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Network Working Group                                      J. Hildebrand
Internet-Draft                                       Cisco Systems, Inc.
Intended status: Informational                          January 15, 2014
Expires: July 19, 2014


             Erosion of the moral authority of middleboxes
                 draft-hildebrand-middlebox-erosion-00

Abstract

   Many middleboxes on the Internet attempt to add value to the
   connections that traverse that point on the network.  Problems in
   their implementations erode the moral authority that otherwise might
   accrue to the legitimate value that they add.

Status of This Memo

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   This Internet-Draft will expire on July 19, 2014.

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1.  Introduction

   There are several middlebox use cases that typically stand in the way
   of better encryption helping to mitigate perpass-style attacks.

   o  Local caching

   o  Enterprise policy controls, including Data Loss Prevention (DLP)
      and monitoring for acceptable use

   o  Service provider acceleration of mobile data

   o  Advertisement insertion for "free" networks

   These use cases may cause third parties to an end-to-end conversation
   to have legitimate legal and moral rights that grant them
   participation in the conversation.  This document discusses several
   reasons why the legitimacy of these use cases is undermined in the
   minds of some who build products for the Internet.

2.  Similarity to attacks

   Some middlebox capabilities are currently implemented using the same
   mechanisms employed by attackers, including passive capturing of
   plaintext data, active impersonation, and denial of service.

   It is difficult to design protocols that simultaneously prevent a
   given vulnerability and simultaneously selectively allow legitimate
   access, and arguments that particular attacks cannot therefore be
   mitigated are greeted by end-users with skepticism - particularly
   when the benefit added by the middlebox does not accrue directly to
   those users.

3.  Unintentional breakage

   The experiences of living with a wide variety of middleboxes in the
   real world lead developers to realize that they all have defects that
   go years without being addressed.  Even when the vendor fixes a given
   bug, software is updated so infrequently at this layer that often the
   bug must just be worked around.

   Developers that have to add multiple special cases to their products
   as they discover every new way to incorrectly implement what they
   previously thought were simple protocols often overreact by using
   protocols that are harder to manage, have worse security properties,
   or perform poorly.





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4.  Support cost appropriation

   When a middlebox subtly fails, end users never call the entity that
   deployed the middlebox, much less the vendor that built that box.
   Instead, they file a support request with the services that they are
   trying to access.  The team that developed that service typically
   spends many hours finally tracking down the issue, only to finally
   find the problem with the middlebox.  The original end user never has
   the authority to fix the middlebox, so they demand the service owner
   work around the problem.

   When the costs associated with broken behavior are not paid by the
   developers of that behavior, it is easy for those developers to
   assume that everyone is happy with their product.

5.  Other monetary incentives

   Developers of new services will often try to make their network
   traffic as similar as possible to an existing essential service.
   This approach maximizes the chances that they will be able to develop
   a user base, however it can stress middleboxes beyond their design
   constraints causing them to fail in new ways.

   When middlebox developers bring about their own downfall by pushing
   application providers outside of natural design patterns, they do not
   impress the community with their desire to be trustable elements of
   the Internet architecture.

6.  Conclusions

   When the moral authority of middleboxes is eroded, arguments by their
   developers to allow unfettered access to the plaintext of traffic
   that traverses those boxes may be called into question.

   As an industry, we should look for other mechanisms to provide
   legitimate third-party value.

7.  References

Author's Address

   Joe Hildebrand
   Cisco Systems, Inc.

   Email: jhildebr@cisco.com






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