I recently started working on an issue that I’d seen was to do with the HSS response to the MME on an Update Location Answer.
I took some Wireshark traces of a connection from the MME to the HSS, and compared that to a trace from a different HSS. (Amarisoft EPC/HSS)
The Update Location Answer sent by the Amarisoft HSS to the MME over the S6a (Diameter) interface includes an AVP for “Multiple APN Configuration” which has the the dedicated bearer for IMS, while the HSS in the software I was working on didn’t.
After a bit of bashing trying to modify the S6a responses, I decided I’d just implement my own Home Subscriber Server.
Each Diameter packet has at a the following headers:
This 1 byte field is always (as of 2019) 0x01 (1)
3 bytes containing the total length of the Diameter packet and all it’s contained AVPs.
This allows the receiver to know when the packet has ended, by reading the length and it’s received bytes so far it can know when that packet ends.
Flags allow particular parameters to be set, defining some possible options for how the packet is to be handled by setting one of the 8 bits in the flags byte, for example Request Set, Proxyable, Error, Potentially Re-transmitted Message,
Each Diameter packet has a 3 byte command code, that defines the method of the request,
To allow vendors to define their own command codes, each command code is also accompanied by the Application ID, for example the command code 257 in the base Diameter protocol translates to Capabilities Exchange Request, used to specify the capabilities of each Diameter peer, but 257 is only a Capabilities Exchange Request if the Application ID is set to 0 (Diameter Base Protocol).
If we start developing our own applications, we would start with getting an Application ID, and then could define our own command codes. So 257 with Application ID 0 is Capabilities Exchange Request, but command code 257 with Application ID 1234 could be a totally different request.
The Hop By Hop identifier is a unique identifier that helps stateful Diameter proxies route messages to and fro. A Diameter proxy would record the source address and Hop-by-Hop Identifier of a received packet, replace the Hop by Hop Identifier with a new one it assigns and record that with the original Hop by Hop Identifier, original source and new Hop by Hop Identifier.
Unlike the Hop-by-Hop identifier the End to End Identifier does not change, and must not be modified, it’s used to detect duplicates of messages along with the Origin-Host AVP.
The real power of Diameter comes from AVPs, the base protocol defines how to structure a Diameter packet, but can’t convey any specific data or requests, we put these inside our Attribute Value Pairs.
Let’s take a look at a simple Diameter request, it’s got all the boilerplate headers we talked about, and contains an AVP with the username.
Here we can see we’ve got an AVP with AVP Code 1, containing a username
Let’s break this down a bit more.
AVP Codes are very similar to the Diameter Command Codes/ApplicationIDs we just talked about.
Combined with an AVP Vendor ID they define the information type of the AVP, some examples would be Username, Session-ID, Destination Realm, Authentication-Info, Result Code, etc.
AVP Flags are again like the Diameter Flags, and are made up a series of bits, denoting if a parameter is set or not, at this stage only the first two bits are used, the first is Vendor Specific which defines if the AVP Code is specific to an AVP Vendor ID, and the second is Mandatory which specifies the receiver must be able to interpret this AVP or reject the entire Diameter request.
AVP Length defines the length of the AVP, like the Diameter length field this is used to delineate the end of one AVP.
AVP Vendor ID
If the AVP Vendor Specific flag is set this optional field specifies the vendor ID of the AVP Code used.
The payload containing the actual AVP data, this could be a username, in this example, a session ID, a domain, or any other value the vendor defines.
AVPs have to fit on a multiple of a 32 bit boundary, so padding bits are added to the end of a packet if required to total the next 32 bit boundary.
3GPP selected Diameter protocol to take care of Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting (AAA).
It’s typically used to authenticate users on a network, authorize them to use services they’re allowed to use and account for how much of the services they used.
In a EPC scenario the Authentication function takes the form verifying the subscriber is valid and knows the K & OP/OPc keys for their specific IMSI.
The Authorization function checks to find out which features, APNs, QCI values and services the subscriber is allowed to use.
The Accounting function records session usage of a subscriber, for example how many sessional units of talk time, Mb of data transferred, etc.
Diameter Packets are pretty simple in structure, there’s the packet itself, containing the basic information in the headers you’d expect, and then a series of one or more Attribute Value Pairs or “AVPs”.
These AVPs are exactly as they sound, there’s an attribute name, for example username, and a value, for example, “Nick”.
This could just as easily be for ordering food; we could send a Diameter packet with an imaginary command code for Food Order Request, containing a series of AVPs containing what we want. The AVPs could belike Food: Hawian Pizza, Food: Garlic Bread, Drink: Milkshake, Address: MyHouse. The Diameter server could then verify we’re allowed to order this food (Authorization) and charge us for the food (Accounting), and send back a Food Order Response containing a series of AVPs such as Delivery Time: 30 minutes, Price: $30.00, etc.
Diameter packets generally take the form of a request – response, for example a Capabilities Exchange Request contains a series of AVPs denoting the features supported by the requester, which is sent to a Diameter peer. The Diameter peer then sends back a Capabilities Exchange Response, containing a series of AVPs denoting the features that it supports.
Diameter is designed to be extensible, allowing vendors to define their own type of AVP and Diameter requests/responses and 3GPP have defined their own types of messages (Diameter Command Codes) and types of data to be transferred (AVP Codes).
LTE/EPC relies on Diameter and the 3GPP/ETSI defined AVP / Diameter Packet requests/responses to form the S6a Interface between an MME and a HSS, the Gx Interface between the PCEF and the PCRF, Cx Interface between the HSS and the CSCF, and many more interfaces used for Authentication in 3GPP networks.
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