Keep your Communities Clean: Exploring the Routing Message Impact of BGP Communities

Thomas Krenc, Robert Beverly, and Georgios Smaragdakis
Proceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM (CoNEXT 2020) Conference,
Barcelona, ES, December 2020 (to appear).

BGP communities are widely used to tag prefix aggregates for policy, traffic engineering, and inter-AS signaling. Because individual ASes define their own community semantics, many ASes blindly propa- gate communities they do not recognize. Prior research has shown the potential security vulnerabilities when communities are not filtered. This work sheds light on a second unintended side-effect of communities and permissive propagation: an increase in unnecessary BGP routing messages. Due to its transitive property, a change in the community attribute induces update messages throughout established routes, just updating communities. We ground our work by characterizing the handling of updates with communities, including when filtered, on multiple real-world BGP implementations in controlled laboratory experiments. We then examine 10 years of BGP messages observed in the wild at two route collector systems. In 2020, approximately 25% of all announcements modify the community attribute, but retain the AS path of the most recent an- nouncement; an additional 25% update neither community nor AS path. Using predictable beacon prefixes, we demonstrate that com- munities lead to an increase in update messages both at the tagging AS and at neighboring ASes that neither add nor filter communities. This effect is prominent for geolocation communities during path exploration: on a single day, 63% of all unique community attributes are revealed exclusively due to global withdrawals.

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