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2.2 Managing Addresses and Names

2.2.1 Routers and Routing Protocols

is what fans do at a football game, what pigs do for truffles under oak trees in the Vaucluse, and what nursery workers intent on propagation do to cuttings from plants. is how one creates a beveled edge on a tabletop or sends a corps of infantrymen into full-scale, disorganized retreat. Either pronunciation is correct for routing, which refers to the process of discovering, selecting, and employing paths from one place to another (or to many others) in a network.1

Open Systems Networking: TCP/IP and OSI

Routing protocols are mechanisms for the dynamic discovery of the proper paths through the Internet. They are fundamental to the operation of TCP/IP. Routing information establishes two paths: from the calling machine to the destination and back. The second path may or may not be the reverse of the first. When they aren't, it is called an asymmetric route. These are quite common on the Internet, and can cause trouble if you have more than one firewall (see Section 9.4.2). From a security perspective, it is the return path that is often more important. When a target machine is attacked, what path do the reverse-flowing packets take to the attacking host? If the enemy can somehow subvert the routing mechanisms, then the target can be fooled into believing that the enemy's machine is really a trusted machine. If that happens, authentication mechanisms that rely on source address verification will fail.

There are a number of ways to attack the standard routing facilities. The easiest is to employ the IP loose source route option. With it, the person initiating a TCP connection can specify an explicit path to the destination, overriding the usual route selection process.

According to RFC 1122 [Braden, 1989b], the destination machine must use the inverse of that path as the return route, whether or not it makes any sense, which in turn means that an attacker can impersonate any machine that the target trusts.

The easiest way to defend against source routing problems is to reject packets containing the option. Many routers provide this facility. Source routing is rarely used for legitimate reasons, although those do exist. For example, it can be used for debugging certain network problems; indeed, many ISPs use this function on their backbones. You will do yourself little harm by disabling it at your firewall—the uses mentioned above rarely need to cross administrative boundaries. Alternatively, some versions of rlogind and rshd will reject connections with source routing present. This option is inferior because there may be other protocols with the same weakness, but without the same protection. Besides, one abuse of source routing—learning the sequence numbers of legitimate connections in order to launch a sequence-number guessing attack—works even if the packets are dropped by the application; the first response from TCP did the damage.

Another path attackers can take is to play games with the routing protocols themselves. For example, it is relatively easy to inject bogus Routing Information Protocol (RIP) [Malkin,

[1994] packets into a network. Hosts and other routers will generally believe them. If the attacking machine is closer to the target than is the real source machine, it is easy to divert traffic. Many implementations of RIP will even accept host-specific routes, which are much harder to detect.

Some routing protocols, such as RIP version 2 [Malkin, 1994] and Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) [Moy, 1998], provide for an authentication field. These are of limited utility for three reasons. First, some sites use simple passwords for authentication, even though OSPF has stronger variants. Anyone who has the ability to play games with routing protocols is also capable of collecting passwords wandering by on the local Ethernet cable. Second, if a legitimate speaker in the routing dialog has been subverted, then its messages—correctly and legitimately signed by the proper source—cannot be trusted. Finally, in most routing protocols, each machine speaks only to its neighbors, and they will repeat what they are told, often uncritically. Deception thus spreads.

Not all routing protocols suffer from these defects. Those that involve dialogs between pairs of hosts are harder to subvert, although sequence number attacks, similar to those described earlier, may still succeed. A stronger defense is topological. Routers can and should be configured so that they know what routes can legally appear on a given wire. In general, this can be difficult to achieve, but firewall routers are ideally positioned to implement the scheme relatively simply. This can be hard if the routing tables are too large. Still, the general case of routing protocol security is a research question.

Some ISPs use OSI's IS-IS routing protocol internally, instead of OSPF. This has the advantage that customers can't inject false routing messages: IS-IS is not carried over IP, so there is no connectivity to customers. Note that this technique does not help protect against internal Bad Guys.


Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) distributes routing information over TCP connections between routers. It is normally run within or between ISPs, between an ISP and a multi-homed customer, and occasionally within a corporate intranet. The details of BGP are quite arcane, and well beyond the scope of this book—see [Stewart, 1999] for a good discussion. We can cover important security points here, however.

BGP is used to populate the routing tables for the core routers of the Internet. The various Autonomous Systems (AS) trade network location information via announcements. These announcements arrive in a steady stream, one every couple of seconds on average. It can take 20 minutes or more for an announcement to propagate through the entire core of the Internet. The path information distributed does not tell the whole story: There may be special arrangements for certain destinations or packet types, and other factors, such as route aggregation and forwarding delays, can muddle things.

Clearly, these announcements are vital, and incorrect announcements, intentional or otherwise, can disrupt some or even most of the Internet. Corrupt announcements can be used to perform a variety of attacks, and we probably haven't seen the worst of them yet. We have heard reports of evildoers playing BGP games, diverting packet flows via GRE tunnels (see Section 10.4.1) through convenient routers to eavesdrop on, hijack, or suppress Internet sessions. Others announce a route to their own network, attack a target, and then remove their route before forensic investigators can probe the source network.

ISPs have been dealing with routing problems since the beginning of time. Some BGP checks are easy: an ISP can filter announcements from its own customers. But the ISP cannot filter announcements from its peers—almost anything is legal. The infrastructure to fix this doesn't exist at the moment.

Theoretically, it is possible to hijack a BGP TCP session. MD5 BGP authentication can protect against this (see [Heffernan, 1998]) and is available, but it is not widely used. It should be.

Some proposals have been made to solve the problem [Kent et al., 2000b, 2000a; Goodell et al., 2003; Smith and Garcia-Luna-Aceves, 1996]. One proposal, S-BGP, provides for chains of digital signatures on the entire path received by a BGP speaker, all the way back to the origin. Several things, however, are standing in the way of deployment:

  • Performance assumptions seem to be unreasonable for a busy router. A lot of public key cryptography is involved, which makes the protocol very compute-intensive. Some precomputation may help, but hardware assists may be necessary.

  • A Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) based on authorized IP address assignments is needed, but doesn't exist.

  • Some people have political concerns about the existence of a central routing registry. Some companies don't want to explicitly reveal peering arrangements and customer lists, which can be a target for salesmen from competing organizations.

For now, the best solution for end-users (and, for that matter, for ISPs) is to do regular traceroutes to destinations of interest, including the name servers for major zones. Although the individual hops will change frequently, the so-called AS path to nearby, major destinations is likely to remain relatively stable. The traceroute-as package can help with this.

Table 2.1: Some Important DNS Record Types




IPv4 address of a particular host


IPv6 address of a host


Name server. Delegates a subtree to another server.


Start of authority. Denotes start of subtree; contains cache and configuration parameters, and gives the address of the person responsible for the zone.


Mail exchange. Names a host that processes incoming mail for the designated target. The target may contain wildcards such as *.ATT.COM, so that a single MX record can redirect the mail for an entire subtree.


An alias for the real name of the host


Used to map IP addresses to host names


Host type and operating system information. This can supply a hacker with a list of targets susceptible to a particular operating system weakness. This record is rare, and that is good.


Well-known services, a list of supported protocols. It is rarely used, but could save an attacker an embarrassing port scan.


Service Location — use the DNS to find out how to get to contact a particular service. Also see NAPTR.


A signature record; used as part of DNSsec


A public key for DNSsec


Naming Authority Pointer, for indirection

2.2.2 The Domain Name System

The Domain Name System (DNS) [Mockapetris, 1987a, 1987b; Lottor, 1987; Stahl, 1987] is a distributed database system used to map host names to IP addresses, and vice versa. (Some vendors call DNS bind, after a common implementation of it [Albitz and Liu, 2001].) In its normal mode of operation, hosts send UDP queries to DNS servers. Servers reply with either the proper answer or information about smarter servers. Queries can also be made via TCP, but TCP operation is usually reserved for zone transfers. Zone transfers are used by backup servers to obtain a full copy of their portion of the namespace. They are also used by hackers to obtain a list of targets quickly.

A number of different sorts of resource records (RRs) are stored by the DNS. An abbreviated list is shown in Table 2.1.

The DNS namespace is tree structured. For ease of operation, subtrees can be delegated to other servers. Two logically distinct trees are used. The first tree maps host names such as SMTP.ATT.COM to addresses like Other per-host information may optionally be included, such as HINFO or MX records. The second tree is for inverse queries, and contains PTRrecords. In this case, it would map to SMTP.ATT.COM. There is no enforced relationship between the two trees, though some sites have attempted to mandate such a link for some services. The inverse tree is seldom as well-maintained and up-to-date as the commonly used forward mapping tree.

There are proposals for other trees, but they are not yet widely used.

The separation between forward naming and backward naming can lead to trouble. A hacker who controls a portion of the inverse mapping tree can make it lie. That is, the inverse record could falsely contain the name of a machine your machine trusts. The attacker then attempts an rlogin to your machine, which, believing the phony record, will accept the call.

Most newer systems are now immune to this attack. After retrieving the putative host name via the DNS, they use that name to obtain their set of IP addresses. If the actual address used for the connection is not in this list, the call is bounced and a security violation logged.

The cross-check can be implemented in either the library subroutine that generates host names from addresses (gethostbyaddron many systems) or in the daemons that are extending trust based on host name. It is important to know how your operating system does the check; if you do not know, you cannot safely replace certain pieces. Regardless, whichever component detects an anomaly should log it.

There is a more damaging variant of this attack [Bellovin, 1995]. In this version, the attacker contaminates the target's cache of DNS responses prior to initiating the call.

When the target does the cross-check, it appears to succeed, and the intruder gains access. A variation on this attack involves flooding the target's DNS server with phony responses, thereby confusing it. We've seen hacker's toolkits with simple programs for poisoning DNS caches.

Although the very latest implementations of the DNS software seem to be immune to this, it is imprudent to assume that there are no more holes. We strongly recommend that exposed machines not rely on name-based authentication. Address-based authentication, though weak, is far better.

There is also a danger in a feature available in many implementations of DNS resolvers [Gavron, 1993]. They allow users to omit trailing levels if the desired name and the user's name have components in common. This is a popular feature: Users generally don't like to spell out the fully qualified domain name.

For example, suppose someone on SQUEAMISH.CS.BIG.EDU tries to connect to some destination FOO.COM. The resolver would try FOO.COM.CS.BIG.EDU, FOO.COM.BIG.EDU, and FOO.COM.EDU before trying (the correct) FOO.COM. Therein lies the risk. If someone were to create a domain COM.EDU, they could intercept traffic intended for anything under .COM. Furthermore, if they had any wildcard DNS records, the situation would be even worse. A cautious user may wish to use a rooted domain name, which has a trailing period. In this example, the resolver won't play these games for the address X.CS.BIG.EDU. (note the trailing period). A cautious system administrator should set the search sequence so that only the local domain is checked for unqualified names.

Authentication problems aside, the DNS is problematic for other reasons. It contains a wealth of information about a site: Machine names and addresses, organizational structure, and so on.

Think of the joy a spy would feel on learning of a machine named FOO.7ESS.MYMEGACORP.COM, and then being able to dump the entire 7ESS.MYMEGACORP.COM domain to learn how many computers were allocated to developing a new telephone switch.

Some have pointed out that people don't put their secrets in host names, and this is true. Names analysis can provide useful information, however, just as traffic analysis of undeciphered messages can be useful.

Keeping this information from the overly curious is hard. Restricting zone transfers to the authorized secondary servers is a good start, but clever attackers can exhaustively search your network address space via DNS inverse queries, giving them a list of host names. From there, they can do forward lookups and retrieve other useful information. Furthermore, names leak in other ways, such as Received: lines in mail messages. It's worth some effort to block such things, but it's probably not worth too much effort or too much worry; names will leak, but the damage isn't great.


The obvious way to fix the problem of spoofed DNS records is to digitally sign them. Note, though, that this doesn't eliminate the problem of the inverse tree—if the owner of a zone is corrupt, he or she can cheerfully sign a fraudulent record. This is prevented via a mechanism known as DNSsec [Eastlake, 1999]. The basic idea is simple enough: All "RRsets" in a secure zone have a SIGrecord. Public keys (signed, of course) are in the DNS tree, too, taking the place of certificates. Moreover, a zone can be signed offline, thereby reducing the exposure of private zone-signing keys.

As always, the devil is in the details. The original versions [Eastlake and Kaufman, 1997; Eastlake, 1999] were not operationally sound, and the protocol was changed in incompatible ways. Other issues include the size of signed DNS responses (DNS packets are limited to 512 bytes if sent by UDP, though this is addressed by EDNS0 [Vixie, 1999]); the difficulty of signing a massive zone like .COM; how to handle DNS dynamic update; and subtleties surrounding wildcard DNS records. There's also quite a debate going on about "opt-in": Should it be possible to have a zone (such as .COM) where only some of the names are signed?

These issues and more have delayed any widespread use of DNSsec. At this time, it appears likely that deployment will finally start in 2003, but we've been overly optimistic before.

2.2.3 BOOTP and DHCP

The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is used to assign IP addresses and supply other information to booting computers (or ones that wake up on a new network). The booting client emits UDP broadcast packets and a server replies to the queries. Queries can be forwarded to other networks using a relay program. The server may supply a fixed IP address, usually based on the Ethernet address of the booting host, or it may assign an address out of a pool of available addresses. DHCP is an extension of the older, simpler BOOTP protocol. Whereas BOOTP only delivers a single message at boot time, DHCP extensions provide for updates or changes to IP addresses and other information after booting. DHCP servers often interface with a DNS server to provide current IP/name mapping. An authentication scheme has been devised [Droms and Arbaugh, 2001], but it is rarely used.

The protocol can supply quite a lot of information—the domain name server and default route address and the default domain name as well as the client's IP address. Most implementations will use this information. It can also supply addresses for things such as the network time service, which is ignored by most implementations.

For installations of any size, it is nearly essential to run DHCP. It centralizes the administration of IP addresses, simplifying administrative tasks. Dynamic IP assignments conserve scarce IP address space usage. It easily provides IP addresses for visiting laptop computers—coffeeshops that provide wireless Internet access have to run this protocol. DHCP relay agents eliminate the need for a DHCP server on every LAN segment.

DHCP logs are important for forensics, especially when IP addresses are assigned dynamically. It is often important to know which hardware was associated with an IP address at a given time; the logged Ethernet address can be very useful. Law enforcement is often very interested in ISP DHCP logs (and RADIUS or other authentication logs; see Section 7.7) shortly after a crime is detected.

The protocol is used on local networks, which limits the security concerns somewhat. Booting clients broadcast queries to the local network. These can be forwarded elsewhere, but either the server or the relay agent needs access to the local network. Because the booting host doesn't know its own IP address yet, the response must be delivered to its layer 2 address, usually its Ethernet address. The server does this by either adding an entry to its own ARP table or emitting a raw layer 2 packet. In any case, this requires direct access to the local network, which a remote attacker doesn't have.

Because the DHCP queries are generally unauthenticated, the responses are subject to man-in-the-middle and DOS attacks, but if an attacker already has access to the local network, then he or she can already perform ARP-spoofing attacks (see Section 2.1.2). That means there is little added risk in choosing to run the BOOTP/DHCP protocol. The interface with the DNS server requires a secure connection to the DNS server; this is generally done via the symmetric-key variant of SIGrecords.

Rogue DHCP servers can beat the official server to supplying an answer, allowing various attacks. Or, they can swamp the official server with requests from different simulated Ethernet addresses, consuming all the available IP addresses.

Finally, some DHCP clients implement lease processing dangerously. For example, dhclient, which runs on many UNIX systems, leaves a UDP socket open, with a privileged client program, running for the duration. This is an unnecessary door into the client host: It need only be open for occasional protocol exchanges.

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