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A week ago or so I started the below thread. I have since tweaked our code to assure random sequence numbers every time. The problem is if the sequence number used is greater than 2147483647 it does fail. As long as it is less than that it works repeatedly using the same port.

The people who wrote the third party TCP-IP stack for our embedded device are requesting an RFC number to confirm that is part of the TCP specifications. I can't find one, and the best I could find is this link: http://www-01.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?uid=isg1IZ05180

Is it part of the standards and if so, which RFC is it? Thanks in advance!

http://ask.wireshark.org/questions/32932/can-identical-initial-sequence-numbers-cause-issues

asked 02 Jun '14, 08:31

wes000000's gravatar image

wes000000
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The people who wrote the third party TCP-IP stack for our embedded device are requesting an RFC number to confirm that is part of the TCP specifications.

WHAT? Seriously?

How were they able to write a TCP stack, without knowing the RFCs????

Well, here we go: RFC 793 defines TCP and section 3.3 defines the range of sequence numbers.

http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc793#section-3.3

Sequence numbers are in the range of 0 - 2^32 - 1, which is roughly 4 billion (unsigned 32 bit integer). So, I don't see any good reason why the sequence number should be only 2^16 (~ 2 billion), unless the embedded device does not offer 'native' 32 bit integers and those developers did not care to implement the RFC in the right way, so they limited the SEQ number to what the hardware is offering, in your case apparently 2^16 - 1 (~ 2 billion).

Regards
Kurt

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answered 02 Jun '14, 08:41

Kurt%20Knochner's gravatar image

Kurt Knochner ♦
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accept rate: 15%

edited 02 Jun '14, 08:43

The device does support native 32 bit numbers and it does generate sequence numbers using the full available range.

The issue we were seeing was that if the initial sequence numbers were greater then the last successful connection initial sequence number by more than ~2 billion then the connection would be ignored by the SMTP server we want to connect to.

That is why I had posted previously and was curious when a user posted about 2 billion being the greatest difference. And then i found the IBM site which seems to confirm that... Not sure to be honest.

And I think they know RFC (but I don't know as they are third party), they were just trying to find one to confirm the 2 billion rule, but maybe they can't and wont be able to cause there is no rule. Again I'm not an expert at networking stuff.

(02 Jun '14, 09:12) wes000000

then the connection would be ignored by the SMTP server we want to connect to.

O.K. maybe I misunderstood your question. Now it sounds more like a problem with the SMTP server.

So, what is

  • the OS and OS version of the SMTP server
  • the SMTP server software

Is there any security and/or software device between the client and the server, like a firewall, IDS, etc. Your capture files in the other questions shows all systems in the same subnet, but the capture could have been anonymized.

As long as it is less than that it works repeatedly using the same port.

You mean the same source port, right?

So, here is what I know and what I don't know.

I don't know the 2 billion delta "effect", hence my question about the OS and OS version.

What I know is this:

http://www.rfc-base.org/txt/rfc-1122.txt

Cite:

4.2.2.13  Closing a Connection: RFC-793 Section 3.5

When a connection is closed actively, it MUST linger in
TIME-WAIT state for a time 2xMSL (Maximum Segment Lifetime).
However, it MAY accept a new SYN from the remote TCP to
reopen the connection directly from TIME-WAIT state, if it:

(1)  assigns its initial sequence number for the new
     connection to be larger than the largest sequence
     number it used on the previous connection incarnation,
     and

(2)  returns to TIME-WAIT state if the SYN turns out to be
     an old duplicate.

So, yes, the new ISN must be larger than any previous SEQ (obvious), but there is nothing about a magic 2 billion delta border you'll have to cross.

I guess that's an implementation detail of the TCP stack of the SMTP servers OS (call it a bug or freedom of choice or whatever).

Maybe there are other RFCs, that change this defined behavior. If so, I was unable to find them ;-)

Regards
Kurt

(02 Jun '14, 11:15) Kurt Knochner ♦

For all the logs shown I had our embedded device plugged directly into my laptop which was running hMailServer as a test environment. Both laptop and device had static IP and same subnet so it was a direct connnection. And I did have firewall and antivirus off during testing. My laptop is running Windows 7 Premium 64-bit and our device is ARM based with the third party stack on it.

Prior to simplifying setup, we were originally trying to connect to 'mail.lookoutportablesecurity.com' SMTP server which is hosted by HostMonster. I doubt two servers both have bugs though.

When I said 'same port' I meant same source and destination port. It was sending from port 1024 to destination port 25 everytime. We actually sent two emails per device cycle and do it would send port 1024 then 1025, but after reset it would go back to 1024 and thats when the problems started.

Maybe we are having an issue with it thinking it's an old duplicate... I will try and find some RFC describing what and old duplicate is. Then I can send that off to the tcp-ip stack people and hopefully they will know what to do with it!

(02 Jun '14, 11:27) wes000000

I doubt two servers both have bugs though.

well... unless proven otherwise I tend to not believe anything ;-))

O.K. Let's go back to your other question and to the root of the problem. But you are right. It's a first indicator that there could be something wrong ;-)

I think I don't fully understand the capture files you posted. You posted a file called wirshark_before_reset.pcap and a file called wireshark_after_reset.pcap, however the absolute time stamp in the 'before' file (17:04:3x) is after the 'after' file (16:12:35) !?! So, what exactly are those files showing?

Would it be possible to show the whole effect in a single capture file with a brief explanation and a reference to frame numbers, where you identified the problem, like: working, not working, working again?

Otherwise it would take too much time to get into the details. You know it all, because you spent hours and days with the problem. For us this is totally new and it would be easier to discuss the problem if there was a common base that everybody understands ;-)

(02 Jun '14, 12:14) Kurt Knochner ♦

BTW: While you are testing/recording, could you please check if the connection on the SMTP server is still visible during the different phases of the test.

netstat -na | find ":25"

It would be interesting to see how long it is in ESTABLISHED and TIME_WAIT state.

(02 Jun '14, 12:16) Kurt Knochner ♦

I am working on putting together a new capture all in a single file right now. I will run netstat several times to get an idea of when and how long it stays in TIME_WAIT etc.

The reason the first two files had different times was because I actually ran the 'before reset' file after I captured the 'after reset' file. It is kind of confusing with the names.

Basically what is happening is I am physically removing and restoring power to embedded processor (resetting it) and restarting our code after every reset. Our code is written to use this library to send two emails. So per power on it attempts to send 2 emails. The trick is if you wait several minutes and reset device both emails send fine. If reset the device immediately after those two emails send, and keep resetting it after the 2 attempts complete each time only certain emails succeed. For a long time I had no pattern. Then someone posted about the 2 billion thing and I put together a spreadsheet and entered ISN numbers and the pattern matched the issues I was seeing.

(02 Jun '14, 14:33) wes000000

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-pYPAmyNVqbMUFNOVRXTk1vc3c/edit?usp=sharing

Here is the unified capture file. I actually did three resets, so 6 email attempts. The first two went fine but after that is where things get weird. In certain cases the server just ignores the device and pretends it's not there. I ran netstat... and at first it said LISTENING, then it said TIME_WAIT and it stayed that way from after the first email until about 3 minutes after the last email.

(02 Jun '14, 14:44) wes000000

If you apply the following filter, you'll see, that the client clearly violates RFC 1122, hence the server is 'not allowed' to answer.

There are two source ports, 1024 and 1025 and you'll have to look at them separately.

++ Source port: 1025 ++

tcp.port eq 1025 and (tcp.flags.syn eq 1 or tcp.flags.reset eq 1 or tcp.flags.fin eq 1)

frame #42: SEQ = 3114737405. Connection works

frame #88: SEQ = 2363438278. Server does not answer, as the SEQ is lower than the last SEQ of the previous connection. This is correct according to RFC1122. The client violates the RFC!.

frame #89 - #93: The client retries until it gives up and sends a RESET. The RESET must be ignored by the server to stay in TIME_WAIT!

frame #134: SEQ = 1182260416. Server does not answer, as the SEQ is still lower than the last SEQ of the previous connection. This is correct according to RFC1122. The client violates the RFC!.

frame #135 - #139: The client retries until it gives up and sends a RESET. The RESET must be ignored by the server to stay in TIME_WAIT!

RESULT: Everything absolutely normal for port 1025. The client violates RFC 1122 and the server does not answer the new connection requests, which is correct.

++ Source port: 1024 ++

tcp.port eq 1024 and (tcp.flags.syn eq 1 or tcp.flags.reset eq 1 or tcp.flags.fin eq 1)

basically the same as for port 1025, however, with an important and strange difference at the end.

frame #3: SEQ = 2929729191. Connection works

frame #82: SEQ = 2771582515. Server does not answer, as the SEQ is lower than the last SEQ of the previous connection. This is correct according to RFC1122. The client violates the RFC!

frame #83 - #87: The client retries until it gives up and sends a RESET. The RESET must be ignored by the server to stay in TIME_WAIT!

NOW for the strange thing.

frame #96: SEQ = 742881266. Connection works! This should not have worked, as the SEQ is much lower than the last one for the working connection (frame #3 - 2929729191).

So the interesting question is: Have you seen the connection for port 1024 in TIME_WAIT while the last connection was established? If so, this is a clear violation of RFC 1122. If the connection was no longer in TIME_WAIT it would have been O.K. to answer the SYN.

All the rest is totally normal and adheres to RFC 1122.

Now my question: What is it that your are identifying as a problem? Only the last connection for port 1024 or the whole behavior of the server?

(02 Jun '14, 15:10) Kurt Knochner ♦

TOTAL RESULT: In your test case, the client clearly violates RFC 1122. The easiest way to fix the problem would be to not reuse the source ports while the device is running, until there is a 'natural' wrap around at 65k. If the device is not doing that, the TCP/IP stack needs to be fixed.

As the developers asked for links, send them the link to RFC 1122 and to this discussion.

BTW: Did you reboot the device or reset the TCP/IP stack during your tests?

If so, then the port reuse is 'normal' and you are facing a problem that cannot be fixed easily. Reason: if you reboot the device (or reset the TCP/IP stack) the first TCP connection after the reboot will again start at source port 1024 and the OS will know nothing about the last SEQ for the same source port. So, all the OS can do is to choose a random ISN, which might be lower than the last SEQ, which is a violation of RFC 1122.

So, if you rebooted or reset the device during the test, stop doing that, as there is no way to get your test going. It could cause the same problem on any OS, although it would be much harder to actually trigger the problem, as (for example) a windows/linux system might open some TCP connections right after it has booted, so the chances to use the same source port for a mail to a certain server are rather small. In contrary your embedded device might not open any TCP connection, until you send the test mail, so the chances to hit the same source port are rather high.

(02 Jun '14, 15:35) Kurt Knochner ♦

Basically what is happening is I am physically removing and restoring power to embedded processor (resetting it) and restarting our code after every reset.

O.K. I have not seen your previous comment, but that perfectly explains what is happening, see my last comment. I suspected that you were booting/resetting the device.

The trick is if you wait several minutes and reset device both emails send fine.

Yes, because the connection on the server will be removed from TIME_WAIT after several minutes.

Unfortunately there is not much you can do yourself to fix this problem. There is no magical 2 billion delta/limit, it's just sh.. happening combined with bad luck ;-)) The client violated RFC 1122 and the server does not answer, which is correct. The client violates RFC 1122, due to the following circumstances:

  • fast reboots during the test
  • always starting at 1024 for source ports after a reboot (quite common for simple/old systems)
  • connection still in TIME_WAIT on the mail server
  • random ISN after restart below the last SEQ number of the existing connection. Sometimes it will work, when the SEQ number was low enough. Then the chance that the new random ISN is larger than the old SEQ, is pretty high. This was not the case in the capture file you posted last, but could have happened in your tests. That were the situations where you probably could not explain why it 'suddenly' worked. Now you can ;-))

What could be done is this:

  • don't reset the device too fast. Well, that's going to work during the test, but not in a production environment where you want to get e-mails whenever the device fails/boots. Explanation, see my comments above.
  • Ask the vendor to use randomized source ports, instead of starting at 1024 and counting up
  • You could try to RESET the connection yourself after an e-mail was sent successfully. That would remove the connection from TIME_WAIT state much faster. Please ask the vendor if it is possible to send a RESET after you have closed the SMTP connection. Maybe they are willing to extend their SMTP library for you.
(03 Jun '14, 00:33) Kurt Knochner ♦

Your comments have been extremely helpful, thank you very much!

(03 Jun '14, 06:41) wes000000

you're welcome!

(03 Jun '14, 08:28) Kurt Knochner ♦
showing 5 of 12 show 7 more comments

First of all 2 bilion is 2^31 not 2^16 (which is 65ki)

I can confirm this bug in 32bit Debian kernel 2.6.X and it probably affects many other linux distros.

When "talking" to a device that assign greater than 2147483647 tcp timestamp it drops every packet. It is not so easy to reproduce. We found this bug when one of our windows 2k3 systems touched ~2485 days of uptime. I guess in windows tcp timestamp is generated based on uptime.
It cannot be coincident:
2147483647/86400(seconds per day)/10(guessed constant) = 2485.

I checked and base timestamp in w2k3 is really incremented by 10 every 1 second, so the above equation is real.

I think it has something to do with linux handling integers. Let me use Linux TIMESTAMP as an example. It is 32 bit counter but the first bit means positive or negative value. So 2147483647 in binary would look like:
0111 1111 1111 1111 1111 1111 1111 1111
second next value generated by remote system would be:
1000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0001
Unfortunately in linux this would mean -1 instead of 2147483649. So bassicaly system think that this segment is very very very (like 1970's) old. That is why packets are dropped by tcp stack even when they are visible in tcpdump. Then retransmissions occurs and eventually connection is dropped - timeout.

So... your choice is: move to 64bit linux or to windows :) I can confirm that both 64bit debian and windows 2k3 or newer is handling this correctly.

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answered 04 Feb '15, 06:48

siemin81's gravatar image

siemin81
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I guess what you need is RFC 6528, concerning random initial sequence number generation. As far as I know the ISN can range all over the 32 bit range, which goes up to 4,294,967,295.

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answered 02 Jun '14, 08:42

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Jasper ♦♦
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question asked: 02 Jun '14, 08:31

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last updated: 04 Feb '15, 06:48

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