Sam Stelfox

Thoughts from a software engineer, systems hacker and Linux gubernāre.


The Network Time Protocol (NTP) is a protocol for synchronizing the clocks of computer systems over packet-switched, variable-latency data networks. NTP uses UDP on port 123 as its transport layer. It is designed particularly to resist the effects of variable latency by using a jitter buffer.

NTP also refers to a reference software implementation that is distributed by the NTP Public Services Project.

Security Notes

Several authentication schemes and miscellaneous programs running on the servers rely heavily on closely synced clocks. NTP provides a clock synchronized to within 10 milliseconds of the other clocks over the internet and as close as 200 microseconds.

This runs as an unprivileged user with no shell when run as a server as such it's compromise could at the very worst make it hand out incorrect time. While this would mean the authentication schemes and programs wouldn't function correctly this is something that would be noticed when day to day activity ceased to function.

When run as a client, it has to be run as root to update the system's clock. If an attacker was to compromise the data stream and was able to execute arbitrary commands in a response packet there would be issues. This is a highly unlikely scenario. None-the-less I prefer to have them synchronize against a trusted locally run server.

Firewall Adjustments

NTP synchronizations are allowed through my default IPTables firewall script. By default it is unrestricted and should be configured to be more restrictive by replacing it with the one below. You should replace the address with your time server's address.

# Allow time sync updates, once an ntp server is setup this can be further
# restricted to only update from there.
-A OUTPUT -m udp -p udp --dport 123 -j ACCEPT

For the server the opposite should be true. The service should only accept connections on the local subnets. The following firewall rules should be added to the firewall.

# Allow other servers and clients on the local subnet to synchronize their
# clocks to this server using ntp
-A SERVICES -m udp -p udp -s --dport 123 -j ACCEPT
-A SERVICES -m udp -p udp -s --dport 123 -j ACCEPT



A standard configuration of ntp is shown below, there isn't a whole lot to explain so I'll leave it at that.

# For more information about this file, see the man pages
# ntp.conf(5), ntp_acc(5), ntp_auth(5), ntp_clock(5), ntp_misc(5), ntp_mon(5).

driftfile /var/lib/ntp/drift

# Permit time synchronization with our time source, but do not
# permit the source to query or modify the service on this system.
restrict default kod nomodify notrap nopeer noquery
restrict -6 default kod nomodify notrap nopeer noquery

restrict -6 ::1

# Hosts on local network are less restricted.
restrict mask nomodify notrap nopeer
restrict mask nomodify notrap nopeer
restrict mask nomodify notrap nopeer

# Stratum 1 time servers - diverse group
server iburst # IPv6 enabled
server iburst # IPv6 enabled
server iburst
server iburst
server iburst

# Enable public key cryptography.
includefile /etc/ntp/crypto/pw
keys /etc/ntp/keys

# Specify the key identifiers which are trusted.
trustedkey 1

# Specify the key identifier to use with the ntpdc utility.
requestkey 1

# Specify the key identifier to use with the ntpq utility.
controlkey 1

# Enable writing of statistics records.
statistics clockstats cryptostats loopstats peerstats

The server will need to be set to start automatically on boot. Use the following command to do this:

chkconfig --level 345 ntpd on


A keyfile needs to be created for local and remote administration of the service. To do this generate a random 8 character alphanumeric password and replace the 'xxxxxxxx' in the file /etc/ntp/keys.

This file should also be protected from read / write from unauthorized users 600 with chmod. The contents are below:

1      M       xxxxxxxx

Checking Server Status

On the server running ntpd you can use the ntpq utility to check the current status of the ntpd service like so:

[[email protected] ~]# ntpq -p
     remote           refid      st t when poll reach   delay   offset  jitter
* .CDMA.           1 u    1   64    1   52.015  -16.888   2.421 .GPS.            1 u    2   64    1  110.573    3.201   0.366 .PPS.            1 u    1   64    1   29.378   -4.100   1.737 .PPS.            1 u    2   64    1   16.254   -1.620   1.396 .USNO.           1 u    1   64    1   51.110  -15.607   2.697