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TCP Maintenance and Minor                                        F. Gont
Extensions (tcpm)                                                UTN/FRH
Internet-Draft                                          October 24, 2004
Expires: April 24, 2005


                     TCP's Reaction to Soft Errors
                 draft-gont-tcpm-tcp-soft-errors-01.txt

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is subject to all provisions
   of section 3 of RFC 3667.  By submitting this Internet-Draft, each
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   RFC 3668.

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on April 24, 2005.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).

Abstract

   This document discusses problems that may arise due to TCP's reaction
   to soft errors.  In particular, it discusses the problem of long
   delays in connection establishment attempts that may arise in a
   number of scenarios, including that in which dual stack nodes that
   have IPv6 enabled by default are deployed in IPv4 or mixed IPv4 and
   IPv6 environments.  This document discusses this potential problem,
   and proposes to change TCP's reaction to soft errors to work around



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   this problem.  It does not try to specify whether IPv6 should be
   enabled by default or not.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Error Handling in TCP  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
     2.1   Reaction to Hard Errors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     2.2   Reaction to Soft Errors  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   3.  Problems arising from TCP's reaction to soft errors  . . . . .  4
     3.1   General Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     3.2   Problems that arise with Dual Stack IPv6 on by Default . .  5
   4.  Changing TCP's reaction to soft errors . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
   5.  Possible drawbacks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     5.1   Non-deterministic transient network failures . . . . . . .  6
     5.2   Deterministic transient network failures . . . . . . . . .  7
   6.  Future work  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   7.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   8.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   9.  Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
   10.   References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   10.1  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
   10.2  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
       Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   A.  Other possible solutions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     A.1   A more conservative approach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     A.2   Asynchronous Application Notification  . . . . . . . . . . 11
     A.3   Issuing several connection requests in parallel  . . . . . 11
   B.  Changes from draft-gont-tcpm-tcp-soft-errors-00  . . . . . . . 12
       Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . 13





















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1.  Introduction

   The handling of network failures can be separated into two different
   actions: fault isolation and fault recovery.  Fault isolation is the
   actions that hosts and routers take to determine that there is some
   network failure.  Fault recovery, on the other hand, is the actions
   that hosts and routers will perform to isolate and survive a network
   failure.[8]

   In the Internet architecture, the Internet Control Message Protocol
   (ICMP) [1] is used to perform the fault isolation function, that is,
   to report network error conditions to the hosts sending datagrams
   over the network.

   When a host is signalled of a network error, there is still the issue
   of what to do to let communication survive, if possible, the network
   failure.  The fault recovery strategy may depend on the type of
   network failure taking place, and the time the error condition is
   detected.

   This document analyzes the fault recovery policy of TCP [2], and the
   problems that may arise due to TCP's policy of reaction to soft
   errors.  In particular, it analyzes the problems that may arise in
   scenarios where dual stack nodes that have IPv6 enabled by default
   are deployed in IPv4 or mixed IPv4 and IPv6 environments.

   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 [3].

2.  Error Handling in TCP

   Network errors can be divided into soft and hard errors.  Soft errors
   are considered to be transient network failures, which will hopefully
   be solved in the near term.  Hard errors, on the other hand, are
   considered to reflect permanent network conditions, which are
   unlikely to be solved in the near future.

   Therefore, it may make sense for the fault recovery action to be
   different depending on the type of error being detected.

   When there is a network failure that's not signalled to the sending
   host, such as a gateway corrupting packets, TCP's fault recovery
   action is to repeatedly retransmit the segment until either it gets
   acknowledged, or the connection times out.  In case the connection
   times out before the segment is acknowledged, TCP won't be able to
   provide more information than the timeout condition.




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   In case a host does receive an ICMP error message about a current TCP
   connection, the IP layer will pass this message up to TCP to raise
   awareness of the network failure.  [4]

   TCP's reaction will depend on the type of error being signalled.

2.1  Reaction to Hard Errors

   When receiving a segment with the RST bit set, or an ICMP error
   message indicating a hard error condition, TCP will simply abort the
   corresponding connection, regardless of the state the connection is
   in.

   The "Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Communication Layers" RFC [4]
   states, in section 4.2.3.9, that TCP SHOULD abort connections when
   receiving ICMP error messages that indicate hard errors.  This policy
   is based on the premise that, as hard errors indicate network
   conditions that won't change in the near term, it will not be
   possible for TCP to recover from this type of network failure.

2.2  Reaction to Soft Errors

   The "Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Communication Layers" RFC [4]
   states, in section 4.2.3.9, that TCP MUST NOT abort connections when
   receiving ICMP error messages that indicate soft errors.

   If an ICMP error message is received that indicates a soft error, TCP
   will just record this information [9], and repeatedly retransmit the
   data until either they get acknowledged or the connection times out.
   This policy is based on the premise that, as soft errors are
   transient network failures that will hopefully be solved in the near
   term, one of the retransmissions will succeed.

   In case the connection timer expires, and an ICMP error message had
   been received before the timeout, TCP will use this information to
   provide the user with a more specific error message.  [9]

   This handling of soft errors exploits the valuable feature of the
   Internet that for many network failures, the network can be
   dynamically reconstructed without any disruption of the endpoints.

3.  Problems arising from TCP's reaction to soft errors

3.1  General Discussion

   Even though TCP's fault recovery strategy in the presence of soft
   errors allows for TCP connections to survive transient network
   failures, there are scenarios in which this policy may cause



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   undesirable effects.

   For example, consider the case where an application on a local host
   is trying to communicate with a destination whose name resolves to
   several IP addresses.  The application on the local host will try to
   establish a connection with the destination host, cycling through the
   list of IP addresses, until one succeeds [5].  Suppose that some (but
   not all) of the addresses in the returned list are permanently
   unreachable.  If they are the first IP addresses in the list, the
   application will usually try to use these addresses first.

   As discussed in Section 2, this unreachability condition may or may
   not be signalled to the sending host.  If the local TCP is not
   signalled of the error condition, it will repeatedly retransmit the
   SYN segment, until the connection times out.  If unreachability is
   signalled by some intermediate router to the local TCP by means of an
   ICMP error message, the local TCP will just record the error message
   and will still repeatedly retransmit the SYN segment until the
   connection timer expires.  The "Requirements For Internet Hosts --
   Communication Layers" RFC [4] states that this timer MUST be large
   enough to provide retransmission of the SYN segment for at least 3
   minutes.  This would mean that the application on the local host
   would spend several minutes for each unreachable address it tries to
   use for a connection attempt.  These long delays in connection
   establishment attempts would be inappropriate for interactive
   applications such as the web.  [10][11]

3.2  Problems that arise with Dual Stack IPv6 on by Default

   A scenario in which this type of problem may occur is that where dual
   stack nodes that have IPv6 enabled by default are deployed in IPv4 or
   mixed IPv4 and IPv6 environments, and the IPv6 connectivity is
   non-existent [6].

   As discussed in [6], there are two possible variants of this
   scenario, which differ in whether the lack of connectivity is
   signalled to the sending node, or not.

   In cases where packets sent to a destination are silently dropped and
   no ICMPv6 [7] errors are generated, there is very little that can be
   done other than waiting for the existing connection timeout mechanism
   in TCP, or an aplication timeout, to be triggered.

   In cases where a node has no default routers and Neighbor
   Unreachability Detection (NUD) fails for destinations assumed to be
   on-link, or where firewalls or other systems that enforce scope
   boundaries send ICMPv6 errors, the sending node will be signalled of
   the unreachability problem.  As discussed in Section 2.2, TCP



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   implementations will not abort connections when receiving ICMP error
   messages that indicate soft errors.  However, it would be desirable
   for TCP implementations to use this information to avoid the long
   delays in connection attempts described in Section 3.1.

4.  Changing TCP's reaction to soft errors

   As discussed in Section 1, it may make sense for the fault recovery
   action to depend not only on the type of error being reported, but
   also on the time the error is reported.  For example, one could infer
   that when an error arrives in response to opening a new connection,
   it is probably caused by opening the connection improperly, rather
   than by a transient network failure.  [8]

   This document proposes to change TCP's reaction to soft errors as a
   workaround to the potential problems described in Section 3.1.

   TCP SHOULD abort a connection in the SYN-SENT or the SYN-RECEIVED
   state if it receives an ICMP "Destination Unreachable" message that
   indicates a soft error about that connection.

   The "Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Communication Layers" RFC [4]
   states, in section 4.2.3.9., that the ICMP "Destination Unreachable"
   messages that indicate soft errors are ICMP codes 0 (network
   unreachable), 1 (host unreachable), and 5 (source route failed).
   Even though ICMPv6 didn't exist when [4] was written, one could
   extrapolate the concept of soft errors to ICMPv6 Type 1 Codes 0 (no
   route to destination) and 3 (address unreachable).

   This workaround has been implemented in the Linux kernel since
   version 2.0.0 (released in 1996), and has therefore been tested in
   real-world scenarios.

   A system-wide toggle that allows system administrators to disable the
   proposed fix MAY be provided.  By default, this toggle SHOULD enable
   the proposed fix.

   Appendix A.1 discusses a more conservative approach than the one
   introduced in this section.

5.  Possible drawbacks

   The following subsections discuss some of the possible drawbacks
   arising from the use of the proposed fix.

5.1  Non-deterministic transient network failures

   In case there's a transient network failure affecting all of the



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   addresses returned by the name-to-address translation function, all
   destinations could be unreachable for some short period of time.  In
   such a scenario, the application could quickly cycle through all the
   IP addresses in the list and return an error, when it could have let
   TCP retry a destination a few seconds later when the transient
   problem could have been mitigated.

   However, it must be noted that non-interactive applications, such as
   a Mail Transfer Agent (MTA), usually must implement application-layer
   retry mechanisms, and thus are able to handle these scenarios
   appropriately.

   For interactive applications, the user would likely not be satisfied
   with a connection attempt that succeeds only after several seconds,
   anyway.  [12]

5.2  Deterministic transient network failures

   There are some scenarios in which transient network failures could be
   deterministic.  For example, consider the case in which upstream
   network connectivity is triggered by network use.  In this scenario,
   the connection triggering the upstream connectivity would
   deterministically receive ICMP Destination Unreachables while the
   upstream connectivity is being activated, and thus would be aborted.

   As discussed in Section 5.1, applications usually implement mechanims
   to handle these scenarios appropriately.  Also, connection attempts
   are usually preceded by a UDP-based DNS name-to-address lookup.
   Thus, unless the name-to-address mapping has been cached by a local
   nameserver or resolver, it will be the DNS query that will trigger
   the upstream network connectivity, and thus the corresponding
   connection will not be aborted.

   In any case, the system-wide toggle described in section Section 4
   could be used in these specific scenarios to override the default
   behaviour so that connections in the SYN-SENT or SYN-RECEIVED states
   are not aborted upon receipt of ICMP error messages that indicate
   "soft errors".

6.  Future work

   A Higher-Level API would be useful for isolating applications from
   protocol details.  The API could contain the intelligence required to
   resolve the hostname, try each destination address, etc.  One could
   even argue that this document wouldn't have existed if application
   programmers had been using a Higher-Level API.  However, the time
   frame in which this Higher Level API would kick in would be quite
   different than that of the proposed work-around: such an API would



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   need to be designed, standardized, implemented, deployed, and
   documented even before application programmers start (if ever) to use
   it.  Therefore, while it is an interesting long-term solution, it is
   inappropriate for providing a short term fix.

7.  Security Considerations

   This document proposes to make TCP abort a connection in the SYN-SENT
   or the SYN-RECEIVED states when it receives an ICMP "Destination
   Unreachable" message that indicates a "soft error" about that
   connection.  While this could be used to reset valid connections, it
   must be noted that this behaviour is specified only for connections
   in the SYN-SENT or the SYN-RECEIVED states, and thus the window of
   exposure is very short.  Furthermore, in order for this type to
   succeed, the attacker should be able to guess the four-tuple that
   identifies the target TCP connection.  A discussion on this issue can
   be found in [13].

   In any case, it must be noted that the workaround proposed in this
   document neither strengthens nor weakens TCP's resistance to attack.
   An attacker wishing to reset valid connections could perform the
   attack by sending any of the ICMP error messages that indicate "hard
   errors", not only for connections in the SYN-SENT or the SYN-RECEIVED
   states, but for connections in any state.

   A discussion of the use of ICMP to perform a variety of attacks
   against TCP, and some proposed counter-measures that eliminate or
   greatly minimize the impact of these attacks can be found in [14].

   A discussion of the security issues arising from the use of ICMPv6
   can be found in [7].

8.  Acknowledgements

   The author wishes to thank Michael Kerrisk, Eddie Kohler, Mika
   Liljeberg, Pasi Sarolahti, and Pekka Savola, for contributing many
   valuable comments.

9.  Contributors

   Mika Liljeberg was the first to describe how their implementation
   treated soft errors.  Based on that, the solution discussed in
   Section 4 was documented in [6] by Sebastien Roy, Alain Durand and
   James Paugh.

10.  References





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10.1  Normative References

   [1]  Postel, J., "Internet Control Message Protocol", STD 5, RFC 792,
        September 1981.

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

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

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

   [5]  Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application and
        Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, October 1989.

   [6]  Roy, S., Durand, A. and J. Paugh, "Issues with Dual Stack IPv6
        on by Default", draft-ietf-v6ops-v6onbydefault-03 (work in
        progress), July 2004.

   [7]  Conta, A. and S. Deering, "Internet Control Message Protocol
        (ICMPv6) for the Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6)
        Specification", RFC 2463, December 1998.

10.2  Informative References

   [8]   Clark, D., "Fault isolation and recovery", RFC 816, July 1982.

   [9]   "TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols", Addison-Wesley ,
         1994.

   [10]  Shneiderman, B., "Response Time and Display Rate in Human
         Performance with Computers", ACM Computing Surveys , 1984.

   [11]  Thadani, A., "Interactive User Productivity", IBM Systems
         Journal No. 1, 1981.

   [12]  Guynes, J., "Impact of System Response Time on State Anxiety",
         Communications of the ACM , 1988.

   [13]  Watson, P., "Slipping in the Window: TCP Reset Attacks", 2004
         CanSecWest Conference , 2004.

   [14]  Gont, F., "ICMP attacks against TCP",
         draft-gont-tcpm-icmp-attacks-01 (work in progress), September
         2004.




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   [15]  Wright, G. and W. Stevens, "TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 2: The
         Implementation", Addison-Wesley , 1994.


Author's Address

   Fernando Gont
   Universidad Tecnologica Nacional
   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

Appendix A.  Other possible solutions

A.1  A more conservative approach

   A more conservative approach would be to abort a connection in the
   SYN-SENT or SYN-RECEIVED states only after a ICMP Destination
   Unreacheable has been received a specified number of times, and the
   SYN segment has been retransmitted more than some specified number of
   times.

   Two new parameters would have to be introduced to TCP, to be used
   only during the connection-establishment phase: MAXSYNREXMIT and
   MAXSOFTERROR.  MAXSYNREXMIT would speficy the number of times the SYN
   segment would have to be retransmitted before a connection is
   aborted.  MAXSOFTERROR would specify the number of ICMP messages
   indicating soft errors that would have to be received before a
   connection is aborted.

   Two additional variables would be introduced in implementations to
   store additional state information during the
   connection-establishment phase: "nsynrexmit" and "nsofterror".  Both
   would be initialized to zero.  "nsynrexmit" would be incremented by
   one every time the SYN segment is retransmitted.  "nsofterror" would
   be incremented by one every time an ICMP message that indicates a
   soft error is received.

   A connection in the SYN-SENT or SYN-RECEIVED states would be aborted
   if nsynrexmit was greater than MAXSYNREXMIT and "nsofterror" was
   simultaneously greater than MAXSOFTERROR.

   This approach would give the network more time to solve the
   connectivity problem.  However, it should be noted that depending on



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   the values chosen for the MAXSYNREXMIT and MAXSOFTERROR parameters,
   this approach could still lead to long delays in connection
   establishment attempts.  For example, BSD systems abort connections
   in the SYN-SENT or the SYN-RECEIVED state when a second ICMP error is
   received, and the SYN segment has been retransmitted more than three
   times.  They also set up a "connection-establishment timer" that
   imposes an upper limit on the time the connection establishment
   attempt has to succeed, which expires after 75 seconds [15].  Even
   when this policy is better than the three-minutes timeout policy
   specified in [4], it is still inappropriate for handling the
   potential problems described in this document.  This more
   conservative approach has been implemented in BSD systems since, at
   least, 1994 [15].

A.2  Asynchronous Application Notification

   In section 4.2.4.1, [4] states that there MUST be a mechanism for
   reporting soft TCP error conditions to the application.  Such a
   mechanism (assuming one is implemented) could be used by applications
   to cycle through the destination IP addresses.  However, this
   approach would increase application complexity, and would take a long
   time to kick in, as it requires every existing applications to be
   modified.  Thus, it is inappropriate for providing a short term fix.

A.3  Issuing several connection requests in parallel

   For those scenarios in which a domain name maps to several IP
   addresses, several connection requests could be issued in parallel,
   each one to a different destination IP address.  The host would then
   use the first connection attempt to succeed, eliminating the
   potential delay in establishing a connection with the destination
   host.  However, this would mean that every attempt to connect to a
   multihomed host would imply sending several SYN segments, making it
   hard for network operators to distinguish valid connection attempts
   from those performing Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.

   An alternative approach would be as follows.  A host would issue a
   connection request to the first IP address in the list returned by
   the name-to-address mapping function.  If this connection request
   doesn't succeed in some time, a connection request to the second IP
   address in the list would be issued in parallel.  If none of these
   connection requests succeeds in some time, and there are still more
   addresses left in the list, they would be tried in the same way.
   While this approach would, in principle, avoid the problems of the
   previous approach, it might be hard to define the time interval to
   wait before issuing each parallel connection.  A short time interval
   would lead to the problems caused by the previous approach, while a
   long time interval would likely still lead to long delays in



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   establishing a connection with the destination host.

   In any case, it must be noted that both approachs have the same
   drawbacks as the solution described in Appendix A.2: they would
   increase application complexity, and would take too long to begin to
   be used by applications.  Thus, they would be inappropriate for
   providing a short-term fix.

Appendix B.  Changes from draft-gont-tcpm-tcp-soft-errors-00

   o  Added reference to the Linux implementation in Section 4

   o  Added Section 5

   o  Added Section 6

   o  Added Appendix A.1

   o  Moved section "Asynchronous Application Notification" to Appendix
      A.2

   o  Added a Appendix A.3

   o  Miscellaneous editorial changes



























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Acknowledgment

   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.




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