Re: [tsvwg] New Version of draft-ietf-tsvwg-transport-encrypt (12)

Eric Rescorla <> Fri, 13 March 2020 16:20 UTC

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From: Eric Rescorla <>
Date: Fri, 13 Mar 2020 09:20:12 -0700
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To: David Schinazi <>
Cc: Gorry Fairhurst <>, "" <>
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Subject: Re: [tsvwg] New Version of draft-ietf-tsvwg-transport-encrypt (12)
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Document: draft-ietf-tsvwg-transport-encrypt-12.txt

I more or less concur with David's comments.

First, it's really not clear what purpose this document serves.  While
superficially an analysis of the impact of transport layer encryption
as a guide to designers, in the context of the design and deployment
of QUIC and SCTP/DTLS, both of which encrypt most or all of the
transport header, it's hard not to read this document as an implicit
critique of those decisions. It's not like there's some other big
transport protocol design effort going on in IETF that would be
informed by these considerations.

With that said, I don't think we should neutral on this topic: the
last two newish transport protocol stacks that the IETF has designed
(SCTP/DTLS and QUIC) both incorporate transport header encryption and
I haven't heard anyone propose that we design a new protocol without
that, so I think any document that we publish should state that this
is a good thing while also documenting the challenges it creates.

However, this document isn't really even neutral: it spends vastly
more time on the negative impacts to non-endpoint network actors than
it does on the benefits to the endpoints, and while it does
acknowledge those benefits, they are often framed in a sort of "people
say" framing, which isn't really applied to the practices which are
negatively impacted, which are largely taken at face value. Compare
the following passages:

   o  One motive to encrypt transport headers is in response to
      perceptions that the network has become ossified, since traffic
      inspecting middleboxes prevent new protocols and mechanisms from
      being deployed.  One benefit of encrypting transport headers is
      that it can help improve the pace of transport development by
      eliminating interference by deployed middleboxes.


   In some cases, network-layer use of transport header information can
   be benign or advantageous to the protocol (e.g., recognising the
   start of a TCP connection, providing header compression for a Secure
   RTP flow, or explicitly using exposed protocol information to provide
   consistent decisions by on-path devices).  Header compression (e.g.,
   [RFC5795]) depends understanding of transport header and the way
   fields change packet-by-packet; as also do techniques to improve TCP
   performance by transparent modification of acknowledgement traffic
   [RFC3449].  Introducing a new transport protocol or changes to
   existing transport header information prevent these methods being
   used or require the network devices to be updated.

In the first passage, the use "in response to perceptions" creates
the impression that ossification is just some people's opinion,
whereas it seems to me that it is a commonly understood fact of
the network that has been an obstacle to deployment of everything
from DNSSEC to TLS 1.3. By contrast, the second passage implies
that tampering with acknowledgments is "benign or advantageous"
when there is actually quite a bit of debate about whether
this is a good idea (although I recognize that you are citing
a BCP which recommends it).

A second way in which this document is non-neutral is that it focuses
largely on network-side interventions which seem to be well-intended
(i.e., the operator is attempting to serve the users
interests). However, there are also a wide variety of interventions
which are adverse to the users interests (e.g., RST spoofing, as is
done by the Great Firewall [0]). By focusing on the downsides of encryption
while minimizing the harms that encryption is intended to prevent
this document again comes off as largely a critique of transport
layer encryption in general.

For these reasons, I don't think that this document should be published
without extensive revision.



On Thu, Feb 27, 2020 at 10:40 AM David Schinazi <>

> Hi Gorry,
> Thanks for updating the document, and for slightly tweaking the
> tone to focus less strongly on the downsides of transport header
> encryption. It's much appreciated.
> However, I'm now pretty confused by the latest version (-12).
> Could you help me answer these two questions please:
> 1) Who is the target audience for this document?
> 2) What should that audience walk away with?
> I initially assumed that the answer to (1) was "designers
> of new transport protocols". But considering myself in that
> category, I don't know what I'm supposed to take away
> from the draft. I was expecting the answer to (2) to be
> "you SHOULD or SHOULD NOT encrypt transport protocol
> headers (pick one)" but that's not the case.
> Here are excerpts from the draft's Conclusion section:
>    This document has described some current practises, and the
>    implications for some stakeholders, when transport layer header
>    encryption is used.  It does not judge whether these practises are
>    necessary, or endorse the use of any specific practise.
>    This document does not make recommendations about what
>    information ought to be exposed, to whom it ought to be observable,
>    or how this will be achieved.
>    An appropriate balance will emerge over time as real instances
>    of this tension are analysed [RFC7258].
> The messages I'm walking away with are:
> A) there is a tension between folks who want to encrypt and
>     folks who don't
> B) we don't have enough information, it's too early to tell what the
>     impact of transport header encryption really is
> As such, I'm now more confused than I was before reading the
> draft, as it doesn't help me answer the question of "when designing
> a new transport protocol, should I be encrypting my transport
> headers or not?".
> I personally oppose publication of the document as it stands,
> because I find it confusing and non-actionable. I would like to see
> this useful content in a BCP document once we have enough
> information to actually recommend something.
> Thanks,
> David
> On Thu, Feb 27, 2020 at 1:09 AM Gorry Fairhurst <>
> wrote:
>> The editors have just uploaded a new revision of
>> draft-ietf-tsvwg-transport-encrypt following review comments. We are not
>> aware of further review comments and now think that this new version is
>> now ready to proceed.
>> Best wishes,
>> Gorry and Colin
>> ---
>> A new version of I-D, draft-ietf-tsvwg-transport-encrypt-12.txt
>> has been successfully submitted by Godred Fairhurst and posted to the
>> IETF repository.
>> Name: draft-ietf-tsvwg-transport-encrypt
>> Revision: 12
>> Title: Considerations around Transport Header Confidentiality, Network
>> Operations, and the Evolution of Internet Transport Protocols
>> Document date: 2020-02-26
>> Group: tsvwg
>> Pages: 48
>> URL:
>> Status:
>> <>
>> Htmlized:
>> Htmlized:
>> Diff:
>> Abstract:
>> To protect user data and privacy, Internet transport protocols have
>> supported payload encryption and authentication for some time. Such
>> encryption and authentication is now also starting to be applied to
>> the transport protocol headers. This helps avoid transport protocol
>> ossification by middleboxes, while also protecting metadata about the
>> communication. Current operational practice in some networks inspect
>> transport header information within the network, but this is no
>> longer possible when those transport headers are encrypted. This
>> document discusses the possible impact when network traffic uses a
>> protocol with an encrypted transport header. It suggests issues to
>> consider when designing new transport protocols, to account for
>> network operations, prevent network ossification, enable transport
>> evolution, and respect user privacy.