System Administration Guide: Security Services

Chapter 27 The Kerberos Service (Reference)

This chapter lists many of the files, commands, and daemons that are part of the Kerberos product. In addition, this chapter provides detailed information about how Kerberos authentication works.

This is a list of the reference information in this chapter.

Kerberos Files

Table 27–1 Kerberos Files

File Name 



Default values for creating new principals in the SEAM Administration Tool


List of principals that grant access to a Kerberos account


Kerberos access control list file, which includes principal names of KDC administrators and their Kerberos administration privileges


Keytab file for the kadmin service on the master KDC


KDC configuration file


Kerberos database propagation configuration file


Kerberos realm configuration file


Keytab file for network application servers


Kerberos ticket expiration warning and automatic renewal configuration file


PAM configuration file


Default credentials cache, where uid is the decimal UID of the user


Temporary credentials cache for the lifetime of the password changing operation, where xxxxxx is a random string


KDC stash file, which contains a copy of the KDC master key


Log file for kadmind


Log file for the KDC


Kerberos principal database


Kerberos administrative database, which contains policy information


Kerberos administrative database lock file


Kerberos principal database initialization file that is created when the Kerberos database is initialized successfully


Kerberos update log, which contains updates for incremental propagation


Backup file of the KDC that the kprop_script script uses for propagation


Temporary dump file that is created when full updates are made to the specified slave

Kerberos Commands

This section lists some commands that are included in the Kerberos product.

Table 27–2 Kerberos Commands




File Transfer Protocol program


Destroys Kerberos tickets


Obtains and caches Kerberos ticket-granting tickets


Displays current Kerberos tickets


Changes a Kerberos password


Manages Kerberos keytab files


Remote file copy program


Remote file distribution program


Remote login program


Remote shell program


Kerberized telnet program


Kerberos database propagation program


Kerberos database administration GUI program, which is used to manage principals and policies


Manage gsscred table entries


Remote Kerberos database administration program (run with Kerberos authentication), which is used to manage principals, policies, and keytab files


Local Kerberos database administration program (run without Kerberos authentication and must be run on master KDC), which is used to manage principals, policies, and keytab files


Kerberos client installation script which is used with or without a installation profile


Creates LDAP containers for Kerberos databases


Creates Kerberos databases and stash files


Configures Kerberos master and slave KDCs


Lists a summary of update entries in the update log

Kerberos Daemons

The following table lists the daemons that the Kerberos product uses.

Table 27–3 Kerberos Daemons




File Transfer Protocol daemon


Kerberos database administration daemon


Kerberos database propagation daemon


Kerberos ticket processing daemon


Kerberos ticket expiration warning and automatic renewal daemon


Remote login daemon


Remote shell daemon


telnet daemon

Kerberos Terminology

The following section presents Kerberos terms and their definitions. These terms are used throughout the Kerberos documentation. To grasp Kerberos concepts, an understanding of these terms is essential.

Kerberos-Specific Terminology

You need to understand the terms in this section in order to administer KDCs.

The Key Distribution Center or KDC is the component of Kerberos that is responsible for issuing credentials. These credentials are created by using information that is stored in the KDC database. Each realm needs at least two KDCs, a master and at least one slave. All KDCs generate credentials, but only the master KDC handles any changes to the KDC database.

A stash file contains the master key for the KDC. This key is used when a server is rebooted to automatically authenticate the KDC before starting the kadmind and krb5kdc commands. Because this file includes the master key, the file and any backups of the file should be kept secure. The file is created with read-only permissions for root. To keep the file secure, do not change the permissions. If the file is compromised, then the key could be used to access or modify the KDC database.

Authentication-Specific Terminology

You need to know the terms in this section to understand the authentication process. Programmers and system administrators should be familiar with these terms.

A client is the software that runs on a user's workstation. The Kerberos software that runs on the client makes many requests during this process. So, differentiating the actions of this software from the user is important.

The terms server and service are often used interchangeably. To clarify, the term server is used to define the physical system that Kerberos software is running on. The term service corresponds to a particular function that is being supported on a server (for example, ftp or nfs). Documentation often mentions servers as part of a service, but this definition clouds the meaning of the terms. Therefore, the term server refers to the physical system. The term service refers to the software.

The Kerberos product uses two types of keys. One type of key is a password derived key. The password derived key is given to each user principal and is known only to the user and to the KDC. The other type of key used by the Kerberos product is a random key that is not associated with a password and so is not suitable for use by user principals. Random keys are typically used for service principals that have entries in a keytab and session keys generated by the KDC. Service principals can use random keys since the service can access the key in the keytab which allows it to run non-interactively. Session keys are generated by the KDC (and shared between the client and service) to provide secure transactions between a client and a service.

A ticket is an information packet that is used to securely pass the identity of a user to a server or service. A ticket is valid for only a single client and a particular service on a specific server. A ticket contains:

All of this data is encrypted in the server's service key. Note, the KDC issues the ticket embedded in a credential described below. After a ticket has been issued, it can be reused until the ticket expires.

A credential is a packet of information that includes a ticket and a matching session key. The credential is encrypted with the requesting principal's key. Typically, the KDC generates a credential in response to a ticket request from a client.

An authenticator is information used by the server to authenticate the client user principal. An authenticator includes the principal name of the user, a timestamp, and other data. Unlike a ticket, an authenticator can be used once only, usually when access to a service is requested. An authenticator is encrypted by using the session key shared by the client and server. Typically, the client creates the authenticator and sends it with the server's or service's ticket in order to authenticate to the server or service.

Types of Tickets

Tickets have properties that govern how they can be used. These properties are assigned to the ticket when it is created, although you can modify a ticket's properties later. For example, a ticket can change from being forwardable to being forwarded. You can view ticket properties with the klist command. See Viewing Kerberos Tickets.

Tickets can be described by one or more of the following terms:


A forwardable ticket can be sent from one host to another host, obviating the need for a client to reauthenticate itself. For example, if the user david obtains a forwardable ticket while on user jennifer's machine, he can log in to his own machine without having to get a new ticket (and thus authenticate himself again). See Example 26–1 for an example of a forwardable ticket.


An initial ticket is a ticket that is issued directly, not based on a ticket-granting ticket. Some services, such as applications that change passwords, can require tickets to be marked initial in order to assure themselves that the client can demonstrate a knowledge of its secret key. An initial ticket indicates that the client has recently authenticated itself, instead of relying on a ticket-granting ticket, which might have been around for a long time.


An invalid ticket is a postdated ticket that has not yet become usable. An invalid ticket will be rejected by an application server until it becomes validated. To be validated, a ticket must be presented to the KDC by the client in a ticket–granting service request, with the VALIDATE flag set, after its start time has passed.


A postdated ticket is a ticket that does not become valid until some specified time after its creation. Such a ticket is useful, for example, for batch jobs that are intended to be run late at night, because the ticket, if stolen, cannot be used until the batch job is to be run. When a postdated ticket is issued, it is issued as invalid and remains that way until its start time has passed, and the client requests validation by the KDC. A postdated ticket is normally valid until the expiration time of the ticket-granting ticket. However, if the ticket is marked renewable, its lifetime is normally set to be equal to the duration of the full life of the ticket-granting ticket.


At times, it is necessary for a principal to allow a service to perform an operation on its behalf. The principal name of the proxy must be specified when the ticket is created. The Solaris release does not support proxiable or proxy tickets.

A proxiable ticket is similar to a forwardable ticket, except that it is valid only for a single service, whereas a forwardable ticket grants the service the complete use of the client's identity. A forwardable ticket can therefore be thought of as a sort of super-proxy.


Because it is a security risk to have tickets with very long lives, tickets can be designated as renewable. A renewable ticket has two expiration times: the time at which the current instance of the ticket expires, and the maximum lifetime for any ticket, which is one week. If a client wants to continue to use a ticket, the client renews it before the first expiration occurs. For example, a ticket can be valid for one hour, with all tickets having a maximum lifetime of 10 hours. If the client that is holding the ticket wants to keep it for more than an hour, the client must renew it within that hour. When a ticket reaches the maximum ticket lifetime (10 hours), it automatically expires and cannot be renewed.

For information on how to view the attributes of tickets, see Viewing Kerberos Tickets.

Ticket Lifetimes

Any time a principal obtains a ticket, including a ticket–granting ticket (TGT), the ticket's lifetime is set as the smallest of the following lifetime values:

Figure 27–1 shows how a TGT's lifetime is determined and where the four lifetime values come from. Even though this figure shows how a TGT's lifetime is determined, basically the same thing happens when any principal obtains a ticket. The only differences are that kinit doesn't provide a lifetime value, and the service principal that provides the ticket provides a maximum lifetime value (instead of the krbtgt/realm principal).

Figure 27–1 How a TGT's Lifetime is Determined

Diagram shows that a ticket lifetime is the smallest
value allowed by the kinit command, the user principal, the site default,
and the ticket granter.

The renewable ticket lifetime is also determined from the minimum of four values, but renewable lifetime values are used instead, as follows:

Kerberos Principal Names

Each ticket is identified by a principal name. The principal name can identify a user or a service. Here are examples of several principal names.

Table 27–4 Examples of Kerberos Principal Names

Principal Name 



A principal for the master KDC server that allows access to the KDC when you are changing passwords. 


A principal that is used by the kclient installation utility.


A principal used by the ftp service. This principal can be used instead of a host principal.


A principal that is used by the Kerberized applications (klist and kprop, for example) and services (such as ftp and telnet). This principal is called a host or service principal. The principal is used to authenticate NFS mounts. This principal is also used by a client to verify that the TGT that is issued to the client is from the correct KDC.


The master key name principal. One master key name principal is associated with each master KDC. 


A principal that includes a key used to keep password histories for other principals. Each master KDC has one of these principals. 


A principal for the master KDC server that allows access to the KDC by using kadmind.


A principal that is used to accept password change requests from clients that are not running a Solaris release. 


This principal is used when you generate a ticket-granting ticket. 


This principal is an example of a cross-realm ticket-granting ticket. 


A principal that is used by the NFS service. This principal can be used instead of a host principal.


A principal that is associated with the root account on a client. This principal is called a root principal and provides root access to NFS mounted file systems..


A principal for a user. 


An admin principal that can be used to administer the KDC database.

How the Kerberos Authentication System Works

Applications allow you to log in to a remote system if you can provide a ticket that proves your identity, and a matching session key. The session key contains information that is specific to the user and the service that is being accessed. A ticket and session key are created by the KDC for all users when they first log in. The ticket and the matching session key form a credential. While using multiple networking services, a user can gather many credentials. The user needs to have a credential for each service that runs on a particular server. For example, access to the ftp service on a server named boston requires one credential. Access to the ftp service on another server requires its own credential.

The process of creating and storing the credentials is transparent. Credentials are created by the KDC that sends the credential to the requester. When received, the credential is stored in a credential cache.

How the Kerberos Service Interacts With DNS and the nsswitch.conf File

The Kerberos service is compiled to use DNS to resolve host names. The nsswitch.conf file is not consulted at all when host name resolution is done.

Gaining Access to a Service Using Kerberos

To access a specific service on a specific server, the user must obtain two credentials. The first credential is for the ticket-granting ticket (known as the TGT). Once the ticket-granting service has decrypted this credential, the service creates a second credential for the server that the user is requesting access to. This second credential can then be used to request access to the service on the server. After the server has successfully decrypted the second credential, then the user is given access. The following sections describe this process in more detail.

Obtaining a Credential for the Ticket-Granting Service

  1. To start the authentication process, the client sends a request to the authentication server for a specific user principal. This request is sent without encryption. No secure information is included in the request, so it is not necessary to use encryption.

  2. When the request is received by the authentication service, the principal name of the user is looked up in the KDC database. If a principal matches the entry in the database, the authentication service obtains the private key for that principal. The authentication service then generates a session key to be used by the client and the ticket-granting service (call it Session key 1) and a ticket for the ticket-granting service (Ticket 1). This ticket is also known as the ticket-granting ticket (TGT). Both the session key and the ticket are encrypted by using the user's private key, and the information is sent back to the client.

  3. The client uses this information to decrypt Session Key 1 and Ticket 1, by using the private key for the user principal. Because the private key should only be known by the user and the KDC database, the information in the packet should be safe. The client stores the information in the credentials cache.

During this process, a user is normally prompted for a password. If the password the user specifies is the same as the password that was used to build the private key stored in the KDC database, then the client can successfully decrypt the information that is sent by the authentication service. Now the client has a credential to be used with the ticket-granting service. The client is ready to request a credential for a server.

Figure 27–2 Obtaining a Credential for the Ticket-Granting Service

Flow diagram shows a client requesting a credential for
server access from the KDC, and using a password to decrypt the returned credential.

Obtaining a Credential for a Server

  1. To request access to a specific server, a client must first have obtained a credential for that server from the authentication service. See Obtaining a Credential for the Ticket-Granting Service. The client then sends a request to the ticket-granting service, which includes the service principal name, Ticket 1, and an authenticator that was encrypted with Session Key 1. Ticket 1 was originally encrypted by the authentication service by using the service key of the ticket-granting service.

  2. Because the service key of the ticket-granting service is known to the ticket-granting service, Ticket 1 can be decrypted. The information in Ticket 1 includes Session Key 1, so the ticket-granting service can decrypt the authenticator. At this point, the user principal is authenticated with the ticket-granting service.

  3. Once the authentication is successful, the ticket-granting service generates a session key for the user principal and the server (Session Key 2), and a ticket for the server (Ticket 2). Session Key 2 and Ticket 2 are then encrypted by using Session Key 1. Because Session Key 1 is known only to the client and the ticket-granting service, this information is secure and can be safely sent over the network.

  4. When the client receives this information packet, the client decrypts the information by using Session Key 1, which it had stored in the credential cache. The client has obtained a credential to be used with the server. Now the client is ready to request access to a particular service on that server.

Figure 27–3 Obtaining a Credential for a Server

Flow diagram shows a client sending a request encrypted
with Session Key 1 to the KDC, and then decrypting the returned credential
with the same key.

Obtaining Access to a Specific Service

  1. To request access to a specific service, the client must first have obtained a credential for the ticket-granting service from the authentication server, and a server credential from the ticket-granting service. See Obtaining a Credential for the Ticket-Granting Service and Obtaining a Credential for a Server. The client can then send a request to the server including Ticket 2 and another authenticator. The authenticator is encrypted by using Session Key 2.

  2. Ticket 2 was encrypted by the ticket-granting service with the service key for the service. Because the service key is known by the service principal, the service can decrypt Ticket 2 and get Session Key 2. Session Key 2 can then be used to decrypt the authenticator. If the authenticator is successfully decrypted, the client is given access to the service.

Figure 27–4 Obtaining Access to a Specific Service

Flow diagram shows a client using Ticket 2 and an authenticator
encrypted with Session Key 2 to obtain access permission to the server.

Using Kerberos Encryption Types

Encryption types identify which cryptographic algorithms and mode to use when cryptographic operations are performed. The aes, des3-cbc-sha1 and rc4–hmac encryption types enable the creation of keys that can be used for higher strength cryptographic operations. These higher strength operations enhance the overall security of the Kerberos service.

Note –

In releases prior to Solaris 10 8/07 release, the aes256-cts-hmac-sha1-96 encryption type can be used with the Kerberos service if the unbundled Strong Cryptographic packages are installed.

When a client requests a ticket from the KDC, the KDC must use keys whose encryption type is compatible with both the client and the server. While the Kerberos protocol allows the client to request that the KDC use particular encryption types for the client's part of the ticket reply, the protocol does not allow the server to specify encryption types to the KDC.

Note –

If you have a master KDC installed that is not running the Solaris 10 release, the slave KDCs must be upgraded to the Solaris 10 release before you upgrade the master KDC. A Solaris 10 master KDC will use the new encryption types, which an older slave will not be able to handle.

The following lists some of the issues that must be considered before you change the encryption types.

Using the gsscred Table

The gsscred table is used by an NFS server when the server is trying to identify a Kerberos user, if the default mappings are not sufficient. The NFS service uses UNIX IDs to identify users. These IDs are not part of a user principal or a credential. The gsscred table provides additional mapping from GSS credentials to UNIX UIDs (from the password file). The table must be created and administered after the KDC database is populated. See Mapping GSS Credentials to UNIX Credentials for more information.

When a client request comes in, the NFS service tries to map the credential name to a UNIX ID. If the mapping fails, the gsscred table is checked.

Notable Differences Between Solaris Kerberos and MIT Kerberos

The Solaris 10 version of the Kerberos service is based on MIT Kerberos version 1.2.1. The following lists the enhancements included in the Solaris 10 release that are not included in the MIT 1.2.1 version:

This version also includes some post MIT 1.2.1 bug fixes. In particular, 1.2.5 btree bug fixes and 1.3 TCP support have been added.