2013-11-13 – Temporum: secure time: a paranoid fantasy

Imagine that...

Secure NTP is an easy-to-use and universally deployed protocol extension...

The NTP pool is dedicated to providing accurate time from anyone to everyone, securely...

NIST, creators of some of the world's best clocks and keepers of official time for the USA, decide that the NTP pool is an excellent project which they would like to help. They donatate machines and install them around the world and dedicate them to providing time as part of the NTP pool. Their generous funding allows them to become a large and particularly well-connected proportion of the pool.

In fact NIST is a sock-puppet of the NSA. Their time servers are modified so that they are as truthful and as accurate as possible to everyone, except those who the US government decides they do not like.

The NSA has set up a system dedicated to replay attacks. They cause occasional minor outages and screwups in various cryptographic systems - certificate authorities, DNS registries - which seem to be brief and benign when they happen, but no-one notices that the bogus invalid certificates and DNS records all have validity periods covering a particular point in time.

Now the NSA can perform a targeted attack, in which they persuade the victim to reboot, perhaps out of desperation because nothing works and they don't understand denial-of-service attacks. The victim's machine reboots, and it tries to get the time from the NTP pool. The NIST sock-puppet servers all lie to it. The victim's machine believes the time is in the NSA replay attack window. It trustingly fetches some crucial "software update" from a specially-provisioned malware server, which both its DNSSEC and X.509 PKIs say is absolutely kosher. It becomes comprehensively pwned by the NSA.

How can we provide the time in a way that is secure against this attack?

(Previously, previously)

⇐ 2013-11-11 ⇐ Security considerations for temporum: quorate secure time ⇐ ⇒ A weird BIND DNSSEC resolution bug, with a fix. ⇒ 2013-12-03 ⇒