Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) J. Elie
Request for Comments: 8143 April 2017
Category: Standards Track
Using Transport Layer Security (TLS)
with Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP)
This document provides recommendations for improving the security of
the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) when using Transport Layer
Security (TLS). It modernizes the NNTP usage of TLS to be consistent
with TLS best current practices. This document updates RFC 4642.
Status of This Memo
This is an Internet Standards Track document.
This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has
received public review and has been approved for publication by the
Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Further information on
Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.
Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at
Copyright (c) 2017 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
document authors. All rights reserved.
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described in the Simplified BSD License.
1.1. Conventions Used in This Document
Any term not defined in this document has the same meaning as it does
in [RFC4642] or the NNTP core specification [RFC3977].
When this document uses the term "implicit TLS", it refers to TLS
negotiation immediately upon connection on a separate port.
The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
"SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and
"OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC
2. Updates/Changes to RFC 4642
This document updates [RFC4642] in the following aspects:
o NNTP implementations and deployments SHOULD disable TLS-level
compression (Section 3.3 of RFC 7525 [BCP195]), thus no longer
using TLS as a means to provide data compression (contrary to the
Abstract and Section 2.2.2 of [RFC4642]).
o NNTP implementations and deployments SHOULD prefer implicit TLS,
and therefore use strict TLS configuration (Section 3.2 of RFC
7525 [BCP195]). That is to say, they SHOULD use a port dedicated
to NNTP over TLS and begin the TLS negotiation immediately upon
connection (contrary to a dynamic upgrade from unencrypted to TLS-
protected traffic via the use of the STARTTLS command, as
Section 1 of [RFC4642] was encouraging). Implicit TLS is the
preferred way of using TLS with NNTP for the same reasons,
transposed to NNTP, as those given in Appendix A of [MUA-STS].
(Note that [MUA-STS] and [RFC4642] have one author in common.)
o NNTP implementations and deployments MUST NOT negotiate RC4 cipher
suites ([RFC7465]); this is contrary to Section 5 of [RFC4642],
which required them to implement the TLS_RSA_WITH_RC4_128_MD5
cipher suite so as to ensure that any two NNTP-compliant
implementations can be configured to interoperate. This document
removes that requirement, so that NNTP client and server
implementations follow the recommendations given in Sections 4.2
and 4.2.1 of RFC 7525 [BCP195] instead. The mandatory-to-
implement cipher suite or cipher suites depend on the TLS protocol
version. For instance, when TLS 1.2 is used, the
TLS_RSA_WITH_AES_128_CBC_SHA cipher suite MUST be implemented
(Section 9 of [RFC5246]).
o All NNTP clients and any NNTP server that is known by multiple
names MUST support the Server Name Indication (SNI) extension
defined in Section 3 of [RFC6066], in conformance with Section 3.6
of RFC 7525 [BCP195]. It was only a "SHOULD" in Section 2.2.2 of
o NNTP implementations and deployments MUST follow the rules and
guidelines defined in [RFC6125] and [RFC5280] for hostname
validation and certificate verification. Part of Section 5 of
[RFC4642] is, therefore, rationalized in favor of following those
Appendix A of this document gives detailed changes with regard to the
wording of [RFC4642].
The best current practices documented in [BCP195] apply here.
Therefore, NNTP implementations and deployments compliant with this
document are REQUIRED to comply with [BCP195] as well.
Instead of repeating those recommendations here, this document mostly
provides supplementary information regarding secure implementation
and deployment of NNTP technologies.
NNTP supports the use of the COMPRESS command, defined in Section 2.2
of [RFC8054], to compress data between an NNTP client and server.
Although this NNTP extension might have slightly stronger security
properties than TLS-level compression [RFC3749] (since NNTP
compression can be activated after authentication has completed, thus
reducing the chances that authentication credentials can be leaked
via, for instance, a Compression Ratio Info-leak Made Easy (CRIME)
attack, as described in Section 2.6 of [CRIME]), this document
neither encourages nor discourages the use of the NNTP COMPRESS
3.2. Protocol Versions and Security Preferences
NNTP implementations of news servers are encouraged to support
options to configure 1) the minimal TLS protocol version to accept
and 2) which cipher suites, signature algorithms, or groups (like
elliptic curves) to use for incoming connections. Additional options
can naturally also be supported. The goal is to enable
administrators of news servers to easily and quickly strengthen
security, if needed (for instance, by rejecting cipher suites
considered unsafe with regard to local policy).
News clients may also support similar options, either configurable by
the user or enforced by the news reader.
3.3. Server Name Indication
The TLS extension for Server Name Indication (SNI) defined in
Section 3 of [RFC6066] MUST be implemented by all news clients. It
also MUST be implemented by any news server that is known by multiple
names. (Otherwise, it is not possible for a server with several
hostnames to present the correct certificate to the client.)
3.4. Prevention of SSL Stripping
In order to help prevent SSL Stripping attacks (Section 2.1 of
[RFC7457]), NNTP implementations and deployments MUST follow the
recommendations provided in Section 3.2 of RFC 7525 [BCP195].
Notably, in case implicit TLS is not used, news clients SHOULD
attempt to negotiate TLS even if the server does not advertise the
STARTTLS capability label in response to the CAPABILITIES command
(Section 2.1 of [RFC4642]).
3.5. Authenticated Connections
[RFC4642] already provides recommendations and requirements for
certificate validation in the context of checking the client or the
server's identity. Those requirements are strengthened by
Appendix A.5 of this document.
Wherever possible, it is best to prefer certificate-based
authentication (along with Simple Authentication and Security Layer
(SASL) [RFC4422]), and ensure that:
o Clients authenticate servers.
o Servers authenticate clients.
o Servers authenticate other peer servers.
This document does not mandate certificate-based authentication,
although such authentication is strongly preferred. As mentioned in
Section 2.2.2 of [RFC4642], the AUTHINFO SASL command (Section 2.4 of
[RFC4643]) with the EXTERNAL mechanism (Appendix A of [RFC4422]) MAY
be used to authenticate a client once its TLS credentials have been
Given the pervasiveness of eavesdropping [RFC7258], even an encrypted
but unauthenticated connection might be better than an unencrypted
connection (this is similar to the "better-than-nothing security"
approach for IPsec [RFC5386], and in accordance with opportunistic
security principles [RFC7435]). Encrypted but unauthenticated
connections include connections negotiated using anonymous Diffie-
Hellman mechanisms or using self-signed certificates, among others.
Note: when an NNTP server receives a Netnews article, it MAY add a
<diag-match> (Section 3.1.5 of [RFC5536]), which appears as "!!" in
the Path header field of that article, to indicate that it verified
the identity of the client or peer server. This document encourages
the construction of such Path header fields, as described in
Section 3.2.1 of [RFC5537].
3.6. Human Factors
NNTP clients SHOULD provide ways for end users (and NNTP servers
SHOULD provide ways for administrators) to complete at least the
o Determine if a given incoming or outgoing connection is encrypted
using a security layer (either using TLS or an SASL mechanism that
negotiates a security layer).
o Be warned if the version of TLS used for encryption of a given
stream is not secure enough.
o If authenticated encryption is used, determine how the connection
was authenticated or verified.
o Be warned if the certificate offered by an NNTP server cannot be
o Be warned if the cipher suite used to encrypt a connection is not
o Be warned if the certificate changes for a given server.
o When a security layer is not already in place, be warned if a
given server stops advertising the STARTTLS capability label in
response to the CAPABILITIES command (Section 2.1 of [RFC4642]),
whereas it advertised the STARTTLS capability label during any
previous connection within a (possibly configurable) time frame.
(Otherwise, a human might not see the warning the first time, and
the warning would disappear immediately after that.)
o Be warned if a failure response to the STARTTLS command is
received from the server, whereas the STARTTLS capability label
Note that the last two tasks cannot occur when implicit TLS is used,
and that the penultimate task helps prevent an attack known as "SSL
Stripping" (Section 2.1 of [RFC7457]).
4. Security Considerations
Beyond the security considerations already described in [RFC4642],
[RFC6125], and [BCP195], the following caveat is worth mentioning
when not using implicit TLS: NNTP servers need to ensure that they
are not vulnerable to the STARTTLS command injection vulnerability
(Section 2.2 of [RFC7457]). Though this command MUST NOT be
pipelined, an attacker could pipeline it. Therefore, NNTP servers
MUST discard any NNTP command received between the use of STARTTLS
and the end of TLS negotiation.
5. IANA Considerations
This document does not change the formal definition of the STARTTLS
extension (Section 6 of [RFC4642]). Nonetheless, as implementations
of the STARTTLS extension should follow this document, IANA has added
reference to this document to the existing STARTTLS label in the
"NNTP Capability Labels" registry contained in the "Network News
Transfer Protocol (NNTP) Parameters" registry:
| Label | Meaning | Reference |
| STARTTLS | Transport layer security | [RFC4642][RFC8143] |
6.1. Normative References
[BCP14] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997,
[BCP195] Sheffer, Y., Holz, R., and P. Saint-Andre,
"Recommendations for Secure Use of Transport Layer
Security (TLS) and Datagram Transport Layer Security
(DTLS)", BCP 195, RFC 7525, May 2015,
[RFC3977] Feather, C., "Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP)",
RFC 3977, DOI 10.17487/RFC3977, October 2006,
Appendix A. Detailed Changes to RFC 4642
This section lists the detailed changes that this document applies to
A.1. Related to TLS-Level Compression
The second sentence in the Abstract in [RFC4642] is replaced with the
The primary goal is to provide encryption for single-link
confidentiality purposes, but data integrity, and (optional)
certificate-based peer entity authentication are also possible.
The second sentence of the first paragraph in Section 2.2.2 of
[RFC4642] is replaced with the following text:
The STARTTLS command is usually used to initiate session security,
although it can also be used for client and/or server certificate
A.2. Related to Implicit TLS
The third and fourth paragraphs in Section 1 of [RFC4642] are
replaced with the following text:
TCP port 563 is dedicated to NNTP over TLS, and registered in the
IANA Service Name and Transport Protocol Port Number Registry for
that usage. NNTP implementations using TCP port 563 begin the TLS
negotiation immediately upon connection and then continue with the
initial steps of an NNTP session. This immediate TLS negotiation
on a separate port (referred to in this document as "implicit
TLS") is the preferred way of using TLS with NNTP.
If a host wishes to offer separate servers for transit and reading
clients (Section 3.4.1 of [NNTP]), TCP port 563 SHOULD be used for
implicit TLS with the reading server, and an unused port of its
choice different than TCP port 433 SHOULD be used for implicit TLS
with the transit server. The ports used for implicit TLS should
be clearly communicated to the clients, and specifically that no
plaintext communication occurs before the TLS session is
As some existing implementations negotiate TLS via a dynamic
upgrade from unencrypted to TLS-protected traffic during an NNTP
session on well-known TCP ports 119 or 433, this specification
formalizes the STARTTLS command in use for that purpose. However,
as already mentioned above, implementations SHOULD use implicit
TLS on a separate port.
Note: a common alternative to protect NNTP exchanges with transit
servers that do not implement TLS is the use of IPsec with
An additional informative reference to [RFC4301] is, therefore, added
to Section 7.2 of [RFC4642].
A.3. Related to RC4 Cipher Suites
The third paragraph in Section 5 of [RFC4642] is removed.
Consequently, NNTP no longer requires the implementation of any
cipher suites, other than those prescribed by TLS (Section 9 of
[RFC5246]), and Sections 4.2 and 4.2.1 of RFC 7525 [BCP195].
A.4. Related to Server Name Indication
The last two sentences of the seventh paragraph in Section 2.2.2 of
[RFC4642] are removed. Section 3.6 of RFC 7525 [BCP195] applies.
A.5. Related to Certificate Verification
The text between "During the TLS negotiation" and "identity
bindings)." in Section 5 of [RFC4642] is replaced with the following
During TLS negotiation, the client MUST verify the server's
identity in order to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. The
client MUST follow the rules and guidelines defined in [RFC6125],
where the reference identifier MUST be the server hostname that
the client used to open the connection, and that is also specified
in the TLS "server_name" extension [RFC6066]. The following NNTP-
specific consideration applies: DNS domain names in server
certificates MAY contain the wildcard character "*" as the
complete leftmost label within the identifier.
If the match fails, the client MUST follow the recommendations in
Section 6.6 of [RFC6125] regarding certificate pinning and
Beyond server identity checking, clients also MUST apply the
procedures specified in [RFC5280] for general certificate
validation (e.g., certificate integrity, signing, and path
Additional normative references to [RFC5280] (replacing [PKI-CERT],
which it obsoletes), [RFC6066], and [RFC6125] are, therefore, added
to Section 7.1 of [RFC4642].
A.6. Related to Other Obsolete Wording
The first two sentences of the seventh paragraph in Section 2.2.2 of
[RFC4642] are removed. There is no special requirement for NNTP with
regard to TLS Client Hello messages. Section 220.127.116.11 and Appendix E
of [RFC5246] apply.
This document draws heavily on ideas in [RFC7590] by Peter Saint-
Andre and Thijs Alkemade; a large portion of this text was borrowed
from that specification.
The author would like to thank the following individuals for
contributing their ideas and support for writing this specification:
Stephane Bortzmeyer, Ben Campbell, Viktor Dukhovni, Stephen Farrell,
Sabahattin Gucukoglu, Richard Kettlewell, Jouni Korhonen, Mirja
Kuehlewind, David Eric Mandelberg, Matija Nalis, Chris Newman, and
Special thanks to Michael Baeuerle, for shepherding this document,
and to the Responsible Area Director, Alexey Melnikov, for sponsoring
it. They both significantly helped to increase its quality.
10 allee Clovis