System Administration Guide: Security Services

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.