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Network Time as an Opportunity for Hackers

by Brent Kirkpatrick

(Date Published: . Modified 7/27/2020.)

Computer time discrepancies are an opportunity for hackers to slip through the cracks.

Network time is the problem of synchronizing time across disparate computers on a network. This can be either on a private network, such as a corporate LAN, or on the public Internet. Time is synchronized so that multiple sensors or data-collection platforms can collect time-series data that can be used in aggregate.

When the base-time for time-series data is incorrect, hackers and other criminals can exploit the gap in time. For example, if a video camera in an elevator has time that is 3 minutes off from the time on the lobby video camera, then a thief has 3 minutes to ride the elevator undetected.

datagram and clock

Similarly, hackers exploit computer time. When hackers exploit computer time, they usually look for nano-second gaps in time settings. The side-channel attack is a famous example.

Current standards for computer systems only require that system time be accurate up to plus-or-minus 5 minutes. This is achieved by updating the system time according to network time which is set by the atomic clock. This standard leaves ten minutes in which hackers and criminals can create mischief.

Discrepancies in time favor the hackers. Synchronized time favors the defenders.

For more information, please see the technical manuscript: Properties of Network Time.

External Reference: Be on time -- the important of network time synchronization by Ben Rothke.

contact us at Intrepid Net Computing if you have questions about network time.

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