You don’t need me to tell you how important computer network time synchronization is. If you are reading this then you are probably well aware of the importance in ensuring all your computers, routers and devices on your network are running the same time.
Failure to synchronize a network can cause all sorts of problems, although with a lack of synchronicity the problems may go unnoticed as error finding and debugging a network can be nigh on impossible without a source of synchronized time.
There are multiple options for finding a source of accurate time too. Most time sources used for synchronisation are a source of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is the international timescale.
However, there are pro’s and con’s to all sources:
There are an almost an endless number of sources of UTC time on the internet. Some of these time sources are wholly inaccurate and unreliable but there are some trusted sources put out by people like NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time) and Microsoft.
However, regardless of how trusted the time source is, there are two problems with internet time sources. Firstly, an internet time server is actually a stratum 2 device. In other words, an internet time server is connected to another time server that gets its time from an atomic clock, usually from one of the sources below. So an internet source of time is never going to be as accurate or precise as using a stratum 1 time server yourself.
Secondly, and more importantly, internet sources of time operate through the firewall so a potential security breach is available to any malicious user who wishes to take advantage of the open ports.
GPS time is far more secure. Not only is a GPS time signal available anywhere with a line of sight view of the sky, but also GPS time signals can be received externally to the network. By using a GPS time server the GPS time signals can be received and by using NTP (Network Time Protocol) this time can be converted to UTC (GPS time is currently 17 seconds exactly behind GPS time) then distributed around the network.
Radio broadcasts in long wave are transmitted by several national physics labs. NIST and the UK’s NPL are two such organisations and they transmit the UTC signals MSF (UK) and WWVB (USA) which can be received and utilised by a radio referenced NTP server.