Accurate and precise time is increasingly becoming a necessity for computer systems. From corporate networks to public service technologies such as ATMs, traffic lights or CCTV cameras – precise time is what keeps them ticking.
Inaccurate or unsynchronised time is the root cause for many technology breakdowns and failures. For instance, failing to synchronize a traffic lights system can lead to all sorts of confusion of the lights change at the wrong time – and the consequences for systems belonging to industries such as air traffic control could be even worse.
And even a standard computer network such as those used in most offices requires accurate synchronisation to prevent errors, enable debugging and to ensure the system is secure.
Most system administrators are now aware of the importance of accurate and precise time synchronisation but getting a source of accurate time is often where many people make mistakes.
Many network administrators are aware of the time protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) which is used to ensure accurate synchronisation between computers.
However, many administrators make the mistake of using a source of time from across the internet to distribute with NTP – a common pitfall that can have disastrous consequences.
The internet is not the best source of tine. While it is true, many online NTP servers are available as a source of atomic time or UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) but are they accurate. The truth is it is almost impossible to know. Internet time sources can be affected by the distance of the client (the network) from the time source – it also can’t be authenticated by NTP.
Even more important, internet time sources operate through the firewall which can allow the time signal to be hijacked by malicious programs.
The only secure and accurate method of synchronising a computer network or other technology system is to use an NTP server. These devices receive an external atomic clock time signal often by GPS or even by radio transmissions.
These signals are come direct from atomic clocks so are highly accurate they also can’t be hijacked as they are not connected to the internet.