Skip to main content

Analysis of Threats Motivating DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 4686.
Author Jim Fenton
Last updated 2015-10-14 (Latest revision 2006-05-30)
Replaces draft-fenton-dkim-threats
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Informational
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state Became RFC 4686 (Informational)
Action Holders
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Russ Housley
Send notices to (None)
DKIM Working Group                                             J. Fenton
Internet-Draft                                       Cisco Systems, Inc.
Expires:  November 27, 2006                                 May 26, 2006

    Analysis of Threats Motivating DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)

Status of this Memo

   By submitting this Internet-Draft, each author represents that any
   applicable patent or other IPR claims of which he or she is aware
   have been or will be disclosed, and any of which he or she becomes
   aware will be disclosed, in accordance with Section 6 of BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups.  Note that
   other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

   The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at

   This Internet-Draft will expire on November 27, 2006.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


   This document provides an analysis of some threats against Internet
   mail that are intended to be addressed by signature-based mail
   authentication, in particular DomainKeys Identified Mail.  It
   discusses the nature and location of the bad actors, what their
   capabilities are, and what they intend to accomplish via their

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 1]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     1.1.  Terminology and Model  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
     1.2.  Document Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
   2.  The Bad Actors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     2.1.  Characteristics  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     2.2.  Capabilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     2.3.  Location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
       2.3.1.  Externally-located Bad Actors  . . . . . . . . . . . .  9
       2.3.2.  Within Claimed Originator's Administrative Unit  . . .  9
       2.3.3.  Within Recipient's Administrative Unit . . . . . . . .  9
   3.  Representative Bad Acts  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     3.1.  Use of Arbitrary Identities  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     3.2.  Use of Specific Identities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
       3.2.1.  Exploitation of Social Relationships . . . . . . . . . 11
       3.2.2.  Identity-Related Fraud . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
       3.2.3.  Reputation Attacks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
       3.2.4.  Reflection Attacks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   4.  Attacks on Message Signing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
     4.1.  Attacks Against Message Signatures . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
       4.1.1.  Theft of Private Key for Domain  . . . . . . . . . . . 13
       4.1.2.  Theft of Delegated Private Key . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
       4.1.3.  Private Key Recovery via Side Channel Attack . . . . . 14
       4.1.4.  Chosen Message Replay  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
       4.1.5.  Signed Message Replay  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
       4.1.6.  Denial-of-Service Attack Against Verifier  . . . . . . 17
       4.1.7.  Denial-of-Service Attack Against Key Service . . . . . 17
       4.1.8.  Canonicalization Abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
       4.1.9.  Body Length Limit Abuse  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
       4.1.10. Use of Revoked Key . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
       4.1.11. Compromise of Key Server . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
       4.1.12. Falsification of Key Service Replies . . . . . . . . . 20
       4.1.13. Publication of Malformed Key Records and/or
               Signatures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
       4.1.14. Cryptographic Weaknesses in Signature Generation . . . 20
       4.1.15. Display Name Abuse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
       4.1.16. Compromised System Within Originator's Network . . . . 22
       4.1.17. Verification Probe Attack  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
       4.1.18. Key Publication by Higher Level Domain . . . . . . . . 22
     4.2.  Attacks Against Message Signing Policy . . . . . . . . . . 23
       4.2.1.  Look-Alike Domain Names  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
       4.2.2.  Internationalized Domain Name Abuse  . . . . . . . . . 24
       4.2.3.  Denial-of-Service Attack Against Signing Policy  . . . 24
       4.2.4.  Use of Multiple From Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
       4.2.5.  Abuse of Third-Party Signatures  . . . . . . . . . . . 25
       4.2.6.  Falsification of Sender Signing Policy Replies . . . . 25
     4.3.  Other Attacks  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 2]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

       4.3.1.  Packet Amplification Attacks via DNS . . . . . . . . . 26
   5.  Derived Requirements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
   6.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
   7.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
   8.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
   Appendix B.  Edit History  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
   Author's Address . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
   Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . . . 31

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 3]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

1.  Introduction

   The DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) protocol is being specified by
   the IETF DKIM Working Group.  The DKIM protocol defines a mechanism
   by which email messages can be cryptographically signed, permitting a
   signing domain to claim responsibility for the use of a given email
   address.  Message recipients can verify the signature by querying the
   signer's domain directly to retrieve the appropriate public key, and
   thereby confirm that the message was attested to by a party in
   possession of the private key for the signing domain.

   Once the attesting party or parties have been established, the
   recipient may evaluate the message in the context of additional
   information such as locally-maintained whitelists, shared reputation
   services, and/or third-party accreditation.  The description of these
   mechanisms is outside the scope of the IETF DKIM Working Group
   effort.  By applying a signature, a good player enables a verifier to
   associate a positive reputation with the message, in hopes that it
   will receive preferential treatment by the recipient.

   This effort is not intended to address threats associated with
   message confidentiality nor does it intend to provide a long-term
   archival signature.

1.1.  Terminology and Model

   An administrative unit (AU) is the portion of the path of an email
   message that is under common administration.  The originator and
   recipient typically develop trust relationships with the
   administrative units that send and receive their email, respectively,
   to perform the signing and verification of their messages.

   The origin address is the address on an email message, typically the
   RFC 2822 From:  address, which is associated with the alleged author
   of the message and is displayed by the recipient's MUA as the source
   of the message.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 4]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   The following diagram illustrates a typical usage flowchart for DKIM:

                      |       SIGNATURE CREATION        |
                      |  (Originating or Relaying AU)   |
                      |                                 |
                      |   Sign (Message, Domain, Key)   |
                      |                                 |
                                       | - Message (Domain, Key)
     +-----------+    |     SIGNATURE VERIFICATION      |
     |           |    |  (Relaying or Delivering AU)    |
     |    KEY    |    |                                 |
     |   QUERY   +--->|  Verify (Message, Domain, Key)  |
     |           |    |                                 |
     +-----------+    +----------------+----------------+
                                       |  - Verified Domain
     +-----------+                     V  - [Report]
     |  SENDER   |    +----------------+----------------+
     |  SIGNING  |    |                                 |
     | PRACTICES +--->|        SIGNER EVALUATION        |
     |   QUERY   |    |                                 |
     |           |    +---------------------------------+

   DKIM operates entirely on the content (body and selected header
   fields) of the message, as defined in RFC 2822 [RFC2822].  The
   transmission of messages via SMTP, defined in RFC 2821 [RFC2821], and
   such elements as the envelope-from and envelope-to addresses and the
   HELO domain are not relevant to DKIM verification.  This is an
   intentional decision made to allow verification of messages via
   protocols other than SMTP, such as POP [RFC1939] and IMAP [RFC3501]
   which an MUA acting as a verifier might use.

   The Sender Signing Practices Query referred to in the diagram above
   is a means by which the verifier can query the alleged author's
   domain to determine their practices for signing messages, which in
   turn may influence their evaluation of the message.  If, for example,
   a message arrives without any valid signatures, and the alleged
   author's domain advertises that they sign all messages, the verifier
   might handle that message differently than if a signature was not
   necessarily to be expected.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 5]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

1.2.  Document Structure

   The remainder of this document describes the problems that DKIM might
   be expected to address, and the extent to which it may be successful
   in so doing.  These are described in terms of the potential bad
   actors, their capabilities and location in the network, and in terms
   of the bad acts that they might wish to commit.

   This is followed by a description of postulated attacks on DKIM
   message signing and on the use of Sender Signing Practices to assist
   in the treatment of unsigned messages.  A list of derived
   requirements is also presented which is intended to guide the DKIM
   design and review process.

   The sections dealing with attacks on DKIM each begin with a table
   summarizing the postulated attacks in each category along with their
   expected impact and likelihood.  The following definitions were used
   as rough criteria for scoring the attacks:


      High: Affects the verification of messages from an entire domain
         or multiple domains

      Medium: Affects the verification of messages from specific users,
         MTAs, and/or bounded time periods

      Low: Affects the verification of isolated individual messages only


      High: All email users should expect this attack on a frequent

      Medium: Email users should expect this attack occasionally;
         frequently for a few users

      Low: Attack is expected to be rare and/or very infrequent

2.  The Bad Actors

2.1.  Characteristics

   The problem space being addressed by DKIM is characterized by a wide
   range of attackers in terms of motivation, sophistication, and

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 6]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   At the low end of the spectrum are bad actors who may simply send
   email, perhaps using one of many commercially available tools, which
   the recipient does not want to receive.  These tools typically allow
   one to falsify the origin address of messages, and may, in the
   future, be capable of generating message signatures as well.

   At the next tier are what would be considered "professional" senders
   of unwanted email.  These attackers would deploy specific
   infrastructure, including Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs), registered
   domains and networks of compromised computers ("zombies") to send
   messages, and in some cases to harvest addresses to which to send.
   These senders often operate as commercial enterprises and send
   messages on behalf of third parties.

   The most sophisticated and financially-motivated senders of messages
   are those who stand to receive substantial financial benefit, such as
   from an email-based fraud scheme.  These attackers can be expected to
   employ all of the above mechanisms and additionally may attack the
   Internet infrastructure itself, including DNS cache-poisoning attacks
   and IP routing attacks.

2.2.  Capabilities

   In general, the bad actors described above should be expected to have
   access to the following:

   1.  An extensive corpus of messages from domains they might wish to

   2.  Knowledge of the business aims and model for domains they might
       wish to impersonate

   3.  Access to public keys and associated authorization records
       associated with the domain

   and the ability to do at least some of the following:

   1.  Submit messages to MTAs and MSAs at multiple locations in the

   2.  Construct arbitrary message header fields, including those
       claiming to be mailing lists, resenders, and other mail agents

   3.  Sign messages on behalf of domains under their control

   4.  Generate substantial numbers of either unsigned or apparently-
       signed messages which might be used to attempt a denial of
       service attack

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 7]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   5.  Resend messages which may have been previously signed by the

   6.  Transmit messages using any envelope information desired

   7.  Act as an authorized submitter for messages from a compromised

   As noted above, certain classes of bad actors may have substantial
   financial motivation for their activities, and therefore should be
   expected to have more capabilities at their disposal.  These include:

   1.  Manipulation of IP routing.  This could be used to submit
       messages from specific IP addresses or difficult-to-trace
       addresses, or to cause diversion of messages to a specific

   2.  Limited influence over portions of DNS using mechanisms such as
       cache poisoning.  This might be used to influence message
       routing, or to cause falsification of DNS-based key or policy

   3.  Access to significant computing resources, for example through
       the conscription of worm-infected "zombie" computers.  This could
       allow the bad actor to perform various types of brute-force

   4.  Ability to eavesdrop on existing traffic, perhaps from a wireless

   Either of the first two of these mechanisms could be used to allow
   the bad actor to function as a man-in-the-middle between author and
   recipient, if that attack is useful.

2.3.  Location

   Bad actors or their proxies can be located anywhere in the Internet.
   Certain attacks are possible primarily within the administrative unit
   of the claimed originator and/or recipient domain have capabilities
   beyond those elsewhere, as described in the below sections.  Bad
   actors can also collude by acting from multiple locations (a
   "distributed bad actor").

   It should also be noted that with the use of "zombies" and other
   proxies, externally-located bad actors may gain some of the
   capabilities of being located within the claimed originator's or
   recipient's administrative unit.  This emphasizes the importance of
   appropriate security measures, such as authenticated submission of

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 8]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   messages, even within administrative units.

2.3.1.  Externally-located Bad Actors

   DKIM focuses primarily on bad actors located outside of the
   administrative units of the claimed originator and the recipient.
   These administrative units frequently correspond to the protected
   portions of the network adjacent to the originator and recipient.  It
   is in this area that the trust relationships required for
   authenticated message submission do not exist and do not scale
   adequately to be practical.  Conversely, within these administrative
   units, there are other mechanisms such as authenticated message
   submission that are easier to deploy and more likely to be used than

   External bad actors are usually attempting to exploit the "any to
   any" nature of email which motivates most recipient MTAs to accept
   messages from anywhere for delivery to their local domain.  They may
   generate messages without signatures, with incorrect signatures, or
   with correct signatures from domains with little traceability.  They
   may also pose as mailing lists, greeting cards, or other agents which
   legitimately send or re-send messages on behalf of others.

2.3.2.  Within Claimed Originator's Administrative Unit

   Bad actors in the form of rogue or unauthorized users or malware-
   infected computers can exist within the administrative unit
   corresponding to a message's origin address.  Since the submission of
   messages in this area generally occurs prior to the application of a
   message signature, DKIM is not directly effective against these bad
   actors.  Defense against these bad actors is dependent upon other
   means, such as proper use of firewalls, and mail submission agents
   that are configured to authenticate the author.

   In the special case where the administrative unit is non-contiguous
   (e.g., a company that communicates between branches over the external
   Internet), DKIM signatures can be used to distinguish between
   legitimate externally-originated messages and attempts to spoof
   addresses in the local domain.

2.3.3.  Within Recipient's Administrative Unit

   Bad actors may also exist within the administrative unit of the
   message recipient.  These bad actors may attempt to exploit the trust
   relationships which exist within the unit.  Since messages will
   typically only have undergone DKIM verification at the administrative
   unit boundary, DKIM is not effective against messages submitted in
   this area.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006               [Page 9]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   For example, the bad actor may attempt to spoof a header field
   indicating the results of verification.  This header field would
   normally be added by the verifier, which would also detect spoofed
   header fields on messages it was attempting to verify.  This could be
   used to falsely indicate that the message was authenticated

   As in the originator case, these bad actors can be dealt with by
   controlling the submission of messages within the administrative
   unit.  Since DKIM permits verification to occur anywhere within the
   recipient's administrative unit, these threats can also be minimized
   by moving verification closer to the recipient, such as at the mail
   delivery agent (MDA), or on the recipient's MUA itself.

3.  Representative Bad Acts

   One of the most fundamental bad acts being attempted is the delivery
   of messages which are not intended to have been sent by the alleged
   originating domain.  As described above, these messages might merely
   be unwanted by the recipient, or might be part of a confidence scheme
   or a delivery vector for malware.

3.1.  Use of Arbitrary Identities

   This class of bad acts includes the sending of messages which aim to
   obscure the identity of the actual author.  In some cases the actual
   sender might be the bad actor, or in other cases might be a third-
   party under the control of the bad actor (e.g., a compromised

   Particularly when coupled with sender signing practices that indicate
   the domain owner signs all messages, DKIM can be effective in
   mitigating against the abuse of addresses not controlled by bad
   actors.  DKIM is not effective against the use of addresses
   controlled by bad actors.  In other words, the presence of a valid
   DKIM signature does not guarantee that the signer is not a bad actor.
   It also does not guarantee the accountability of the signer, since
   DKIM does not attempt to identify the signer individually, but rather
   identifies the domain which they control.  Accreditation and
   reputation systems and locally-maintained whitelists and blacklists
   can be used to enhance the accountability of DKIM-verified addresses
   and/or the likelihood that signed messages are desirable.

3.2.  Use of Specific Identities

   A second major class of bad acts involves the assertion of specific
   identities in email.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 10]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   Note that some bad acts involving specific identities can sometimes
   be accomplished, although perhaps less effectively, with similar
   looking identities that mislead some recipients.  For example, if the
   bad actor is able to control the domain "" (note the "one"
   between the p and e), they might be able to convince some recipients
   that a message from is really
   Similar types of attacks using internationalized domain names have
   been hypothesized where it could be very difficult to see character
   differences in popular typefaces.  Similarly, if was
   controlled by a bad actor, the bad actor could sign messages from which might also mislead some recipients.  To
   the extent that these domains are controlled by bad actors, DKIM is
   not effective against these attacks, although it could support the
   ability of reputation and/or accreditation systems to aid the user in
   identifying them.

   DKIM is effective against the use of specific identities only when
   there is an expectation that such messages will, in fact, be signed.
   The primary means for establishing this is the use of Sender Signing
   Practices (SSP), which will be specified by the IETF DKIM Working

3.2.1.  Exploitation of Social Relationships

   One reason for asserting a specific origin address is to encourage a
   recipient to read and act on particular email messages by appearing
   to be an acquaintance or previous correspondent that the recipient
   might trust.  This tactic has been used by email-propagated malware
   which mail themselves to addresses in the infected host's address
   book.  In this case, however, the author's address may not be
   falsified, so DKIM would not be effective in defending against this

   It is also possible for address books to be harvested and used by an
   attacker to post messages from elsewhere.  DKIM could be effective in
   mitigating these acts by limiting the scope of origin addresses for
   which a valid signature can be obtained when sending the messages
   from other locations.

3.2.2.  Identity-Related Fraud

   Bad acts related to email-based fraud often, but not always, involve
   the transmission of messages using specific origin addresses of other
   entities as part of the fraud scheme.  The use of a specific address
   of origin sometimes contributes to the success of the fraud by
   helping convince the recipient that the message was actually sent by
   the alleged author.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 11]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   To the extent that the success of the fraud depends on or is enhanced
   by the use of a specific origin address, the bad actor may have
   significant financial motivation and resources to circumvent any
   measures taken to protect specific addresses from unauthorized use.

   When signatures are verified by or for the recipient, DKIM is
   effective in defending against the fraudulent use of origin addresses
   on signed messages.  When the published sender signing practices of
   the origin address indicate that all messages from that address
   should be signed, DKIM further mitigates against the attempted
   fraudulent use of the origin address on unsigned messages.

3.2.3.  Reputation Attacks

   Another motivation for using a specific origin address in a message
   is to harm the reputation of another, commonly referred to as a "joe-
   job".  For example, a commercial entity might wish to harm the
   reputation of a competitor, perhaps by sending unsolicited bulk email
   on behalf of that competitor.  It is for this reason that reputation
   systems must be based on an identity that is, in practice, fairly

3.2.4.  Reflection Attacks

   A commonly-used tactic by some bad actors is the indirect
   transmission of messages by intentionally mis-addressing the message
   and causing it to be "bounced", or sent to the return address
   (RFC2821 envelope-from address) on the message.  In this case, the
   specific identity asserted in the email is that of the actual target
   of the message, to whom the message is "returned".

   DKIM does not, in general, attempt to validate the RFC2821.mailfrom
   return address on messages, either directly (noting that the mailfrom
   address is an element of the SMTP protocol, and not the message
   content on which DKIM operates), or via the optional Return-Path
   header field.  Furthermore, as is noted in section 4.4 of RFC 2821
   [RFC2821], it is common and useful practice for a message's return
   path not to correspond to the origin address.  For these reasons,
   DKIM is not effective against reflection attacks.

4.  Attacks on Message Signing

   Bad actors can be expected to exploit all of the limitations of
   message authentication systems.  They are also likely to be motivated
   to degrade the usefulness of message authentication systems in order
   to hinder their deployment.  Both the signature mechanism itself and
   declarations made regarding use of message signatures (referred to

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 12]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   here as Sender Signing Practices or SSP) can be expected to be the
   target of attacks.

4.1.  Attacks Against Message Signatures

   Summary of postulated attacks against DKIM signatures:

   | Attack Name                                 | Impact | Likelihood |
   | Theft of private key for domain             |  High  |     Low    |
   | Theft of delegated private key              | Medium |   Medium   |
   | Private key recovery via side channel       |  High  |     Low    |
   | attack                                      |        |            |
   | Chosen message replay                       |   Low  |     M/H    |
   | Signed message replay                       |   Low  |    High    |
   | Denial-of-service attack against verifier   |  High  |   Medium   |
   | Denial-of-service attack against key        |  High  |   Medium   |
   | service                                     |        |            |
   | Canonicalization abuse                      |   Low  |   Medium   |
   | Body length limit abuse                     | Medium |   Medium   |
   | Use of revoked key                          | Medium |     Low    |
   | Compromise of key server                    |  High  |     Low    |
   | Falsification of key service replies        | Medium |   Medium   |
   | Publication of malformed key records and/or |  High  |     Low    |
   | signatures                                  |        |            |
   | Cryptographic weaknesses in signature       |  High  |     Low    |
   | generation                                  |        |            |
   | Display name abuse                          | Medium |    High    |
   | Compromised system within originator's      |  High  |   Medium   |
   | network                                     |        |            |
   | Verification probe attack                   | Medium |   Medium   |
   | Key publication by higher level domain      |  High  |     Low    |

4.1.1.  Theft of Private Key for Domain

   Message signing technologies such as DKIM are vulnerable to theft of
   the private keys used to sign messages.  This includes "out-of-band"
   means for this theft, such as burglary, bribery, extortion, and the
   like, as well as electronic means for such theft, such as a
   compromise of network and host security around the place where a
   private key is stored.

   Keys which are valid for all addresses in a domain typically reside
   in MTAs which should be located in well-protected sites, such as data
   centers.  Various means should be employed for minimizing access to
   private keys, such as non-existence of commands for displaying their

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 13]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   value, although ultimately memory dumps and the like will probably
   contain the keys.  Due to the unattended nature of MTAs, some
   countermeasures, such as the use of a pass phrase to "unlock" a key,
   are not practical to use.  Other mechanisms, such as the use of
   dedicated hardware devices which contain the private key and perform
   the cryptographic signature operation, would be very effective in
   denying export of the private key to those without physical access to
   the device.  Such devices would almost certainly make the theft of
   the key visible, so that appropriate action (revocation of the
   corresponding public key) can be taken should that happen.

4.1.2.  Theft of Delegated Private Key

   There are several circumstances where a domain owner will want to
   delegate the ability to sign messages for the domain to an individual
   user or a third-party associated with an outsourced activity such as
   a corporate benefits administrator or a marketing campaign.  Since
   these keys may exist on less well-protected devices than the domain's
   own MTAs, they will in many cases be more susceptible to compromise.

   In order to mitigate this exposure, keys used to sign such messages
   can be restricted by the domain owner to be valid for signing
   messages only on behalf of specific addresses in the domain.  This
   maintains protection for the majority of addresses in the domain.

   A related threat is the exploitation of weaknesses in the delegation
   process itself.  This threat can be mitigated through the use of
   customary precautions against the theft of private keys and the
   falsification of public keys in transit.  For example, the exposure
   to theft can be minimized if the delegate generates the keypair to be
   used, and sends the public key to the domain owner.  The exposure to
   falsification (substitution of a different public key) can be reduced
   if this transmission is signed by the delegate and verified by the
   domain owner.

4.1.3.  Private Key Recovery via Side Channel Attack

   All popular digital signature algorithms are subject to a variety of
   side channel attacks.  The most well-known of these are timing
   channels [Kocher96], power analysis [Kocher99], and cache timing
   analysis [Bernstein04].  Most of these attacks require either
   physical access to the machine or the ability to run processes
   directly on the target machine.  Defending against these attacks is
   out of scope for DKIM.

   However, remote timing analysis (at least on local area networks) is
   known to be feasible [Boneh03], particularly in server-type platforms
   where the attacker can inject traffic which will immediately subject

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 14]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   to the cryptographic operation in question.  With enough samples,
   these techniques can be used to extract private keys even in the face
   of modest amounts of noise in the timing measurements.

   The three commonly proposed countermeasures against timing analysis

   1.  Make the operation run in constant time.  This turns out in
       practice to be rather difficult.

   2.  Make the time independent of the input data.  This can be
       difficult but see [Boneh03] for more details.

   3.  Use blinding.  This is generally considered the best current
       practice countermeasure, and while not proved generally secure is
       a countermeasure against known timing attacks.  It adds about
       2-10% to the cost of the operation and is implemented in many
       common cryptographic libraries.  Unfortunately, Digital Signature
       Algorithm (DSA) and Elliptic Curve DSA (ECDSA) do not have
       standard methods though some defenses may exist.

   Note that adding random delays to the operation is only a partial
   countermeasure.  Because the noise is generally uniformly
   distributed, a large enough number of samples can be used to average
   it out and extract an accurate timing signal.

4.1.4.  Chosen Message Replay

   Chosen message replay refers to the scenario where the attacker
   creates a message and obtains a signature for it by sending it
   through an MTA authorized by the originating domain to him/herself or
   an accomplice.  They then "replay" the signed message by sending it,
   using different envelope addresses, to a (typically large) number of
   other recipients.

   Due to the requirement to get an attacker-generated message signed,
   chosen message replay would most commonly be experienced by consumer
   ISPs or others offering email accounts to clients, particularly where
   there is little or no accountability to the account holder (the
   attacker in this case).  One approach to solving this problem is for
   the domain to only sign email for clients that have passed a vetting
   process to provide traceability to the message originator in the
   event of abuse.  At present, the low cost of email accounts (zero)
   does not make it practical for any vetting to occur.  It remains to
   be seen whether this will be the model with signed mail as well, or
   whether a higher level of trust will be required to obtain an email

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 15]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   A variation on this attack involves the attacker sending a message
   with the intent of obtaining a signed reply containing their original
   message.  The reply might come from an innocent user or might be an
   automatic response such as a "user unknown" bounce message.  In some
   cases, this signed reply message might accomplish the attacker's
   objectives if replayed.  This variation on chosen message replay can
   be mitigated by limiting the extent to which the original content is
   quoted in automatic replies, and by the use of complementary
   mechanisms such as egress content filtering.

   Revocation of the signature or the associated key is a potential
   countermeasure.  However, the rapid pace at which the message might
   be replayed (especially with an army of "zombie" computers), compared
   with the time required to detect the attack and implement the
   revocation, is likely to be problematic.  A related problem is the
   likelihood that domains will use a small number of signing keys for a
   large number of customers, which is beneficial from a caching
   standpoint but is likely to result in a great deal of collateral
   damage (in the form of signature verification failures) should a key
   be revoked suddenly.

   Signature revocation addresses the collateral damage problem at the
   expense of significant scaling requirements.  At the extreme,
   verifiers could be required to check for revocation of each signature
   verified, which would result in very significant transaction rates.
   An alternative, "revocation identifiers", has been proposed which
   would permit revocation on an intermediate level of granularity,
   perhaps on a per-account basis.  Messages containing these
   identifiers would result in a query to a revocation database, which
   might be represented in DNS.

   Further study is needed to determine if the benefits from revocation
   (given the potential speed of a replay attack) outweigh the
   transactional cost of querying a revocation database.

4.1.5.  Signed Message Replay

   Signed message replay refers to the retransmission of already-signed
   messages to additional recipients beyond those intended by the author
   or the original poster of the message.  The attacker arranges to
   receive a message from the victim, and then retransmits it intact but
   with different envelope addresses.  This might be done, for example,
   to make it look like a legitimate sender of messages is sending a
   large amount of spam.  When reputation services are deployed, this
   could damage the author's reputation or that of the author's domain.

   A larger number of domains are potential victims of signed message
   replay than chosen message replay because the former does not require

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 16]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   the ability for the attacker to send messages from the victim domain.
   However, the capabilities of the attacker are lower.  Unless coupled
   with another attack such as body length limit abuse, it isn't
   possible for the attacker to use this, for example, for advertising.

   Many mailing lists, especially those which do not modify the content
   of the message and signed header fields and hence do not invalidate
   the signature, engage in a form of signed message replay.  The use of
   body length limits and other mechanisms to enhance the survivability
   of messages effectively enhances the ability to do so.  The only
   things that distinguish this case from undesirable forms of signed
   message replay is the intent of the replayer, which cannot be
   determined by the network.

4.1.6.  Denial-of-Service Attack Against Verifier

   While it takes some compute resources to sign and verify a signature,
   it takes negligible compute resources to generate an invalid
   signature.  An attacker could therefore construct a "make work"
   attack against a verifier, by sending a large number of incorrectly-
   signed messages to a given verifier, perhaps with multiple signatures
   each.  The motivation might be to make it too expensive to verify

   While this attack is feasible, it can be greatly mitigated by the
   manner in which the verifier operates.  For example, it might decide
   to accept only a certain number of signatures per message, limit the
   maximum key size it will accept (to prevent outrageously large
   signatures from causing unneeded work), and verify signatures in a
   particular order.  The verifier could also maintain state
   representing the current signature verification failure rate and
   adopt a defensive posture when attacks may be underway.

4.1.7.  Denial-of-Service Attack Against Key Service

   An attacker might also attempt to degrade the availability of an
   originator's key service, in order to cause that originator's
   messages to be unverifiable.  One way to do this might be to quickly
   send a large number of messages with signatures which reference a
   particular key, thereby creating a heavy load on the key server.
   Other types of DoS attacks on the key server or the network
   infrastructure serving it are also possible.

   The best defense against this attack is to provide redundant key
   servers, preferably on geographically-separate parts of the Internet.
   Caching also helps a great deal, by decreasing the load on
   authoritative key servers when there are many simultaneous key
   requests.  The use of a key service protocol which minimizes the

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 17]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   transactional cost of key lookups is also beneficial.  It is noted
   that the Domain Name System has all these characteristics.

4.1.8.  Canonicalization Abuse

   Canonicalization algorithms represent a tradeoff between the survival
   of the validity of a message signature and the desire not to allow
   the message to be altered inappropriately.  In the past,
   canonicalization algorithms have been proposed which would have
   permitted attackers, in some cases, to alter the meaning of a

   Message signatures which support multiple canonicalization algorithms
   give the signer the ability to decide the relative importance of
   signature survivability and immutability of the signed content.  If
   an unexpected vulnerability appears in a canonicalization algorithm
   in general use, new algorithms can be deployed, although it will be a
   slow process because the signer can never be sure which algorithm(s)
   the verifier supports.  For this reason, canonicalization algorithms,
   like cryptographic algorithms, should undergo a wide and careful
   review process.

4.1.9.  Body Length Limit Abuse

   A body length limit is an optional indication from the signer how
   much content has been signed.  The verifier can either ignore the
   limit, verify the specified portion of the message, or truncate the
   message to the specified portion and verify it.  The motivation for
   this feature is the behavior of many mailing lists which add a
   trailer, perhaps identifying the list, at the end of messages.

   When body length limits are used, there is the potential for an
   attacker to add content to the message.  It has been shown that this
   content, although at the end, can cover desirable content, especially
   in the case of HTML messages.

   If the body length isn't specified, or if the verifier decides to
   ignore the limit, body length limits are moot.  If the verifier or
   recipient truncates the message at the signed content, there is no
   opportunity for the attacker to add anything.

   If the verifier observes body length limits when present, there is
   the potential that an attacker can make undesired content visible to
   the recipient.  The size of the appended content makes little
   difference, because it can simply be a URL reference pointing to the
   actual content.  Receiving MUAs can mitigate this threat by, at a
   minimum, identifying the unsigned content in the message.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 18]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

4.1.10.  Use of Revoked Key

   The benefits obtained by caching of key records opens the possibility
   that keys which have been revoked may be used for some period of time
   after their revocation.  The best examples of this occur when a
   holder of a key delegated by the domain administrator must be
   unexpectedly deauthorized from sending mail on behalf of one or more
   addresses in the domain.

   The caching of key records is normally short-lived, on the order of
   hours to days.  In many cases, this threat can be mitigated simply by
   setting a short time-to-live for keys not under the domain
   administrator's direct control (assuming, of course, that control of
   the time-to-live value may be specified for each record, as it can
   with DNS).  In some cases, such as the recovery following a stolen
   private key belonging to one of the domain's MTAs, the possibility of
   theft and the effort required to revoke the key authorization must be
   considered when choosing a TTL.  The chosen TTL must be long enough
   to mitigate denial-of-service attacks and provide reasonable
   transaction efficiency, and no longer.

4.1.11.  Compromise of Key Server

   Rather than by attempting to obtain a private key, an attacker might
   instead focus efforts on the server used to publish public keys for a
   domain.  As in the key theft case, the motive might be to allow the
   attacker to sign messages on behalf of the domain.  This attack
   provides the attacker with the additional capability to remove
   legitimate keys from publication, thereby denying the domain the
   ability for the signatures on its mail to verify correctly.

   In order to limit the ability to sign a message to entities
   authorized by the owner of a signing domain, a relationship must be
   established between the signing address and the location from which a
   public key is obtained to verify the message.  DKIM does this by
   publishing either the public key or a reference to it within the DNS
   hierarchy of the signing domain.  The verifier derives the location
   from which to retrieve the public key from the signing address or
   domain.  The security of the verification process is therefore
   dependent on the security of the DNS hierarchy for the signing

   An attacker might successfully compromise the host which is the
   primary key server for the signing domain, such as the domain's DNS
   master server.  Another approach might be to compromise a higher-
   level DNS server and change the delegation of name servers for the
   signing domain to others under the control of the attacker.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 19]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   This attack can be mitigated somewhat by independent monitoring to
   audit the key service.  Such auditing of the key service should occur
   by means of zone transfers rather than queries to the zone's primary
   server, so that the addition of records to the zone can be detected.

4.1.12.  Falsification of Key Service Replies

   Replies from the key service may also be spoofed by a suitably
   positioned attacker.  For DNS, one such way to do this is "cache
   poisoning", in which the attacker provides unnecessary (and
   incorrect) additional information in DNS replies, which is cached.

   DNSSEC [RFC4033] is the preferred means of mitigating this threat,
   but the current uptake rate for DNSSEC is slow enough that one would
   not like to create a dependency on its deployment.  In the case of a
   cache poisoning attack, the vulnerabilities created by this attack
   are both localized and of limited duration, although records with
   relatively long TTL may be persist beyond the attack itself.

4.1.13.  Publication of Malformed Key Records and/or Signatures

   In this attack, the attacker publishes suitably crafted key records
   or sends mail with intentionally malformed signatures, in an attempt
   to confuse the verifier and perhaps disable verification altogether.
   This attack is really a characteristic of an implementation
   vulnerability, a buffer overflow or lack of bounds checking, for
   example, rather than a vulnerability of the signature mechanism
   itself.  This threat is best mitigated by careful implementation and
   creation of test suites that challenge the verification process.

4.1.14.  Cryptographic Weaknesses in Signature Generation

   The cryptographic algorithms used to generate mail signatures,
   specifically the hash algorithm and digital signature generation and
   verification operations, may over time be subject to mathematical
   techniques that degrade their security.  At this writing, the SHA-1
   hash algorithm is the subject of extensive mathematical analysis
   which has considerably lowered the time required to create two
   messages with the same hash value.  This trend can be expected to

   One consequence of a weakness in the hash algorithm is a hash
   collision attack.  Hash collision attacks in message signing systems
   involve the same person creating two different messages that have the
   same hash value, where only one of the two messages would normally be
   signed.  The attack is based on the second message inheriting the
   signature of the first.  For DKIM, this means that a sender might
   create a "good" message and a "bad" message, where some filter at the

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 20]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   signing party's site would sign the good message but not the bad
   message.  The attacker gets the good message signed, and then
   incorporates that signature in the bad message.  This scenario is not
   common, but could happen, for example, at a site that does content
   analysis on messages before signing them.

   Current known attacks against SHA-1 make this attack extremely
   difficult to mount, but as attacks improve and computing power
   becomes more readily available, such an attack could become

   The message signature system must be designed to support multiple
   signature and hash algorithms, and the signing domain must be able to
   specify which algorithms it uses to sign messages.  The choice of
   algorithms must be published in key records, and not only in the
   signature itself, to ensure that an attacker is not able to create
   signatures using algorithms weaker than the domain wishes to permit.

   Due to the fact that the signer and verifier of email do not, in
   general, communicate directly, negotiation of the algorithms used for
   signing cannot occur.  In other words, a signer has no way of knowing
   which algorithm(s) a verifier supports, nor (due to mail forwarding)
   where the verifier is.  For this reason, it is expected that once
   message signing is widely deployed, algorithm change will occur
   slowly, and legacy algorithms will need to be supported for a
   considerable period.  Algorithms used for message signatures
   therefore need to be secure against expected cryptographic
   developments several years into the future.

4.1.15.  Display Name Abuse

   Message signatures only relate to the address-specification portion
   of an email address, while some MUAs only display (or some recipients
   only pay attention to) the display name portion of the address.  This
   inconsistency leads to an attack where the attacker uses a From
   header field such as:

   From: "Dudley DoRight" <>

   In this example, the attacker,, can sign the
   message and still convince some recipients that the message is from
   Dudley DoRight, who is presumably a trusted individual.  Coupled with
   the use of a throw-away domain or email address, it may be difficult
   to hold the attacker accountable for using another's display name.

   This is an attack which must be dealt with in the recipient's MUA.
   One approach is to require that the signer's address specification
   (and not just the display name) be visible to the recipient.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 21]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

4.1.16.  Compromised System Within Originator's Network

   In many cases, MTAs may be configured to accept and sign messages
   that originate within the topological boundaries of the originator's
   network (i.e., within a firewall).  The increasing use of compromised
   systems to send email presents a problem for such policies, because
   the attacker, using a compromised system as a proxy, can generate
   signed mail at will.

   Several approaches exist for mitigating this attack.  The use of
   authenticated submission, even within the network boundaries, can be
   used to limit the addresses for which the attacker may obtain a
   signature.  It may also help locate the compromised system that is
   the source of the messages more quickly.  Content analysis of
   outbound mail to identify undesirable and malicious content, as well
   as monitoring of the volume of messages being sent by users, may also
   prevent arbitrary messages from being signed and sent.

4.1.17.  Verification Probe Attack

   As noted above, bad actors (attackers) can sign messages on behalf of
   domains they control.  Since they may also control the key service
   (e.g., the authoritative DNS name servers for the _domainkey
   subdomain), it is possible for them to observe public key lookups,
   and their source, when messages are verified.

   One such attack, which we will refer to as a "verification probe", is
   to send a message with a DKIM signature to each of many addresses in
   a mailing list.  The messages need not contain valid signatures, and
   each instance of the message would typically use a different
   selector.  The attacker could then monitor key service requests and
   determine which selectors had been accessed, and correspondingly
   which addressees used DKIM verification.  This could be used to
   target future mailings at recipients who do not use DKIM
   verification, on the premise that these addressees are more likely to
   act on the message contents.

4.1.18.  Key Publication by Higher Level Domain

   In order to support the ability of a domain to sign for subdomains
   under its administrative control, DKIM permits the domain of a
   signature (d= tag) to be any higher-level domain than the signature's
   address (i= or equivalent).  However, since there is no mechanism for
   determining common administrative control of a subdomain, it is
   possible for a parent to publish keys which are valid for any domain
   below them in the DNS hierarchy.  In other words, mail from the
   domain could be signed using keys published by,, or us, in addition to the domain itself.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 22]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   Operation of a domain always requires a trust relationship with
   higher level domains.  Higher level domains already have ultimate
   power over their subdomains:  they could change the name server
   delegation for the domain or disenfranchise it entirely.  So it is
   unlikely that a higher level domain would intentionally compromise a
   subdomain in this manner.  However, if higher level domains send mail
   on their own behalf, they may wish to publish keys at their own
   level.  Higher level domains must employ special care in the
   delegation of keys they publish to ensure that any of their
   subdomains are not compromised by misuse of such keys.

4.2.  Attacks Against Message Signing Policy

   Summary of postulated attacks against signing policy:

   | Attack Name                                 | Impact | Likelihood |
   | Look-alike domain names                     |  High  |    High    |
   | Internationalized domain name abuse         |  High  |    High    |
   | Denial-of-service attack against signing    | Medium |   Medium   |
   | policy                                      |        |            |
   | Use of multiple From addresses              |   Low  |   Medium   |
   | Abuse of third-party signatures             | Medium |    High    |
   | Falsification of Sender Signing Policy      | Medium |   Medium   |
   | replies                                     |        |            |

4.2.1.  Look-Alike Domain Names

   Attackers may attempt to circumvent signing policy of a domain by
   using a domain name which is close to, but not the same as the domain
   with a signing policy.  For instance, "" might be replaced
   by "".  If the message is not to be signed, DKIM does not
   require that the domain used actually exist (although other
   mechanisms may make this a requirement).  Services exist to monitor
   domain registrations to identify potential domain name abuse, but
   naturally do not identify the use of unregistered domain names.

   A related attack is possible when the MUA does not render the domain
   name in an easily recognizable format.  If, for example, a Chinese
   domain name is rendered in "punycode" as, the
   unfamiliarity of that representation may enable other domains to more
   easily be mis-recognized as the expected domain.

   Users that are unfamiliar with internet naming conventions may also
   mis-recognize certain names.  For example, users may confuse with, the latter of which may

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 23]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   have been registered by an attacker.

4.2.2.  Internationalized Domain Name Abuse

   Internationalized domain names present a special case of the look-
   alike domain name attack described above.  Due to similarities in the
   appearance of many Unicode characters, domains (particularly those
   drawing characters from different groups) may be created which are
   visually indistinguishable from other, possibly high-value domains.
   This is discussed in detail in Unicode TR 36 [UTR36].  Surveillance
   of domain registration records may point out some of these, but there
   are many such similarities.  As in the look-alike domain attack
   above, this technique may also be used to circumvent sender signing
   policy of other domains.

4.2.3.  Denial-of-Service Attack Against Signing Policy

   Just as the publication of public keys by a domain can be impacted by
   an attacker, so can the publication of Sender Signing Policy (SSP) by
   a domain.  In the case of SSP, the transmission of large amounts of
   unsigned mail purporting to come from the domain can result in a
   heavy transaction load requesting the SSP record.  More general DoS
   attacks against the servers providing the SSP records are possible as
   well.  This is of particular concern since the default signing policy
   is "we don't sign everything", which means that SSP, in effect, fails

   As with defense against DoS attacks for key servers, the best defense
   against this attack is to provide redundant servers, preferably on
   geographically-separate parts of the Internet.  Caching again helps a
   great deal, and signing policy should rarely change, so TTL values
   can be relatively large.

4.2.4.  Use of Multiple From Addresses

   Although this usage is never seen by most recipients, RFC 2822
   [RFC2822] permits the From address to contain multiple address
   specifications.  The lookup of Sender Signing Policy is based on the
   From address, so if addresses from multiple domains are in the From
   address, the question arises which signing policy to use.  A rule
   (say, "use the first address") could be specified, but then an
   attacker could put a throwaway address prior to that of a high-value
   domain.  It is also possible for SSP to look at all addresses, and
   choose the most restrictive rule.  This is an area in need of further

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 24]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

4.2.5.  Abuse of Third-Party Signatures

   In a number of situations, including mailing lists, event
   invitations, and "send this article to a friend" services, the DKIM
   signature on a message may not come from the originating address
   domain.  For this reason, "third-party" signatures, those attached by
   the mailing list, invitation service, or news service, frequently
   need to be regarded as having some validity.  Since this effectively
   makes it possible for any domain to sign any message, a sending
   domain may publish sender signing practices stating that it does not
   use such services, and accordingly that verifiers should view such
   signatures with suspicion.

   However, the restrictions placed on a domain by publishing "no third-
   party" signing practices effectively disallows many existing uses of
   e-mail.  For the majority of domains that are unable to adopt these
   practices, an attacker may with some degree of success sign messages
   purporting to come from the domain.  For this reason, accreditation
   and reputation services, as well as locally-maintained whitelists and
   blacklists, will need to play a significant role in evaluating
   messages that have been signed by third parties.

4.2.6.  Falsification of Sender Signing Policy Replies

   In an analogous manner to the falsification of key service replies
   described in Section 4.1.12, replies to sender signing policy queries
   can also be falsified.  One such attack would be to weaken the
   signing policy to make unsigned messages allegedly from a given
   domain appear less suspicious.  Another attack on a victim domain
   that is not signing messages could attempt to make the domain's
   messages look more suspicious, in order to interfere with the
   victim's ability to send mail.

   As with the falsification of key service replies, DNSSEC is the
   preferred means of mitigating this attack.  Even in the absence of
   DNSSEC, vulnerabilities due to cache poisoning are localized.

4.3.  Other Attacks

   This section describes attacks against other internet infrastructure
   which are enabled by deployment of DKIM.  A summary of these
   postulated attacks is as follows:

      | Attack Name                          | Impact | Likelihood |
      | Packet amplification attacks via DNS |   N/A  |   Medium   |

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 25]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

4.3.1.  Packet Amplification Attacks via DNS

   Recently [US-CERT-DNS], an increase in denial-of-service attacks
   involving the transmission of spoofed UDP DNS requests to openly-
   accessible domain name servers.  To the extent that the response from
   the name server is larger than the request, the name server functions
   as an amplifier for such an attack.

   DKIM contributes indirectly to this attack by requiring the
   publication of fairly large DNS records for distributing public keys.
   The names of these records are also well known, since the record
   names can be determined by examining properly-signed messages.  This
   attack does not have an impact on DKIM itself.  DKIM, however, is not
   the only application which uses large DNS records, and a DNS-based
   solution to this problem will likely be required.

5.  Derived Requirements

   This section lists requirements for DKIM not explicitly stated in the
   above discussion.  These requirements include:

      The store for key and SSP records must be capable of utilizing
      multiple geographically-dispersed servers.

      Key and SSP records must be cacheable, either by the verifier
      requesting them or by other infrastructure.

      The cache time-to-live for key records must be specifiable on a
      per-record basis.

      The signature algorithm identifier in the message must be one of
      the ones listed in a key record for the identified domain.

      The algorithm(s) used for message signatures need to be secure
      against expected cryptographic developments several years in the

6.  IANA Considerations

   {{{ RFC Editor:  Please delete this section prior to publication. }}}

   This document defines no items requiring IANA assignment.

7.  Security Considerations

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 26]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   This document describes the security threat environment in which
   DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is expected to provide some
   benefit, and presents a number of attacks relevant to its deployment.

8.  Informative References

              Bernstein, D., "Cache Timing Attacks on AES", April 2004.

   [Boneh03]  Boneh, D. and D. Brumley, "Remote Timing Attacks are
              Practical", Proc. 12th USENIX Security Symposium, 2003.

              Allman, E., "DKIM Sender Signing Policy",
              draft-allman-dkim-ssp-01 (work in progress), October 2005.

              Allman, E., "DomainKeys Identified Mail Signatures
              (DKIM)", draft-ietf-dkim-base-00 (work in progress),
              February 2006.

              Kocher, P., "Timing Attacks on Implementations of Diffie-
              Hellman, RSA, and other Cryptosystems", Advances in
              Cryptology, pages 104-113, 1996.

              Kocher, P., Joffe, J., and B. Yun, "Differential Power
              Analysis: Leaking Secrets", Crypto '99, pages 388-397,

   [RFC1939]  Myers, J. and M. Rose, "Post Office Protocol - Version 3",
              STD 53, RFC 1939, May 1996.

   [RFC2821]  Klensin, J., "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol", RFC 2821,
              April 2001.

   [RFC2822]  Resnick, P., "Internet Message Format", RFC 2822,
              April 2001.

              4rev1", RFC 3501, March 2003.

   [RFC4033]  Arends, R., Austein, R., Larson, M., Massey, D., and S.
              Rose, "DNS Security Introduction and Requirements",
              RFC 4033, March 2005.


Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 27]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

              US-CERT, "The Continuing Denial of Service Threat Posed by
              DNS Recursion".

   [UTR36]    Davis, M. and M. Suignard, "Unicode Technical Report #36:
              Unicode Security Considerations", UTR 36, July 2005.

Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   The author wishes to thank Phillip Hallam-Baker, Eliot Lear, Tony
   Finch, Dave Crocker, Barry Leiba, Arvel Hathcock, Eric Allman, Jon
   Callas, Stephen Farrell, Doug Otis, Frank Ellermann, Eric Rescorla,
   Paul Hoffman, Hector Santos, and numerous others on the ietf-dkim
   mailing list for valuable suggestions and constructive criticism of
   earlier versions of this draft.

Appendix B.  Edit History

   {{{ RFC Editor:  Please delete this section prior to publication. }}}

   Changes since draft-fenton-dkim-threats-00 draft:

   o  Changed beginning of introduction to make it consistent with -base

   o  Clarified reasons for focus on externally-located bad actors.

   o  Elaborated on reasons for effectiveness of address book attacks.

   o  Described attack time windows with respect to replay attacks.

   o  Added discussion of attacks using look-alike domains.

   o  Added section on key management attacks.

   Changes since draft-fenton-dkim-threats-01 draft:

   o  Reorganized description of bad actors.

   o  Greatly expanded description of attacks against DKIM and SSP.

   o  Added "derived requirements" section.

   Changes since draft-fenton-dkim-threats-02 draft:

   o  Added description of reflection attack, verification probe attack,
      and abuse of third-party signatures.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 28]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

   o  Expanded description of key delegation attacks and look-alike
      domain names.

   o  Numerous changes suggested by ietf-dkim mailing list participants.

   Changes since draft-ietf-dkim-threats-00 draft:

   o  Added description of key publication by higher level domain

   o  Added description of falsification of SSP replies.

   o  Added section on other threats and description of packet
      amplification attacks via DNS.

   Changes since draft-ietf-dkim-threats-01 draft:

   o  Reworded document structure introduction.

   o  Less normative wording for mitigation of theft of delegated
      private key and body length limit abuse.

   o  Added description of reply variant of chosen message replay.

   o  Terminology changes to avoid ambiguous use of the word "sender"
      suggested by D. Crocker..

   o  Additional description of hash collision attacks provided by P.

   o  Replaced section on side channel attacks with text provided by E.

   o  Numerous minor edits and clarifications.

   Changes since draft-ietf-dkim-threats-02 draft:

   o  Numerous editorial changes proposed by R. Housley.

   o  Improved context for description of compromise of key server.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 29]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

Author's Address

   Jim Fenton
   Cisco Systems, Inc.
   MS SJ-24/2
   170 W. Tasman Drive
   San Jose, CA  95134-1706

   Phone:  +1 408 526 5914

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 30]
Internet-Draft            DKIM Threat Analysis                  May 2006

Intellectual Property Statement

   The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
   Intellectual Property Rights or other rights that might be claimed to
   pertain to the implementation or use of the technology described in
   this document or the extent to which any license under such rights
   might or might not be available; nor does it represent that it has
   made any independent effort to identify any such rights.  Information
   on the procedures with respect to rights in RFC documents can be
   found in BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Copies of IPR disclosures made to the IETF Secretariat and any
   assurances of licenses to be made available, or the result of an
   attempt made to obtain a general license or permission for the use of
   such proprietary rights by implementers or users of this
   specification can be obtained from the IETF on-line IPR repository at

   The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention any
   copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other proprietary
   rights that may cover technology that may be required to implement
   this standard.  Please address the information to the IETF at

Disclaimer of Validity

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).  This document is subject
   to the rights, licenses and restrictions contained in BCP 78, and
   except as set forth therein, the authors retain all their rights.


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.

Fenton                  Expires November 27, 2006              [Page 31]