14.5. Kerberos

Contributed by Tillman Hodgson.
Based on a contribution by Mark Murray.

Kerberos is a network authentication protocol which was originally created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a way to securely provide authentication across a potentially hostile network. The Kerberos protocol uses strong cryptography so that both a client and server can prove their identity without sending any unencrypted secrets over the network. Kerberos can be described as an identity-verifying proxy system and as a trusted third-party authentication system. After a user authenticates with Kerberos, their communications can be encrypted to assure privacy and data integrity.

The only function of Kerberos is to provide the secure authentication of users and servers on the network. It does not provide authorization or auditing functions. It is recommended that Kerberos be used with other security methods which provide authorization and audit services.

The current version of the protocol is version 5, described in RFC 4120. Several free implementations of this protocol are available, covering a wide range of operating systems. MIT continues to develop their Kerberos package. It is commonly used in the US as a cryptography product, and has historically been subject to US export regulations. In FreeBSD, MIT Kerberos is available as the security/krb5 package or port. The Heimdal Kerberos implementation was explicitly developed outside of the US to avoid export regulations. The Heimdal Kerberos distribution is included in the base FreeBSD installation, and another distribution with more configurable options is available as security/heimdal in the Ports Collection.

In Kerberos users and services are identified as principals which are contained within an administrative grouping, called a realm. A typical user principal would be of the form user@REALM (realms are traditionally uppercase).

This section provides a guide on how to set up Kerberos using the Heimdal distribution included in FreeBSD.

For purposes of demonstrating a Kerberos installation, the name spaces will be as follows:

Note:

Use real domain names when setting up Kerberos, even if it will run internally. This avoids DNS problems and assures inter-operation with other Kerberos realms.

14.5.1. Setting up a Heimdal KDC

The Key Distribution Center (KDC) is the centralized authentication service that Kerberos provides, the trusted third party of the system. It is the computer that issues Kerberos tickets, which are used for clients to authenticate to servers. Because the KDC is considered trusted by all other computers in the Kerberos realm, it has heightened security concerns. Direct access to the KDC should be limited.

While running a KDC requires few computing resources, a dedicated machine acting only as a KDC is recommended for security reasons.

To begin setting up a KDC, add these lines to /etc/rc.conf:

kerberos5_server_enable="YES"
kadmind5_server_enable="YES"

Next, edit /etc/krb5.conf as follows:

[libdefaults]
    default_realm = EXAMPLE.ORG
[realms]
    EXAMPLE.ORG = {
	kdc = kerberos.example.org
	admin_server = kerberos.example.org
    }
[domain_realm]
    .example.org = EXAMPLE.ORG

In this example, the KDC will use the fully-qualified hostname kerberos.example.org. The hostname of the KDC must be resolvable in the DNS.

Kerberos can also use the DNS to locate KDCs, instead of a [realms] section in /etc/krb5.conf. For large organizations that have their own DNS servers, the above example could be trimmed to:

[libdefaults]
      default_realm = EXAMPLE.ORG
[domain_realm]
    .example.org = EXAMPLE.ORG

With the following lines being included in the example.org zone file:

_kerberos._udp      IN  SRV     01 00 88 kerberos.example.org.
_kerberos._tcp      IN  SRV     01 00 88 kerberos.example.org.
_kpasswd._udp       IN  SRV     01 00 464 kerberos.example.org.
_kerberos-adm._tcp  IN  SRV     01 00 749 kerberos.example.org.
_kerberos           IN  TXT     EXAMPLE.ORG

Note:

In order for clients to be able to find the Kerberos services, they must have either a fully configured /etc/krb5.conf or a minimally configured /etc/krb5.conf and a properly configured DNS server.

Next, create the Kerberos database which contains the keys of all principals (users and hosts) encrypted with a master password. It is not required to remember this password as it will be stored in /var/heimdal/m-key; it would be reasonable to use a 45-character random password for this purpose. To create the master key, run kstash and enter a password:

# kstash
Master key: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Verifying password - Master key: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Once the master key has been created, the database should be initialized. The Kerberos administrative tool kadmin(8) can be used on the KDC in a mode that operates directly on the database, without using the kadmind(8) network service, as kadmin -l. This resolves the chicken-and-egg problem of trying to connect to the database before it is created. At the kadmin prompt, use init to create the realm's initial database:

# kadmin -l
kadmin> init EXAMPLE.ORG
Realm max ticket life [unlimited]:

Lastly, while still in kadmin, create the first principal using add. Stick to the default options for the principal for now, as these can be changed later with modify. Type ? at the prompt to see the available options.

kadmin> add tillman
Max ticket life [unlimited]:
Max renewable life [unlimited]:
Attributes []:
Password: xxxxxxxx
Verifying password - Password: xxxxxxxx

Next, start the KDC services by running service kerberos start and service kadmind start. While there will not be any kerberized daemons running at this point, it is possible to confirm that the KDC is functioning by obtaining a ticket for the principal that was just created:

% kinit tillman
tillman@EXAMPLE.ORG's Password:

Confirm that a ticket was successfully obtained using klist:

% klist
Credentials cache: FILE:/tmp/krb5cc_1001
	Principal: tillman@EXAMPLE.ORG

  Issued                Expires               Principal
Aug 27 15:37:58 2013  Aug 28 01:37:58 2013  krbtgt/EXAMPLE.ORG@EXAMPLE.ORG

The temporary ticket can be destroyed when the test is finished:

% kdestroy

14.5.2. Configuring a Server to Use Kerberos

The first step in configuring a server to use Kerberos authentication is to ensure that it has the correct configuration in /etc/krb5.conf. The version from the KDC can be used as-is, or it can be regenerated on the new system.

Next, create /etc/krb5.keytab on the server. This is the main part of Kerberizing a service — it corresponds to generating a secret shared between the service and the KDC. The secret is a cryptographic key, stored in a keytab. The keytab contains the server's host key, which allows it and the KDC to verify each others' identity. It must be transmitted to the server in a secure fashion, as the security of the server can be broken if the key is made public. Typically, the keytab is generated on an administrator's trusted machine using kadmin, then securely transferred to the server, e.g., with scp(1); it can also be created directly on the server if that is consistent with the desired security policy. It is very important that the keytab is transmitted to the server in a secure fashion: if the key is known by some other party, that party can impersonate any user to the server! Using kadmin on the server directly is convenient, because the entry for the host principal in the KDC database is also created using kadmin.

Of course, kadmin is a kerberized service; a Kerberos ticket is needed to authenticate to the network service, but to ensure that the user running kadmin is actually present (and their session has not been hijacked), kadmin will prompt for the password to get a fresh ticket. The principal authenticating to the kadmin service must be permitted to use the kadmin interface, as specified in kadmind.acl. See the section titled Remote administration in info heimdal for details on designing access control lists. Instead of enabling remote kadmin access, the administrator could securely connect to the KDC via the local console or ssh(1), and perform administration locally using kadmin -l.

After installing /etc/krb5.conf, use add --random-key in kadmin. This adds the server's host principal to the database, but does not extract a copy of the host principal key to a keytab. To generate the keytab, use ext to extract the server's host principal key to its own keytab:

# kadmin
kadmin> add --random-key host/myserver.example.org
Max ticket life [unlimited]:
Max renewable life [unlimited]:
Principal expiration time [never]:
Password expiration time [never]:
Attributes []:
kadmin> ext_keytab host/myserver.example.org
kadmin> exit

Note that ext_keytab stores the extracted key in /etc/krb5.keytab by default. This is good when being run on the server being kerberized, but the --keytab path/to/file argument should be used when the keytab is being extracted elsewhere:

# kadmin
kadmin> ext_keytab --keytab=/tmp/example.keytab host/myserver.example.org
kadmin> exit

The keytab can then be securely copied to the server using scp(1) or a removable media. Be sure to specify a non-default keytab name to avoid inserting unneeded keys into the system's keytab.

At this point, the server can read encrypted messages from the KDC using its shared key, stored in krb5.keytab. It is now ready for the Kerberos-using services to be enabled. One of the most common such services is sshd(8), which supports Kerberos via the GSS-API. In /etc/ssh/sshd_config, add the line:

GSSAPIAuthentication yes

After making this change, sshd(8) must be restared for the new configuration to take effect: service sshd restart.

14.5.3. Configuring a Client to Use Kerberos

As it was for the server, the client requires configuration in /etc/krb5.conf. Copy the file in place (securely) or re-enter it as needed.

Test the client by using kinit, klist, and kdestroy from the client to obtain, show, and then delete a ticket for an existing principal. Kerberos applications should also be able to connect to Kerberos enabled servers. If that does not work but obtaining a ticket does, the problem is likely with the server and not with the client or the KDC. In the case of kerberized ssh(1), GSS-API is disabled by default, so test using ssh -o GSSAPIAuthentication=yes hostname.

When testing a Kerberized application, try using a packet sniffer such as tcpdump to confirm that no sensitive information is sent in the clear.

Various Kerberos client applications are available. With the advent of a bridge so that applications using SASL for authentication can use GSS-API mechanisms as well, large classes of client applications can use Kerberos for authentication, from Jabber clients to IMAP clients.

Users within a realm typically have their Kerberos principal mapped to a local user account. Occasionally, one needs to grant access to a local user account to someone who does not have a matching Kerberos principal. For example, tillman@EXAMPLE.ORG may need access to the local user account webdevelopers. Other principals may also need access to that local account.

The .k5login and .k5users files, placed in a user's home directory, can be used to solve this problem. For example, if the following .k5login is placed in the home directory of webdevelopers, both principals listed will have access to that account without requiring a shared password.:

tillman@example.org
jdoe@example.org

Refer to ksu(1) for more information about .k5users.

14.5.4. MIT Differences

The major difference between the MIT and Heimdal implementations is that kadmin has a different, but equivalent, set of commands and uses a different protocol. If the KDC is MIT, the Heimdal version of kadmin cannot be used to administer the KDC remotely, and vice versa.

Client applications may also use slightly different command line options to accomplish the same tasks. Following the instructions at http://web.mit.edu/Kerberos/www/ is recommended. Be careful of path issues: the MIT port installs into /usr/local/ by default, and the FreeBSD system applications run instead of the MIT versions if PATH lists the system directories first.

When using MIT Kerberos as a KDC on FreeBSD, the following edits should also be made to rc.conf:

kerberos5_server="/usr/local/sbin/krb5kdc"
kadmind5_server="/usr/local/sbin/kadmind"
kerberos5_server_flags=""
kerberos5_server_enable="YES"
kadmind5_server_enable="YES"

14.5.5. Kerberos Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting

When configuring and troubleshooting Kerberos, keep the following points in mind:

  • When using either Heimdal or MIT Kerberos from ports, ensure that the PATH lists the port's versions of the client applications before the system versions.

  • If all the computers in the realm do not have synchronized time settings, authentication may fail. Section 29.11, “Clock Synchronization with NTP” describes how to synchronize clocks using NTP.

  • If the hostname is changed, the host/ principal must be changed and the keytab updated. This also applies to special keytab entries like the HTTP/ principal used for Apache's www/mod_auth_kerb.

  • All hosts in the realm must be both forward and reverse resolvable in DNS or, at a minimum, exist in /etc/hosts. CNAMEs will work, but the A and PTR records must be correct and in place. The error message for unresolvable hosts is not intuitive: Kerberos5 refuses authentication because Read req failed: Key table entry not found.

  • Some operating systems that act as clients to the KDC do not set the permissions for ksu to be setuid root. This means that ksu does not work. This is a permissions problem, not a KDC error.

  • With MIT Kerberos, to allow a principal to have a ticket life longer than the default lifetime of ten hours, use modify_principal at the kadmin(8) prompt to change the maxlife of both the principal in question and the krbtgt principal. The principal can then use kinit -l to request a ticket with a longer lifetime.

  • When running a packet sniffer on the KDC to aid in troubleshooting while running kinit from a workstation, the Ticket Granting Ticket (TGT) is sent immediately, even before the password is typed. This is because the Kerberos server freely transmits a TGT to any unauthorized request. However, every TGT is encrypted in a key derived from the user's password. When a user types their password, it is not sent to the KDC, it is instead used to decrypt the TGT that kinit already obtained. If the decryption process results in a valid ticket with a valid time stamp, the user has valid Kerberos credentials. These credentials include a session key for establishing secure communications with the Kerberos server in the future, as well as the actual TGT, which is encrypted with the Kerberos server's own key. This second layer of encryption allows the Kerberos server to verify the authenticity of each TGT.

  • Host principals can have a longer ticket lifetime. If the user principal has a lifetime of a week but the host being connected to has a lifetime of nine hours, the user cache will have an expired host principal and the ticket cache will not work as expected.

  • When setting up krb5.dict to prevent specific bad passwords from being used as described in kadmind(8), remember that it only applies to principals that have a password policy assigned to them. The format used in krb5.dict is one string per line. Creating a symbolic link to /usr/share/dict/words might be useful.

14.5.6. Mitigating Kerberos Limitations

Since Kerberos is an all or nothing approach, every service enabled on the network must either be modified to work with Kerberos or be otherwise secured against network attacks. This is to prevent user credentials from being stolen and re-used. An example is when Kerberos is enabled on all remote shells but the non-Kerberized POP3 mail server sends passwords in plain text.

The KDC is a single point of failure. By design, the KDC must be as secure as its master password database. The KDC should have absolutely no other services running on it and should be physically secure. The danger is high because Kerberos stores all passwords encrypted with the same master key which is stored as a file on the KDC.

A compromised master key is not quite as bad as one might fear. The master key is only used to encrypt the Kerberos database and as a seed for the random number generator. As long as access to the KDC is secure, an attacker cannot do much with the master key.

If the KDC is unavailable, network services are unusable as authentication cannot be performed. This can be alleviated with a single master KDC and one or more slaves, and with careful implementation of secondary or fall-back authentication using PAM.

Kerberos allows users, hosts and services to authenticate between themselves. It does not have a mechanism to authenticate the KDC to the users, hosts, or services. This means that a trojanned kinit could record all user names and passwords. File system integrity checking tools like security/tripwire can alleviate this.

14.5.7. Resources and Further Information

All FreeBSD documents are available for download at http://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/

Questions that are not answered by the documentation may be sent to <freebsd-questions@FreeBSD.org>.
Send questions about this document to <freebsd-doc@FreeBSD.org>.