Hedge 144: IPv6 Lessons Learned

We don’t often do a post-mortem on the development and deployment of new protocols … but here at the Hedge we’re going to brave these deep waters to discuss some of the lessons we can learn from the development and deployment of IPv6, especially as they apply to design and deployment cycles in the “average network” (if there is such at thing). Join us as James Harr, Tom Ammon, and Russ White consider the lessons we can learn from IPv6’s checkered history.


Hedge 142: George Michaelson and the Pace of IPv6 Deployment

IPv6 is still being deployed, years after the first world IPv6 day, even more years after its first acceptance as an Internet standard by the IETF. What is taking so long? George Michaelson (APNIC) joins Tom Ammon and Russ White on this episode of the Hedge to discuss the current pace of IPv6 deployment, where there are wins, and why things might be moving more slowly in other areas.


The Hedge 22: Challenges in Deploying IPv6 in the Enterprise

Most transit providers, content providers, and IX’s have deployed IPv6—but many enterprise network operators have not. Ed Horley joins us at the Hedge for a wide-ranging conversation on the challenges of deploying IPv6 in enterprise networks, IPv6 penetration, and other intersecting topics. Ed cohosts the IPv6 Buzz podcast at Packet Pushers, blogs at howfunky.net, and writes at the IPv6 Center of Excellence. You can also find Ed on Twitter and LinkedIn.


IPv6 and Leaky Addresses

One of the recurring myths of IPv6 is its very large address space somehow confers a higher degree of security. The theory goes something like this: there is so much more of the IPv6 address space to test in order to find out what is connected to the network, it would take too long to scan the entire space looking for devices. The first problem with this myth is it simply is not true—it is quite possible to scan the entire IPv6 address space rather quickly, probing enough addresses to perform a tree-based search to find attached devices. The second problem is this assumes the only modes of attack available in IPv4 will directly carry across to IPv6. But every protocol has its own set of tradeoffs, and therefore its own set of attack surfaces.

Assume, for instance, you follow the “quick and easy” way of configuring IPv6 addresses on devices as they are deployed in your network. The usual process for building an IPv6 address for an interface is to take the prefix, learned from the advertisement of a locally attached router, and the MAC address of one of the locally attached interfaces, combining them into an IPv6 address (SLAAC). The size of the IPv6 address space proves very convenient here, as it allows the MAC address, which is presumably unique, to be used in building a (presumably unique) IPv6 address.

According to RFC7721, this process opens several new attack surfaces that did not exist in IPv4, primarily because the device has exposed more information about itself through the IPv6 address. First, the IPv6 address now contains at least some part of the OUI for the device. This OUI can be directly converted to a device manufacturer using web pages such as this one. In fact, in many situations you can determine where and when a device was manufactured, and often what class of device it is. This kind of information gives attackers an “inside track” on determining what kinds of attacks might be successful against the device.

Second, if the IPv6 address is calculated based on a local MAC address, the host bits of the IPv6 address of a host will remain the same regardless of where it is connected to the network. For instance, I may normally connect my laptop to a port in a desk in the Raleigh area. When I visit Sunnyvale, however, I will likely connect my laptop to a port in a conference room there. If I connect to the same web site from both locations, the site can infer I am using the same laptop from the host bits of the IPv6 address. Across time, an attacker can track my activities regardless of where I am physically located, allowing them to correlate my activities. Using the common lower bits, an attacker can also infer my location at any point in time.

Third, knowing what network adapters an organization is likely to use reduces the amount of raw address space that must be scanned to find active devices. If you know an organization uses Juniper routers, and you are trying to find all their routers in a data center or IX fabric, you don’t really need to scan the entire IPv6 address space. All you need to do is probe those addresses which would be formed using SLAAC with OUI’s formed from Juniper MAC addresses.

Beyond RFC7721, many devices also return their MAC address when responding to ICMPv6 probes in the time exceeded response. This directly exposes information about the host, so the attacker does not need to infer information from SLAAC-derived MAC addresses.

What can be done about these sorts of attacks?

The primary solution is to use semantically opaque identifiers when building IPv6 addresses using SLAAC—perhaps even using a cryptographic hash to create the base identifiers from which IPv6 addresses are created. The bottom line is, though, that you should examine the vendor documentation for each kind of system you deploy—especially infrastructure devices—as well as using packet capture tools to understand what kinds of information your IPv6 addresses may be leaking and how to prevent it.


IPv6 Backscatter and Address Space Scanning

Backscatter is often used to detect various kinds of attacks, but how does it work? The paper under review today, Who Knocks at the IPv6 Door, explains backscatter usage in IPv4, and examines how effectively this technique might be used to detect scanning of IPv6 addresses, as well. The best place to begin is with an explanation of backscatter itself; the following network diagram will be helpful—

Assume A is scanning the IPv4 address space for some reason—for instance, to find some open port on a host, or as part of a DDoS attack. When A sends an unsolicited packet to C, a firewall (or some similar edge filtering device), C will attempt to discover the source of this packet. It could be there is some local policy set up allowing packets from A, or perhaps A is part of some domain none of the devices from C should be connecting to. IN order to discover more, the firewall will perform a reverse lookup. To do this, C takes advantage of the PTR DNS record, looking up the IP address to see if there is an associated domain name (this is explained in more detail in my How the Internet Really Works webinar, which I give every six months or so). This reverse lookup generates what is called a backscatter—these backscatter events can be used to find hosts scanning the IP address space. Sometimes these scans are innocent, such as a web spider searching for HTML servers; other times, they could be a prelude to some sort of attack.

Kensuke Fukuda and John Heidemann. 2018. Who Knocks at the IPv6 Door?: Detecting IPv6 Scanning. In Proceedings of the Internet Measurement Conference 2018 (IMC ’18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 231-237. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3278532.3278553

Scanning the IPv6 address space is much more difficult because there are 2128 addresses rather than 232. The paper under review here is one of the first attempts to understand backscatter in the IPv6 address space, which can lead to a better understanding of the ways in which IPv6 scanners are optimizing their search through the larger address space, and also to begin understanding how backscatter can be used in IPv6 for many of the same purposes as it is in IPv4.

The researchers begin by setting up a backscatter testbed across a subset of hosts for which IPv4 backscatter information is well-known. They developed a set of heuristics for identifying the kind of service or host performing the reverse DNS lookup, classifying them into major services, content delivery networks, mail servers, etc. They then examined the number of reverse DNS lookups requested versus the number of IP packets each received.

It turns out that about ten times as many backscatter incidents are reported for IPv4 than IPv6, which either indicates that IPv6 hosts perform reverse lookup requests about ten times less often than IPv4 hosts, or IPv6 hosts are ten times less likely to be monitored for backscatter events. Either way, this result is not promising—it appears, on the surface, that IPv6 hosts will be less likely to cause backscatter events, or IPv6 backscatter events are ten times less likely to be reported. This could indicate that widespread deployment of IPv6 will make it harder to detect various kinds of attacks on the DFZ. A second result from this research is that using backscatter, the researchers determined IPv6 scanning is increasing over time; while the IPv6 space is not currently a prime target for attacks, it might become more so over time, if the scanning rate is any indicator.

The bottom line is—IPv6 hosts need to be monitored as closely, or more closely than IPv6 hosts, for scanning events. The techniques used for scanning the IPv6 address space are not well understood at this time, either.


When should you use IPv6 PA space?

I was reading RFC8475 this week, which describes some IPv6 multihoming ‘net connection solutions. This set me to thinking about when you should uses IPv6 PA space. To begin, it’s useful to review the concept of IPv6 PI and PA space.

PI, or provider independent, space, is assigned by a regional routing registry to network operators who can show they need an address space that is not tied to a service provider. These requirements generally involve having a specific number of hosts, showing growth in the number of IPv6 addresses used over time, and other factors which depend on the regional registry providing the address space. PA, or provider assigned, IPv6 addresses can be assigned by a provider from their PI pool to an operator to which they are providing connectivity service.

There are two main differences between these two kinds of addresses. PI space is portable, which means the operator can take the address space when them when they change providers. PI space is also fixed; it is (generally) safe to use PI space as you might private or other IP address spaces; you can assign them to individual subnets, hosts, etc., and count on them remaining the same over time. If everyone obtained PI space, however, the IPv6 routing table in the default free zone (DFZ) could explode. PI space cannot be aggregated by the operator’s upstream provider because it is portable in just this way.

PA space, on the other hand, can be aggregated by your upstream provider because it is assigned by the provider. On the other hand, the provider can change the address block assigned to its customer at any time. The general idea is the renumbering capabilities built into IPv6 make it possible to “not care” about the addresses assigned to individual hosts on your network.

How does this work out in real life? Consider the following network—

Assume AS65000 assigns 2001:db8:1:1::/64 to the operator, and AS65001 assigns 2001:db8:2:2::/64. IPv6 provides mechanisms for A, B, and D to obtain addresses from within these two ranges, so each device has two IP addresses. Now assume A wants to send a packet to some site connected to the public Internet. If it sources the packet from its address in the 1:1::/64 range, A should send the packet to E; if it sources the packet from its address in the 2:2::/64 range, it should send the packet to F. This behavior is described in RFC6724, rule 5.5:

Prefer addresses in a prefix advertised by the next-hop. If SA or SA’s prefix is assigned by the selected next-hop that will be used to send to D and SB or SB’s prefix is assigned by a different next-hop, then prefer SA.  Similarly, if SB or SB’s prefix is assigned by the next-hop that will be used to send to D and SA or SA’s prefix is assigned by a different next-hop, then prefer SB.

If the host uses this solution, it needs to remember which sources it has used in the past for which destinations—at least for the length of a single session, at any rate. RFC6724, however, notes supporting rule 5.5 is a SHOULD, rather than a MUST, which means some hosts may not have this capability. What should the network operator do in this case?

RFC8475 suggests using a set of policy based routing or filter based forwarding policies at the routers in the network to compensate. If E, for instance, receives a packet with a source in the range 2:2::/64 range, it should route the packet to F for forwarding. This will generally mean forwarding the packet out the interface on which E received the packet. Likewise, F should have a local policy that forwards packets it receives with a source address in the 1:1::/64 range to E. RFC8475 provides several examples of policies which would work for a number of different situations (for active/standby, active/active, one border router or two).

There are, however, two failure modes here. For the first one, assume AS65000 decides to assign the operator another IPv6 address range. IPv6’s renumbering capabilities will take care of getting the correct addresses onto A, B, and D—but the policies at E and F must be manually updated for the new address space to work correctly. It should be possible to automate the management of these filters in some way, of course, but the complexity injected into the network is larger than you might initially think.

The second failure relates to a deeper problem. What if B is not allowed, by policy, to talk to D? If the addressing in the network were consistent, the operator could set up a filter at C to prevent traffic from flowing between these two devices. When the network is renumbered, any such filters must be reconfigured, of course. A second instance of this same kind of failure: what if D is the internal DNS server for the network? While the DNS server’s address can be pushed out through the IPv6 renumbering capabilities (through NA, specifically), some manual or automated configuration must be adjusted to get the new address into the IPv6 advertisements so it can be distributed.

The short answer to the question above—when should you use PA space for a network?—comes down to this: when you have a very small, simple network behind a set of routers connecting to the ‘net, where the hosts attached to the network support RFC6724 rule 5.5, and intra-site communication is very simple (or there is no intra-site communications at all). Essentially, renumbering is not the only problem to solve when renumbering a network.