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My Experience as an IETF 104 Fellow

In March 2019, I was fortunate to be among the 10 Fellows selected to attend IETF 104 which took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

Internet Society Fellowships to the IETF are for Internet Society members from emerging or developing economies who have the technical skills and experience to contribute to the work of the IETF.

Internet Society

The Flight

It was the first time that I was leaving my home country — Mauritius. So you can imagine how excited I was! As I had never stepped out of Mauritius before, let alone board a flight, my parents were a bit anxious about me going to a foreign country all alone.

Fortunately, my friends Nitin Mutkawoa and Loganaden Velvindron who had already been to Prague before shared some tips with me on how to prepare for the flight and the stay in Prague. I got vaccinated one month before the trip, downloaded some offline maps for Prague, and installed transportation apps like Uber and Liftago Taxi on my smartphone.

The departure was on Friday, March 22 @ 7 AM (UTC + 4). Shortly after, breakfast was served. I enjoyed the view as we flew above the Indian Ocean, Africa, and Egypt. The flight from Mauritius to Vienna took 10 hours 50 minutes. I worked on my university assignments from time to time so as not to get bored.

After a 3 hours 45 minutes layover in Vienna, I finally reached Prague around 9 PM (UTC + 2). I met with Jeisson Sanchez, another IETF 104 Fellow from Colombia. His flight landed before mine, and we had planned to meet at the airport ahead of the journey. We used the Liftago Taxi app to call a taxi and shared the ride together. It was my first time using a transportation app. Liftago was pretty easy to use. The taxi arrived in less than 10 minutes, and we reached the Hilton Prague hotel some 25 minutes later. By that time, it was already 10:15 PM and I was completely exhausted due to the long journey. I called my parents to notify them that everything went well, unpacked some of my stuffs, and went to sleep.

IETF 104 Hackathon

I woke up early on Saturday, March 23. After a hot shower and breakfast, I headed to the Grand Ballroom where the IETF 104 hackathon was being held.

Hackathon entrance

I continued to work on tls-sharp, the TLS 1.3 library that I started developing during the IETF 103 hackathon. There was a high turnover for the IETF 104 hackathon.

Meanwhile, my friends from the Cyberstorm.mu team were also participating in the IETF 104 hackathon remotely from Mauritius. You can read about their experiences below:

Veegish Ramdani: https://veegish.com/blog/ietf-104-hackathon/

Yashveer Jadoo: https://medium.com/@YashveerJadoo/my-initiation-at-cyberstorm-mu-422b5795a821

Nitin Mutkawoa: https://tunnelix.com/ietf-104-hackathon-remotely-from-mauritius/

Daniel Jeremie: https://medium.com/@jeremiedaniel48/ietf-104-remote-from-mauritius-3695504c8ba4

Rahul Kumar Shivadan: https://medium.com/@rahulshivadan14/ietf-104-hackaton-a4a823e78a5f

Avi Soomirtee: https://avisoomirtee.blogspot.com/2019/03/ietf104-day-0-2-tls13.html

Loganaden Velvindron: https://medium.com/@loganaden/ietf-104-and-some-thoughts-about-participation-from-africa-9e13f9cbbed3

Bruno Bernard: https://busymind101.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/ietf-104-hackathon-ietf-mobile-app/

Rahul Golam: https://securenetweb.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/ietf-104-hackathon-tls-1-3/

I met and talked with various people at the hackathon. There were lots of interesting projects being worked on.

The QUIC Measurements team
The HICN team

I had a nice chat with the guys from the hICN team. hICN stands for Hybrid Information-Centric Networking. Some of their projects that I found interesting were about testing TLS integration over hICN reliable socket and testing DTLS integration over hICN unreliable socket.

In the 5G mobile and heterogeneous network access, it seems of utmost importance to … move caching and computing capabilities to the network edge in order to enable efficient mobile video delivery.

This is what Information-Centric Networking (ICN) does by empowering the network with content-aware capabilities for a joint video/network optimization that results in better user experience and traffic cost reduction.

5G Mobile Video with Hybrid ICN – Fast, Secure, Simplified

I also met with Iain Learmonth from the Tor Project and we talked about the possibility of having support for TLS 1.3 in Tor.

Hackathon lunch

An Afternoon in Prague

Later in the afternoon, Jeisson and I decided to explore the city. Prague is really beautiful.

Dinner with the IETF Mentor

Each IETF Fellow was assigned a mentor to help him/her navigate the week-long meeting. Fred Baker was my mentor for IETF 104. He got in touch with me several weeks ahead of the event to help me prepare for the meetings.

Fred had invited his mentees to a dinner with him on Saturday. We went to eat at a nice place in the Palladium.

I had a tasty burger, french fries, and mojito. Thanks for the wonderful dinner and time spent together, Fred !

Fellows Group Photo

On Sunday morning, a group photo session for the IETF Fellows was organized. We also got some goodies. Yay!

Afterwards, there was a networking session involving the IETF Fellows and the IETF Public Policy special guests, and then a joint lunch.

Newcomer’s Meet and Greet

IETF Welcome Reception

IETF Fellows Dinner

On Sunday, we had an official dinner involving all the mentors and the IETF Fellows. The mentors talked about their career-long experiences and their contributions to the IETF.

TLS Meeting

The TLS meeting on Tuesday afternoon was very informational, particularly the presentation on ESNI. ESNI stands for Encrypted Server Name Indication. This is about encrypting the SNI field in TLS connections.

SNI itself is unencrypted and transmits the name of the site you’re visiting. That lets ISPs, people with access to tap Internet backbones, or even someone monitoring a wifi network collect a list of the sites you visit. (HTTPS will still prevent them from seeing exactly what you did on those sites.)

Electronic Frontier Foundation

the fact that SNI leaks every site you go to online to your ISP and anyone else listening on the line has become a glaring privacy hole. Knowing what sites you visit can build a very accurate picture of who you are, creating both privacy and security risks.

Cloudflare

The Internet-Draft pertaining to Encrypted Server Name Indication for TLS 1.3 (draft-ietf-tls-esni) is available here.

HTTPS connection with plaintext DNS and plaintext SNI
[Image courtesy of Cloudflare]

In the picture above, TLS 1.2 is being used to connect to www.example.com. Although the data being exchanged between the client and the server (after the handshake) is encrypted, the SNI field in the Client Hello part of the TLS handshake leaks the hostname that the client is connecting to. A third party such as the ISP or someone else sitting on the same network can sniff the web traffic and see which websites the User is accessing.

HTTPS connection with secure DNS and encrypted SNI
[Image courtesy of Cloudflare]

As we can see, with ESNI, the SNI field in the Client Hello part of the TLS handshake is encrypted. In this case, a secure DNS provider is also being used to add an extra layer of privacy. Therefore, using TLS 1.3 and ESNI in tandem with a secure DNS provider can help curb down surveillance and censorship on the internet.

IETF Plenary

The IETF Plenary was held on Wednesday, March 27. The plenary session included a wrap-up of the IETF hackathon and other administrative topics.

The full plenary session can be viewed below:

IP Security and Extensions Meeting

On Thursday, I attended the IP Security and Extensions meeting. The presentation introduced scenarios in IoT where IPSec would be useful. One of the advantages of IPSec in that regard is the flexibility of key exchange. There is reduced key negotiation overhead, and this is achieved thanks to the IKE protocol.

However, the main issue discussed was the Packet Size. For example, full / empty radio frames have the same cost. One solution that was proposed is Header Compression, whereby Compression Information is sent along with the packet on the wire.

The Last Breakfast

Friday marked the end of the IETF week. After the Fellows Wrap-Up meeting, we took a group picture, did the last breakfast together, and exchanged some souvenirs.

Last breakfast with the IETF 104 Fellows

Afterwards, we said goodbye to Jeisson, Thilina, and Bernice who had to catch their flights. Later in the afternoon, Hajar, Kyemba, and I went to explore the city.

We walked for nearly 4 hours, exploring the other parts of Prague. By the time we returned to the hotel, it was already past 6 PM. I had dinner, packed my luggage, and went to bed.

The next day I woke up early and had breakfast with Hajar. We reminisced about the overall IETF experience and planned about sharing a ride to the airport since our flights were just 10 minutes apart.

A few hours later, it was already time to checkout of the hotel. I used the Liftago Taxi app to call a taxi and we reached the airport in about 30 minutes.

My Thoughts on the Fellowship

I am immensely grateful to have obtained this fellowship. My experience with the programme was both amazing and productive. I got to participate in the IETF 104 hackathon onsite. This enabled me to meet and collaborate with others who are also working on TLS (Transport Layer Security).

The fellowship also enabled me to attend the IETF meetings in person, and it helped broaden my interest on other IETF work such as IPsec and ESNI. Without this fellowship, it would have been next to impossible for me to experience an IETF meeting first-hand and to network with others who share similar interests.

Also, Prague has been wonderful. I enjoyed every moment visiting this stunning city and experiencing its unique food, music, and culture. I would definitely attend another IETF event in Prague in the near future.

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