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IETF TCP Urgent Data Draft

IETF TCP Urgent Data Draft
Posted Feb 27, 2009
Authored by Fernando Gont | Site ietf.org

This is the IETF Internet-Draft entitled "On the implementation of TCP urgent data". This document describes current issues relevant to the implementation and use of TCP urgent data, aims to change the IETF specifications so that they accommodate what virtually all implementations have been doing with urgent data.

tags | paper, tcp
SHA-256 | 384e21ff4feb6dfa943d320a646ab513ba681507acc08360bf5b6874ae7476f9

IETF TCP Urgent Data Draft

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TCP Maintenance and Minor F. Gont
Extensions (tcpm) UTN/FRH
Internet-Draft A. Yourtchenko
Intended status: Standards Track Cisco
Expires: August 6, 2009 February 2, 2009


On the implementation of TCP urgent data
draft-gont-tcpm-urgent-data-01.txt

Status of this Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted to IETF in full conformance with the
provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups. Note that
other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-
Drafts.

Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
time. It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at
http://www.ietf.org/ietf/1id-abstracts.txt.

The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at
http://www.ietf.org/shadow.html.

This Internet-Draft will expire on August 6, 2009.

Copyright Notice

Copyright (c) 2009 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
document authors. All rights reserved.

This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
(http://trustee.ietf.org/license-info) in effect on the date of
publication of this document. Please review these documents
carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
to this document.

Abstract

This document analyzes how current TCP implementations process TCP



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urgent indications, and how the behavior of some widely-deployed
middle-boxes affect how urgent indications are processed by end
systems. This document updates the relevant specifications such that
they accommodate current practice in processing TCP urgent
indications, and raises awareness about the reliability of TCP urgent
indications in the current Internet.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2. Specification of TCP urgent data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2.1. Semantics of urgent inications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2.2. Semantics of the Urgent Pointer . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.3. Allowed length of urgent data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3. Current implementation practice of TCP urgent data . . . . . . 4
3.1. Semantics of urgent indications . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
3.2. Semantics of the Urgent Pointer . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3.3. Allowed length of urgent data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3.4. Interaction of middle-boxes with urgent data . . . . . . . 6
4. Updating RFC 1122 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5. Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
6. IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
7. Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
8. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
8.1. Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
8.2. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Appendix A. Survey of the processing of urgent data by some
popular implementations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
A.1. FreeBSD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
A.2. Linux . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
A.3. NetBSD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
A.4. OpenBSD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
A.5. Cisco IOS, versions 12.2(18)SXF7, 12.4(15)T7 . . . . . . . 9
A.6. Microsoft Windows 2000, Service Pack 4 . . . . . . . . . . 10
A.7. Microsoft Windows 2008 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
A.8. Microsoft Windows 95 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10













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1. Introduction

TCP incorporates a "urgent mechanism" that allows the sending user to
stimulate the receiving user to accept some urgent data and to permit
the receiving TCP to indicate to the receiving user when all the
currently known urgent data has been received by the user. This
mechanism permits a point in the data stream to be designated as the
end of urgent information. Whenever this point is in advance of the
receive sequence number (RCV.NXT) at the receiving TCP, that TCP must
tell the user to go into "urgent mode"; when the receive sequence
number catches up to the urgent pointer, the TCP must tell user to go
into "normal mode" [RFC0793].

The URG control flag indicates that the "Urgent Pointer" field is
meaningful and must be added to the segment sequence number to yield
the urgent pointer. The absence of this flag indicates that there is
no urgent data outstanding [RFC0793].

This document analyzes how current TCP implementations process TCP
urgent indications, and how the behavior of some widely-deployed
middle-boxes affect the processing of urgent indications by hosts.
This document updates the relevant specifications such that they
accommodate current practice in processing TCP urgent indications,
and also raises awareness about the reliability of TCP urgent
indications in the current Internet.

Section 2 describes what the current IETF secifications state with
respect to TCP urgent indications. Section 3 describes how current
TCP implementations actually process TCP urgent indications.
Section 4 updates RFC 1122 [RFC1122] such that it accommodates
current practice in processing TCP urgent indications.

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
"SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this
document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [RFC2119].


2. Specification of TCP urgent data

2.1. Semantics of urgent inications

As discussed in Section 1, the TCP urgent mechanism permits a point
in the data stream to be designated as the end of urgent information.
Whenever this point is in advance of the receive sequence number
(RCV.NXT) at the receiving TCP, that TCP must tell the user to go
into "urgent mode"; when the receive sequence number catches up to
the urgent pointer, the TCP must tell user to go into "normal mode".
This means, for example, that data that were received as "normal



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data" might become "urgent data" if an urgent indication is received
in some successive TCP segment before those data are consumed by the
TCP user.

The TCP urgent mechanism is NOT a mechanism for sending "out-of-band"
data: the "urgent data" should be delivered "in-line" to the TCP
user.

2.2. Semantics of the Urgent Pointer

There is some ambiguity in RFC 793 [RFC0793] with respect to the
semantics of the Urgent Pointer. Section 3.1 (page 17) of RFC 793
[RFC0793] states that the Urgent Pointer "communicates the current
value of the urgent pointer as a positive offset from the sequence
number in this segment. The urgent pointer points to the sequence
number of the octet following the urgent data. This field is only be
interpreted in segments with the URG control bit set." However,
Section 3.9 (page 56) of RFC 793 [RFC0793] states, when describing
the processing of the SEND call in the ESTABLISHED and CLOSE-WAIT
states, that "If the urgent flag is set, then SND.UP <- SND.NXT-1 and
set the urgent pointer in the outgoing segments".

RFC 961 [RFC0961] clarified this ambiguity in RFC 793 stating that
"Page 17 is wrong. The urgent pointer points to the last octet of
urgent data (not to the first octet of non-urgent data)". RFC 1122
[RFC1122] formally updated RFC 793 by stating, in Section 4.2.2.4
(page 84), that "the urgent pointer points to the sequence number of
the LAST octet (not LAST+1) in a sequence of urgent data."

2.3. Allowed length of urgent data

RFC 793 [RFC0793] allows TCP peers to send urgent data of any length,
as the TCP urgent mechanism simply provides a pointer to an
interesting point in the data stream. In this respect, Section
4.2.2.4 (page 84) of RFC 1122 explicitly states that "A TCP MUST
support a sequence of urgent data of any length".


3. Current implementation practice of TCP urgent data

3.1. Semantics of urgent indications

As discussed in Section 1, the TCP urgent mechanism simply permits a
point in the data stream to be designated as the end of urgent
information, but does NOT provide a mechanism for sending out of band
data.

Unfortunately, virtually all TCP implementations process TCP urgent



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data differently. By default, the "last byte of urgent data" is
delivered "out of band" to the application. That is, it is not
delivered as part of the normal data stream. For example, the "out
of band" byte is read by an application when a recv(2) system call
with the MSG_OOB flag set is issued.

Most implementations provide a socket option (SO_OOBINLINE) that
allows an application to override the default processing of urgent
data, so that they are delivered "in band" to the application, thus
providing the semantics intended by the IETF specifications.

3.2. Semantics of the Urgent Pointer

All the popular implementations that the authors of this document
have been able to test interpret the semantics of the TCP Urgent
Pointer as specified in Section 3.1 of RFC 793. This means that even
when RFC 1122 officially updated RFC 793 to clarify the ambiguity in
the semantics of the Urgent Pointer, this clarification never
reflected into actual implementations (i.e., virtually all
implementations default to the semantics of the urgent pointer
specified in Section 3.1 of RFC 793).

Some operating systems provide a system-wide toggle to override this
behavior, and interpret the semantics of the Urgent Pointer as
clarified in RFC 1122. However, this system-wide toggle has been
found to be inconsistent. For example, Linux provides a the sysctl
"tcp_stdurg" (e.g., net.ivp4.tcp_stdurg) that, when set, supposedly
changes the system behavior to interpret the semantics of the TCP
Urgent Pointer as described in RFC 1122. However, this sysctl
changes the semantics of the Urgent Pointer only for incoming
segments, but not for outgoing segments. This means that if this
sysctl is set, an application might be unable to interoperate with
itself.

3.3. Allowed length of urgent data

While Section 4.2.2.4 (page 84) of RFC 1122 explicitly states that "A
TCP MUST support a sequence of urgent data of any length", in
practice all those implementations that interpret TCP urgent
indications as a mechanism for sending out-of-band data keep a buffer
of a single byte for storing the "last byte of urgent data". Thus,
if successive indications of urgent data are received before the
application reads the pending "out of band" byte, that pending byte
will be discarded (i.e., overwritten by the new byte of urgent data).

In order to avoid urgent data from being discarded, some
implementations queue each of the received "urgent bytes", so that
even if another urgent indication is received before the pending



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urgent data are consumed by the application, those bytes do not need
to be discarded. Some of these implementations have been known to
fail to enforce any limits on the amount of urgent data that they
queue, thus resulting vulnerable to trivial resource exhaustion
attacks [CPNI-TCP].

3.4. Interaction of middle-boxes with urgent data

As a result of the publication of Network Intrusion Detection (NIDs)
evasion techniques based on urgent data [phrack] , some middle-boxes
modify the TCP data stream such that urgent data is put "in band",
that is, they are accessible by the read(2) or recv(2) calls without
the MSG_OOB flag. Examples of such middle-boxes are Cisco PIX
firewall [Cisco-PIX]. This should discourage applications to depend
on urgent data for their corect operation, as urgent data may not be
not reliable in the current Internet.


4. Updating RFC 1122

Firstly, considering that as long as both the TCP sender and the TCP
receiver implement the same semantics for the Urgent Pointer there is
no functional difference in having the Urgent Pointer point to "the
sequence number of the octet following the urgent data" vs. "the last
octet of urgent data", and since all known implementations interpret
the semantics of the Urgent Pointer as pointing to "the sequence
number of the octet following the urgent data", we propose that RFC
1122 [RFC1122] be updated such that "the urgent pointer points to the
sequence number of the octet following the urgent data" (in segments
with the URG control bit set), thus accommodating virtually all
existing TCP implementations.

Secondly, we strongly encourage applications that employ Sockets API
to set the SO_OOBINLINE socket option, such that urgent data is
delivered inline, as intended by the IETF specifications.
Furthermore, we discourage the use of the MSG_OOB flag in recv(2)
calls to retrieve the "urgent data".

Finally, considering the discussion in Section 3.4, we discourage
applications to depend on the TCP urgent mechanism for correct
operation, as urgent data may not be reliable in the current
Internet.


5. Security Considerations

Given that there are two different interpretations of the semantics
of the Urgent Pointer in current implementations, and that either



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middle-boxes (such as packet scrubbers) or the end-systems themselves
could cause the urgent data to be processed "in band", there exists
ambiguity in how TCP urgent data sent by a TCP will be processed by
the intended recipient. This might make it difficult for a Network
Intrusion Detection System (NIDS) to track the application-layer data
transferred to the destination system, and thus lead to false
negatives or false positives in the NIDS [CPNI-TCP].

Probably the best way to avoid the security implications of TCP
urgent data is to avoid having application protocols depend on the
use of TCP urgent data altogether. Packet scrubbers could probably
be configured to clear the URG bit, and set the Urgent Pointer to
zero. This would basically cause the urgent data to be put "in
band". However, this might cause interoperability problems or
undesired behavior in the applications running on top of TCP.


6. IANA Considerations

This document has no actions for IANA.


7. Acknowledgements

The authors of this document would like to thank (in alphabetical
order) David Borman, Alfred Hoenes, Carlos Pignataro, Anantha
Ramaiah, Joe Touch, and Dan Wing for providing valuable feedback on
earlier versions of this document.

Additionally, Fernando would like to thank David Borman and Joe Touch
for a fruitful discussion about TCP urgent mode at IETF 73
(Minneapolis).


8. References

8.1. Normative References

[RFC0793] Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7,
RFC 793, September 1981.

[RFC1122] Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts -
Communication Layers", STD 3, RFC 1122, October 1989.

[RFC2119] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.





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8.2. Informative References

[CPNI-TCP]
CPNI, "Security Assessment of the Transmission Control
Protocol (TCP)", (to be published) .

[Cisco-PIX]
Cisco PIX, "http://www.cisco.com/en/US/docs/security/asa/
asa70/command/reference/tz.html#wp1288756".

[FreeBSD] The FreeBSD project, "http://www.freebsd.org".

[Linux] The Linux Project, "http://www.kernel.org".

[NetBSD] The NetBSD project, "http://www.netbsd.org".

[OpenBSD] The OpenBSD project, "http://www.openbsd.org".

[RFC0961] Reynolds, J. and J. Postel, "Official ARPA-Internet
protocols", RFC 961, December 1985.

[UNPv1] Stevens, W., "UNIX Network Programming, Volume 1.
Networking APIs: Sockets and XTI", Prentice Hall PTR ,
1997.

[Windows2000]
Microsoft Windows 2000, "http://technet.microsoft.com/
en-us/library/bb726981(printer).aspx".

[Windows95]
Microsoft Windows 95,
"ftp://ftp.demon.co.uk/pub/mirrors/win95netfaq/
faq-c.html".

[phrack] Ko, Y., Ko, S., and M. Ko, "NIDS Evasion Method named
"SeolMa"", Phrack Magazine, Volume 0x0b, Issue 0x39, Phile
#0x03 of 0x12 http://www.phrack.org/
issues.html?issue=57&id=3#article, 2001.


Appendix A. Survey of the processing of urgent data by some popular
implementations

A.1. FreeBSD

FreeBSD [FreeBSD] interprets the semantics of the urgent pointer as
specified in RFC 793. It does not provide any sysctl to override
this behavior. However, it provides the SO_OOBINLINE that when set



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causes TCP urgent data to be put "in band". That is, it will be
accessible by the read(2) or recv(2) calls without the MSG_OOB flag.

FreeBSD supports only one byte of urgent data. That is, only the
byte preceding the Urgent Pointer is considered as "urgent data".

A.2. Linux

Linux [Linux] interprets the semantics of the urgent pointer as
specified in RFC 793. It provides the net.ipv4.tcp_stdurg sysctl to
override this behavior to interpret the Urgent Pointer as specified
by RFC 1122. However, this sysctl only affects the processing of
incoming segments (the Urgent Pointer in outgoing segments will still
be set as specified in RFC 793).

Linux supports only one byte of urgent data. That is, only the byte
preceding the Urgent Pointer is considered as "urgent data".

A.3. NetBSD

NetBSD [NetBSD] interprets the semantics of the urgent pointer as
specified in RFC 793. It does not provide any sysctl to override
this behavior. However, it provides the SO_OOBINLINE that when set
causes TCP urgent data to be put "in band". That is, it will be
accessible by the read(2) or recv(2) calls without the MSG_OOB flag.

NetBSD supports only one byte of urgent data. That is, only the byte
preceding the Urgent Pointer is considered as "urgent data".

A.4. OpenBSD

OpenBSD [OpenBSD] interprets the semantics of the urgent pointer as
specified in RFC 793. It does not provide any sysctl to override
this behavior. However, it provides the SO_OOBINLINE that when set
causes TCP urgent data to be put "in band". That is, it will be
accessible by the read(2) or recv(2) calls without the MSG_OOB flag.

OpenBSD supports only one byte of urgent data. That is, only the
byte preceding the Urgent Pointer is considered as "urgent data".

A.5. Cisco IOS, versions 12.2(18)SXF7, 12.4(15)T7

Cisco IOS, versions 12.2(18)SXF7, 12.4(15)T7 interpret the semantics
of the urgent pointer as specified in RFC 793. However, tests
performed with an HTTP server running on Cisco IOS version
12.2(18)SXF7 and 12.4(15)T7 suggest that urgent data is processed "in
band". That is, they are accessible together with "normal" data.
The TCP debugs on the Cisco IOS device do explicitly mention the



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presence of urgent data, and thus we infer that the behavior is
different depending on the application.

A.6. Microsoft Windows 2000, Service Pack 4

Microsoft Windows 2000 [Windows2000] interprets the semantics of the
urgent pointer as specified in RFC 793. It provides the
TcpUseRFC1122UrgentPointer system-wide variable to override this
behavior to interpret the Urgent Pointer as specified by RFC 1122.
However, the tests performed with the sample server application
compiled using the cygwin environment, has shown that the default
behavior is to return the urgent data "in band".

A.7. Microsoft Windows 2008

Microsoft Windows 2008 interprets the semantics of the urgent pointer
as specified in RFC 793.

A.8. Microsoft Windows 95

Microsoft Windows 95 interprets the semantics of the urgent pointer
as specified in RFC 793. It provides the BSDUrgent system-wide
variable to override this behavior to interpret the Urgent Pointer as
specified by RFC 1122. Windows 95 supports only one byte of urgent
data. That is, only the byte preceding the Urgent Pointer is
considered as "urgent data". [Windows95]


Authors' Addresses

Fernando Gont
Universidad Tecnologica Nacional / Facultad Regional Haedo
Evaristo Carriego 2644
Haedo, Provincia de Buenos Aires 1706
Argentina

Phone: +54 11 4650 8472
Email: fernando@gont.com.ar
URI: http://www.gont.com.ar












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Andrew Yourtchenko
Cisco
De Kleetlaan, 7
Diegem B-1831
Belgium

Phone: +32 2 704 5494
Email: ayourtch@cisco.com











































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