identities to create signing certs (with associated secret keys) and the example schemas give the format for these signing cert names. A DeftT will request a new signing cert shortly before expiration of the one in use.

Upon each signing cert update, only the new cert needs to be published via DeftT's cert distributor. Figure 14 outlines a representative procedure.

InstallIdbundle InstallIdbundle TPM bundle public certs supervisor process app cert distributor publishes entity's signing chain cert bundle and new signing cert commissioning Device 1. start app, passing in cert bundle 2. make pub signing key pair 3. put public key in signing cert with ~1 day lifetime 4. request that TPM sign the cert with device key 5. give signing cert & its secret key to app 6. before cert's expiry repeat steps 2-5
Figure 14: Representative commissioning and signing key maintenance

All DCT certs have a validity period. Certs that sign publications are generated locally so they can easily be refreshed as needed. Trust anchors, schemas, and the member identity chain are higher value and often require generation under hermetic conditions by some authority central to the organization. Their lifetime should be application- and deployment-specific, but the higher difficulty of cert production and distribution often necessitates liftetimes of weeks to years.

Updating schemas and other certificates over the deployed network (OTA) is application-domain specific and can either make use of domain best practices or develop custom DeftT-based distribution. Changing the trust anchor is considered a re-commissioning. The example here is merely illustrative; with pre-established secure identities and well-founded approaches to secure on-line communications, a trust domain could be created OTA using secure identities established through some other system of identity.

5. Use Cases

5.1. Secure Industrial IoT

IIoT sensors offer significant advantages in industrial process control including improved accuracy, process optimization, predictive maintenance and analysis, higher efficiency, low-cost remote accessibility and monitoring, reduced downtime, power savings, and reduced costs [IIOT]. The large physical scale of many industrial processes necessitates that expensive cabling costs be avoided through wireless transport and battery power. This is a particular issue in nuclear power plant applications where radioactive shielding walls are very thick concrete and security regulations make any plant modifications to add cabling subject to expensive and time-consuming reviews and permitting. Wireless sensor deployments in an industrial environment can suffer from signal outages due to shielding walls and interference caused by rotating machinery and electrical generators. Multiple gateway devices can receive sensor information and transmit it to monitor/controllers and servers. These gateway devices can run DeftT Relay applications and be deployed in a robust wireless mesh that is resilient against transmission outages, facilitating reliability. DeftT forms meshes with no additional configuration (beyond DeftT's usual identity bundle and private key) as Publications are sent once and heard by all in-range members while Publications missing from one DeftT's set can be supplied by another within range. Several gateways may typically be within a single sensor's wireless range, reducing the number of lost sensor packets. Other meshed gateways can relay the sensor's Publications either wirelessly or via a wired ethernet backhaul.

IIoT sensors require tight security. Critical Digital Assets (CDA) are a class of industrial assets such as power plants or chemical factories which must be carefully controlled to avoid loss-of-life accidents. Even when IIoT sensors are not used for direct control of CDA, spoofed sensor readings can lead to destructive behavior. There are real-life examples (such as uranium centrifuges) of nation-state actors changing sensor readings through cyberattacks leading to equipment damage. These risks result in a requirement for stringent security reviews and regulation of CDA sensor networks. Despite the advantages of deploying CDA sensors, adequate security is prerequisite to deploying the CDA sensors. Information conveyed via DeftT has an ensured provenance and may be encrypted in an efficient implementation making it ideal for this use.

IIoT sensors may be mobile (including drone-based) and different gateways may receive packets from a particular sensor over time. A DeftT mesh captures Publications anywhere within its combined network coverage area and ensures it efficiently reaches all members as long as they are in range of at least one member that has received the information. An out-of-service or out-of-range member can receive all active subscribed publications once it is in range and/or able to communicate. This use of DeftT is illustrated in Figure 15 where bluetooth-using devices (BT Dev) are deployed as sensors, switches, cameras, lock openers, etc. A WiFi network includes tablet devices and a monitor/controller computer. Gateway devices each have a Relay using both a Bluetooth interface and a WiFi interface. Gateways are placed so that there is always at least one in range of a BT device and at least one other Gateway (or the Controller) in its WiFi range. WiFi tablets can move around within range of one or more Gateways. All the DeftTs may use the same schema, giving devices on the WiFi network access to all of the BT devices. Applications on any particular device may subscribe to a subset of the information available. If privacy of longer-range data is required, the WiFi DeftTs can use a schema that requires encrypting its cAdds. These configuration choices are made by changes in the schemas alone, the application code is exactly the same. No configuration is needed to make devices recognize one another and syncps will keep communications efficient, ensuring that all DeftTs in the trust domain know what information is available. The face ensures that identical cStates are only sent once (within broadcast range). These features mean that DeftT forms efficient broadcast meshes with no additional configuration beyond identity bundles, an important advantage.

relaymesh meshEx Cont r oller GW0 relay GW1 relay GW2 relay Da t a s t o re TCP TCP device device device device device device device device device device device
Figure 15: IIOT meshed gateways connect a single trust domain

In addition to specifying encryption and signing types, schema rules control which users can access specific sensors. For example, an outside predictive maintenance analysis vendor can be allowed access to the vibration sensor data from critical motors, relayed through the Internet, while only plant Security can see images from on-site cameras.

5.2. Secure access to Distributed Energy Resources (DER)

The electrical power grid is evolving to encompass many smaller generators with complex interconnections. Renewable energy systems such as smaller-scale wind and solar generator sites must be economically accessed by multiple users such as building owners, renewable asset aggregators, utilities, and maintenance personnel with varying levels of access rights. North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) regulations specify requirements for communications security and reliability to guard against grid outages [DER]. Legacy NERC CIP compliant utility communications approaches, using dedicated physically secured links to a few large generators, are no longer practical. DeftT offers multiple advantages over bilateral TLS sessions for this use case:

  • Security. Encryption, authentication, and authorization of all information objects. Secure brokerless pub/sub avoids single-point broker vulnerabilities. Large generation assets of hundreds of megawatts to more than 1 gigawatt, particularly nuclear power plants must be controlled securely or risk large-scale loss of life accidents. Hence, they are attractive targets for sophisticated nation-state cyber attackers seeking damage with national security implications. Even small-scale DER generators are susceptible to a coordinated attack which could still bring down the electric grid.
  • Scalability. Provisioning, maintaining, and distributing multiple keys with descriptive, institutionalized, hierarchical names. DeftT allows keys to be published and securely updated on-line. Where historically a few hundred large-scale generators could supply all of the energy needs for a wide geographic area, now small-scale DER such as residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are located at hundreds of thousands of geographically dispersed sites. Many new systems are added daily and must be accommodated economically to spur wider adoption.
  • Resiliency. A mesh network of multiple client users, redundant servers, and end devices adds reliability without sacrificing security. Generation assets must be kept on-line continuously or failures risk causing a grid-wide blackout. Climate change is driving frequent natural disasters including wildfires, hurricanes, and temperature extremes which can impact the communications infrastructure. If the network is not resilient communications breakdowns can disable generators on the grid leading to blackouts.
  • Efficiency. Data can be published once from edge gateways over expensive cellular links and be accessed through servers by multiple authorized users, without sacrificing security. For small residential DER systems, economical but reliable connectivity is required to spur adoption of PV compared to purchasing from the grid. However, for analytics, maintenance and grid control purposes, regular updates from the site by multiple users are required. Pub/sub via DeftT allows both goals to be met efficiently.
  • Flexible Trust rules: Varying levels of permissions are possible on a user-by-user and site-by-site basis to tightly control user security and privacy at the information object level. In an energy ecosystem with many DER, access requirements are quite complex. For example, a PV and battery storage system can be monitored on a regular basis by a homeowner. Separate equipment vendors for batteries and solar generation assets, including inverters, need to perform firmware updates or to monitor that the equipment is operating correctly for maintenance and warranty purposes. DER aggregators may contract with a utility to supply and control multiple DER systems, while the utility may want to access production data and perform some controls themselves such as during a fire event where the system must be shut down. Different permissions are required for each user. For example, hourly usage data which gives detailed insight into customer behaviors can be seen by the homeowner, but for privacy reasons might only be shared with the aggregator if permission is given. These roles and permissions can be expressed in the communication rules and then secured by DeftT's use of compiled schemas.

The specificity of the requirements of NERC CIP can be used to create communication schemas that contain site-specifics, allowing applications to be streamlined and generic for their functionality, rather than containing security and site-specifics.

6. Using Defined-trust Communications without DeftT

Parts of the defined-trust communications framework could be used without the DeftT protocol. There are two main elements used in DeftT: the integrated trust management engine and the multi-party communications networking layer that makes use of the properties of a broadcast medium. It's possible to make use of either of these without DeftT. For example, a message broker could implement the trust management engine on messages as they arrive at the broker (e.g., via TLS) to ensure the sender has the proper identity to publish such a message. If a credential is required in order to subscribe to certain messages, that could also be checked. Set reconciliation could be used at the heart of a transport protocol without using defined-trust security, though signing, encryption, or integrity hashing could still be employed.

7. Terms

8. Security Considerations

This document presents a transport protocol that secures the information it conveys (COMSEC in the language of [RFC3552]). Security of data in the application space is out-of-scope for this document, but use of a trusted execution environment (TEE), e.g., ARM's TrustZone, is recommended where this is of concern.

Unauthorized changes to DeftT code could bypass validation of received PDUs or modify the content of outgoing PDUs prior to signing (but only valid PDUs are accepted at receiver; invalid PDUs are dropped by uncompromised member). Although securing DeftT's code is out-of-scope for this document, DeftT has been designed to be easily deployed with a TEE. Revisiting Figure 4, Figure 16 highlights how all of the DeftT code and data can be placed in the secure zone (long-dashed line), reachable only via callgates for the Publish and Subscribe API calls.

hwtrust hwtrust-rfc On-Device App Device Specific Code Certs, keys and schema Shim Subscribe Publish call gates secured code and data in TrustZone Publication Validator Publication Builder Network
Figure 16: DeftT secured with a Trusted Execution Environment

Providing crypto functions is out-of-scope of this document. The example implementation uses libsodium, an open source library maintained by experts in the field [SOD]. Crypto functions used in any alternative implementation should be of similar high quality.

Enrollment of devices is out of scope. A range of solutions are available and selection of one is dependent on specifics of a deployment. Example approaches include the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) onboarding and BRSKI [RFC8995]. NIST NCCOE network layer onboarding might be adapted, treating a communications schema like a MUD URL.

Protecting private identity and signing keys is out-of-scope for this document. Good key hygiene should be practiced, securing private credentials using best practices for a particular application class, e.g. [COMIS][OWASP].

DeftT's unit of information transfer is a Publication. It is an atomic unit sized to fit in a lower layer transport PDU (if needed, fragmentation and reassembly are done in shim or application). All Publications must be signed and the signature must be validated. All Publications start with a Name (Section 2.3.1). Publications are used both for ephemeral communication, like commands and status reports, and long-lived information like certs. The set reconciliation-based syncps protocol identifies Publications using a hash of the entire Publication, including its signature. A sync collection can contain at most one instance of any Publication so replays of Publications in the collection are discarded as duplicates on arrival. The current DeftT implementation requires weakly synchronized clocks with a known maximum skew. Publications have a lifetime enforced by their sync collection; their names include a timestamp used both to enforce that lifetime and prevent replay attacks by keeping a Publication in the local collection (but not advertising its existence) until its lifetime plus the skew has passed. (Lifetimes in current applications range from days or years for certs to milliseconds for status and command communications). Publications arriving a skew time before their timestamp or a skew time plus lifetime after their timestamp are discarded.

An attacker can modify, drop, spoof, or replay any DeftT PDU or Publication but DeftT is designed for this to have minimal effect.

  1. modification - all DeftT cAdd PDUs must be either signed or AEAD encrypted with a securely distributed nonce group key. This choice is specified in the schema and each DeftT checks at startup that one of these two properties holds for the schema and throws an error if not.

    • for signed PDUs each receiving DeftT must already have the complete, fully validated signing chain of the signer or the PDU is dropped. The signing cert must validate the PDU's signature or the PDU is dropped.

    • for encrypted PDUs (and Publications) the symmetric group key is automatically and securely distributed using signing identities. Each receiver uses its copy of the current symmetric key to validate the AEAD MAC and decrypt the PDU content. Invalid or malformed PDUs and Publications are dropped.

    cState modification to continually send an older, less complete state in order to generate the sending of cAdds could create a DoS attack but counter measures could be implemented using available DeftT information in order to isolate that entity or remove it from the trust domain.

  2. dropped PDUs - DeftT's sync protocol periodically republishes cState messages which results in (re)sending dropped cAdds. Unlike unicast transports, DeftT can and will obtain any Publications missing from its collection from any member that has a valid copy.

  3. spoofing - DeftT uses a trust management engine that validates the signing. Malformed Publications and PDUs are dropped as early as possible.

  4. replay - A cAdd is sent in response to a specific cState, so a replayed cAdd that matches a current cState simply serves a retransmit of the cAdd's Publication which will be filtered for duplicates and obsolescence as described above. A cAdd that doesn't match a current cState will be dropped on arrival.

Peer member authentication in DeftT comes through the integrated trust management engine. Every DeftT instance is started with an identity bundle that includes the domain trust anchor, the schema in certificate format signed by this trust anchor, and its own member identity chain with a private identity key and the chain signed at the root by trust anchor. Members publish their identity chains before any Publications are sent. The trust management engine unconditionally drops any Publication or PDU that does not have a valid signer or whose signer lacks the role or capabilities required for that particular Publication or PDU.

DeftT takes a modular approach to signing/validation of its PDUs and Publications, so a number of approaches to integrity, authenticity, and confidentiality are possible (and several are available at [DCT]). Security features that are found to have vulnerabilities will be removed or updated and new features are easily added.

A compromised member of a trust domain can only build messages that match the role and attributes in its signing chain. Thus, a compromised lightbulb can lie about its state or refuse to turn on, but it can't tell the front door to unlock or send camera footage to a remote location. Multiple PDUs could be generated, resulting in flooding the subnet. There are possible counter-measures that could be taken if some detection code is added to the current DeftT, but this is deferred for specific applications with specific types of threats and desired responses.

The example encryption modules provide for encryption on both cAdd PDUs and Publications. The latter must be signed by the originator in addition to being encrypted. This is not required for cAdd PDUs, so the specific entity that sent the cAdd cannot be determined but the Publications it carries must be signed, even if not encrypted. In DeftT, any member can resend a Publication from any other member (without modification) so group encryption (in effect, group signing) is no different. Some other encryption approaches are provided whose potential vulnerabilities are described with their implementations and a signed, encrypted approach is also available [DCT].

DeftT relies on libsodium and linux random implementations with respect to entropy issues. In general, these are quite application-dependent and should be further addressed for particular deployments.

9. IANA Considerations

This document has no IANA actions.

10. Normative References

Carpenter, B. and B. Liu, "Limited Domains and Internet Protocols", RFC 8799, DOI 10.17487/RFC8799, , <>.
Perkins, C., McBride, M., Stanley, D., Kumari, W., and JC. Zuñiga, "Multicast Considerations over IEEE 802 Wireless Media", RFC 9119, DOI 10.17487/RFC9119, , <>.

11. Informative References

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Lixia Zhang
Roger Jungerman
Operant Networks Inc.

Roger contributed much to Section 5.

Authors' Addresses

Kathleen Nichols
Pollere LLC
Van Jacobson
Randy King
Operant Networks Inc.