[ISN] ITL Bulletin for July 2005

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Wed Aug 3 06:05:03 EDT 2005

Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon <elizabeth.lennon at nist.gov>

ITL Bulletin for July 2005


Shirley Radack, Editor
Computer Security Division
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Technology Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce

The protection of sensitive information that is transmitted across
interconnected networks is an essential part of an organization's
integrated program for the security of information and information
systems. Management, operational, and technical controls are needed
throughout the organization to protect information and information
systems from threats of all kinds. New guidance recently issued by the
Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) at the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST)  helps federal and private sector
organizations select and use technical controls at the transport layer
of a layered communications protocol stack. Transport layer security
(TLS) can be implemented and used effectively to authenticate network
servers and clients, and to protect the confidentiality and integrity
of data that is exchanged between two communicating information
technology (IT)  applications.

Background on Transport Layer Security (TLS)

Technical controls implemented at the transport layer of a
communications protocol stack can protect sensitive information during
electronic dissemination across the Internet. The TLS protocol (TSL
1.0) is a voluntary industry standard (RFC 2246) that was developed by
the Internet Engineering Task Force. TSL 1.0 is based on the Secure
Sockets Layer Version 3.0 (SSL 3.0), which had been developed
originally by Netscape Corporation.  These protocols are part of the
seven-layer model (also known as the seven-layer stack) that provides
for communications operations between applications running on
disparate computing systems on the Internet. The seven-layer model
defines the layers of computer communications services, which are
provided by a protocol stack. The transport layer is frequently used
to provide connection-oriented services between applications running
on hosts that are on interconnected networks.

The layering of communications protocols enables systems developers to
design new communication systems using already defined services,
protocols, and specific communication requirements within each layer
of the stack.  Each protocol layer of the system that is transmitting
information through the network communicates with the corresponding
layer of the stack on the system that receives the information. Within
the communications stack, the internal mechanisms of each layer
generally are independent of each other layer. Placement of security
services and the implementation of the security mechanisms within the
stack are specific to each individual layer of the stack.

The seven-layer model does not explicitly define where security
services are to be placed, and there has been considerable discussion
about the correct placement of security services and other
implementation mechanisms.  These discussions will continue as new
standards are developed to meet the communications needs of users,
local and wide area networking vendors, Internet service providers
(ISPs), and World Wide Web (Web) application designers.

In this model, the telephone lines, network routers, firewalls, and
other network components that comprise the underlying structure of the
network are usually not under the control of the end user's client
software or of the server's application software. In the typical
Internet architecture, the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet
Protocol (TCP/IP) stack provides for the transmission of packets
through complex arrangements of local, wide, or metropolitan area or
globally connected sets of inter-networking or intra-networking
technology. Protocols below IP include, for example, local area
network (LAN)  protocols or other link protocols such as dial up, or
directly connected modems, fiber optic links, or satellite links.

Security services are needed to protect data privacy and data
integrity, and to assure the authentication of the server and the end
user. The TSL 1.0 specifications use cryptographic mechanisms,
including encryption of data, message authentication codes, and public
key cryptography-based digital signatures, to implement the security
services and to establish and maintain a secure TCP/IP connection.
Secure connections prevent eavesdropping, tampering, or message

Protocol options must be selected and used by both clients and servers
in order to achieve communication security at the transport layer. The
transport layer is not the only place in this architectural model
where these security services can be provided. In overall security
design, the transport layer is only a small portion of the network,
and it alone cannot provide complete network security. Security
involves an integrated and complex set of related properties that work
together to protect information and systems.

NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-52, Guidelines for the Selection and
Use of Transport Layer Security (TLS)  Implementations:
Recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST has issued new guidelines to help organizations select and
implement transport level security, making effective use of Federal
Information Processing Standards (FIPS)-approved cryptographic
algorithms and open source technology. Written by C. Michael Chernick
(NIST), Charles Edington III (Booz Allen Hamilton), Matthew J. Fanto
(NIST), and Rob Rosenthal (Booz Allen Hamilton), the guide advises
organizations how to use authentication, confidentiality, and
integrity mechanisms to protect information at the transport layer.
Authentication mechanisms provide assurance of the identity of the
sender or receiver of information. The confidentiality mechanisms
provide assurance that data is kept secret and prevent eavesdropping.
The message integrity mechanisms detect any attempts to modify data
and prevent deletions, additions, or modifications of data.

NIST SP 800-52 explains the concepts of security in the layered
communications architecture in general, and in the transport layer in
particular. The security options in selecting an encryption method, or
cipher, and communications protocols are explained, and recommended
selections are discussed. Tables are provided for mapping the security
parts of TLS to FIPS, and for recommended client and server cipher
suites. The reference section includes documents, publications, and
organizations that provide extensive information on many aspects of
transport layer security.

While primarily designed to help federal agencies achieve more secure
information systems, other activities including state, local and
tribal governments, and private sector organizations should find the
guide useful in selecting transport layer security implementations.
NIST SP 800-52 and other publications dealing with controls and
procedures needed for secure systems are available from the NIST
Computer Security Resource Center at:  

NIST SP 800-52 and FISMA Requirements

NIST SP 800-52 is one of the guidelines developed by NIST to help
federal agencies implement their responsibilities under the Federal
Information Security Management Act (FISMA). FISMA requires that all
federal agencies develop, document, and implement agency-wide
information security programs to protect the information and
information systems that support the operations and assets of the
agency, including those systems provided or managed by another agency,
contractor, or other source.

Under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130, Management
of Federal Information Resources, federal managers of publicly
accessible information repositories, or of dissemination systems that
contain sensitive but unclassified data, are required to ensure that
sensitive data is protected. The protection mechanisms used should be
in accordance with the risk and magnitude of the harm that would
result from the loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to or
modification of such data. Security requirements are usually derived
from an assessment of the threats or potential attacks that an
adversary could mount against a system. Threats to systems take
advantage of implementation vulnerabilities found in many system
components including computer operating systems, application software
systems, and the computer networks that interconnect them.

Security within the network is just one consideration in establishing
an effective information security program.  NIST SP 800-30, Risk
Management Guide for Information Technology Systems, describes the
management process to analyze and balance the operational and economic
costs of protective measures and to protect the IT systems and data
that support the organization's mission. Special Publications and
Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) mentioned in this
bulletin are available in electronic format at:  

Guidance in Implementing Transport Layer Security

NIST recommends that organizations consider the following issues when
implementing transport layer security mechanisms, such as web servers
and browsers:

* Implementation of standards. The interaction between components in
transport layer security mechanisms should be through a well-defined
communication protocol with no deviations. FIPS-approved algorithms
for authentication, encryption, and the generation of message digests
should be used in all implementations.

* Interoperability. An implementation should promote interoperability
among components. The selection of a particular server solution should
not prevent the use of any standards-based client or vice versa.

* Use of evaluated products. Key components of the implementation
should be independently evaluated for conformance to standards, such
as FIPS 140-1 and 140-2, Security Requirements for Cryptographic

* Selection of important features. The implementation should include
those features that users consider most important to their operating

* Open Source Solutions. The implementation should be an open source
solution that allows users to choose future implementations that will
support interoperability or standards.

NIST recommends the use of the TLS 1.0 protocol specifications, which
call for cryptographic mechanisms to implement the security services
that establish and maintain a secure TCP/IP connection. The secure
connection prevents eavesdropping, tampering, or message forgery.
Implementing data confidentiality with cryptography prevents
eavesdropping; generating a message authentication code with a secure
hash function prevents undetected tampering;  and authenticating
clients and servers with public key cryptography-based digital
signatures prevents message forgery. In all of these processes, a key
or shared secret is required by the cryptographic mechanism. A
pseudorandom number generator and a key establishment algorithm are
used to provide for the generation and sharing of these secrets.

NIST SP 800-52 provides tables that guide an organization in
implementing services to prevent eavesdropping, tampering, or message
forgery. The guide identifies the key establishment, confidentiality,
digital signature, and hash mechanisms that are Federal Information
Processing Standards (FIPS). Recommendations are made for the
selection of FIPS-approved ciphers.

Some specific implementation details include:

* In selecting and procuring transport layer security implementations,
officials should ensure that products meet a minimum set of
universally accepted tests.  Products should provide quality random
numbers for key generation, protect the keying material and its
storage, and properly implement and test key establishment,
encryption, and signature algorithms and hash functions. NIST has
published information to help agencies in buying security products in
NIST SP 800-23, Guidelines to Federal Organizations on Security
Assurance and Acquisition/Use of Tested/Evaluated Products, and in
NIST SP 800-36, Guide to Selecting Information Technology Security

* Organizations should follow the vendor's general guidelines, as well
as local practices, when installing TLS implementations. For example,
a client's local policy might state that server authentication is
required. The system administrator should follow the vendor's
prescribed methods for enabling client/server authentication. Security
services for confidentiality, data integrity, and peer entity
authentication for clients and servers should be configured and
provided by the TLS implementation.  Appropriate cipher suites must
also be selected.

* In the maintenance phase, administrators should follow local
policies and operating procedures. For example, the site system
administrator may be required to check for product updates and
security patches and to install them as needed. Within the local
operating procedures, provisions should be made for checking for and
obtaining updated information concerning the issuance and validation
of authentication certificates, which are issued by public key
infrastructure services.

Some Operational Considerations

After administrators select cipher suites to support transport layer
security within the TLS protocol, applications should be configured
only for those selected cipher suites. In addition, the key lengths
used in the cipher suites for both clients and servers must be
specified. TSL 1.0 and SSL 3.0 use the Hypertext Transfer Protocol
(HTTPS), which is an extremely flexible protocol that allows for many
uses and implementations and that introduces vulnerabilities. The
client should be configured to check all data received and to verify
the pathway of the message and the message's integrity. This includes
verifying the server's identity at the time the connection is

Both the server and the client should not base authentication
decisions solely upon the Transport Layer Security's mechanism for
determining possession of the private key corresponding to the
authentication certificate. Rather, the decision should also consider
whether or not the authentication certificate is valid or has been
revoked. Information on public key infrastructure services is
available in NIST SP 800-32, Introduction to Public Key Technology and
the Federal PKI Infrastructure.

Organizations should consult NIST SP 800-52, Guidelines for the
Selection and Use of Transport Layer Security (TLS)  Implementations,
for complete details concerning selection of protocols, cipher suites,
client-server issues, generation of random numbers, and other
implementation issues.

Any mention of commercial products or reference to commercial
organizations is for information only; it does not imply
recommendation or endorsement by NIST nor does it imply that the
products mentioned are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

NOTE: ITL is seeking a Division Chief for its Computer Security
Division. For more information, see

Elizabeth B. Lennon
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8900
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8900
Telephone (301) 975-2832
Fax (301) 975-2378

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