Security Assessment of the Internet Protocol
fernando at gont.com.ar
Thu Aug 14 14:34:54 CDT 2008
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The United Kingdom's Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
has just released the document "Security Assessment of the Internet
Protocol", on which I have had the pleasure to work during the last year or
The motivation to produce this document is explained in the Preface of the
document as follows:
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The TCP/IP protocols were conceived during a time that was quite different
from the hostile environment they operate in now. Yet a direct result of
effectiveness and widespread early adoption is that much of today's
global economy remains dependent upon them.
While many textbooks and articles have created the myth that the Internet
Protocols (IP) were designed for warfare environments, the top level goal
for the DARPA Internet Program was the sharing of large service machines on
the ARPANET. As a result, many protocol specifications focus only on the
operational aspects of the protocols they specify and overlook their
Though Internet technology has evolved, the building blocks are basically
the same core protocols adopted by the ARPANET more than two decades ago.
During the last twenty years many vulnerabilities have been identified in
the TCP/IP stacks of a number of systems. Some were flaws in protocol
implementations which affect only a reduced number of systems. Others were
flaws in the protocols themselves affecting virtually every existing
implementation. Even in the last couple of years researchers were still
working on security problems in the core protocols.
The discovery of vulnerabilities in the TCP/IP protocols led to reports
being published by a number of CSIRTs (Computer Security Incident Response
Teams) and vendors, which helped to raise awareness about the threats as
well as the best mitigations known at the time the reports were published.
Much of the effort of the security community on the Internet protocols did
not result in official documents (RFCs) being issued by the IETF (Internet
Engineering Task Force) leading to a situation in which "known"
security problems have not always been addressed by all vendors. In many
cases vendors have implemented quick "fixes" to protocol flaws without
a careful analysis of their effectiveness and their impact on
As a result, any system built in the future according to the official
TCP/IP specifications might reincarnate security flaws that have already
hit our communication systems in the past.
Producing a secure TCP/IP implementation nowadays is a very difficult task
partly because of no single document that can serve as a security roadmap
for the protocols.
There is clearly a need for a companion document to the IETF specifications
that discusses the security aspects and implications of the protocols,
identifies the possible threats, proposes possible counter-measures, and
analyses their respective effectiveness.
This document is the result of an assessment of the IETF specifications of
the Internet Protocol from a security point of view. Possible threats were
identified and, where possible, counter-measures were proposed.
Additionally, many implementation flaws that have led to security
vulnerabilities have been referenced in the hope that future
implementations will not incur the same problems. This document does not
limit itself to performing a security assessment of the relevant IETF
specification but also offers an assessment of common implementation
Whilst not aiming to be the final word on the security of the IP, this
document aims to raise awareness about the many security threats based on
the IP protocol that have been faced in the past, those that we are
currently facing, and those we may still have to deal with in the future.
It provides advice for the secure implementation of the IP, and also
insights about the security aspects of the IP that may be of help to the
Internet operations community.
Feedback from the community is more than encouraged to help this document
be as accurate as possible and to keep it updated as new threats are
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The document is available at CPNI's web site:
Any comments will be more than welcome.
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e-mail: fernando at gont.com.ar || fgont at acm.org
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