Of these most important Internet protocols, NTP (Network Time Protocol) is the likely least understood and has the least attention and support. Until very recently, it was supported (part-time) by just one person - Harlen Stenn - "who had lost the root passwords to the machine where the source code was maintained (so that machine hadn't received security updates in many years), and that machine ran a proprietary source-control system that almost no one had access to, so it was very hard to contribute to".
Just about all secure communication protocols and server synchronization processes require that they have their internal clocks set the same. NTP is the protocol that allows all this to happen.
ICEI and CACR have gotten involved with supporting NTP and there are several related protocol advancements underway to increase security of such vital component of the Internet. NTS (Network Time Security), currently in draft version with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), aims to give administrators a way to add security to NTP and promote secure time synchronization.
While there have been remarkably few exploitable vulnerabilities in NTP over the years, the recent growth of DDoS botnets (such as Mirai) utilizing NTP Reflection Attacks shone a new light on its frailties and importance.
Some relevant stories on the topic of how frail and vital NTP has become and whats being done to correct the problem can be found at:
- Time is Running Out for NTP
- NTP: the rebirth of ailing, failing core network infrastructure
- The internet's core infrastructure is dangerously unsupported and could crumble (but we can save it!)