Skip to main content

IP Authentication Header

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 1826.
Authors Randall Atkinson , Stephen Kent
Last updated 2013-03-02 (Latest revision 1995-04-26)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Additional resources Mailing list discussion
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state RFC 1826 (Proposed Standard)
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD (None)
Send notices to (None)
Network Working Group                                    Randall Atkinson
Internet Draft                                  Naval Research Laboratory
draft-ietf-ipsec-auth-01.txt                                25 April 1995

                        IP Authentication Header


     This document is an Internet Draft.  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 Drafts.

     Internet Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of 6 months.
   Internet Drafts may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other
   documents at any time. It is not appropriate to use Internet Drafts as
   reference material or to cite them other than as a "working draft" or
   "work in progress".  Please check the I-D abstract listing contained
   in each Internet Draft directory to learn the current status of this
   or any other Internet Draft.

     This particular Internet Draft is a product of the IETF's IPng and
   IPsec Working Groups.  It is intended that a future version of this
   draft will be submitted for consideration as a standards-track
   document.  Distribution of this document is unlimited.

     This document describes a mechanism for providing cryptographic
   authentication for IPv4 and IPv6 datagrams.  An Authentication Header
   (AH) is normally inserted after the main IP header and before the
   other information being authenticated.


     The  Authentication Header is a mechanism for providing strong
   integrity and authentication for IP datagrams.  It might also provide
   non-repudiation, depending on which cryptographic algorithm is used
   and how keying is performed.  For example, use of an asymmetric
   digital signature algorithm, for example RSA, could provide

     Confidentiality, and protection from traffic analysis are not

Atkinson                                                        [Page 1]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   provided by the Authentication Header.  Users desiring confidentiality
   should consider using the IP Encapsulating Security Protocol (ESP)
   either in lieu of or in conjunction with the Authentication
   Header. [Atk95b] This document assumes the reader has previously read
   the related IP Security Architecture document which defines the
   overall security architecture for IP and provides important background
   information for this specification. [Atk95a]

1.1 Overview
     The IP Authentication Header seeks to provide security by
   adding authentication information to an IP datagram. This
   authentication information is calculated using all of the fields in
   the IP datagram (including not only the IP Header but also other
   headers and the user data) which do not change in transit.  Fields
   which need to change in transit (e.g "hop count" or "routing pointer")
   are omitted from the calculation of the authentication data.  This
   provides significantly more security than is currently present in IPv4
   and might be sufficient for the needs of many users.

     Use of this specification will increase the IP protocol processing
   costs in participating end systems and will also increase the
   communications latency.  The increased latency is primarily due to the
   calculation of the authentication data by the sender and the calculation
   and comparison of the authentication data by the receiver for each IP
   datagram containing an Authentication Header.  The impact will vary
   with authentication algorithm used and other factors.

     In order for the Authentication Header to work properly without
   changing the entire Internet infrastructure, the authentication data
   is carried in its own payload.  Systems that aren't participating in
   the authentication MAY ignore the Authentication Data.  When used with
   IPv6, the Authentication Header is normally placed after the
   Hop-by-Hop header, which is examined at each hop, and before the
   End-to-End Header, which is never examined at an intermediate hop.
   The information in the other IP headers is used to route the datagram
   from origin to destination.  When used with IPv4, the Authentication
   Header immediately follows the main IPv4 header.

     If a symmetric authentication algorithm is used and intermediate
   authentication is desired, then the nodes performing such intermediate
   authentication would need to be provided with the appropriate keys.
   Possession of those keys would permit any one of those systems to
   forge traffic claiming to be from the legitimate sender to the
   legitimate receiver or to modify the contents of otherwise legitimate
   traffic.  In some environments such intermediate authentication might
   be desirable. [BCCH94] If an asymmetric authentication algorithm is
   used and the routers are aware of the appropriate public keys and
   authentication algorithm, then the routers possessing the

Atkinson                                                        [Page 2]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   authentication public key could authenticate the traffic being handled
   without being able to forge or modify otherwise legitimate traffic.
   Also, Path MTU Discovery MUST be used when intermediate
   authentication of the Authentication Header is desired and IPv4 is in
   use because it is not possible to authenticate a fragement of a
   packet. [MD90] [Kno93]

1.2 Requirements Terminology

     In this document, the words that are used to define the significance
   of each particular requirement are usually capitalised.  These words

   - MUST

     This word or the adjective "REQUIRED" means that the item is an
   absolute requirement of the specification.


     This word or the adjective "RECOMMENDED" means that there might
   exist valid reasons in particular circumstances to ignore this item,
   but the full implications should be understood and the case carefully
   weighed before taking a different course.

   - MAY

     This word or the adjective "OPTIONAL" means that this item is truly
   optional.  One vendor might choose to include the item because a
   particular marketplace requires it or because it enhances the product,
   for example; another vendor may omit the same item.


     Key management is an important part of the IP security architecture.
   However, it is not integrated with this specification because of a
   long history in the public literature of subtle flaws in key
   management algorithms and protocols.  The IP Authentication Header
   tries to decouple the key management mechanisms from the security
   protocol mechanisms.  The only coupling between the key management
   protocol and the security protocol is with the Security Association
   Identifier (SPI), which is described in more detail below.  This
   decoupling permits several different key management mechanisms to be
   used.  More importantly, it permits the key management protocol to be
   changed or corrected without unduly impacting the security protocol

     The key management mechanism is used to negotiate a number of

Atkinson                                                        [Page 3]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   parameters for each "Security Association", including not only the
   keys but also other information (e.g. the authentication algorithm and
   mode) used by the communicating parties.  The key management mechanism
   creates and maintains a logical table containing the several
   parameters for each current security association.  An implementation
   of the IP Authentication Header will need to read that logical table
   of security parameters to determine how to process each datagram
   containing an Authentication Header (e.g. to determine which
   algorithm/mode and key to use in authentication).  The combination of
   Destination Address and SPI value is used to identify the appropriate
   Security Association and hence the security parameters in use.

     The IP Security Architecture document describes key management in
   detail.  It includes specification of the key management requirements
   for this protocol, and is incorporated here by reference. [Atk95a]


     The Authentication Header (AH) may appear after any other headers
   which are examined at each hop, and before any other headers which
   are not examined at an intermediate hop.  The IPv4 or IPv6 header
   immediately preceding the Authentication Header will contain the value
   51 in its Next Header (or Protocol) field. [STD-2]

     Example high-level diagrams of IP datagrams with the Authentication
   Header follow.

 | IPv6 Header | Hop-by-Hop/Routing | Auth Header | Others | Upper Protocol |

                IPv6 Example
     When used with IPv6, the Authentication Header normally appears after
   the IPv6 Hop-by-Hop Header and before the IPv6 Destination Options.

 | IPv4 Header |  Auth Header | Upper Protocol (e.g TCP, UDP) |

                IPv4 Example
     When used with IPv4, the Authentication Header normally follows the
   main IPv4 header.

3.1 Authentication Header Syntax

     The authentication data is the output of the authentication
   algorithm calculated over the the entire IP datagram as described in

Atkinson                                                        [Page 4]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   more detail later in this document.  The authentication calculation
   must treat the Authentication Data field itself and all fields that
   are normally modified in transit (e.g. TTL or Hop Limit) as if those
   fields contained all zeros.  All other Authentication Header fields
   are included in the authentication calculation normally.

     The IP Authentication Header has the following syntax:

     | Next Header  | Length        |  RESERVED                     |
     |                    Security Parameters Index                 |
     |      Authentication Data (variable number of 32-bit words)   |
     |                     (more Authentication Data)               |

3.2 Fields of the Authentication Header

        8 bits wide.  Identifies the next payload after the Authentication
      Payload.  This values in this field are the set of IP Protocol Numbers
      as defined in the most recent RFC from the Internet Assigned Numbers
      Authority (IANA) describing "Assigned Numbers". [STD-2]

        8 bits wide.  The length of the Authentication Data field in 32-bit
      words.  Minimum value is 0 words, which is only used in the degenerate
      case of a "null" authentication algorithm.

        Reserved for future use.  MUST be set to all zeros when sent and
      ignored upon receipt.


        A 32-bit pseudo-random value identifying the security association
      for this datagram.  The Ssecurity Parameters Index value 0 is
      reserved to indicate that "no security association exists".

        The set of Security Parameters Index values in the range 1
      through 255 are reserved to the Internet Assigned Numbers
      Authority (IANA) for future use.  A reserved SPI value will not
      normally be assigned by IANA unless the use of that particular
      assigned SPI value is openly specified in an RFC.

Atkinson                                                        [Page 5]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   _?A_?U_?T_?H_?E_?N_?T_?I_?C_?A_?T_?I_?O_?N _?D_?A_?T_?A
        This length of this field is variable, but is always an integral
      number of 32-bit words.

        Many implementations require padding to other alignments, such as
      64-bits, in order to improve performance.  All implementations MUST
      support such padding, which is specified by the Destination on a per
      SPI basis.

        An implementation will normally use the combination of Destination
      Address and SPI to locate the Security Association which specifies
      the field's size and use.  The field retains the same format
      for all datagrams of any given SPI and Destination Address pair.

        The Authentication Data fills the field beginning immediately after
      the SPI field.  If the field is longer than necessary to store the
      actual authentication data, then the unused bit positions are filled
      with unspecified, implementation-dependent values.  Those unused
      bit positions MUST be ignored upon receipt.

        Refer to each Authentication Mechanism specification for more
      information regarding the contents of this field.

3.3 Sensitivity Labeling

     As is discussed in greater detail in the IP Security Architecture
   document, IPv6 will normally use implicit Security Labels rather than
   the explicit labels that are currently used with IPv4. [Ken91]
   [Atk95a] In some situations, users MAY choose to carry explicit labels
   (for example, IPSO labels as defined by RFC-1108 might be used with
   IPv4) in addition to using the implicit labels provided by the
   Authentication Header.  Explicit label options could be defined for
   use with IPv6 (e.g. using the IPv6 end-to-end options header or the
   IPv6 hop-by-hop options header).  Implementations MAY support explicit
   labels in addition to implicit labels, but implementations are not
   required to support explicit labels.  If explicit labels are in use,
   then the explicit label MUST be included in the authentication


     The authentication data is usually calculated using a message digest
   algorithm (for example, MD5) either encrypting that message digest or
   keying the message digest directly. [Riv92] Only algorithms that are
   believed to be cryptographically strong one-way functions should be
   used with this header.

Atkinson                                                        [Page 6]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

     Because conventional checksums (e.g.  CRC-16) are not
   cryptographically strong and can be reverse-engineered, they MUST NOT
   be used with the Authentication Header.

     If a block-oriented authentication algorithm (e.g. MD5, MD4) is in
   use and the IP packet is not an integral number of blocks, the
   authentication data calculation is performed using zero bytes at the
   end to pad the length out to an integral number of blocks.  [Riv92]
   These block padding bytes are not included in the actual IP datagram
   and are not sent over the wire because adding padding at that point in
   IP protocol processing would make implementation of the MTU related
   calculations very difficult.

     The appropriate Security Association is first selected.  This
   selection is based at least upon the sending userid and the
   Destination Address.  When host-oriented keying is in use, all sending
   userids will share the same Security Association to a given
   destination.  When user-oriented keying is in use, then different
   users or possibly even different applications of the same user might
   use different Security Associations.  The Security Association
   selected will indicate which algorithm, algorithm mode, key, and other
   properties apply to the outgoing packet.

     Fields which NECESSARILY are modified during transit from the sender
   to the receiver (e.g. TTL or Hop Count) are included in the
   authentication data calculation but the value zero is substituted for
   the actual value of such fields in the IP packet.  This substitution
   of zero is used instead of omitting those fields because it preserves
   alignment throughout the authentication data calculation and thereby
   can significantly improve performance.

     The sender MUST compute the authentication over the packet as it
   will appear at the receiver.  This requirement is placed in order to
   allow for future IP optional headers which the receiver might not
   know about but the sender necessarily knows about if it is including
   such options in the packet.  The sender places the calculated message
   digest algorithm output into the Authentication Data field within the
   Authentication Header.

     Upon receipt of a packet containing an IP Authentication Header, the
   receiver first uses the Destination Address and SPI value to locate
   the correct Security Association.  The receiver then independently
   calculates the authentication data for the received packet.  It then
   compares the received Authentication Data field contents with the
   calculated authentication value. If the two match, then the datagram
   is accepted as authentic.  If they differ, then the receiver SHOULD
   discard the received IP datagram as non-authentic and MUST record the
   authentication failure in the system log or audit log.  If such a

Atkinson                                                        [Page 7]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   failure occurs, the recorded log data MUST include the SPI value,
   date/time received, clear-text Sending Address, clear-text Destination
   Address, and clear-text Flow ID.  The log data MAY also include other
   information about the failed packet.

     Not all of the fields of the IPv6 Hop-by-Hop Options header are
   included in the authentication calculation.  The third-highest-order
   bit of the Option Type field within the IPv6 Hop-by-Hop Options Header
   indicates whether any particular option is included within the
   authentication calculation or is omitted from the authentication
   calculation.  If the particular option is to be omitted, that option
   is skipped over during the authentication calculation as if it were
   not present.  Because of this bit encoding, an implementation can
   authenticate newly defined IPv6 hop-by-hop options without having to
   modify the authentication portion of the IP implementation.  The IPv6
   specification provides additional information on the IPv6 Hop-by-Hop
   Options Header. [Hin94]

     Implementations that claim conformance or compliance with this
   specification MUST fully implement the header described here, MUST
   support manual key distribution for use with this option, MUST comply
   with all requirements of the "Security Architecuture for the Internet
   Protocol" [Atk95a], and MUST support the use of keyed MD5 as described
   in the companion document entitled "IP Authentication using Keyed MD5"
   [MS95].  Implementations MAY also implement other authentication
   algorithms.  Implementors should consult the most recent version of
   the "IAB Official Standards" RFC for further guidance on the status of
   this document.


     This entire RFC discusses an authentication mechanism for IP.
   This mechanism is not a panacea to the several security issues in any
   internetwork, however it does provide a component useful in building a
   secure internetwork.

     Users need to understand that the quality of the security provided
   by this specification depends completely on the strength of whichever
   cryptographic algorithm has been implemented, the strength of the key
   being used, the correctness of that algorithm's implementation, upon
   the security of the key management mechanism and its implementation,
   and upon the correctness of the IP Authentication Header and IP
   implementations in all of the participating systems. If any of these
   assumptions do not hold, then little or no real security will be
   provided to the user.  Implementers are encouraged to use high
   assurance methods to develop all of the security relevant parts of
   their products.

Atkinson                                                        [Page 8]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

     Users interested in confidentiality should consider using the IP
   Encapsulating Security Payload (ESP) instead of or in conjunction with
   this specification. [Atk95b] Users seeking protection from traffic
   analysis might consider the use of appropriate link encryption.
   Description and specification of link encryption is outside the scope
   of this note. [VK83] Users interested in combining the IP
   Authentication Header with the IP Encapsulating Security Payload
   should consult the IP Encapsulating Security Payload specification
   for details.

     One particular issue is that in some cases a packet which causes an
   error to be reported back via ICMP might be so large as not to
   entirely fit within the ICMP message returned.  In such cases, it
   might not be possible for the receiver of the ICMP message to
   independently authenticate the portion of the returned message.  This
   could mean that the host receiving such an ICMP message would either
   trust an unauthenticated ICMP message, which might in turn create some
   security problem, or not trust and hence not react appropriately to
   some legitimate ICMP message that should have been reacted to.  It
   is not clear that this issue can be fully resolved in the presence of
   packets that are the same size as or larger than the minimum IP MTU.
   Similar complications arise if an encrypted packet causes an ICMP
   error message to be sent and that packet is truncated.

     Active attacks are now widely known to exist in the Internet
   [CER95].  The presence of active attacks means that unauthenticated
   source routing, either unidirectional (receive-only) or with replies
   following the original received source route represents a significant
   security risk unless all received source routed packets are
   authenticated using the IP Authentication Header or some other
   cryptologic mechanism.  It is noteworthy that the attacks described in
   [CER95] include a subset of those described in [Bel89].

     This documented benefited greatly from work done by Bill Simpson, Perry
   Metzger, and Phil Karn to make general the approach originally defined
   by the author for SIP, SIPP, and finally IPv6.

     The basic concept here is derived in large part from the SNMPv2
   Security Protocol work described in [GM93].  Steve Bellovin, Steve
   Deering, Frank Kastenholz, Dave Mihelcic, and Hilarie Orman provided
   thoughtful critiques of early versions of this note.  Francis Dupont
   discovered and pointed out the security issue with ICMP in low IP MTU
   links that is noted just above.

   [Atk95a] Randall Atkinson, Security Architecture for the Internet Protocol,
           draft-ietf-ipsec-arch-sec-01.txt,  25 April 1995.

Atkinson                                                        [Page 9]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   [Atk95b] Randall Atkinson, IP Encapsulating Security Payload,
           draft-ietf-ipsec-esp-01.txt, 25 April 1995.

   [Bel89] Steven M. Bellovin, "Security Problems in the TCP/IP Protocol Suite",
           ACM Computer Communications Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, March 1989.

   [BCCH94] R. Braden, D. Clark, S. Crocker, & C.Huitema, "Report of IAB Workshop
           on Security in the Internet Architecture", RFC-1636, DDN Network
           Information Center, 9 June 1994, pp. 21-34.

   [CER95] Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), "IP Spoofing Attacks and
           Hijacked Terminal Connections", CA-95:01, January 1995.
           Available via anonymous ftp from in /pub/cert_advisories.

   [GM93]  James Galvin & Keith McCloghrie, Security Protocols for version 2
           of the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMPv2), RFC-1446,
           DDN Network Information Center, April 1993.

   [Hin94] Bob Hinden (Editor), Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) Specification,
           draft-hinden-ipv6-spec-00.txt, October 1994.

   [Ken91] Steve Kent, "US DoD Security Options for the Internet Protocol",
           RFC-1108, DDN Network Information Center, November 1991.

   [Kno93] Steve Knowles, "IESG Advice from Experience with Path MTU Discovery",
           RFC-1435, DDN Network Information Center, March 1993.

   [MS95]  Perry Metzger & Bill Simpson, "IP Authentication with Keyed MD5",
           Work in Progress, 21 March 1995.

   [MD90]  Jeff Mogul & Steve Deering, "Path MTU Discovery", RFC-1191,
           DDN Network Information Center, November 1990.

   [STD-2] J. Reynolds & J. Postel, "Assigned Numbers", STD-2,
           DDN Network Information Center, 20 October 1994.

   [Riv92] Ronald Rivest, MD5 Digest Algorithm, RFC-1321, DDN Network Information
           Center, April 1992.

   [VK83]  V.L. Voydock & S.T. Kent, "Security Mechanisms in High-level Networks",
           ACM Computing Surveys, Vol. 15, No. 2, June 1983.


     The views and specification here are those of the author and are not
   necessarily those of his employer.  The Naval Research Laboratory has
   not passed judgement on the merits, if any, of this work.  The author
   and his employer specifically disclaim responsibility for any problems

Atkinson                                                       [Page 10]
Internet Draft          IP Authentication Header           25 April 1995

   arising from correct or incorrect implementation or use of this


   Randall Atkinson <>
   Information Technology Division
   Naval Research Laboratory
   Washington, DC 20375-5320

   Phone:  (DSN) 354-8590
   Fax:    (DSN) 354-7942

Atkinson                                                       [Page 11]