Authenticating BGP Peers


You want to authenticate your BGP peer relationships to help prevent tampering with your routing tables.


The BGP protocol includes an MD5-based authentication system for authenticating peers:

Router1#configure terminal
Enter configuration commands, one per line. End with CNTL/Z.
Router1(config)#router bgp 65500
Router1(config-router)#neighbor remote-as 65501
Router1(config-router)#neighbor password password-1234

The same password must be configured on both routers:

Router2#configure terminal
Enter configuration commands, one per line. End with CNTL/Z.
Router2(config)#router bgp 65501
Router2(config-router)#neighbor remote-as 65500
Router2(config-router)#neighbor password password-1234



MD5 authentication is a standard part of BGP Version 4 that was introduced in RFC 2385. The IETF went further in RFC 3013 (which is also called BCP 46) to recommend that "BGP authentication should be used with routing peers" in the public Internet. This language "should be used" indicates a strong recommendation, but not a requirement.

BGP is different than the routing protocols that we discussed in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 because you must explicitly configure the peer relationships between routers. These peers then use point-to-point TCP connections to exchange information. So it is much more difficult for a malicious user to surreptitiously establish a peer relationship with one of your routers and corrupt your routing tables. But it is still possible to hijack an existing TCP connection between two BGP peers and inject bad routes. And if the attackers are on the same network segment as one of the peers, they can potentially hijack the IP address of the legitimate peer and set up a new BGP session.

With authentication, this type of attack is considerably more difficult. This is because the attacker must not only get the TCP sequence numbers right, but he must also insert the correct encrypted authentication key.

It is worth mentioning also that some sources have claimed that this MD5 authentication scheme is not sufficient for BGP because there are effective attacks that can break it. The Internet Draft document, "Security Requirements for Keys used with the TCP MD5 Signature Option," (draft-ietf-idr-md5-keys-00.txt), comments on this threat and makes the following recommendations:

  • Make your keys between 12 and 24 bytes long.
  • In situations with multiple BGP peers, avoid using the same keys with all peers.
  • Change your keys at least every 90 days.

It is also important to note that introducing authentication can cause delays in BGP message passing, although it shouldn't seriously affect normal IP packet processing. It can also cause increased CPU overhead on the BGP peer routers.

Despite all of this, in a hostile network, authentication can be useful because it makes it significantly harder for somebody to disrupt your routing tables. If your ISP supports this service, it is probably a good idea to use it.

It is also worth mentioning that in your router's configuration file, the password will be stored in plain text unless you have enabled the service password-encryption global configuration command. When you turn on password encryption, the router will store the command using the Cisco proprietary Type 7 encryption:

router bgp 65500
neighbor remote-as 65501
neighbor password 7 15020A1F173D24362C7E64704053

As we mentioned in Chapter 3, it is quite easy to break this encryption algorithm. But as long as you maintain good control over your router configuration files, this at least prevents somebody from learning the encryption key by looking over your shoulder.

When there is an authentication mismatch between two BGP peers, they will not be able to establish a connection. You will also see the following error message on one or both routers:

Jan 7 10:01:48 EST: %TCP-6-BADAUTH: No MD5 digest from to


See Also

Chapter 3; RFC 3013; "Security Requirements for Keys used with the TCP MD5 Signature Option," draft-ietf-idr-md5-keys-00.txt, February 2002 .

Cisco IOS Cookbook
Cisco IOS Cookbook (Cookbooks (OReilly))
ISBN: 0596527225
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 505
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