ntp_auth(5) File Formats Manual ntp_auth(5)
ntp_auth - Authentication Options
This page describes the various cryptographic authentication provisions in NTPv4. Details about the configuration commands and options are
given on the Configuration Options page. Details about the automatic server discovery schemes are described on the Automatic Server Discov-
ery Schemes page. Additional information is available in the papers, reports, memoranda and briefings cited on the NTP Project page.
Authentication support allows the NTP client to verify that servers are in fact known and trusted and not intruders intending accidentally
or intentionally to masquerade as a legitimate server.
The NTPv3 specification RFC-1305 defines a scheme properly described as symmetric key cryptography. It uses the Data Encryption Standard
(DES) algorithm operating in cipher-block chaining (CBC) mode. Subsequently, this scheme was replaced by the RSA Message Digest 5 (MD5)
algorithm commonly called keyed-MD5. Either algorithm computes a message digest or one-way hash which can be used to verify the client has
the same key and key identifier as the server. If the OpenSSL cryptographic library is installed, support is available for all algorithms
included in the library. Note however, if conformance to FIPS 140-2 is required, only a limited subset of these algorithms is available.
NTPv4 includes the NTPv3 scheme and optionally a new scheme based on public key cryptography and called Autokey. Public key cryptography is
generally considered more secure than symmetric key cryptography, since the security is based on private and public values which are gener-
ated by each participant and where the private value is never revealed. Autokey uses X.509 public certificates, which can be produced by
commercial services, utility programs in the OpenSSL software library or the ntp-keygen utility program in the NTP software distribution.
While the algorithms for MD5 symmetric key cryptography are included in the NTPv4 software distribution, modern algorithms for symmetric
key and public key cryptograpny requires the OpenSSL software library to be installed before building the NTP distribution. This library is
available from http://www.openssl.org and can be installed using the procedures outlined in the Building and Installing the Distribution
page. Once installed, the configure and build process automatically detects the library and links the library routines required.
Note that according to US law, NTP binaries including OpenSSL library components, including the OpenSSL library itself, cannot be exported
outside the US without license from the US Department of Commerce. Builders outside the US are advised to obtain the OpenSSL library
directly from OpenSSL, which is outside the US, and build outside the US.
Authentication is configured separately for each association using the key or autokey option of the server configuration command, as
described in the Server Options page, and the options described on this page. The ntp-keygen page describes the files required for the var-
ious authentication schemes. Further details are in the briefings, papers and reports at the NTP project page linked from www.ntp.org.
SYMMETRIC KEY CRYPTOGRAPHY
The original RFC-1305 specification allows any one of possibly 65,534 keys (excluding zero), each distinguished by a 32-bit key ID, to
authenticate an association. The servers and clients involved must agree on the key, key ID and key type to authenticate NTP packets. If an
NTP packet includes a message authentication code (MAC), consisting of a key ID and message digest, it is accepted only if the key ID
matches a trusted key and the message digest is verified with this key. Note that for historic reasons the message digest algorithm is not
consistent with RFC-1828. The digest is computed directly from the concatenation of the key string followed by the packet contents with the
exception of the MAC itself.
Keys and related information are specified in a keys file, usually called ntp.keys, which must be distributed and stored using secure means
beyond the scope of the NTP protocol itself. Besides the keys used for ordinary NTP associations, additional keys can be used as passwords
for the ntpq and ntpdc utility programs. Ordinarily, the ntp.keys file is generated by the ntp-keygen program, but it can be constructed
and edited using an ordinary text editor. The program generates pseudo-random keys, one key for each line. Each line consists of three
fields, the key identifier as a decimal number from 1 to 65534 inclusive, a key type chosen from the keywords of the digest option of the
crypto command, and a 20-character printable ASCII string or a 40-character hex string as the key itself.
When ntpd is first started, it reads the key file specified by the keys command and installs the keys in the key cache. However, individual
keys must be activated with the trustedkey configuration command before use. This allows, for instance, the installation of possibly sev-
eral batches of keys and then activating a key remotely using ntpdc. The requestkey command selects the key ID used as the password for the
ntpdc utility, while the controlkey command selects the key ID used as the password for the ntpq utility.
By default, the message digest algorithm is MD5 selected by the key type M in the keys file. However, if the OpenSSL library is installed,
any message digest algorithm supported by that library can be used. The key type is selected as the algorithm name given in the OpenSSL
documentation. The key type is associated with the key and can be different for different keys. The server and client must share the same
key, key ID and key type and both must be trusted. Note that if conformance to FIPS 140-2 is required, the message digest algorithm must
conform to the Secure Hash Standard (SHS), which requires an algorithm from the Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) family, and the digital signa-
ture encryption algorithm, if used, must conform to the Digital Signature Standard (DSS), which requires the Digital Signature Algorithm
In addition to the above means, ntpd now supports Microsoft Windows MS-SNTP authentication using Active Directory services. This support
was contributed by the Samba Team and is still in development. It is enabled using the mssntp flag of the restrict command described on the
Access Control Options page. Note: Potential users should be aware that these services involve a TCP connection to another process that
could potentially block, denying services to other users. Therefore, this flag should be used only for a dedicated server with no clients
other than MS-SNTP.
PUBLIC KEY CRYPTOGRAPHY
NTPv4 supports the Autokey security protocol, which is based on public key cryptography. The Autokey Version 2 protocol described on the
Autokey Protocol page verifies packet integrity using MD5 message digests and verifies the source using digital signatures and any of sev-
eral digest/signature schemes. Optional identity schemes described on the Autokey Identity Schemes page are based on cryptographic chal-
lenge/response exchanges. These schemes provide strong security against replay with or without message modification, spoofing, masquerade
and most forms of clogging attacks. These schemes are described along with an executive summary, current status, briefing slides and read-
ing list on the Autonomous Authentication page.
Autokey authenticates individual packets using cookies bound to the IP source and destination addresses. The cookies must have the same
addresses at both the server and client. For this reason operation with network address translation schemes is not possible. This reflects
the intended robust security model where government and corporate NTP servers are operated outside firewall perimeters.
There are three timeouts associated with the Autokey scheme. The key list timeout, which defaults to about 1.1 h, specifies the interval
between generating new key lists. The revoke timeout, which defaults to about 36 h, specifies the interval between generating new private
values. The restart timeout, with default about 5 d, specifies the interval between protocol restarts to refresh public values. In general,
the behavior when these timeouts expire is not affected by the issues discussed on this page.
NTP SECURE GROUPS
NTP secure groups are used to define cryptographic compartments and security hierarchies. All hosts belonging to a secure group have the
same group name but different host names. The string specified in the host option of the crypto command is the name of the host and the
name used in the host key, sign key and certificate files. The string specified in the ident option of the crypto command is the group name
of all group hosts and the name used in the identity files. The file naming conventions are described on the ntp-keygen page.
Each group includes one or more trusted hosts (THs) operating at the root, or lowest stratum in the group. The group name is used in the
subject and issuer fields of the TH self-signed trusted certificate for these hosts. The host name is used in the subject and issuer fields
of the self-signed certificates for all other hosts.
All group hosts are configured to provide an unbroken path, called a certificate trail, from each host, possibly via intermediate hosts and
ending at a TH. When a host starts up, it recursively retrieves the certificates along the trail in order to verify group membership and
avoid masquerade and middleman attacks.
Secure groups can be configured as hierarchies where a TH of one group can be a client of one or more other groups operating at a lower
stratum. A certificate trail consist of a chain of hosts starting at a client, leading through secondary servers of progressively lower
stratum and ending at a TH. In one scenario, groups RED and GREEN can be cryptographically distinct, but both be clients of group BLUE
operating at a lower stratum. In another scenario, group CYAN can be a client of multiple groups YELLOW and MAGENTA, both operating at a
lower stratum. There are many other scenarios, but all must be configured to include only acyclic certificate trails.
IDENTITY SCHEMES AND CRYPTOTYPES
All configurations include a public/private host key pair and matching certificate. Absent an identity scheme, this is a Trusted Certifi-
cate (TC) scheme. There are three identity schemes, IFF, GQ and MV described on the Identity Schemes page. With these schemes all servers
in the group have encrypted server identity keys, while clients have nonencrypted client identity parameters. The client parameters can be
obtained from a trusted agent (TA), usually one of the THs of the lower stratum group. Further information on identity schemes is on the
Autokey Identity Schemes page.
A specific combination of authentication and identity schemes is called a cryptotype, which applies to clients and servers separately. A
group can be configured using more than one cryptotype combination, although not all combinations are interoperable. Note however that some
cryptotype combinations may successfully intemperate with each other, but may not represent good security practice. The server and client
cryptotypes are defined by the the following codes.
NONE A client or server is type NONE if authentication is not available or not configured. Packets exchanged between client and server
have no MAC.
AUTH A client or server is type AUTH if the key option is specified with the server configuration command and the client and server keys
are compatible. Packets exchanged between clients and servers have a MAC.
PC A client or server is type PC if the autokey option is specified with the server configuration command and compatible host key and
private certificate files are present. Packets exchanged between clients and servers have a MAC.
TC A client or server is type TC if the autokey option is specified with the server configuration command and compatible host key and
public certificate files are present. Packets exchanged between clients and servers have a MAC.
IDENT A client or server is type IDENT if the autokey option is specified with the server configuration command and compatible host key,
public certificate and identity scheme files are present. Packets exchanged between clients and servers have a MAC.
The compatible cryptotypes for clients and servers are listed in the following table.
| Client/Server | NONE | AUTH | PC | TC | IDENT |
| NONE | yes | yes* | yes* | yes* | yes* |
| AUTH | no | yes | no | no | no |
| PC | no | no | yes | no | no |
| TC | no | no | no | yes | yes |
| IDENT | no | no | no | no | yes |
* These combinations are not valid if the restriction list includes the notrust option.
Autokey has an intimidating number of configuration options, most of which are not necessary in typical scenarios. The simplest scenario
consists of a TH where the host name of the TH is also the name of the group. For the simplest identity scheme TC, the TH generates host
key and trusted certificate files using the ntp-keygen -T command, while the remaining group hosts use the same command with no options to
generate the host key and public certificate files. All hosts use the crypto configuration command with no options. Configuration with
passwords is described in the ntp-keygen page. All group hosts are configured as an acyclic tree with root the TH.
When an identity scheme is included, for example IFF, the TH generates host key, trusted certificate and private server identity key files
using the ntp-keygen -T -I -i group command, where group is the group name. The remaining group hosts use the same command as above. All
hosts use the crypto ident group configuration command.
Hosts with no dependent clients can retrieve client parameter files from an archive or web page. The ntp-keygen can export these data using
the -e option. Hosts with dependent clients other than the TH must retrieve copies of the server key files using secure means. The ntp-key-
gen can export these data using the -q option. In either case the data are installed as a file and then renamed using the name given as the
first line in the file, but without the filestamp.
Consider a scenario involving three secure groups RED, GREEN and BLUE. RED and BLUE are typical of national laboratories providing certi-
fied time to the Internet at large. As shown ion the figure, RED TH mort and BLUE TH macabre run NTP symmetric mode with each other for
monitoring or backup. For the purpose of illustration, assume both THs are primary servers. GREEN is typical of a large university provid-
ing certified time to the campus community. GREEN TH howland is a broadcast client of both RED and BLUE. BLUE uses the IFF scheme, while
both RED and GREEN use the GQ scheme, but with different keys. YELLOW is a client of GREEN and for purposes of illustration a TH for YEL-
The BLUE TH macabre uses configuration commands
crypto pw qqsv ident blue peer mort autokey broadcast address autokey
where qqsv is the password for macabre files and address is the broadcast address for the local LAN. It generates BLUE files using the com-
ntp-keygen -p qqsv -T -G -i blue ntp-keygen -p qqsv -e >ntpkey_gqpar_blue
The first line generates the host, trusted certificate and private GQ server keys file. The second generates the public GQ client parame-
ters file, which can have any nonconflicting mnemonic name.
The RED TH mort uses configuration commands
crypto pw xxx ident red peer macabre autokey broadcast address autokey
where xxx is the password for mort files. It generates RED files using the commands
ntp-keygen -p xxx -T -I -i red ntp-keygen -p xxx -e >ntpkey_iffpar_red
The GREEN TH howland uses configuration commands
crypto pw yyy ident green broadcastclient
where yyy is the password for howland files. It generates GREEN files using the commands
ntp-keygen -p yyy -T -G -i green ntp-keygen -p yyy -e >ntpkey_gqpar_green ntp-keygen -p yyy -q zzz >zzz_ntpkey_gqkey_green
The first two lines serve the same purpose as the preceding examples. The third line generates a copy of the private GREEN server file for
use on another server in the same group, say YELLOW, but encrypted with the zzz password.
A client of GREEN, for example YELLOW, uses the configuration commands
crypto pw abc ident green server howland autokey
where abc is the password for its files. It generates files using the command
ntp-keygen -p abc
The client retrieves the client file for that group from a public archive or web page using nonsecure means. In addition, each server in a
group retrieves the private server keys file from the TH of that group, but it is encrypted and so must be sent using secure means. The
files are installed in the keys directory with name taken from the first line in the file, but without the filestamp.
Note that if servers of different groups, in this case RED and BLUE, share the same broadcast media, each server must have client files for
all groups other than its own, while each client must have client files for all groups. Note also that this scenario is for illustration
only and probably would not be wise for practical use, as if one of the TH reference clocks fails, the certificate trail becomes cyclic. In
such cases the symmetric path between RED and BLUE, each in a different group, would not be a good idea.
Specifies the interval between regenerations of the session key list used with the Autokey protocol, as a power of 2 in seconds.
Note that the size of the key list for each association depends on this interval and the current poll interval. The default inter-
val is 12 (about 1.1 h). For poll intervals above the specified interval, a session key list with a single entry will be regener-
ated for every message sent.
Specifies the key ID to use with the ntpq utility, which uses the standard protocol defined in RFC-1305. The keyid argument is the
key ID for a trusted key, where the value can be in the range 1 to 65534, inclusive.
crypto [randfile file] [host name] [ident name] [pw password]
This command requires the OpenSSL library. It activates public key cryptography and loads the required host key and public certifi-
cate. If one or more files are left unspecified, the default names are used as described below. Unless the complete path and name
of the file are specified, the location of a file is relative to the keys directory specified in the keysdir configuration command
or default /etc/ntp/crypto. Following are the options.
digest MD2 | MD4 | MD5 | MDC2 | RIPEMD160 | SHA | SHA1
Specify the message digest algorithm, with default MD5. If the OpenSSL library is installed, name can be be any message
digest algorithm supported by the library not exceeding 160 bits in length. However, all Autokey participants in an Autokey
subnet must use the same algorithm. Note that the Autokey message digest algorithm is separate and distinct form the sym-
metric key message digest algorithms. Note: If compliance with FIPS 140-2 is required, the algorithm must be ether SHA or
Specifies the string used when constructing the names for the host, sign and certificate files generated by the ntp-keygen
program with the -s name option.
Specifies the string used in constructing the identity files generated by the ntp-keygen program with the -i name option.
Specifies the password to decrypt files previously encrypted by the ntp-keygen program with the -p option.
Specifies the location of the random seed file used by the OpenSSL library. The defaults are described on the ntp-keygen
Specifies the complete path to the MD5 key file containing the keys and key IDs used by ntpd, ntpq and ntpdc when operating with
symmetric key cryptography. This is the same operation as the -k command line option. Note that the directory path for Autokey
media is specified by the keysdir command.
This command specifies the default directory path for Autokey cryptographic keys, parameters and certificates. The default is
/etc/ntp/crypto. Note that the path for the symmetric keys file is specified by the keys command.
Specifies the key ID to use with the ntpdc utility program, which uses a proprietary protocol specific to this implementation of
ntpd. The keyid argument is a key ID for a trusted key, in the range 1 to 65534, inclusive.
Specifies the interval between re-randomization of certain cryptographic values used by the Autokey scheme, as a power of 2 in sec-
onds. These values need to be updated frequently in order to deflect brute-force attacks on the algorithms; however, updating some
values is a relatively expensive operation. The default interval is 17 (about 36 h). For poll intervals above the specified inter-
val, the values will be updated for every message sent.
trustedkey [keyid | (lowid ... highid)] [...]
Specifies the key ID(s) which are trusted for the purposes of authenticating peers with symmetric key cryptography. Key IDs used to
authenticate ntpq and ntpdc operations must be listed here and additionally be enabled with controlkey and/or requestkey. The
authentication procedure for time transfer require that both the local and remote NTP servers employ the same key ID and secret for
this purpose, although different keys IDs may be used with different servers. Ranges of trusted key IDs may be specified: "trusted-
key (1 ... 19) 1000 (100 ... 199)" enables the lowest 120 key IDs which start with the digit 1. The spaces surrounding the ellipsis
are required when specifying a range.
Errors can occur due to mismatched configurations, unexpected protocol restarts, expired certificates and unfriendly people. In most cases
the protocol state machine recovers automatically by retransmission, timeout and restart, where necessary. Some errors are due to mis-
matched keys, digest schemes or identity schemes and must be corrected by installing the correct media and/or correcting the configuration
file. One of the most common errors is expired certificates, which must be regenerated and signed at least once per year using the ntp-key-
gen - generate public and private keys program.
The following error codes are reported via the NTP control and monitoring protocol trap mechanism and to the cryptostats monitoring file if
101 bad field format or length
The packet has invalid version, length or format.
102 bad timestamp
The packet timestamp is the same or older than the most recent received. This could be due to a replay or a server clock time step.
103 bad filestamp
The packet filestamp is the same or older than the most recent received. This could be due to a replay or a key file generation
104 bad or missing public key
The public key is missing, has incorrect format or is an unsupported type.
105 unsupported digest type
The server requires an unsupported digest/signature scheme.
106 unsupported identity type
The client or server has requested an identity scheme the other does not support.
107 bad signature length
The signature length does not match the current public key.
108 signature not verified
The message fails the signature check. It could be bogus or signed by a different private key.
109 certificate not verified
The certificate is invalid or signed with the wrong key.
110 host certificate expired
The old server certificate has expired.
111 bad or missing cookie
The cookie is missing, corrupted or bogus.
112 bad or missing leapseconds table
The leapseconds table is missing, corrupted or bogus.
113 bad or missing certificate
The certificate is missing, corrupted or bogus.
114 bad or missing group key
The identity key is missing, corrupt or bogus.
115 protocol error
The protocol state machine has wedged due to unexpected restart.
See the ntp-keygen page. Note that provisions to load leap second values from the NIST files have been removed. These provisions are now
available whether or not the OpenSSL library is available. However, the functions that can download these values from servers remains
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