Securing BGP: A Case Study (10)

The next proposed (and actually already partially operational) system on our list is the Router Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) system, which is described in RFC7115 (and a host of additional drafts and RFCs). The RPKI systems is focused on solving a single solution: validating that the originating AS is authorized to originate a particular prefix. An example will be helpful; we’ll use the network below.


(this is a graphic pulled from a presentation, rather than one of my usual line drawings)

Assume, for a moment, that AS65002 and AS65003 both advertise the same route, 2001:db8:0:1::/64, towards AS65000. How can the receiver determine if both of these two advertisers can actually reach the destination, or only one can? And, if only one can, how can AS65000 determine which one is the “real thing?” This is where the RPKI system comes into play. A very simplified version of the process looks something like this (assuming AS650002 is the true owner of 2001:db8:0:1::/64):

  • AS65002 obtains, from the Regional Internet Registry (labeled the RIR in the diagram), a certificate showing AS65002 has been issued 2001:db8:0:1::/64.
  • AS65002 places this certificate into a local database that is synchronized with all the other operators participating in the routing system.
  • When AS65000 receives a route towards 2001:db8:0:1::/64, it checks this database to make certain the origin AS on the advertisement matches the owning AS.

If the owner and the origin AS match, AS65000 can increase the route’s preference. If it doesn’t AS65000 can reduce the route’s preference. It might be that AS65000 discards the route if the origin doesn’t match—or it may not. For instance, AS65003 may know, from historical data, or through a strong and long standing business relationship, or from some other means, that 2001:db8:0:1::/64 actually belongs to AS65004, even through the RPKI data claims it belongs to AS65002. Resolving such problems falls to the receiving operator—the RPKI simply provides more information on which to act, rather than dictating a particular action to take.

Let’s compare this to our requirements to see how this proposal stacks up, and where there might be objections or problems.

Centralized versus Decentralized: The distribution of the origin authentication information is currently undertaken with rsync, which means the certificate system is decentralized from a technical perspective.

However—there have been technical issues with the rsync solution in the past, such that it can take up to 24 hours to change the distributed database. This is a pretty extreme case of eventual consistency, and it’s a major problem in the global default free zone. BGP might converge very slowly, but it still converges more quickly than 24 hours.

Beyond the technical problems, there is a business side to the centralized/decentralized issue as well. Specifically, many business don’t want their operations impacted by contract issues, negotiation issues, and the like. Many large providers see the RPKI system as creating just such problems, as the “trust anchor” is located in the RIRs. There are ways to mitigate this—just use some other root, or even self sign your certificates—but the RPKI system faces an uphill battle in this are from large transit providers.

Cost: The actual cost of setting up and running a server doesn’t appear to be very high within the RPKI system. The only things you need to “get into the game” are a couple of VMs or physical servers to run rsync, and some way to inject the information gleaned from the RPKI system into the routing decisions along the network edge (which could even be just plugging the information into existing policy mechanisms).

The business issue described above can also be counted as a cost—how much would it cost a provider if their origin authentication were taken out of the database for a day or two, or even a week or two, while a contract dispute with the RIR was worked out?

Information Cost: There is virtually no additional information cost involved in deploying the RPKI.

Other thoughts: The RPKI system wasn’t designed to, and doesn’t, validate anything other than the origin in the AS Path. It doesn’t, therefore, allow an operator to detect AS65003, for instance, claiming to be connected to AS65002 even though it’s not (or it’s not supposed to transit traffic to AS65002). This isn’t really a “lack” on the part of the RPKI, it’s just not something it’s designed to do.

Overall, the RPKI is useful, and will probably be deployed by a number of providers, and shunned by others. It would be a good component of some larger system (again, this was the original intent, so this isn’t a lack), but it cannot stand alone as a complete BGP security system.


  1. Securing BGP: A Case Study - 'net work on 13 May 2016 at 1:07 pm

    […] Post 1: An introduction to the problem space Post 2: What can I prove in a routing system? Post 3: What I can prove in a routing system? Post 4: Centralized or decentralized? Post 5: Centralized or decentralized? Post 6: Business issues with centralization Post 7: Technical issues with centralization Post 8: A full requirements list Post 9: BGPSEC (S-BGP) compared to the requirements Post 10: RPKI compared to the requirements […]