Posted by Richard N Williams on May 7th, 2009
The NTP time server (Network Time Protocol) is an essential tool for keeping networks synchronised. Without adequate synchronization, computer networks can be left vulnerable to security threats, data loss, fraud and may find it impossible to interact with other networks across the globe.
Computer networks are normally synchronised to the global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) enabling them to communicate efficiently with other networks also running UTC.
Whilst UTC time sources are available across the Internet these are not secure (being outside the firewall) and many are either too far away to provide adequate precision or are too inaccurate to begin with.
The most secure methods of receiving a UTC time source are to use a dedicated NTP Time Server. These devices can receive a secure and accurate time signal either the GPS network (Global Positioning System) available anywhere across the globe with a good view of the sky or through specialist radio transmission broadcast by national physics laboratories.
In the US the National Institute for Standards and Time (NIST) broadcast a time signal from near Fort Collins, Colorado. The signal, known as WWVB can be received all over North America (including many parts of Canada) and provides an accurate and secure method of receiving UTC.
As the signal is derived from atomic clocks situated at the Fort Collins site, WWVB is a highly accurate method of synchronising time and is also secure as a dedicated NTP time server acts as an external source.