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Trait-Based Authorization Requirements for the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)

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 4484.
Authors Jon Peterson , Douglas Sicker , Hannes Tschofenig , James Polk
Last updated 2015-10-14 (Latest revision 2006-01-27)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Informational
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IESG IESG state Became RFC 4484 (Informational)
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Responsible AD Allison J. Mankin
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SIPPING WG                                                   J. Peterson
Internet-Draft                                                   NeuStar
Expires: August 5, 2006                                          J. Polk
                                                               D. Sicker
                                                              CU Boulder
                                                           H. Tschofenig
                                                           February 2006

   Trait-based Authorization Requirements for the Session Initiation
                             Protocol (SIP)

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   By submitting this Internet-Draft, each author represents that any
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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


   This document lays out a set of requirements related to trait-based
   authorization for the Session Initiation Protocol.  While some

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   authentication mechanisms are described in the base SIP
   specification, trait-based authorization provides information used to
   make policy decisions based on the attributes of a participant in a
   session.  This approach provides a richer framework for
   authorization, as well as allow greater privacy for users of an
   identity system.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  Terminology  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   3.  Trait-based Authorization Framework  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
   4.  Example Use Cases  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     4.1.  Settlement for Services  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     4.2.  Associating Gateways with Providers  . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     4.3.  Permissions on Constrained Resources . . . . . . . . . . .  9
     4.4.  Managing Priority and Precedence . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
     4.5.  Linking Different Protocols  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   5.  Trait-based Authorization Requirements . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   6.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   7.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
   8.  References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
     8.1.  Normative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
     8.2.  Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
   Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
   Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . . . 16

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1.  Introduction

   This document explores requirements of the Session Initiation
   Protocol [1] for enabling trait-based authorization.  This effort
   stems from the recognition that when SIP requests are received by a
   User Agent Server (UAS), there are authorization requirements that
   are orthogonal to ascertaining of the identity of the User Agent
   Client (UAC).  Supplemental authorization information might allow the
   UAS to implement non-identity-based policies that depend on further
   attributes of the principal that originated a SIP request.

   For example, in traditional SIP authorization architectures, the mere
   fact that a UAC has been authenticated by a UAS doesn't mean that the
   UAS will grant the UAC full access to its services or capabilities -
   in most instances, a UAS will compare the authenticated identity of
   the UAC to some set of users that are permitted to make particular
   requests (as a way of making an authorization decision).  However, in
   large communities of users with few pre-existing relationships (such
   as federations of discrete service providers), it is unlikely that
   the authenticated identity of a UAC alone will give a UAS sufficient
   information to decide how to handle a given request.

   Trait-based authorization entails an assertion by an authorization
   service of attributes associated with an identity.  An assertion is a
   sort of document consisting of a set of these attributes which are
   wrapped within a digital signature provided by the party that
   generates the assertion (the operator of the authorization service).
   These attributes describe the 'trait' or 'traits' of the identity in
   question - facts about the principal corresponding to that identity.
   For example, a given principal might be a faculty member at a
   university.  An assertion for that principal's identity might state
   that they have the 'trait' of 'is a faculty member', and the
   assertion would be issued (and signed) by a university.  When a UAS
   receives a request with this trait assertion, if it trusts the
   signing university, it can make an authorization decision based on
   whether or not faculty members are permitted to make the request in
   question, rather than just looking at the identity of the UAC and
   trying to discern whether or not they are a faculty member through
   some external means.  Thus, these assertions allow a UAS to authorize
   a SIP request without having to store or access attributes associated
   with the identity of the UAC itself.  Even complex authorization
   decisions based the presence of multiple disjointed attributes are
   feasible; for example, a 'faculty' member could be part of the
   'chemistry' department, and both of these traits could be used to
   make authorization decisions in a given federation.

   It is easy to see how traits can be used in a single administrative
   domain, for example a single university, where all users are managed

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   under the same administration.  In order for traits to have a broader
   usage for services like SIP, which commonly are not bounded by
   administrative domains, domains that participate in an common
   authorization scheme must federate with one another.  The concept of
   federation is integral to any trait-based authorization scheme.
   Domains that federate with one another agree on the syntax and
   semantics of traits - without this consensus, trait-based
   authorization schemes would only be useful in an intradomain context.
   A federation is defined as a set of administrative domains that
   implement common policies regarding the use and applicability of
   traits for authorization decisions.  Federation necessarily implies a
   trust relationship, and usual implies some sort of pre-shared keys or
   other means of cryptographic assurance that a particular assertion
   was generated by an authorization service that participates in the

   In fact, when trait-based authorization is used, an assertion of
   attributes can be presented to a UAS instead of the identity of user
   of the UAC.  In many cases, a UAS has no need to know who, exactly,
   has made a request - knowing the identity is only a means to the end
   of matching that identity to policies that actually depend on traits
   independent of identity.  This fact allows trait-based authorization
   to offer a very compelling privacy and anonymity solution.  Identity
   becomes one more attribute of an assertion that may or may not be
   disclosed to various destinations.

   Trait-based authorization for SIP depends on authorization services
   that are trusted by both the UAC and the UAS that wish to share a
   session.  For that reason, the authorization services described in
   this document are most applicable to either clients in a single
   domain, or in federated domains that have agreed to trust one
   another's authorization services.  This could be common in academic
   environments, or business partnerships that wish to share attributes
   of principals with one another.  Some trait-based authorization
   architectures have been proposed to provide single sign-on services
   across multiple providers.

   Although trait-based identity offers an alternative to traditional
   identity architectures, this effort should be considered
   complementary to the end-to-end cryptographic SIP identity effort
   [3].  An authentication service might also act as an authorization
   service, generating some sort of trait assertion token instead of an
   authenticated identity body.

2.  Terminology

   In this document, the key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED",

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   RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" are to be interpreted as
   described in RFC2119 [2] and indicate requirement levels for
   compliant SIP implementations.

3.  Trait-based Authorization Framework

   A trait-based authorization architecture entails the existence of an
   authorization service.  Devices must send requests to an
   authorization service in order to receive an assertion that can be
   used in the context of a given network request.  Different network
   request types will often necessitate different or additional
   attributes in assertions from the authorization service.

   For the purposes of SIP, SIP requests might be supplied to an
   authorization service to provide the basis for an assertion.  It
   could be the case that a user agent will take a particular SIP
   request, such as an INVITE, for which it wishes to acquire an
   assertion and forward this to the authorization service (in a manner
   similar to the way that an authenticated identity body is requested
   in [3]).  User agents might also use a separate protocol to request
   an assertion.  In either case, the client will need to authenticate
   itself to an authorization service before it receives an assertion.
   This authentication could use any of the standard mechanisms
   described in RFC3261 [1], or use some other means of authentication.

   Once a SIP UA has an assertion, it will need some way to carry an
   assertion within in a SIP request.  It's possible that this assertion
   could be provided by reference or by value.  For example, a SIP UA
   could include a MIME body within a SIP request that contains the
   assertion; this would be inclusion by value.  Alternatively, content
   indirection [4], or some new header, could be used to provide a URI
   (perhaps an HTTP URL) where interested parties could acquire the
   assertion; this is inclusion by reference.

   The basic model is as follows:

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   +----------------+                         |                |
   | +------------+ |          Request        | +------------+ |
   | | Entity     | |------------------------>| | Assertion  | |
   | | requesting | |                         | | Granting   | |
   | | authz      | |<------------------------| | Entity     | |
   | | assertions | |          Assertion      | +------------+ |
   | +------------+ |                         |      ^         |
   |       |        |                         |      . Trust   |
   |       |        |                         |      . Rel.    |
   |       |        |                         |      v         |
   |       |        |                         | +------------+ |
   |    Transfer    |                         | | Assertion  | |
   |       |        |                         | | Verifying  | |
   |       |        |                         | | Entity     | |
   |       |        |                         | +------------+ |
   |       |        |                         |                |
   |       v        |                         +----------------+
   | +------------+ |    Service Request +         ^  |
   | | Entity     | |    Assertion                 |  |
   | | using authz| | -----------------------------+  |
   | | assertion  | |                                 |
   | +------------+ | <-------------------------------+
   +----------------+    Response/Error

   The entity requesting authorization assertions (or the entity which
   gets some assertions granted) and the entity using these
   authorization assertions might be co-located in the same host or
   domain, or they might be entities in different domains that share a
   federate with one another.  The same is true for the entity which
   grants these assertions to a particular entity and the entity which
   verifies these assertions.

   From a protocol point of view, it is worth noting that the process of
   obtaining some assertions might happen some time before the usage of
   these assertions.  Furthermore, different protocols might be used and
   the assertions may have a lifetime which might allow that these
   assertions are presented to the verifying entity multiple times
   (during the lifetime of the assertion).

   Some important design decisions are associated with carrying
   assertions in a SIP request.  If an assertion is carried by value, or
   uses a MIME-based content indirection system, then proxy servers will
   be unable to inspect the assertion themselves.  If the assertion were
   referenced in a header, however, it might be possible for the proxy
   to acquire and inspect the assertion itself.  There are certainly

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   architectures in which it would be meaningful for proxy servers to
   apply admissions controls based on assertions.

   It is also the case that carrying assertions by reference allows
   versatile access controls to be applied to the assertion itself.  For
   instance, an HTTP URL where an assertion could be acquired could
   indicate a web server that challenged requests, and only allowed
   certain authorized sources to inspect the assertion, or which
   provided different versions of the assertion depending on who is
   asking.  When a SIP UA initiates a request with privacy controls [5],
   a web server might provide only trait information ('faculty',
   'student', or 'staff') to most queries, but provide more detailed
   information, including the identity of the originator of the SIP
   request, to certain privileged askers.  The end-users that makes
   requests should have some way to inform authorization services of the
   attributes that should be shared with particular destinations.

   Assertions themselves might be scoped to a particular SIP
   transaction, SIP dialog, or possibly have a longer lifetime.  The
   recipient of an assertion associated with a SIP request needs to have
   some way to verify that the authorization service intended that this
   assertion could be used for the request in question.  However, the
   format of assertions is not specified by these requirements.

   Trait assertions for responses to SIP requests are outside the scope
   of these requirements; it is not clear if there is any need for the
   recipient of a request to provide authorization data to the

   Trait-based authorization has significant applicability to SIP.
   There are numerous instances in which it is valuable to assert
   particular facts about a principal other than the principal's
   identity to aid the recipient of a request in making an authorization
   policy decision.  For example, a telephony service provider might
   assert that a particular user is a 'customer' as a trait.  An
   emergency services network might indicate that a particular user has
   a privileged status as a caller.

4.  Example Use Cases

   The following use cases are by no means exhaustive, but provide a few
   high-level examples of the sorts of services that trait-based
   authorization might provide.  All of the cases below consider
   interdomain usage of authorization assertions.

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4.1.  Settlement for Services

   When endpoints in two domains share real-time communications
   services, sometimes there is a need for the domains to exchange
   accounting and settlement information in real-time.  The operators of
   valuable resources (for example, PSTN trunking, conference bridges,
   or the like) in the called domain may wish to settle with the calling
   domain (either with the operators of the domain, or a particular
   user), and some accounting operations might need to complete before a
   call is terminated.  For example, a caller in one domain might want
   to access a conference bridge in another domain, and the called
   domain might wish to settle for the usage of the bridge with the
   calling domain.  Or in a wireless context, a roaming user might want
   to use services in a visited network, and the visited network might
   need to understand how to settle with the user's home network for
   these services.

   Assuming that the calling domain constitutes some sort of commercial
   service capable of exchanging accounting information, the called
   domain may want to verify that the remote user has a billable account
   in good standing before allowing a remote user access to valuable
   resources.  Moreover, the called domain may need to discover the
   network address of an accounting server and some basic information
   about how to settle with it.

   An authorization assertion created by the calling domain could
   provide the called domain with an assurance that a user's account can
   settle for a particular service.  In some cases, no further
   information may be required to process a transaction, but if more
   specific accounting data is needed, traits could also communicate the
   network address of an accounting server, the settlement protocol that
   should be used, and so on.

4.2.  Associating Gateways with Providers

   Imagine a case where a particular telephone service provider has
   deployed numerous PSTN-SIP gateways.  When calls come in from the
   PSTN, they are eventually proxied to various SIP user agents.  Each
   SIP user agent server is interested to know the identity of the PSTN
   caller, of course, which could be given within SIP messages in any
   number of ways (in SIP headers, bodies, or what have you).  However,
   in order for the recipient to be able to trust the identity (in this
   instance, the calling party's telephone number) stated in the call,
   they must first trust that the call originated from the gateway, and
   that the gateway is operated by a known (and trusted) provider.

   There are a number of ways that a service provider might try to
   address this problem.  One possibility would be routing all calls

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   from gateways through a recognizable 'edge' proxy server (say,
   '').  Accordingly, any SIP entity that received a
   request via the edge proxy server (assuming the use of hop-by-hop
   mutual cryptographic authentication) would know the service provider
   from whom the call originated.  However, it is possible that requests
   from the originating service provider's edge proxy might be proxied
   again before reaching the destination user agent server, and thus in
   many cases the originating service provider's identity would be known
   only transitively.  Moreover, in many architectures requests that did
   not originate from PSTN gateways could be sent through the edge proxy
   server.  In the end analysis, the recipient of the request is less
   interested in knowing which carrier the request came from than in
   knowing that the request came from a gateway.

   Another possible solution is to issue certificates to every gateway
   corresponding to the hostname of the gateway
   ('').  Gateways could therefore sign SIP requests
   directly, and this property could be preserved end-to-end.  But
   depending on the public key infrastructure, this could however become
   costly for large numbers of gateways, and moreover a user agent
   server that receives the request has no direct assurance from a
   typical certificate that the host is in fact a gateway just because
   it happens to be named 'gateway1'.

   Trait-based authorization would enable the trait 'is a gateway' to be
   associated with an assertion that is generated by the service
   provider (i.e. signed by '').  Since these assertions
   would travel end-to-end from the originating service provider to the
   destination user agent server, SIP requests which carry them can pass
   through any number of intermediaries without discarding cryptographic
   authentication information.  This mechanism also does not rely on
   hostname conventions to identity what constitutes a gateway and what
   does not - it relies on an explicit and unambiguous attribute in an

4.3.  Permissions on Constrained Resources

   Consider a scenario wherein two universities are making use of a
   videoconferencing service over a constrained bandwidth resource.
   Both universities would like to enforce policies that determine how
   this constrained bandwidth will be allocated to members of their
   respective communities.  For example, faculty members might have
   privileges to establish videoconferences during the day, while
   students might not.  Faculty might also be able to add students to a
   particular videoconference dynamically, or otherwise moderate the
   content or attendance of the conference, whereas students might
   participate only more passively.

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   Trait-based authorization is ideal for managing authorization
   decisions that are predicated on membership in a group.  Rather than
   basing access on individual users, levels (or roles) could be
   assigned that would be honored by both universities, since they both
   participate in the same federation.

   If the federation honored the traits "faculty", "staff", and
   "student", they could be leveraged to ensure appropriate use of the
   network resource between universities participating in the
   federation.  An assertion would then be attached to every request to
   establish a session that indicated the role of the requestor.  Only
   if the requestor has the appropriate trait would the session request
   be granted.  Ideally, these policies would be enforced by
   intermediaries (SIP proxy servers) that are capable of inspecting and
   verifying the assertions.

4.4.  Managing Priority and Precedence

   There is a significant amount of interest in the Internet telephony
   community in assigning certain calls a 'priority' based on the
   identity of the user, with the presumption that prioritized calls
   will be granted preferential treatment when network resources are
   scarce.  Different domains might have different criteria for
   assigning priority, and it is unlikely that a domain would correlate
   the identity of a non-local user with the need for priority, even in
   situations where domains would like to respect one another's
   prioritization policies.

   Existing proposals have focused largely on adding a new header field
   to SIP that might carry a priority indicator.  This use case does not
   challenge this strategy, but merely shows by way of example how this
   requirement might be met with a trait-based authorization system.  As
   such, the limitations of the header field approach will not be
   contrasted here with a hypothetical trait-based system.

   An assertion created by a domain for a particular request might have
   an associated 'priority' attribute.  Recipients of the request could
   inspect and verify the signature associated with the assertion to
   determine which domain had authenticated the user and made the
   priority assessment.  If the assertion's creator is trusted by the
   evaluator, the given priority could be factored into any relevant
   request processing.

4.5.  Linking Different Protocols

   Cryptographic computations are expensive and computing authorization
   decisions might require a lot of time and multiple messages between
   the entity enforcing the decisions and the entity computing the

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   authorization decision.  Particularly in a mobile environment these
   entities are physically separated - or not even in the same
   administrative domain.  Accordingly, the notion of "single sign-on"
   is another potential application of authorization assertions, and
   trait-based authorization - a user is authenticated and authorized
   through one protocol, and can reuse the resulting authorization
   assertion in other, potential unrelated protocol exchanges.

   For example, in some environments it is useful to make the
   authorization decision for a "high-level" service (such a voice
   call).  The authorization for the "voice call" itself might include
   authorization for SIP signaling and also for lower level network
   functions, for example a quality-of-service (QoS) reservation to
   improve the performance of real-time media sessions established by
   SIP.  Since the SIP signaling protocol and the QoS reservation
   protocol are totally separate, it is necessary to link the
   authorization decisions of the two protocols.  The authorization
   decision might be valid for a number of different protocol exchanges,
   for different protocols and for a certain duration or some other

   To enable this mechanism as part of the initial authorization step an
   authorization assertion is returned to the end host of the SIP UAC
   (cryptographically protected).  If QoS is necessary, the end host
   might reuse the returned assertion in the QoS signaling protocol.
   Any domains in the federation that would honor the assertion
   generated to authorize the SIP signaling would similar honor the use
   of the assertion in the context of QoS.  Upon the initial generation
   of the assertion by an authorization server, traits could be added
   that specify the desire level of quality that should be granted to
   the media associated with a SIP session.

5.  Trait-based Authorization Requirements

   The following are the constraints and requirements for trait-based
   authorization in SIP:
   1.   The mechanism MUST support a way for SIP user agents to embed an
        authorization assertion in SIP requests.  Assertions can be
        carried either by reference or by value.
   2.   The mechanism MUST allow SIP UACs to deliver to an authorization
        service those SIP requests that need to carry an assertion.  The
        mechanism SHOULD also provide a way for SIP intermediaries to
        recognize that an assertion will be needed, and either forward
        requests to an authorization service themselves, or notify the
        UAC of the need to do so.

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   3.   Authorization services MUST be capable of delivering an
        assertion to a SIP UAC, either by reference or by value.  It MAY
        also be possible for an authorization service to add assertions
        to requests itself, if the user profile permits this (for
        example, through the use of content-indirection as described in
   4.   Authorization services MUST have a way to authenticate a SIP
   5.   The assertions generated by authorization services MUST be
        capable of providing a set of values for a particular trait that
        a principal is entitled to claim.
   6.   The mechanism MUST provide a way for authorized SIP
        intermediaries (e.g. authorized proxy servers) to inspect
   7.   The mechanism MUST have a single baseline mandatory-to-
        implement authorization assertion scheme.  The mechanism MUST
        also allow support of other assertion schemes, which would be
        optional to implement.  One example of an assertion scheme is
        SAML [6].
   8.   The mechanism MUST ensure reference integrity between a SIP
        request and assertion.  Reference integrity refers to the
        relationship between a SIP message and the assertion authorizing
        the message.  For example, a reference integrity check would
        compare the sender of the message (as expressed in the SIP
        request, for example in the "From" header field value) with the
        identity provided by the assertion.  Reference integrity is
        necessary to prevent various sorts of relay and impersonation
        attacks.  Note that reference integrity MAY apply on a per-
        message, per-transaction, or per-dialog basis.
   9.   Assertion schemes used for this mechanism MUST be capable of
        asserting attributes and/or traits associated with the identity
        of the principal originating a SIP request.  No specific traits
        or attributes are required by this specification.
   10.  The mechanism MUST support a means for end-users to specify
        policies to an authorization service for the distribution of
        their traits and/or attributes to various destinations.
   11.  The mechanism MUST provide a way of preventing unauthorized
        parties (either intermediaries or endpoints) from viewing the
        contents of assertions.
   12.  Assertion schemes MUST provide a way of selectively sharing the
        traits and/or attributes of the principal in question.  In other
        words, it must be possible to show only some of the attributes
        of a given principal to particular recipients, based on the
        cryptographically- assured identity of the recipient.
   13.  It MUST be possible to provide an assertion that contains no
        identity - that is, to present only attributes or traits of the
        principal making a request, rather than the identity of the

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   14.  The manner in which an assertion is distributed MUST permit
        cryptographic authentication and integrity properties to be
        applied to the assertion by the authorization service.
   15.  It MUST be possible for a UAS or proxy server to reject a
        request that lacks a present and valid authorization assertion,
        and to inform the sending UAC that it must acquire such an
        assertion in order to complete the request.
   16.  The recipient of a request containing an assertion MUST be able
        to ascertain which authorization service generated the
   17.  It MUST be possible for a UAS or proxy server to reject a
        request containing an assertion that does not provide any
        attributes or traits that are known to the recipient, or that
        are relevant to the request in question.
   18.  It SHOULD be possible for a UAC to attach multiple assertions to
        a single SIP request, in cases where multiple authorization
        services must provide assertions in order for a request to

6.  Security Considerations

   The subject of this document is an authorization system for SIP that
   is not predicated on the distribution of end-users' identities, but
   rather shares traits of the users.  As such, the bulk of this
   document discusses security.

   The distribution of authorization assertions requires numerous
   security properties.  An authorization service must be able to sign
   assertions, or provide some similar cryptographic assurance that can
   provide non-repudiation for assertions.  These requirements are
   further detailed in Section 3.

7.  IANA Considerations

   This document introduces no considerations for the IANA.

Appendix A.  Acknowledgments

   The authors thank Christopher Eagan for his valuable input.

8.  References

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8.1.  Normative References

   [1]  Rosenberg, J., Schulzrinne, H., Camarillo, G., Johnston, A.,
        Peterson, J., Sparks, R., Handley, M., and E. Schooler, "SIP:
        Session Initiation Protocol", RFC 3261, May 2002.

   [2]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to indicate requirement
        levels", RFC 2119, March 1997.

8.2.  Informative References

   [3]  Peterson, J. and C. Jennings, "Enhancements for Authenticated
        Identity Management in the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)",
        draft-ietf-sip- identity-06 (work in progress), October 2005.

   [4]  Burger, E., "A Mechanism for Content Indirection in SIP
        Messages", draft-ietf-sip-content-indirect-mech-05 (work in
        progress), October 2004.

   [5]  Peterson, J., "A Privacy Mechanism for the Session Initiation
        Protocol (SIP)", RFC 3323, November 2002.

   [6]  Organization for the Advancement of Structured Industry
        Standards, "Security Assertion Markup Language v1.0",
        November 2002, <>.

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Authors' Addresses

   Jon Peterson
   NeuStar, Inc.
   1800 Sutter St
   Suite 570
   Concord, CA  94520

   Phone: +1 925/363-8720

   James M. Polk
   Cisco Systems
   2200 East President George Bush Turnpike
   Suite 570
   Richardson, TX  75802


   Douglas C. Sicker
   University of Colorado at Boulder
   ECOT 531
   Boulder, CO  80309


   Hannes Tschofenig
   Siemens AG
   Otto-Hahn-Ring 6
   Munich  81739


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