IPv6 Horror Story: Telegram

This starts to become an interesting series of blog posts, my ranting about badly implemented IPv6. Some people may suggest that this is because I have a problem with IPv6, but the reality is that I like IPv6 and I want more of it, and properly implemented.

IPv6 enthusiasts often forget that implementing IPv6 is not just a matter of having a routable address, and being able to connect the IPv6 network. Indeed, the network layer is just one of the many layers that need to be updated for your applications to be IPv6-compatible, and that is not even going into the problem of optimizing for IPv6.

Screenshot of Telegram from Android declaring my IP as 10.160.34.127.

To the right you can see the screenshot of Telegram messenger on my personal Android phone – I use Telegram to keep in touch with just a handful of people, of course – once I log in on Telegram from my laptop on the web version.

The text of the message I receive on Android at that login is

Diego Elio,

We detected a login into your account from a new device on 06/08/2017 at 10:46:58 UTC.

Device: Web
Location: Unknown (IP = 10.160.34.127)

If this wasn’t you, you can go to Settings – Privacy and Security – Sessions and terminate that session.

If you think that somebody logged in to your account against your will, you can enable two-step verification in Privacy and Security settings.

Sincerely,
The Telegram Team

This may not sound as obviously wrong to you as it did to me. Never mind the fact that the IP is unknown. 10.160.34.127 is a private network address, as all the IPv4 addresses starting with 10. Of course when I noticed that the first thing I did was checking whether web.telegram.org published a AAAA (IPv6) record, and of course it does.

A quick check using TunnelBear (that does not support IPv6) also shows that the message is correct when logging in from an IPv4 connection instead, showing the public egress IP used by the connection.

I reported this problem to Telegram well over a month ago and it’s still unfixed. I don’t think this count as a huge security gap, as the message still provides some level of information on new login, it does remove the ability to ensure the connection is direct from the egress you expect. Say for instance that your connection is being VPN’d to an adversarial network, you may notice that your connecting IP is appearing as from a different country than you’re in, and you know there’s a problem. When using IPv6, Telegram is removing this validation, because they not only not show you a location, but they give you a clearly wrong IPv4 in place of the actual IPv6.

Since I have no insight of what the Telegram internal infrastructure looks like, I cannot say exactly which part of the pipeline is failing for them. I would expect that this is not a problem with NAT64, because that does not help to receive inbound connections — I find it more likely it’s either the web frontend looking for an IPv4, not finding it, and having some sort of default (maybe to its own IP address) to pass along to the next service, or alternatively the service that is meant to send the message (or possibly the one that tries to geocode the address) that mis-parses the IPv6 into an IPv4, and discard the right address.

Whatever the problem on their side is, it makes a very good example of how IPv6 is not as straightforward to implement as many enthusiasts who have never looked into converting a complicated app stack would think. And documenting this here, is my way to remind people that these things are more complicated than they appear, and that it will take still a significant amount of time to fix all these problems, and until then it’s unreasonable to expect consumers to deal with IPv6-only networks.

Screenshot of Telegram from Android declaring three open sessions for 10.160.34.127.

Update (2017-08-07): a helpful (for once) comment on a reddit thread over this pointed me at the fact that even the Active Sessions page is also showing addresses in the private ten-dot space — as you can see now on the left here. It also shows that my Android session is coming (correctly) from my ISP’s CGNAT endpoint IPv4.

What this tells us is that not only there is a problem with the geocoding of an IP address that Telegram notifies the user on connection, but as long as the connection is proxied over IPv6, the user is not able to tell whether the connection was hijacked or not. If the source IP address and location was important enough to add in the first place, it feels like it should be important enough to get right. Although it may be just wait to be pushed and fixed, as the commenter on Reddit pointed out they could see the right IPv6 addresses nowadays — I can’t.

Also, I can now discard the theory that they may be parsing an IPv6 as if it was IPv4 and mis-rendering it. Of the three connections listed, one is from my office that uses an entirely different IPv6 prefix from the one at my apartment. So there.

The fact that my Android session appears on v4, despite my phone being connected to a working IPv6 network also tells me that the Telegram endpoint for Android (that is, their main endpoint) is not actually compatible with IPv6, which makes it even the more surprising that they would actually publish a record for it for their web endpoint, and show off the amount of missing details in their implementation.

I would also close the update by taking a look at one of the comments from that reddit thread:

In theory, could be that telegram is actually accepting ipv6 on their internet facing port and translating it to v4 inside the network. I’d change my opinion but given the lack of information like the IP address you had on your machine or the range you use for your network, I really don’t see enough to say this is an issue with ipv6 implementation.

Ignore the part where the commenter thinks the fact I did not want to disclose my network setup is any relevant, which appears to imply I’m seeing my own IP space reflected there (I’m not) like it was something that was even possible, and focus on the last part. «I really don’t see enough to say this is an issue with ipv6 implementation.»

This is an issue with Telegram’s IPv6 implementation. Whether they are doing network translation at the edge and then miss a X-Forwarded-For, or one of their systems defaults to a local IP if they can’t parse the remote one (as it’s in a different format), it does not really have to matter. An IPv6 implementation does not stop at the TCP level, it requires changes at application level just fine. I have unfortunately met multiple network people who think that as long as an app connects and serves data, IPv6 is supported — for an user, this is completely bollocks because they want to be able to use the app, use the app correctly, and use the app safely. Right now that does not appear to be the case for Telegram.

3 thoughts on “IPv6 Horror Story: Telegram

  1. I can’t understand if you have not even read the article, not understood the problem, not understood how IPv6 work, or just trying to troll.

    Like

  2. I’ve had an interesting IPv6-related issue with Netflix. They do support IPv6, but like most folks in the US I can’t get native IPv6 from my supplier, so I use a free tunnel broker (Hurricane Electric). Netflix, for DRM purposes, forbids tunnels. The net result is that, to use Netflix on a device that supports IPv6, I have to disable IPv6 either on that device or (on an iPad for example, which doesn’t support disabling IPv6) network-wide. Thankfully my usual streaming devices do not support IPv6..

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