FortiCarrier SCTP Concepts

SCTP Concepts

As of FortiOS version 5.0, the FortiGate natively handles SCTP (Stream Control Transport Protocol) traffic, as an alternative to TCP and UDP for use in Carrier networks. The FortiGate handles SCTP as if it would any other traffic.


SCTP is a connection-oriented transport protocol that overcomes some of the limitations of both TCP and UDP that prevent reliable transfer of data over IP-based networks (such as those used by telephony systems and carrier networks). The ‘Stream’ in SCTP refers to the sequence of user messages or packets that are considered at the same time to be individual objects and also treated as a whole by networked systems. SCTP is less vulnerable to congestion and flooding due to more advanced error handling and flood protection built into the protocol.

SCTP features as compared to TCP and UDP

State required at each endpoint yes yes no
Reliable data transfer yes yes no
Congestion control and avoidance yes yes no
Message boundary conservation yes no yes
Path MTU discovery and message fragmentation yes yes no
Message bundling yes yes no
Multi-homed hosts support yes no no
Multi-stream support yes no no
Unordered data delivery yes no yes
Security cookie against SYN flood attack yes no no
Built-in heartbeat (reachability check) yes no N/A

All of these features are built into the design of the Protocol, and the structure of SCTP packets and networks. The FortiGate unit interprets the traffic and provides the necessary support for maintenance and verification features, but the features are not FortiGate specific. These features are documented in greater detail below.

SCTP Concepts

State required at each endpoint

Constant back and forth acknowledgement and content verification messages are sent between all SCTP peer endpoints, and all endpoints’ state machine actions must be synchronized for traffic to flow.

Reliable data transfer

SCTP places data and control information (eg. source, destination, verification) into separate messages, both sharing the same header in the same SCTP packet. This allows for constant verification of the contained data at both ends and along the path, preventing data loss or fragmentation. As well, data is not sent in an interruptible stream as in TCP.

Congestion control and avoidance

Built-in, constantly updating path detection and monitoring automatically redirect packets along alternate paths in case of traffic congestion or inaccessible destinations. For deliberate/malicious congestion control, see the below section on Security cookie against SYN flood attack.

Message boundary conservation

SCTP is designed in such a way that no matter how messages are divided, redirected, or fragmented, the message boundaries will be maintained within the packets, and all messages cannot be appended without tripping verification mechanisms.

Path MTU discovery and message fragmentation

SCTP is capable of Path Maximum Transmission Unit discovery, as outlined in RFC4821. Two specific alterations have been made to how SCTP handles MTU. First, that endpoints will have separate MTU estimates for each possible multi-homed endpoint. Second, that bundled message fragments (as explained below) will be directed based on MTU calculations, so that retransmissions (if necessary) will be sent without delay to alternate addresses.

Message bundling

SCTP is a message-oriented protocol, which means that despite being a streaming data protocol, it transports a sequence of specific messages, rather than transporting a stream of bytes (like TCP). Since some data transmissions are small enough to not require a complete message’s worth of content, so multiple pieces of content will be transmitted simultaneously within the messages.

Multi-homed hosts support

SCTP supports multi-homing, which is a network structure in which one or multiple sources/destinations has more than one IP address. SCTP can adapt to multi-homing scenarios and redirect traffic to alternate IP addresses in case of failure.

Multi-stream support

Due to the message bundling feature allowing for multiple pieces of content to be sent in messages at once, SCTP can ‘multi-stream’ content, by deliberately dividing it among messages at a fixed rate, so that multiple types of content (eg. both images and text) can be loaded at once, at the same pace.

GTP                                                                                                                                           SCTP Concepts

Unordered data delivery

With control messages in every packet to provide verification of any packet’s data and its place in the stream, the data being transmitted can actually arrive in any order, and verify that all has arrived or that some is missing.

Security cookie against SYN flood attack

Since every packet contains verification of its place in the stream, it makes it easy for the protocol to detect when redundant, corrupted or malicious packets flood the path, and they are automatically dropped when necessary.

Built-in heartbeat (reachability check)

Endpoints automatically send specific control chunks among the other SCTP packet information to peer endpoints, to determine the reachability of the destination. Hearthbeat acknowledgement packets are returned if the destination is available.

SCTP Firewall

FortiGate stateful firewalls will protect and inspect SCTP traffic, according to RFC4960. SCTP over IPsec VPN is also supported. The FortiGate device is inserted as a router between SCTP endpoints. It checks SCTP Syntax for the following information:

  • Source and destination port l Verification Tag l Chunk type, chunk flags, chunk length l Sequence of chunk types l Associations

The firewall also oversees and maintains several SCTP security mechanisms:

  • SCTP four-way handshake l SCTP heartbeat l NAT over SCTP

The firewall has IPS DoS protection against known threats to SCTP traffic, including INIT/ACK flood attacks, and SCTP fuzzing.

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