RE: [TLS] sending error alerts: MUST? SHOULD? MAY?

"Whyte, William" <> Tue, 02 January 2007 11:27 UTC

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Subject: RE: [TLS] sending error alerts: MUST? SHOULD? MAY?
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It turns out to be something to do with the Skype toolbar trying to convert

into a phone number. (I got similar behavior when I looked at Nelson's 
mail on the web archives
in Firefox, where I also have the Skype toolbar installed). Nice one, Skype!


From: Whyte, William []
Sent: Tue 1/2/2007 5:54 AM
To: Nelson B Bolyard;
Subject: RE: [TLS] sending error alerts: MUST? SHOULD? MAY?

When I open this mail, or any of the replies to it, in Outlook:
* Outlook goes up to taking up 95% of my CPU time
* Outlook's memory requirements go up from 50(ish) MB to 190(ish)
* Outlook, unsurprisingly, becomes unresponsive and has to be shut
  down from the Task Manager.
Is anyone else experiencing this?


From: Nelson B Bolyard []
Sent: Sun 12/31/2006 6:13 PM
Subject: Re: [TLS] sending error alerts: MUST? SHOULD? MAY?

Last August, I wrote to this list about the lack of "MUST" in the RFCs and
drafts concerning the use of error and warning alerts.  That message is
quoted below.  I only got one reply, from Peter Gutmann.

I really want to see this situation get fixed in TLS 1.2.  What can I do
to make that happen?  Do I need to submit a draft with the suggested changes?
Erik, if I send you a set of suggested changes as edits to the current 1.2
draft, will you incorporate them?

OBTW, the "newer implementation" that nevre sends error alerts has been
released since I wrote that first message.  Can you guess what it is?

Nelson B Bolyard wrote:
> The existing TLS RFCs and IDs don't say that an implementation MUST send
> any error alerts.
> There's lots of "will", "should", "may", but not nearly enough "MUST"
> (IMO) regarding error alerts (whether fatal or not).
> Consequently, one of the newer implementations (which I won't name here),
> one with which I've been doing interoperability testing, simply NEVER sends
> error alerts.  When any problem occurs, it silently closes the connection
> without offering any clues to the peer about why it has done so.  The
> developer's explanation to me for the implementation's behavior was simple:
> the RFCs do not require that error alerts be sent.  Sending error alerts is
> simply not a MUST.  Doing so is implicitly a MAY, at most.
> I think this is going to be a nightmare for trouble shooting.  When a peer
> system drops a TLS connection, we're going to have to rely on the ability
> of the user or administrator who runs that peer to determine why it did so,
> rather than relying on alerts.
> So, I put the question to the TLS WG:  Is there consensus that the RFC
> language should be strengthened in the next version (e.g. rfc4346-bis)
> to say that the error alerts MUST be sent, and when?
> A survey of error alert discussion in the first 40-some pages of the draft.
> Regarding close notify alerts, the existing RFC and drafts say that "each
> party is required to" (why not MUST?) send a close_notify alert if no error
> condition has occurred and that upon receiving a close-notify alert, the
> peer MUST send one in respnse.  So, close_notify alerts will get sent,
> but not error alerts.
> The latest draft says that when an error alert is sent or received, the
> session MUST be invalidated, but doesn't require that it be sent.
> The draft says:
>    "When an error is detected, the detecting party sends a
>     message to the other party."
> I think that should be MUST SEND, but as written it's not a MUST.
> There are some "SHOULD"s in the current draft rfc4346-bis:
>    "The receiver MUST check this padding and SHOULD use the
>     bad_record_mac alert to indicate padding errors."
> I think this was intended to be understood as "MUST check, MUST send an
> alert to indicate errors, and SHOULD use bad_record_mac alert when
> appropriate".  But as written, it clearly makes sending any alert at all
> at most a SHOULD for bad macs.
> no_renegotiation is a should, (and a MUST NOT) but never a SHOULD nor a
> MUST.  certificate_unobtainable is a MAY.
> The text for client_hello says
>    "The server will select a cipher suite or, if no acceptable choices are
>     presented, return a handshake failure alert and close the connection."
> No MUST in there.
> The alerts on page 30 MUST NOT be sent except when the client used a
> hello extension.  But there is no time when they MUST be used.
> In the current draft, I did find a few MUSTs.
> Page 37 has an inferred "will":
>    The server will select a cipher suite or, if no acceptable choices are
>    presented, return a handshake failure alert and close the connection.
> page 39 has a MUST:
>    "... if not then it MUST send a fatal "decode_error" alert."
> section says: "it will respond with a handshake failure alert."
>     no MUST there.
> I found two MUSTS in on page 44.  Also a SHALL (isn't that
> supposed to be a MUST?)
> I'll stop there without reviewing every weak description of an error alert.
> Let's please have more MUSTs.

Nelson B

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