Internet-Draft QUIC Version Aliasing April 2023
Duke Expires 27 October 2023 [Page]
Intended Status:
M. Duke

QUIC Version Aliasing


The QUIC transport protocol preserves its future extensibility partly by specifying its version number. There will be a relatively small number of published version numbers for the foreseeable future. This document provides a method for clients and servers to negotiate the use of other version numbers in subsequent connections and encrypts Initial Packets using secret keys instead of standard ones. If a sizeable subset of QUIC connections use this mechanism, this should prevent middlebox ossification around the current set of published version numbers and the contents of QUIC Initial packets, as well as improving the protocol's privacy properties.

Discussion Venues

This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

Discussion of this document takes place on the mailing list (, which is archived at

Source for this draft and an issue tracker can be found at

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Note that other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts. The list of current Internet-Drafts is at

Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any time. It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

This Internet-Draft will expire on 27 October 2023.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The QUIC version number is critical to future extensibility of the protocol ([RFC9000]). Past experience with other protocols, such as TLS1.3 [RFC8446], shows that middleboxes might attempt to enforce that QUIC packets use versions known at the time the middlebox was implemented. This deters deployment of experimental and standard versions on the internet.

Each version of QUIC has a "salt" [RFC9001] that is used to derive the keys used to encrypt Initial packets. As each salt is published in a standards document, any observer can decrypt these packets and inspect the contents, including a TLS Client Hello. A subsidiary mechanism like Encrypted Client Hello [ECHO] might protect some of the TLS fields inside a TLS Client Hello.

This document proposes "QUIC Version Aliasing," a standard way for servers to advertise the availability of other versions inside the cryptographic protection of a QUIC handshake. These versions are syntactically identical to the QUIC version in which the communication takes place, but use a different salt. In subsequent communications, the client uses the new version number and encrypts its Initial packets with a key derived from the provided salt. These version numbers and salts are unique to the client.

If a large subset of QUIC traffic adopts his technique, middleboxes will be unable to enforce particular version numbers or policy based on Client Hello contents without incurring unacceptable penalties on users. This would simultaneously protect the protocol against ossification and improve its privacy properties.

1.1. Terminology

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [RFC2119].

In this document, these words will appear with that interpretation only when in ALL CAPS. Lower case uses of these words are not to be interpreted as carrying significance described in RFC 2119.

A "standard version" is a QUIC version that would be advertised in a QUIC version negotiation and conforms to a specification. Any aliased version corresponds to a standard version in all its formats and behaviors, except for the version number field in long headers. QUIC versions require certain properties to support use as a standard version. QUIC version 1 ([RFC9000]) and version 2 ([I-D.draft-ietf-quic-v2]) both have the necessary properties. Future QUIC version specifications can specify their suitability for this purpose.

An "aliased version" is a version with a number generated in accordance with this document. Except when specified below, it conforms entirely to the specification of the standard version.

2. Protocol Overview

When they instantiate a connection, servers select an alternate 32-bit version number, and optionally a server connection ID, for the next connection at random and securely derive parameters from those values using a repeatable process. Among those is a "salt" that can be used to encrypt Initial packets instead of the well-known salt provided in the specification. A bitmask parameter serves to "grease" parts of the QUIC public header that are currently unencrypted. Servers communicate these parameters using a transport parameter.

If a client next connects to that server within the indicated expiration time, it uses the provided version number and connection ID, and encrypts its Initial Packets using a key derived from the provided salt. It uses the bitmask to grease certain public header fields. In all other respects, the packet is identical to an Initial packet from a standard version indicated in the transport parameter.

When a server receives a long header packet with an aliased version, it uses the version number and destination connection ID to recover the parameters, which allows it to extract the header values and decrypt the packet.

When generating parameters, servers can choose between doing so randomly and storing the mapping, or using a cryptographic process to transform the aliased version number and token extension into the salt. The two options provide a simple tradeoff between computational complexity and storage requirements.

All long header packets use the aliased version and apply the greasing parameters. Short header packets are in every respect unchanged from the standard version.

2.1. Relationship to ECH and QUIC Protected Initials

The TLS Encrypted Client Hello [ECHO] shares some goals with this document. It encodes an "inner" encrypted Client Hello in a TLS extension in an "outer" Client Hello. The encryption uses asymmetric keys with the server's public key distributed via an out-of-band mechanism like DNS. The inner Client Hello contains any privacy-sensitive information and is only readable with the server's private key.

Significantly, unlike QUIC Version Aliasing, ECH can operate on the first connection between a client and server. However, from the second connection QUIC version aliasing provides additional benefits. It:

  • greases QUIC header fields and packet formats;
  • protects all of the TLS Client Hello and Server Hello;
  • mitigates Retry injection attacks;
  • does not require a mechanism to distribute the public key;
  • uses smaller Client Hello messages, which might allow a larger 0RTT packet in the same datagram; and
  • relies on computationally cheap symmetric encryption.

Note that in the event of the server losing state, the two approaches have a similar fallback: ECH uses information in the outer Client Hello, and Version Aliasing requires a connection using a standard version. In either case, maintaining privacy requires the outer or standard version Client Hello to exclude privacy-sensitive information. However, ECH will allow confidential transmission of data in 1 RTT, while Version Aliasing requires 2 RTTs to resume. This mechanism is also relevant to mitigation of downgrade attacks (see Section 7.3).

Similarly, the QUIC Protected Initial [QUIC-PI] uses the ECH distribution mechanism to generate secure initial keys and Retry integrity tags. While still dependent on a key distribution system, asymmetric encryption, and relatively large Initial packets, it offers similar protection properties to Version Aliasing while still not greasing the version field. Note that since QUIC Protected Initials have their own scheme for protecting Initial packets, that version is not suitable for use as a standard version. However, these connections can be used to deliver the version_aliasing transport parameter.

A maximally privacy-protecting client might use Protected Initials for any connection attempts for which it does not have an unexpired aliased version, and QUIC version aliasing otherwise.

See also section 1.1 of [QUIC-PI] for further discussion of tradeoffs.

3. The version_aliasing Transport Parameter

This feature is governed by the version_aliasing transport parameter, which has two versions. The client version is of zero length and indicates a willingness to accept the server version of the parameter. Clients MAY send this, and servers MAY restrict sending of their version_aliasing parameter to clients that request it. However, servers can send this parameter to all clients if resources allow.

If they support version aliasing and resources allow, servers SHOULD respond to a client version_aliasing transport parameter of greater than zero length with a TRANSPORT_PARAMETER_ERROR.

The server version MAY be sent in any QUIC connection that supports transport parameters. It has the following format.

 0                   1                   2                   3
 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
|                      Aliased Version (32)                     |
|                     Standard Version (32)                     |
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                            Salt (160)                         |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
|                       Expiration Time (i)                     |
|  CID length  |           Connection ID (variable)             |
|                      Bitmask (variable)                       |
Figure 1: version_aliasing Transport Parameter value

These fields are described in the sections below.

The Expiration Time field is encoded using the Variable Length Integer encoding from Section 16 of [RFC9000]. Expiration Time is measured in seconds.

The Connection ID Length (CID Length) is in bytes.

Note that servers that support version aliasing need not send the transport parameter on every connection. Therefore, a client MAY attempt to connect with an unexpired aliased version, even if in its most recent connection it did not receive the transport parameter.

Clients remember the values in this transport parameter for a future connection. Servers MUST either store the contents of the transport parameter, or preserve the state to compute the full contents based on the Aliased Version and Connection ID.

A client that receives this transport parameter not conforming to this format MUST close the connection with a TRANSPORT_PARAMETER_ERROR.

Servers SHOULD provide a new version_aliasing transport parameter each time a client connects. However, issuing version numbers to a client SHOULD be rate- limited to mitigate the salt polling attack (Section 7.7) and MAY cease to clients that are consistently connecting with standard versions.

3.1. Aliased Version

The version MUST appear to be random, although there are certain values that will not be sent. Specifically, it MUST NOT correspond to a QUIC version the server advertises in QUIC Version Negotiation packets or transport parameters. Servers SHOULD also exclude version numbers used in known specifications or experiments to avoid confusion at clients, whether or not they have plans to support those specifications.

Servers MAY use version numbers reserved for grease in Section 15.1 of [RFC9000], even though they might be advertised in Version Negotiation Packets. Some clients may use these version numbers to probe for Version Negotiation capability, which would likely result in a fallback procedure (see Section 5) instead of a Version Negotiation packet.

Servers MUST NOT use client-controlled information (e.g. the client IP address) as in input to generate the version number, see Section 7.7.

Servers MUST NOT advertise these versions in QUIC Version Negotiation packets.

3.2. Standard Version

Servers also identify the Standard version that the client uses to specify the wire formats and behaviors of the aliased version. This version MUST meet the criteria to support version aliasing, and MUST either be included as a supported version in the client's version_information transport parameter (see [QUIC-VN]) or be the standard version of the current connection.

Note that servers MUST NOT accept resumption tickets or NEW_TOKEN tokens from a certain standard version in a connection using a different standard version. Therefore, the choice of standard version might impact the performance of the connection that uses an aliased version. The standard version that generated tickets and/or tokens is typically encoded in those tickets or tokens.

There are several possible techniques for the server securely recovering the standard version in use for an aliased connection:

  • the server could store a mapping of aliased versions to standard version;
  • the server could encrypt the standard version in use in the aliased version number and/or connection ID;
  • the server only accepts one standard version for aliased versions; or
  • the standard version is included as an input to the parameter generation algorithm, and the server tries all supported standard versions and tests each resulting bitmask for validity.

3.2.1. Criteria to Support Version Aliasing

Version aliasing is designed to work with QUICv1 and QUICv2 as standard versions, but does not preclude other standard versions. Note that the "standard version" is the version which provides the wire format and behavior for the aliased connection. A different connection exchanges the mandatory-to- implement transport parameters for version aliasing, and need not be of the same version.

Any QUIC version that uses transport parameters with similar security guarantees, or provides an equivalent mechanism, can exchange the relevant information. An alternate mechanism will likely require specification of the equivalent messages.

New QUIC versions could also serve as standard versions. However, version aliasing leverages several assumptions. New versions that deviate from these assumptions will have to specify how version aliasing can utilize the version.

  • Version Aliasing assumes that connections begin with a Long Header packet encrypted with a key derived from a salt.
  • The rules for which header fields are subject to the bitmask are written to be clear for QUICv1 and v2. New version-specific header fields might be ambiguous relative to these criteria, or be a special case (as the fixed bit is for v1 and v2).

3.3. Salt

The salt is an opaque 20-octet field. It is used to generate Initial connection keys using the process described in [RFC9001].

Servers MUST either generate a random salt and store a mapping of aliased version and connection ID to salt, or generate the salt using a cryptographic method that uses the version number, connection ID, and server state that is persistent across connections. It MUST NOT use client controlled information other than the version number and connection ID; for example, the client's IP address and port.

3.4. Expiration Time

Servers should select an expiration time in seconds, measured from the instant the transport parameter is first sent. This time SHOULD be less than the time until the server expects to support new QUIC versions, rotate the keys used to encode information in the version number, or rotate the keys used in salt generation. The expiration need not be derivable from the aliased version and connection ID; it is a matter of policy.

Furthermore, the expiration time SHOULD be short enough to frustrate a salt polling attack (Section 7.7).

Conversely, an extremely short expiration time will often force the client to use standard QUIC version numbers and salts.

The client SHOULD NOT use an aliased version if the time since the receipt of the transport parameter exceeds the Expiration Time. Attempting to do so is likely to result in a fallback procedure (see Section 5). The server need not enforce this restriction; the Expiration Time is purely advisory.

3.5. Server Connection ID

Servers SHOULD generate a Connection ID to provide additional entropy in salt generation. Two clients that receive the same version number but different connection IDs will not be able to decode each other's Initial Packets.

The connection ID MUST appear to be random to observers, but it might encode information to route the packet in the server infrastructure, or standard version information.

The connection ID MUST NOT be between 1 and 7 bytes long. A zero-length connection ID signals that the destination connection ID will not be an input to the server's process, so the client may choose any destination connection ID compliant with the standard version.

3.6. Bitmask

The length of the bitmask field is inferred from the remaining length of the transport parameter.

For all initial packets, the bitmask is applied to all parts of the packet header that do not meet any of the following criteria:

  • They are encrypted via header encryption (in QUIC version 1, the packet number, packet number length, and reserved bits in the first byte).
  • They are part of the [RFC8999] invariants in the long header (i.e., the long header bit, version, connection IDs, and connection ID lengths).
  • They are encrypted using a server-specific scheme (such as the Initial token).

Therefore, in QUIC version 1 or 2 [I-D.draft-ietf-quic-v2], the bitmask is applied to the packet type, fixed bit, initial token length, and length fields. Senders apply the bitmask after header protection. Receivers apply it before removing header protection.

Each octet of the bitmask is XORed with an octet of the header than contains bits that are masked. Bits of those octets that are not masked MUST be zero in the bitmask. If the standard version is QUICv1 or v2, therefore, the first, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth bits must all be zero.

For example, an outgoint aliased Initial header, with a Standard Version of QUICv1, might have these values prior to applying the bitmask:

First Byte: 0xcd (Long Header, Fixed Bit, Initial Packet, encrypted bits)
Aliased version: 0x4d8723a1
Destination Connection ID Length: 0x08
Destination Connection ID: 0xf4ad00431f2901ff
Source Connection ID Length: 0x00
Token Length: 0x10
Token: 0x467daa15 270a6718 7cd84310 b62c119b
Length: 0x44b0 (1200 B)
Packet Number: 0x349ae204 (encrypted)

There are a total of four octets that require masking: the first type, token length, and length field. The provided bitmask field is


Therefore, the final form of the packet header on egress is

First Byte: 0xed (0b11001101 ^ 0b0010000)
Aliased version: 0x4d8723a1 (no change)
Destination Connection ID Length: 0x08 (no change)
Destination Connection ID: 0xf4ad00431f2901ff (no change)
Source Connection ID Length: 0x00 (no change)
Token Length: 0x41 (0x10 ^ 0x51)
Token: 0x467daa15 270a6718 7cd84310 b62c119b (no change)
Length: 0xab14 (0x44b0 ^ 0xefa4))
Packet Number: 0x349ae204 (no change)

The "Fixed bit" (second-most-significant bit of the first octet) is sometimes used to differentiate QUIC packets from other UDP traffic at the server. The server MAY choose to always set this bit to zero in the bitmask to maintain this property. For packets sent from server to client, this bit in the bitmask MUST always be treated as zero. Clients and servers interested in greasing the fixed bit in the server-to-client direction can use [RFC9287] to do so.

Aside from greasing the remaining non-invariant header fields , this parameter provides a low-cost means for the server to determine if the client and server share a valid version aliasing context. For example, if the server loses state after sending a version_aliasing transport parameter, the bitmask will not match. This will cause the token length and packet length fields to be essentially random. If the token length does not match tokens generated by the server, or the packet length field implies a packet larger than the UDP datagram, the packet was not masked with the correct version aliasing context, and the server initiates the procedure in Section 5.

In the typical case where the token length field is one octet and the packet length field is two octets, about 127/128 of incoming packets with an invalid version aliasing context can be identified as such based on the token length (i.e. it is neither zero nor the correct token length). Of those that are not identified, approximately 50% will resolve to a plausible packet length (equal to or smaller than the size of the datagram). Thus, approximately 1 out of every 256 packets with an incorrect version aliasing context will require trial decryption at the server to detect the problem. If a server has multiple token lengths, the odds of requiring trial decryption increase.

3.7. Operational Considerations for Multiple-Server Architectures

3.7.1. Multiple Servers for One Domain

If multiple servers serve the same entity behind a load balancer, they MUST NOT generate version numbers that any of them would advertise in a Version Negotiation Packet or Transport Parameter.

Such servers will either need a common configuration for generating parameters from the version number and connection ID, maintain a commmon database of mappings, or the connection ID itself can be used to route the Initial packet to the server that generated the transport parameter. See [QUIC-LB] for an example of the last approach.

3.7.2. Multiple Entities With One Load Balancer

If mutually mistrustful entities share the same IP address and port, incoming packets are usually routed by examining the SNI at a load balancer that routes the traffic. This use case makes concealing the contents of the client Initial especially attractive, as the IP address reveals less information, but there is no obvious means for the load balancer to inspect a version aliased packet. There are several solutions to solve this problem.

  • The RECOMMENDED solution is to use routable connection IDs, so that the load balancer can correctly direct the packet without any knowledge of its version- dependent syntax. See [QUIC-LB] for an example design.
  • Each entity has its own cryptographic context, shared with the load balancer. This requires the load balancer to compute a bitmask for each context, and choose the one with a valid result. If multiple contexts are possible, it will require trial decryption. As there is no standard algorithm for deriving parameters from the version and connection ID, this involves synchronizing the method, not just the key material.
  • Each entity reports its Version Aliasing Transport Parameters to the load balancer out-of-band.
  • Each entity is assigned certain version numbers for use. This assignment SHOULD NOT follow observable patterns (e.g., assigning ranges to each entity), as this would allow observers to obtain the target server based on the version. The scheme SHOULD assign all available version numbers to maximize the entropy of the encoding.
  • All entities have a common crytographic context for deriving salts and bitmasks from the version number and connection ID. This is straightforward but also increases the risk that the keys will leak to an attacker which could then decode Initial packets from a point where the packets are observable. This is therefore NOT RECOMMENDED.

Note that [ECHO] and [QUIC-PI] solve this problem elegantly by only holding the private key at the load balancer, which decodes the sensitive information on behalf of the back-end server.

4. Additional Client Requirements

The Client MUST NOT use the contents of a Version Alias transport parameter if the handshake does not (1) later authenticate the server name or (2) result in both endpoints computing the same 1-RTT keys. See Section 7.1. The authenticated server name MAY be a "public name" distributed as described in [ECHO] rather than the true target domain.

Clients MUST advertise aliased versions in the chosen version field of the version_information Transport Parameter (see [QUIC-VN]).

Clients SHOULD NOT use the provided version number and connection ID in more than one connection. Using the same connection ID in two connections could confuse the server demultiplexer. If the client IP has changed, reuse of these parameters can link the client across connection attempts.

If a client receives an aliased version number that matches a standard version that the client supports, it SHOULD assume the server does not support the standard version and MUST use aliased version behaviors in any connection with the server using that version number.

If the response to an Initial packet using the provided version is a Version Negotiation Packet, the client SHOULD assume that the server no longer supports version aliasing and attempt to connect with one of the advertised versions (while observing the considerations in Section 7.3).

If the response to an Initial packet is a Bad Salt packet, the client follows the procedures in Section 5.

5. Fallback

If the server has lost its encryption state, it may not be able to generate the correct salts from previously provided versions and connection IDs. The fallback mechanism provides a means of recovering from this state while protecting against injection of messages by attackers.

When a server receives a packet with an unsupported version number, it SHOULD send a Version Negotiation Packet if it is configured not to generate that version number at random.

If the unmasked Token Length or packet length fields are inconsistent with possible server-generated token lengths or the size of the UDP datagram, the packet was not generated with the proper version aliasing context.

The server MAY apply further checks (e.g. against the minimum QUIC packet length) to further reduce the small probability of a false positive.

In the unlikely event that the length fields produce a plausible result but the salt is incorrect, the packet will fail authentication. Servers MAY also interpret this as a loss of version aliasing state.

When any of these indicators suggest an invalid version aliasing context, the server sends a Bad Salt packet. The server ignores failures in subsequent packets for that connection.

5.1. Bad Salt Packets

The Bad Salt packet has a long header and a reserved version number, because it must not be confused with a legitimate packet in any standard version. They are not encrypted, not authenticated, and have the following format:

Bad Salt Packet {
    Header Form (1) = 1,
    Unused (7),
    Version (32) = TBD (provisional value = 0x56415641),
    Destination Connection ID Length (8),
    Destination Connection ID (0..2040),
    Source Connection ID Length (8),
    Source Connection ID (0..2040),
    Supported Version (32) ...,
    Integrity Tag (128),

Unused: The unused field is filled randomly by the sender and ignored on receipt.

Version: The version field is reserved for use by the Bad Salt packet.

Destination and Source Connection IDs and Lengths: These fields are copied from the client packet, with the source fields from the client packet written into the destination fields of the Bad Salt, and vice versa.

Supported Version: A list of standard QUIC version numbers which the server supports. The number of versions is inferred from the length of the datagram.

Integrity Tag: To compute the integrity tag, the server creates a pseudo-packet by contents of the entire client Initial UDP payload, including any coalesced packets, with the Bad Salt packet:

Bad Salt Pseudo-Packet {
    Client UDP Payload (9600..),
    Header Form (1) = 1,
    Unused (7),
    Version (32) = TBD (provisional value = 0x56415641),
    Destination Connection ID Length (8),
    Destination Connection ID (0..2040),
    Source Connection ID Length (8),
    Source Connection ID (0..2040),
    Supported Version (32) ...,

In a process similar to the Retry Integrity Tag, the Bad Salt Integrity Tag is computed as the output of AEAD_AES_128_GCM with the following inputs:

  • The secret key, K, is 0xbe0c690b9f66575a1d766b54e368c84e.
  • The nonce, N, is 0x461599d35d632bf2239825bb.
  • The plaintext, P, is empty.
  • The associated data, A, is the Bad Salt pseudo-packet.

These values are derived using HKDF-Expand-Label from the secret 0x767fedaff519a2aad117d8fd3ce0a04178ed205ab0d43425723e436853c4b3e2 and labels "quicva key" and "quicva iv".

The integrity tag serves to validate the integrity of both the Bad Salt packet itself and the Initial packet that triggered it.

5.2. Client Response to Bad Salt

Upon receipt of a Bad Salt packet, the client SHOULD wait for a Probe Timeout (PTO) to check if the Bad Salt packet was injected by an attacker, and a valid response arrives from the actual server.

After waiting, the client checks the Integrity Tag using its record of the Initial it sent. If this fails, the client SHOULD assume packet corruption and resend the Initial packet.

If the verification succeeds, the client SHOULD attempt to connect with one of the listed standard versions. It SHOULD observe the privacy considerations in Section 7.2. It MUST include a version_aliasing_fallback Transport Parameter in the Client Hello.

Once it sends this transport parameter, the client MUST NOT attempt to connect with that aliased version again.

The original Client Initial is not part of the new connection. Therefore, the Connection IDs can change, and the original client hello is not part of the transcript for TLS key derivation.

5.3. version_aliasing_fallback Transport Parameter

The client sends this transport parameter in a TLS Client Hello generated in response to a Bad Salt packet:

 0                   1                   2                   3
 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
|                     Aliased Version (32)                      |
|   CID length  |           Connection ID (variable)            |
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                            Salt (160)                         |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |
+                   Bad Salt Integrity Tag (128)                +
|                                                               |
+                                                               +
|                                                               |

The Aliased Version, Connection ID, and Salt fields are taken from the connection attempt that triggered this fallback.

The Bad Salt Integrity Tag is taken from the Bad Salt packet that triggered this fallback. Its purpose is to include the Bad Salt packet contents in the TLS handshake hash.

5.4. Server Response to version_aliasing_fallback Transport Parameter

A client version_aliasing_fallback transport parameter tells the server that the client received a Bad Salt packet. The server checks if using the version and connection ID as inputs results in the same salt.

If the salt does not match, the server SHOULD continue with the connection and SHOULD issue a new version_aliasing transport parameter.

If the salt and Packet Length Offset are valid, the server MUST terminate the connection with the error code INVALID_BAD_SALT.

Note that the client never sends this transport parameter in a connection that uses an aliased version. A server that receives such a packet MUST terminate the connection with a TRANSPORT_PARAMETER_ERROR.

6. Considerations for Retry Packets

QUIC Retry packets reduce the load on servers during periods of stress by forcing the client to prove it possesses the IP address before the server decrypts any Initial Packets or establishes any connection state. Version aliasing substantially complicates the process.

If a server has to send a Retry packet, the required format is ambiguous without understanding which standard version to use. If all supported standard versions use the same Retry format, it simply uses that format with the client-provided version number.

If the supported standard versions use different Retry formats, the server obtains the standard version via lookup or decoding and formats a Retry containing the aliased version number accordingly.

Servers generate the Retry Integrity Tag of a Retry Packet using the procedure in Section 5.8 of [RFC9001]. However, for aliased versions, the secret key K uses the first 16 octets of the aliased salt instead of the key provided in the specification.

Clients MUST ignore Retry packets that contain a QUIC version other than the version it used in its Initial Packet.

Servers MUST NOT reply to a packet with incorrect token lengt or packet length fields in its long header with a Retry packet; it SHOULD reply with Bad Salt as described above.

7. Security and Privacy Considerations

This document intends to improve the existing security and privacy properties of QUIC by dramatically improving the secrecy of QUIC Initial Packets. However, there are new attacks against this mechanism.

7.1. Endpoint Impersonation

An on-path attacker might respond to a standard version Initial packet with a Version Aliasing Transport Parameter that then caused the client to reveal sensitive information in a subsequent Initial.

As described in Section 4, clients cannot use the contents of a Version Aliasing transport parameter until they have authenticated the source as a trusted domain, and have verified that the 1RTT key derivation is identical at both endpoints.

7.2. First-Connection Privacy

As version aliasing requires one connection over a standard QUIC version to acquire initial state, this initial connection leaks some information about the true target.

The client MAY alter its Initial Packet to sanitize sensitive information and obtain another aliased version before proceeding with its true request. However, the client Initial must lead to the authentication of a domain name the client trusts to provide accurate Version Aliasing information (possibly the public_name from an Encrypted Client Hello configuration from [ECHO]). Advice for the Outer ClientHello in Section 10.5 of [ECHO] applies here.

Endpoints are encouraged to instead use [ECHO] or [QUIC-PI] to increase privacy on the first connection between a client and server.

7.3. Forcing Downgrade

An attacker can attempt to force a client to send an Initial that uses a standard version by injecting a Version Negotiation packet (which implies the server no longer supports aliasing) or a Bad Salt packet (which implies the server has a new cryptographic context).

The weak form of this attack observes the Initial and injects the Version Negotiation or Bad Salt packet, but cannot drop the Initial. To counteract this, a client SHOULD NOT respond to these packets until they have waited for Probe Timeout (PTO) for a valid server Initial to arrive.

The strong form features an attacker that can drop Initial packets. In this case, the client can either abandon the connection attempt or connect with an standard version.

If it connects with a standard version, it should consider the privacy advice in Section 7.2.

Furthermore, if it received a Bad Salt packet, the client sends a Version Aliasing transport parameter to detect the downgrade attack, and the server will terminate the connection if the Bad Salt packet was an attack.

If the client received a Version Negotiation packet, it MUST implement a downgrade detection mechanism such as [QUIC-VN] or abandon the connection attempt. If it subsequently detects a downgrade detection, or discovers that the server does not support the same mechanism, it terminates the connection attempt.

7.4. Initial Packet Injection

QUIC version 1 handshakes are vulnerable to DoS from observers for the short interval that endpoints keep Initial keys (usually ~1.5 RTTS), since Initial Packets are not authenticated. With version aliasing, attackers do not have the necessary keys to launch such an attack.

7.5. Retry Injection

QUIC Version 1 Retry packets are spoofable, as they follow a fixed format, are sent in plaintext, and the integrity protection uses a widely known key. As a result, QUIC Version 1 has verification mechanisms in subsequent packets of the connection to validate the origin of the Retry.

Version aliasing largely frustrates this attack. As the integrity check key is derived from the secret salt, packets from attackers will fail their integrity check and the client will ignore them.

The Packet Length Offset is important in this framework. Without this mechanism, servers would have to perform trial decryption to verify the client was using the correct salt. As this does not occur before sending Retry Packets, servers would not detect disagreement on the salt beforehand and would send a Retry packet signed with a different salt than the client expects. Therefore, a client that received a Retry packet with an invalid integrity check would not be able to distinguish between the following possibilities:

  • a Retry packet corrupted in the network, which should be ignored;
  • a Retry packet generated by an attacker, which should be ignored; or
  • a Retry packet from a server that lost its cryptographic state, meaning that further communication with aliased versions is impossible and the client should revert to using a standard version.

The Packet Length Offset introduces sufficient entropy to make the third possibility exceedingly unlikely.

7.6. Increased Linkability

As each version number and connection ID is unique to each client, if a client uses one twice, those two connections are extremely likely to be from the same host. If the client has changed IP address, this is a significant increase in linkability relative to QUIC with a standard version numbers.

7.7. Salt Polling

Observers that wish to decode Initial Packets might open a large number of connections to the server in an effort to obtain part of the mapping of version numbers and connection IDs to salts for a server. While storage-intensive, this attack could increase the probability that at least some version-aliased connections are observable. There are three mitigations servers can execute against this attack:

  • use a longer connection ID to increase the entropy of the salt,
  • rate-limit transport parameters sent to a particular client, and/or
  • set a low expiration time to reduce the lifetime of the attacker's database.

Segmenting the version number space based on client information, i.e. using only a subset of version numbers for a certain IP address range, would significantly amplify an attack. Observers will generally be on the path to the client and be able to mimic having an identical IP address. Segmentation in this way would dramatically reduce the search space for attackers. Thus, servers are prohibited from using this mechanism.

7.8. Server Fingerprinting

The server chooses its own connection ID length. Therefore, the destination server of a version-aliased packet might become clear based on the chosen length.

7.9. Increased Processing of Garbage UDP Packets

As QUIC shares the UDP protocol number with other UDP applications, in some deployments it may be possible for traffic intended for other UDP applications to arrive at a QUIC server endpoint. When servers support a finite set of version numbers, a valid version number field is a strong indicator the packet is, in fact, QUIC. If the version number is invalid, a QUIC Version Negotiation is a low-cost response that triggers very early in packet processing.

However, a server that provides version aliasing is prepared to accept almost any version number. As a result, many more sufficiently sized UDP payloads with the first bit set to '1' are potential QUIC Initial Packets that require computation of a salt and bitmask.

Note that the bitmask will allow the server to drop all but approximately 1 in every 256 packets, so trial decryption is unnecessary.

While not a more potent attack then simply sending valid Initial Packets, servers may have to provision additional resources to address this possibility.

7.10. Increased Retry Overhead

This document requires two small cryptographic operations to build a Retry packet instead of one, placing more load on servers when already under load.

7.11. Request Forgery

Section 21.4 of [RFC9000] describes the request forgery attack, where a QUIC endpoint can cause its peer to deliver packets to a victim with specific content.

Version aliasing allows the server to specify the contents of the version field and part of the token field in Initial packets sent by the client, potentially increasing the potency of this attack.

7.12. Forward Secrecy

There are two relevant keys to the forward secrecy of Initial packets that use version aliasing. First, the Handshake key of the first connection protects the transport parameter that delivers the salt. Second, if the server uses a cryptographic process instead of a lookup table to derive the salt from the incoming Connection ID and version, the key associated with that process prevents observers from determining the salt.

As the keys that protect Handshake packets are not forward-secure, a compromise of the server's private key would also compromise any version aliasing salts distributed with Handshake keys derived from that private key.

Furthermore, if the server derives it salts from the incoming Connection ID and version via a cryptographic method, compromise of that method and the key in use allows attackers to compute the salts (and Initial Keys) of packets using aliased versions.

Note that, if the provided server connection ID causes subsequent connection attempts to route to the same server, then each server instance behind a load balancer can have a unique key for deriving salts from version and connection ID, rather than sharing one among the entire server pool. This substantially reduces the effect of compromise of this key.

8. IANA Considerations

8.1. QUIC Version Registry

This document request that IANA add the following entry to the QUIC version registry:

Value: TBD

Status: permanent

Specification: This document

Change Controller: IETF

Contact: QUIC WG

8.2. QUIC Transport Parameter Registry

This document requests that IANA add the following entries to the QUIC Transport Parameters Registry:

Table 1
Value Parameter Name Specification
TBD version_aliasing This Document
TBD version_aliasing_fallback This Document

8.3. QUIC Transport Error Codes Registry

This document requests that IANA add the following entry to the QUIC Transport Error Codes registry:

Value: TBD (provisional: 0x4942)


9. References

9.1. Normative References

Duke, M., "QUIC Version 2", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-quic-v2-10, , <>.
Schinazi, D. and E. Rescorla, "Compatible Version Negotiation for QUIC", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-quic-version-negotiation-14, , <>.
Thomson, M., "Version-Independent Properties of QUIC", RFC 8999, DOI 10.17487/RFC8999, , <>.
Iyengar, J., Ed. and M. Thomson, Ed., "QUIC: A UDP-Based Multiplexed and Secure Transport", RFC 9000, DOI 10.17487/RFC9000, , <>.
Thomson, M., Ed. and S. Turner, Ed., "Using TLS to Secure QUIC", RFC 9001, DOI 10.17487/RFC9001, , <>.

9.2. Informative References

Rescorla, E., Oku, K., Sullivan, N., and C. A. Wood, "TLS Encrypted Client Hello", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-tls-esni-16, , <>.
Duke, M., Banks, N., and C. Huitema, "QUIC-LB: Generating Routable QUIC Connection IDs", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-ietf-quic-load-balancers-16, , <>.
Duke, M. and D. Schinazi, "Protected QUIC Initial Packets", Work in Progress, Internet-Draft, draft-duke-quic-protected-initial-04, , <>.
Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.3", RFC 8446, DOI 10.17487/RFC8446, , <>.
Thomson, M., "Greasing the QUIC Bit", RFC 9287, DOI 10.17487/RFC9287, , <>.

Appendix A. Acknowledgments

Marten Seemann was the original creator of the version aliasing approach.

Appendix B. Change Log

B.1. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-09

  • Allowed client to send zero-length TP as a hint
  • Discuss forward secrecy of version aliasing
  • Replace "packet length offset" with a generic bitmask
  • Added what it takes to be a standard version

B.2. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-08

  • Replaced Initial Token Extension with Server connection ID

B.3. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-07

  • Added the Bad Salt Integrity Tag to the transport parameter
  • Greased packet types
  • Allowed the server to specify the standard version to connect with

B.4. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-05

  • Revised security considerations
  • Discussed multiple SNIs behind one load balancer
  • Removed VN from the fallback mechanism

B.5. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-04

  • Relationship with Encrypted Client Hello (ECH) and QUIC Protected Initials
  • Corrected statement about version negotiation

B.6. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-03

  • Discussed request forgery attacks

B.7. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-02

  • Specified 0RTT status of the transport parameter

B.8. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-01

  • Fixed all references to "seed" where I meant "salt."
  • Added the Packet Length Offset, which eliminates Retry Injection Attacks

B.9. since draft-duke-quic-version-aliasing-00

  • Added "Initial Token Extensions" to increase salt entropy and make salt polling attacks impractical.
  • Allowed servers to store a mapping of version number and ITE to salt instead.
  • Made standard version encoding mandatory. This dramatically simplifies the new Retry logic and changes the security model.
  • Added references to Version Negotiation Transport Parameters.
  • Extensive readability edit.

Author's Address

Martin Duke