Re: [Spud] [Privsec-program] Detecting and Defeating TCP/IP Hypercookie Attacks

Stephen Farrell <> Fri, 29 July 2016 19:37 UTC

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From: Stephen Farrell <>
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Cc: Brian Trammell <>,, spud <>
Subject: Re: [Spud] [Privsec-program] Detecting and Defeating TCP/IP Hypercookie Attacks
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On 29/07/16 16:54, Mirja Kühlewind wrote:
> Hi Stephen,
> I see registries as a needed and valuable part of our standardization
> process. People ignoring registries as well as things that are
> explicitly specified in a standards document is a different problem.

Registries can be a useful way to support extensibility. They can
also be a nuisance that allow for the promulgation of crazy ideas.
And probably lots in between and all at once;-)

None of the generalities above help in this specific case where I
remain convinced that any extensible-generic-PLUS is liable to be
highly dangerous. (And I'm unsure if a non-extensible-PLUS can be
usefully transport independent.)

> To answer your question below:
>>> 2) Further only PLUS provides an additional function that allows
>>> to detect any mangling of data/bits that was not intended. This
>>> is urgently needed because all the TCP (and higher) layer
>>> mangling we see today is the root cause for the problem we have
>>> right now.
>> I don't get your point (2) sorry. Can you explain more?
> We explained this in the BoF and I believe I made this point very
> clear in my last mail that I replied to Kyle. But let me state this
> bit again, because it’s important.
> Today, there are a large amount of bits a middlebox can mangle with
> (as described in draft-trammell-privsec-defeating-tcpip-meta which is
> not even exhaustive). Most of the described ways to insert
> information into a packet are not detectable, at least most of the
> ways described for TCP because all information is in cleartext and
> the receiver does not know what the sender has originally sent while
> the mangled information still allows proper operation.

The above is clear, thanks. And is what I got from the BoF too.

> What we propose is to a) encrypt all bits in the transport/TCP
> header, 

Well, no, PLUS is not a proposal to do that iiuc - PLUS is a proposal
to expose some information when such encryption is being done as
defined by some other specification which is not PLUS. If my take
there is wrong, I'd appreciate being corrected.

I would have far less of an issue if e.g. QUIC or other transports
defined in a transport-specific and non-extensible manner how the
few bits of information that might be desirable for the path can be
outside the confidentiality envelope.

I can totally see how some architectural guidance and examples of
the sometimes-subtle threats caused by exposing information were to
be developed. PLUS however seems to be proposing to go beyond that
and to define PDUs, which I think I'm nearly convinced is a bad plan
and a path down which it may be better to not start.

> b) provide less bits in a PLUS header, that have been
> carefully evaluated towards risks that we know today (but didn’t know
> when we designed TCP), and c) a MAC that hashes all information
> provided in the PLUS header to be able to detect mangling by the
> receiver (which can inform then the sender using an encrypted
> channel). This also means that the endpoint has the choice to not use
> PLUS (or any PLUS information fields) if mangling is detected.
> All these points together, especially point c, makes the situation
> compared to what we have today better and not worse!

I get that that's the argument for PLUS. I remain unconvinced by
that argument for the reasons stated earlier.


> Mirja
>> Am 29.07.2016 um 17:17 schrieb Stephen Farrell
>> <>ie>:
>> Hiya,
>> On 29/07/16 15:48, Mirja Kühlewind wrote:
>>> Hi Stephen,
>>> I believe that what you think PLUS is, is not what we propose.
>> I'm pretty sure that's true - and is part of what puzzles me as I
>> said before.
>>> Maybe we did not make a great job so far to define PLUS narrowly
>>> enough but we believe the actual protocol specification work
>>> should be done in a wg to ensure that a broad community can
>>> participate, and all concern, including privacy concerns, can be
>>> addressed.
>> I get that. Some folks however (and I'm not sure if I'd count
>> myself amongst them yet or not) fear that any such WG has to end up
>> as very privacy unfriendly if it remains transport agnostic. From
>> that perspective, starting a WG would not make sense.
>>> The point of draft-trammell-privsec-defeating-tcpip-meta is to 
>>> further explain that the things you describe as risks are
>>> nothing new. And by new, we mean they are even standard-conform;
>>> because this is the main point of your concern if I understand
>>> you correctly, right?
>> No. Brian's draft doesn't touch on the "over 18" type threat at all
>> as I read it, so I don't accept the idea that the hypercookie is
>> the right place from which to start to analyse the set of threats
>> in this space.
>> And there is IMO a real difference between our current/old set of
>> protocols allowing bad behaviours vs. us defining a new protocol to
>> explicitly enable those same bad behaviours. (It could be that not
>> all of us agree that that is a real difference.)
>>> I assume your point is that we propose a protocol that is
>>> intended to signal information from middleboxes to the endpoint
>>> (amongst other features). I assume this based on the following
>>> statement you made:
>>>> Should we standardise a method for such abuse, then I think
>>>> it's quite possible the attacker may argue that their behaviour
>>>> is not an attack as it's just a part of "the standard.“
>>> and
>>>> And to the extent that PLUS could enable and standardise such 
>>>> things, that is, for me, a major reason to oppose PLUS.
>>> Otherwise can you please further explain what you mean by „such 
>>> abuse“ and „such things“?
>> Sorry I don't get the question. (That is, I'm not clear if I do or
>> do not agree with your assumptions, which are not clear to me;-)
>>> If the thing you are concerned about in PLUS is, that we propose
>>> to standardize ‚option‘ space that explicitly allows middleboxes
>>> to add information to a packet, I guess you know that it is
>>> possible to define an experimental TCP option (in the ISE stream)
>>> without IESG approval that allows the insertion of private
>>> information by middleboxes. Even thought TCP options are not
>>> intended to be altered by network nodes, there is also no
>>> standard that forbids this.
>> I am not arguing for a "MINUS" (a TBD acronym that'd be the
>> antithesis of PLUS:-).
>>> Let me say two things about what we ACTUALLY propose with PLUS:
>>> 1) We do NOT propose to add space to add arbitrary information.
>>> The semantic of the field must be well-defined in an IESG
>>> approved RFC and registered respectively.
>> IMO that is not sufficient to allay my concern about "over 18" and 
>> the like. If we build it (the registry) then they will come (and
>> ask for or squat on code points with horrible semantics). I can't
>> see any way to avoid that other than never creating such a
>> registry.
>>> This will not only make it not-standard conform to use such a
>>> field for something different, it also restrict the set of valid
>>> values which then could even be checked by later middleboxes on
>>> the path, and erased if needed.
>> Sure. But I remain convinced that any registry here is too
>> dangerous and the above doesn't convince me otherwise.
>>> 2) Further only PLUS provides an additional function that allows
>>> to detect any mangling of data/bits that was not intended. This
>>> is urgently needed because all the TCP (and higher) layer
>>> mangling we see today is the root cause for the problem we have
>>> right now.
>> I don't get your point (2) sorry. Can you explain more?
>>> Further, I would like to say that not all middlebox mangling is 
>>> automatically bad or an attack.
>> Of course. And I did not say that. I said that there are some bad
>> behaviours in this space and we need to worry about us maybe 
>> legitimising those.
>>> If we don’t provide a standardized way to communicate with
>>> middleboxes, it will be even harder to distinguish an attack from
>>> something that actually supports the network service provided or
>>> even makes the services possible at all. Without standardization
>>> there is no control at all. I don’t think we can ignore what’s
>>> already happening the Internet any further and providing
>>> standardized mechanisms to support the good in-network functions
>>> is the only way to improve security for these functions.
>> The above text seems indicative of understandable exasperation but 
>> I don't see how it's very useful for the discussion.
>>> To make this even more clear, you wrote:
>>>> the argument seems to ignore the downsides of standardising
>>>> and thus legitimising "bad" behaviour including behaviours that
>>>> your draft properly calls an attack.
>>> We not at all want to legitimate „bad“ behavior and I really
>>> don’t know why you think that what we propose would do so.
>> Sigh. I didn't personalise this (I hope! Apologies if I did by 
>> mistake) so I wasn't at all discussing what you or anyone wants or 
>> doesn't want. It is entirely possible to have good motivation for 
>> something that may have quite bad side-effects.
>> And I still think that the arguments made by proponents of PLUS are
>> ignoring the downsides. (And I do not mean that the people making
>> those arguments are ignoring those downsides which would be a
>> different statement.)
>>> We propose to standardize a protocol that allows middleboxes to
>>> provide information they have been requested for (by the
>>> endhost). This information is well define and under IESG
>>> approval. Any other use of such a protocol will not be
>>> standard-conform and as bad as the misuse we can see today with
>>> existing protocols.
>> I think that just repeats earlier statements.
>> S.
>>> Mirja
>>>> Am 29.07.2016 um 15:23 schrieb Stephen Farrell 
>>>> <>ie>:
>>>> Hi Brian,
>>>> On 29/07/16 13:33, Brian Trammell wrote:
>>>>> Greetings, all,
>>>>> During the PLUS BoF last week, concern was expressed that a 
>>>>> generic signaling mechanism such as proposed opened two new 
>>>>> attack surfaces:
>>>> No necessarily "" perhaps more "risked making much
>>>> more ubiquitous." At the meeting I didn't hear anyone claim
>>>> these were new attacks. (I did hear you say they were not
>>>> new.)
>>>>> (1) A method for endpoints to allow path elements to add 
>>>>> non-integrity protected signals presents a surface for
>>>>> metadata injection attacks, where an entity who can place
>>>>> devices on a user's access network and has information about
>>>>> the user's identity could exfiltrate that information to
>>>>> third parties. For purposes of giving it a name, let's call
>>>>> this a hypercookie injection attack ("hyper" since it exists
>>>>> in a space completely inaccessible to the application).
>>>>> (2) Even if path elements are not allowed to say anything, a
>>>>>  mechanism to allow endpoints to add integrity-protected
>>>>> signals to their traffic presents a surface for coercion
>>>>> attacks. An access provider can force a user to tag traffic
>>>>> with their user ID or some other token (a signed assertion
>>>>> that an advertisement has been viewed to the end, or maybe
>>>>> even just straight-up bitcoins) in order to get "better"
>>>>> connectivity, or even any connectivity at all. A more
>>>>> classically Orwellian dystopian variant of this attack has a
>>>>> government requiring citizens to tag all their outgoing
>>>>> traffic with some government-issued identifier. Let's call
>>>>> this a hypercookie coercion attack.
>>>>> I am less concerned about the surface PLUS presents to these 
>>>>> attacks than those who have raised the concerns in the BoF
>>>>> and on the mailing list, because the current Internet
>>>>> architecture is already quite vulnerable to them. As I said
>>>>> during my presentation last Thursday, Ted Hardie and I sat
>>>>> down to think about this at lunch a couple of months ago, and
>>>>> found six ways one could execute hypercookie injection or
>>>>> coercion today before our pizza showed up.
>>>> Wrt injection I can buy that totally. Having read your draft I 
>>>> don't find enough there to accept your assertion wrt coercion
>>>> - ISTM that coercion attacks have not been analysed yet in
>>>> your draft.
>>>> As a side-note, meta-data doesn't have to be person-specific to
>>>> be controversial - "over 18" and anything with similar
>>>> semantics, e.g. "member of <this> minority" can very clearly be
>>>> equally or more damaging, yet totally non-identifying if the
>>>> relevant set of folks is large enough. So I wonder if the
>>>> "hypercookie" concept is even the right starting point here.
>>>> And to the extent that PLUS could enable and standardise such
>>>> things, that is, for me, a major reason to oppose PLUS. (That's
>>>> a side-note for this email, but perhaps a quite fundamental
>>>> thing to consider in the overall discussion.)
>>>>> I sat down a little longer to write these up. I found five
>>>>> more, without even considering trivial out-of-band metadata
>>>>> leaks or steganographic side channels. 
is the result. The conclusion: these attacks are trivially easy to
>>>>> execute today by exploiting the gap between valid TCP
>>>>> traffic and what will be ignored by TCP-indifferent devices
>>>>> and endpoints, as well as all those juicy bits IPv6 gives
>>>>> you. Unless we're willing to rely on the widespread,
>>>>> altruistic deployment of stateful TCP firewalls to reject
>>>>> traffic (I think we can use our experience with BCP38 as
>>>>> guidance as to how well *that* will work, and in any case I
>>>>> think it would be kind of rich for me of all people to
>>>>> recommend throwing more TCP-meddling middleboxes into the
>>>>> mix) the only way I can see out is to add integrity 
>>>>> protection to all transport and network-layer headers, as
>>>>> well as confidentiality protection to those headers the path
>>>>> does not need to see.
>>>> I don't agree. Observatories seem to me like a mitigation that
>>>> your draft does not consider. If the attacker here does not
>>>> want to be seen to be attacking, then those can be effective.
>>>> Should we standardise a method for such abuse, then I think
>>>> it's quite possible the attacker may argue that their behaviour
>>>> is not an attack as it's just a part of "the standard."
>>>> Such a mitigation could be attempted against the attack in
>>>> 4.1.3 of your draft for example so I disagree with the draft's
>>>> assertion that "no user-initiated mitigation is possible" in
>>>> that case at least and maybe others.
>>>> I think it'd be a fine thing to see further analysis of the 
>>>> attacks and potential mitigations as your draft develops.
>>>>> This is, of course, the whole point of PLUS. We can and
>>>>> should have a discussion of what the endpoints should be able
>>>>> to say, and what the endpoints should be able to let the path
>>>>> say. But if we're concerned about this attack, the general
>>>>> approach is AFAICT the only way out.
>>>> I disagree. And I think it was clear that a whole bunch of
>>>> folks in the room last week also clearly disagreed.
>>>> I believe your "only way out" conclusion isn't logically
>>>> justified as the argument seems to ignore the downsides of
>>>> standardising and thus legitimising "bad" behaviour including
>>>> behaviours that your draft properly calls an attack.
>>>> Frankly, I was and remain puzzled by SPUD/PLUS. ISTM that we
>>>> have different sets of sensible folks reaching diametrically
>>>> opposed conclusions based on the same facts and arguments.
>>>> Perhaps the tl;dr in your abstract may be a hint there - I do
>>>> not think everything is ruined myself, so maybe one's level of
>>>> opt/pess-imism affects one's view of the valid conclusions to
>>>> reach in this space.
>>>> Cheers, S.
>>>>> Cheers,
>>>>> Brian
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> Privsec-program mailing list 
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>>>> list
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