Internet Draft                                       Editor: Peter Gutmann
draft-ietf-pkix-certstore-http-08.txt                University of Auckland
August 2004
Expires February 2005

                Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure
       Operational Protocols: Certificate Store Access via HTTP

Status of this memo

This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with all
provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.  Internet-Drafts are working documents of
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The protocol conventions described in this document satisfy some of the
operational requirements of the Internet Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).
This document specifies the conventions for using the Hypertext Transfer
Protocol (HTTP/HTTPS) as an interface mechanism to obtain certificates and
certificate revocation lists (CRLs) from PKI repositories.  Additional
mechanisms addressing PKIX operational requirements are specified in separate

1. Introduction

This specification is part of a multi-part standard for the Internet Public
Key Infrastructure (PKI) using X.509 certificates and certificate revocation
lists (CRLs).  This document specifies the conventions for using the Hypertext
Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or optionally HTTPS (throughout the remainder of this
document the generic term HTTP will be used to cover either option) as an
interface mechanism to obtain certificates or public keys, and certificate
revocation lists (CRLs), from PKI repositories.

Although RFC 2585 [RFC2585] covers fetching certificates via HTTP, this merely
mentions that certificates may be fetched from a static URL, which doesn't
provide any general-purpose interface capabilities to a certificate store.
The conventions described in this document allow HTTP to be used as a general-
purpose, transparent interface to any type of certificate or key store ranging
from flat files through to standard databases such as Berkeley DB and
relational databases, as well as traditional X.500/LDAP directories.  Typical
applications would include use with web-enabled relational databases (which
most databases are) or simple {key,value} lookup mechanisms such as Berkeley
DB and its various descendants.

Additional mechanisms addressing PKIX operational requirements are specified
in separate documents.

"RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as
described in [RFC2119].

2. HTTP Certificate Store Interface

The GET method is used in combination with a query URI to retrieve
certificates from the underlying certificate store [RFC2616].  The parameters
for the query URI are a certificate or key identifier consisting of an
attribute type and a value that specifies one or more certificates or public
keys to be returned from the query.

The full URI is formed by concatenating the query URI and the attribute and
value.  Certificates and public keys are retrieved from one query URI (the
certificate URI) and CRLs from another query URI (the revocation URI).  These
may or may not correspond to the same certificate store and/or server (the
exact interpretation is a local configuration issue).  The form of the
complete URI is therefore:

  <query URI> '?' <attribute> '=' <value>

The query value MUST be encoded using the form-urlencoded media type
[RFC1866].  Further details of URI construction, size limits, and other
details are given in [RFC2616].

Responses to unsuccessful queries (for example to indicate a non-match or an
error conditions) are handled in the standard manner as per [RFC2616].
Clients should in particular be aware that in some instances servers may
return HTTP type 3xx redirection requests to explicitly redirect queries to
another server.  Obviously, implicit DNS-based redirection is also possible.

If more than one certificate matches a query, it MUST be returned as a
multipart/mixed response.  The returned data MUST be returned verbatim; it
MUST NOT use any additional encoding at the HTTP level (for example it can't
be compressed or encoded as base64 or quoted-printable text).  Implementations
SHOULD NOT use chunked encoding in responses.

Other information such as naming conventions and MIME types are specified in
[RFC2585] (with additional MIME types for non-X.509 content in [RFC3156] and

2.1 Converting Binary Blobs into Search Keys

Some fields (indicated by the "Process" column in the tables) are of arbitrary
length and/or contain non-textual data.  Both of these properties make them
unsuited for direct use in HTTP queries.  In order to make them usable, fields
for which the processing option is "Hash" are first hashed down to a fixed-
length 160-bit value.  Fields for which the processing option is "Hash" or
"Base64" are base64-encoded to transform the binary data into textual forms:

 Processing Processing step

   "Hash"   Hash the key value using SHA-1 [FIPS180] to produce a 160-
            bit value, then continue with the base64 encoding step that

   "Hash"   Encode the binary value using base64 encoding to produce
 "Base64"   a 27-byte text-only value.  Base64 encoding of the 20 byte
            value will produce 28 bytes, and the last byte will always
            be a '=' padding character.  The 27-byte value is created
            by dropping the trailing '=' character.

            For cases where the binary value is smaller or larger than
            the 20-byte SHA-1 output (for example with 64-bit/8 byte
            PGP key IDs), the final value is created by removing any
            trailing '=' padding from the encoding of the binary value
            (this is a generalisation of the above case).

Implementations MUST verify that the base64-encoded values submitted in
requests contain only characters in the range 'a'-'z', 'A'-'Z', '0'-'9', '+',
and '/'.  Queries containing any other character MUST be rejected (see the
implementation notes in section 2.5 and the security considerations in section
4 for more details on this requirement).

2.2 Attribute types: X.509

Permitted attribute types and associated values for use with X.509
certificates and CRLs are described below.  Arbitrary-length binary values (as
indicated in the table below) are converted into a search key by the process
described in section 2.1.  Note that the values are checked for an exact
match, and are therefore case-sensitive.

Attribute  Process Value
---------  ------- -----
certHash    Hash   Search key derived from the SHA-1 hash of the
                   certificate (sometimes called the certificate
                   fingerprint or thumbprint).

uri         None   Subject URI associated with the certificate.  The
                   URI type depends on the certificate.  For S/MIME
                   certificates it would be an email address, for
                   SSL/TLS certificates it would be the server's DNS
                   name (this is usually also specified as the
                   CommonName), for IPsec certificates it would be
                   the DNS name/IP address, and so on.

iHash       Hash   Search key derived from the issuer DN as it
                   appears in the certificate, CRL, or other object.

iAndSHash   Hash   Search key derived from the certificate's
                   issuerAndSerialNumber [RFC2630].

name        None  Subject CommonName contained in the certificate.

sHash       Hash   Search key derived from the subject DN as it
                   appears in the certificate or other object.

sKIDHash    Hash   Search key derived from the certificate's

Certificate URIs MUST support retrieval by all of the above attribute types.

CRL URIs MUST support retrieval by the iHash and sKIDHash attribute types,
which identify the issuer of the CRL.  In addition CRL URIs MAY support
retrieval by certHash and iAndSHash attribute types, for cases where this is
required by the use of the issuingDistributionPoint extension.  A CRL query
MUST return the matching CRL with the greatest thisUpdate value (in other
words, the most recent CRL).

2.3 Attribute types: PGP

Permitted attribute types and associated values for use with PGP public keys
and key revocation information are described below.  Binary values (as
indicated in the table below) are converted into a search key by the process
described in section 2.1.

Attribute  Process Value
---------  ------- -----
email       None   email address associated with the key.

fingerprint Base64 160-bit PGP key fingerprint [RFC2440].

keyID       Base64 64-bit PGP key ID [RFC2440].

name        None   User name associated with the key.

Key URIs MUST support retrieval by all of the above attribute types.

Revocation URIs MUST support retrieval by the fingerprint and keyID attribute
types, which identify the issuer of the key revocation.

2.4 Attribute types: XML

Permitted attribute types and associated values for use with XML are as
specified in sections 2.2 and 2.3.  Since XML allows arbitrary attributes to
be associated with the <RetrievalMethod> child element of <KeyInfo> [RFC3275],
there are no additional special requirements for use with XML.

2.5 Implementation Notes and Rationale

The identifiers are taken from PKCS #15 [PKCS15], a standard that covers
(among other things) a transparent interface to a certificate/public key
store.  These identifiers have been field proven through having been in common
use for a number of years, typically via PKCS #11 [PKCS11].  Certificate
stores and the identifiers that are required for typical certificate lookup
operations are analysed in some detail in [Gutmann].

The URI identifier type specifies the identifier associated with the
certificate's intended usage with a given Internet security protocol.  For
example an SSL/TLS server certificate would contain the server's DNS name
(this is traditionally also specified as the CommonName or CN), an S/MIME
certificate would contain the subject's email address, an IPsec certificate
would contain a DNS name or IP address, a SIP certificate would contain a SIP
URI, and so on.  A modicum of common sense is assumed when deciding what an
appropriate URI field value should be.

For historical reasons going back to its primary use as a means of looking up
user's S/MIME email certificates, some clients may specify the URI attribute
name as "email" rather than "uri".  Although not required by this
specification, servers may choose to allow the use of "email" as an alias for

In addition it is common practice to use the Internet identifier associated
with the certificate's intended field of application as the CN for the
certificate when this is the most sensible name for the certificate subject.
For example a SSL/TLS server certificate will contain the server's DNS name in
the CN field.  In web-enabled devices this may indeed be the only name that
exists for the device.  It is therefore quite possible that the URI will
duplicate with CN, and may be the only identifier present (that is, there's no
full DN but only a single CN field).

Another possible identifier that has been suggested is an IP address or DNS
name, which will be required for web-enabled embedded devices.  This is
necessary to allow for example a home automation controller to be queried for
certificates for the devices that it controls.  Since this value is regarded
as the CN for the device, common practice is to use this value for the CN in
the same way that web server certificates set the CN to the server's DNS name,
so this option is already covered in a widely-accepted manner.

The name and email address are an exact copy of what is present in the
certificate, without any canonicalisation or rewriting (other than the
transport encoding required by HTTP).  This follows standard implementation
practice, which transfers an exact copy of these data items in order to avoid
problems due to character set translation, handling of whitespace, and other

Hashes are used for arbitrary-length fields such as ones containing DNs in
place of the full field to keep the length manageable.  In addition the use of
the hashed form emphasizes the fact that searching for structured name data
isn't a supported feature, since this is a simple interface to a {key,value}
certificate store rather than an HTTP interface to an X.500 directory.  Users
specifically requiring an HTTP interface to X.500 may use technology such as
HTTP LDAP gateways for this purpose.

Although clients will always submit a fixed 160-bit value, servers are free to
use as many bits of this value as they require, for example a server may
choose to use only the first 40 or 64 or 80 or 128 bits for efficiency in
searching and maintaining indices.

PGP has traditionally encoded IDs using a C-style 0xABCDEF notation based on
the display format used for IDs in PGP 2.0.  Unfortunately, strings in this
format are also valid strings in the base64 format, complicated further by the
fact that near-misses such as 0xABCDRF could be either a mistyped attempt at a
hex ID or a valid base64 ID.  For this reason, and to ensure consistency,
base64 IDs are used throughout this specification.  The search keys used
internally will be binary values, so whether these are converted from ASCII-
hex or base64 is immaterial in the long run.

The attributes are given shortened name forms (for example iAndSHash in place
of issuerAndSerialNumberHash) in order to keep the lengths reasonable, or
common name forms (for example email in place of rfc822Name, rfc822Mailbox,
emailAddress, mail, email, etc) where multiple name forms exist.

The attribute value portion of the identifier should be carefully checked for
invalid characters since allowing raw data through presents a security risk.
Consider for example a certificate/public key store implemented using an RDBMS
in which the SQL query is built up as "SELECT certificate FROM certificates
WHERE iHash = " + <search key>.  If <search key> is set to "ABCD;DELETE FROM
certificates" the results of the query will be quite different from what was
expected by the certificate store administrators.  Even a read-only query can
be problematic, for example setting <search key> to "UNION SELECT password
FROM master.sysxlogins" will list all passwords in an SQL Server database (in
an easily-decrypted format) if the user is running under the sa (DBA) account.
For this reason only valid base64 encodings should be allowed.  The same
checking applies to queries by name or email address.

Straightforward sanitisation of queries may not be sufficient to prevent all
attacks, for example a filter that removes the SQL query string "DELETE" can
be bypassed by submitting the string embedded in another instance of the
string.  Removing "DELETE" from "DELDELETEETE" leaves the outer "DELETE" in
place.  Abusing the truncation of over-long strings by filters can also be
used as a means of attack, with the attacker ensuring that the truncation
occurs in the middle of an escape sequence, bypassing the filtering.  Although
in theory recursive filtering may help here, the use of parameterised queries
(often called placeholders) that aren't vulnerable to SQL injection should be
used to avoid these attacks.  More information on securing database back-ends
may be found in [Birkholz].

Pre-constructed URIs that fetch a certificate/public key matching a fixed
search criterion may be useful for situations such as web pages or business
cards, or even for technical support/helpdesk staff to mail to users who can't
find the certificate themselves.  These URIs may also be used to enforce
privacy measures when distributing certificates by perturbing the search key
in a manner known only to the certificate/public key store, or to the
certificate store and users (in other words by converting the URI into a
capability).  For example a user with a newly-issued certificate could be
instructed to fetch it with a key of "x-encrCertHash=...", which is decrypted
by the certificate store to fetch the appropriate certificate, ensuring that
only the certificate owner can fetch their certificate immediately after
issue.  Similarly, an organisation that doesn't want to make its certificates
available for public query might require a MAC on search keys (e.g. "x-
macCertHash=...") to ensure that only authorised users can search for
certificates (although a more logical place for access control, if a true web
server is being used to access the store, would obviously be at the HTTP

The query types have been specifically chosen to be not just an HTTP interface
to LDAP but as a general-purpose retrieval mechanism that allows arbitrary
certificate/public key storage mechanisms (with a bias towards simple
{key,value} stores, which are deployed almost universally, whether as ISAM,
Berkeley DB, or an RDBMS) to be employed as back-ends.  This specification has
been deliberately written to be technology-neutral, allowing the use of any
{key,value} lookup mechanism to be used.  It doesn't matter if you choose to
have trained chimpanzees look up certificates in books of tables, as long as
your method can provide the correct response with reasonable efficiency.

This access mechanism is similar to the PGP HKP protocol, however the latter
is almost entirely undocumented and requires that implementors reverse-
engineer other implementations.  Because of this lack of standardisation, no
attempt has been made to ensure interoperability or compatibility with HKP-
based servers, although PGP developers provided much valuable input for this
document.  One benefit that HKP does bring is extensive implementation
experience, which indicates that this is a very workable solution to the
problem of a simple certificate/public key retrieval mechanism.  HKP servers
have been implemented using flat files, Berkeley DB, and various databases
such as Postgres and MySQL.

Use of chunked encoding is given as a SHOULD NOT rather than a MUST NOT
because support for it is required by [RFC2616].  Nevertheless, this form of
encoding is strongly discouraged as the data quantities being transferred
(1-2kB) make it entirely unnecessary, and support for this encoding form is
vunerable to various implementation bugs, some of which may affect security.
However, implementors should be aware that many versions of the Apache web
server will unnecessarily use chunked encoding when returning responses.
Although it would be better to make this a MUST NOT, this would render clients
that rejected it incompatible with the world's most widely-used web server.
For this reason, support for chunked encoding is strongly discouraged, but
nevertheless permitted.  Clients that choose not to support it should be aware
that they may run into problems when communicating with Apache-based HTTP
certificate stores.

Multiple responses are returned as multipart/mixed rather than an ASN.1
SEQUENCE OF Certificate or PKCS #7/CMS certificate chain (degenerate signed
data containing only certificates) because this is more straightforward to
implement with standard web-enabled tools.  An additional advantage is that it
doesn't restrict this access mechanism to DER-based data, allowing it to be
extended to other certificate types such as XML, PGP, and SPKI.

Certificate/public key and CRL stores are allocated separate URIs because they
may be implemented using different mechanisms.  A certificate store typically
contains large numbers of small items while a CRL store contains a very small
number of potentially large items, by providing independant URIs it's possible
to implement the two stores using mechanisms tailored to the data they

PGP combines key and revocation information into a single data object, so that
it's possible to return both public keys and revocation information from the
same URI.  If distinct key and revocation servers are available, these can
provide a slight a performance gain since fetching revocation information
doesn't require fetching the key that it applies to.  If no separate servers
are available, a single server can be used to satisfy both types of queries
with a slight performance loss since fetching revocation information will also
fetch the public key data associated with the revocation data.

Concerns have been raised over the use of HTTP as a substrate [RFC3205].  The
mechanism described here, which implements a straightforward request/response
protocol with the same semantics as traditional HTTP requests, is unaffected
by these issues.  Specifically, it does not implement any form of complex RPC
mechanism, does not require HTTP security measures, is not affected by
firewalls (since it uses only a basic HTTP GET rather than layering a new
protocol on top of HTTP), has well-defined MIME media types specified in
standards documents, and so on.  As such, the concerns expressed in [RFC3205]
do not apply here.  In addition although a number of servers still don't fully
support some of the more advanced features of HTTP 1.1 [Krishnamurthy], the
minimal subset used here is well-supported by the majority of servers and HTTP

Where high throughput/performance under load is a critical issue, a main-
memory database that acts as a form of content cache may be interposed between
the on-disk database and the HTTP interface [Garcia-Molina].  A main-memory
database provides the same functionality as an on-disk database and this is
fully transparent to the HTTP front-end, but offers buffer management and
retrieval facilities optimised for memory-resident data.  Where further
scalability is required, the content-cacheing system could be implemented as a
cluster of main-memory databases [Ji].

Various network efficiency considerations need to be taken into account when
implementing this certificate/public key distribution mechanism.  For example,
a simplistic implementation that performs two writes (the HTTP header and the
certificate written seperately) followed by a read will interact badly with
TCP delayed-ACK and slow-start.  This occurs because the TCP MSS is typically
1460 bytes on a LAN (Ethernet) or 512/536 bytes on a WAN, while HTTP headers
are ~200-300 bytes, far less than the MSS.  When an HTTP message is first
sent, the TCP congestion window begins at one segment, with the TCP slow-start
then doubling its size for each ACK.  Sending the headers separately will send
one short segment and a second MSS-size segment, whereupon the TCP stack will
wait for the responder's ACK before continuing. The responder gets both
segments, then delays its ACK for 200ms in the hopes of piggybacking it on
responder data, which is never sent since it's still waiting for the rest of
the HTTP body from the initiator.  As a result, this results in a 200ms (+
assorted RTT) delay in each message sent.

There are various other considerations that need to be taken into account in
order to provide maximum efficiency.  These are covered in depth elsewhere
[Spero] [Heidemann] [Nielsen].  In addition, modifications to TCP's behaviour
such as the use of 4K initial windows [RFC3390] (designed to reduce small HTTP
transfer times to a single RTT) should also ameliorate some of these issues.

A rule of thumb for optimal performance is to combine the HTTP header and data
payload into a single write (any reasonable HTTP implementation will do this
anyway, thanks to the considerable body of experience that exists for HTTP
server performance tuning), and to keep the HTTP headers to a minimum to try
and fit data within the TCP MSS.  Since this protocol doesn't involve a web
browser, there's no need to include the usual headers covering browser
versions and languages and so on; a minimal set of content-type/encoding and
host and session control information will suffice.

In some cases users may require additional, application-specific attribute
types.  For example, a healthcare application that uses a healthcare ID as the
primary key for its databases may require the ability to perform certificate
lookups based on this healthcare ID.  The formatting and use of such
application-specific identifiers is beyond the scope of this document, however
they should begin with 'x-' to ensure that they don't conflict with
identifiers that may be defined in future versions of this specification.

2.6 Examples

To convert the subject DN C=NZ, O=... CN=Fred Dagg into a search key:

  Hash the DN, in the DER-encoded form it appears in the certificate, to

    96 4C 70 C4 1E C9 08 E5 CA 45 25 10 D6 C8 28 3A 1A C1 DF E2

  base-64 encode this to obtain:


(note the absence of trailing '=' padding).  This is the search key to use in
the query URI.

To fetch all certificates useful for sending encrypted email to

  GET /search.cgi? HTTP/1.1

In this case "/search.cgi" is the abs_path portion of the query URI, and the
request is submitted to the server located at the net_loc portion of the query
URI.  Note the encoding of the '@' symbol as per [RFC1866].  Remaining
required headers such as the "Host" header required by HTTP 1.1 have been
omitted for the sake of clarity.

To fetch the CA certificate that issued the email certificate:

  <Convert the issuer DN to a search key>
  GET /search.cgi?sHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

Alternatively, if chaining is by key identifier:

  <Extract the keyIdentifier from the authorityKeyIdentifier>
  GET /search.cgi?sKIDHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

To fetch other certificates belonging to the same user as the email

  <Convert the subject DN to a search key>
  GET /search.cgi?sHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

To fetch the CRL for the certificate:

  <Convert the issuer DN to a search key>
  GET /search.cgi?iHash=<search key> HTTP/1.1

Note that since the differentiator is the URI base, the above two queries
appear identical (since the URI base isn't shown) but are in fact distinct.

To retrieve a key using XML methods, the <KeyName> (which contains the string
identifier for the key), used with the subject DN hash above, would be:

  <KeyName KeyID="sHash">lkxwxB7JCOXKRSUQ1sgoOhrB3+I</KeyName>.

3. Locating HTTP Certificate Stores

In order to locate servers from which certificates may be retrieved, relying
parties can employ one or more of the following strategies:

  Information contained in the certificate
  Use of DNS SRV
  Use of a "well-known" location
  Manual configuration of the client software

The intent of the various options provided here is to make the certificate
store access as transparent as possible, only requiring manual user
configuration as a last resort.

3.1 Information in the Certificate

In order to convey to relying parties a well-known point of information
access, CAs SHOULD use the SubjectInfoAccess (SIA) and AuthorityInfoAccess
(AIA) extension [RFC3280] in certificates.  The OID value for the accessMethod
is one of:

  id-ad-http-certs     OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { id-ad 6 }
  id-ad-http-crls      OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { id-ad 7 }


  id-ad                OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { iso(1)
                                 identified-organization(3) dod(6)
                                 internet(1) security(5) mechanisms(5)
                                 pkix(7) 48 }

and the corresponding accessLocation is the query URI.  The use of this
facility provides a CA with a convenient, standard location to indicate where
further certificates may be found, for example for certification path
construction purposes.  Note that it doesn't mean that the provision of
certificate store access services is limited to CAs only.

3.2 Use of DNS SRV

DNS SRV is a facility for specifying the location of the server(s) for a
specific protocol and domain [RFC2782].  For the certificate store interface,
the DNS SRV symbolic name for the certificate store interface SHALL be
"certificates".  The name for the CRL store interface SHALL be "crls".  The
name for the PGP public key store SHALL be "pgpkeys".  The name for the PGP
revocation store SHALL be "pgprevocations".

3.2.1 Example

If a CA with the domain were to make its certificates available
via an HTTP certificate store interface, the server details could be obtained
by a lookup on:


which would return the server(s) and port(s) for the service as specified in

3.3 Use of a "well-known" Location

If no other location information is available, the certificate store interface
may be located at a "well-known" location constructed from the service
provider's domain name.  In the usual case the URI is constructed by
prepending the type of information to be retrieved, either "certificates.",
"crls.", "pgpkeys.", or "pgprevocations." to the domain name to obtain the
net_loc portion of the URI and appending a fixed abs_path portion
"search.cgi".  The URI form of the "well-known" location is therefore:


Service providers SHOULD use these URIs in preference to other alternatives.

A second case occurs when the certificate access service is being provided by
web-enabled embedded devices such as Universal Plug and Play devices [UPNP].
These devices have a single, fixed net_loc (either an IP address or a DNS
name) and make services available via an HTTP interface.  In this case the URI
is constructed by appending a fixed abs_path portion "certificates/search.cgi"
for certificates, "crls/search.cgi" for CRLs, "pgpkeys/search.cgi" for PGP
public keys, and "pgprevocations/search.cgi" for PGP revocation information to
the net_loc.  The URI form of the "well-known" location is therefore:


If certificate access as described in this document is implemented by the
device then it SHOULD use these URIs in preference to other alternatives (see
the rationale for more on this requirement).

3.3.1 Examples

If a CA with the domain were to make its certificates available
via an HTTP certificate store interface, the "well-known" query URIs for
certificates and CRLs would be:

A home automation controller with IP address (a control point in
UPnP terminology) would make certificates for devices such as HVAC
controllers, lighting and appliance controllers, and fire and physical
intrusion detection devices available as:

A print server with DNS name "printspooler" would make certificates for web-
enabled printers that it communicates with available as:


3.4 Manual Configuration of the Client Software

The accessLocation for the HTTP certificate/public key/CRL store MAY be
configured locally at the client.  This can be used if no other information is
available, or if it is necessary to override other information.

3.5 Implementation Notes and Rationale

The optimal solution for the problem of service location would be DNS SRV,
unfortunately the operating system used by the user group most desperately in
need of this type of handholding has no support for anything beyond the most
basic DNS address lookups, making it impossible to use DNS SRV with anything
but very recent Win2K and XP systems.  To make things even more entertaining,
several of the function names and some of the function parameters changed at
various times during the Win2K phase of development, and the behaviour of
portions of the Windows sockets API changed in undocumented ways to match.
This leads to the unfortunate situation in which a Unix sysadmin can make use
of DNS SRV to avoid having to deal with technical configuration issues, but a
Windows'95 user can't.  Because of these problems, an alternative to DNS SRV
is provided for situations where it's not possible to use this.

The SRV or well-known location option can frequently be automatically derived
by user software from currently-known parameters.  For example if the
recipient's email address is, the user software would query or go to and request
the certificate.  In addition user software may maintain a list of known
certificate sources in the way that known CA lists are maintained by web
browsers.  The specific mention of support for redirection in section 2
emphasises the fact that many sites will outsource the certificate-storage
task.  At worst all that will be required is the addition of a single static
web page pointing to the real server.  Alternatives such as DNS CNAME RRs are
obviously also possible, but aren't quite as easy to set up as HTTP redirects
and won't work well across domains.

The well-known location URI is designed to make hosting options as flexible as
possible.  Locating the service at www.<domain name> would generally require
it to be handled by the provider's main web server, while using a distinct
server URI allows it to handled as desired by the provider.  Although there
will no doubt be servers that implement the interface using Apache and Perl
scripts, a more logical implementation would consist of a simple network
interface to a key-and-value lookup mechanism such as Berkeley DB.  The URI
form presented in section 3.3 allows for maximum flexibility, since it will
work with both web servers/CGI scripts and non-web-server-based network front-
ends for certificate stores.

Web-enabled (or more strictly HTTP-enabled) devices are intended to be plug-
and-play, with minimal (or no) user configuration necessary.  The "well-known"
URI allows any known device (for example one discovered via UPNP's Simple
Service Discovery Protocol, SSDP) to be queried for certificates without
requiring further user configuration.  Note that in practice no embedded
device would ever use the address given in the example (the de facto standard
address for web-enabled embedded devices is 192.168.1.x and not 192.0.2.x),
however IETF policy requires the use of this non-address for examples.

Protocols such as UPnP have their own means of disseminating device and
protocol information.  For example, UPnP uses SOAP, which provides a
GetPublicKeys action for pulling device keys and a PresentKeys action for
pushing control point keys.  The text in section 3.3 is not meant to imply
that this document overrides the existing UPnP mechanism, but merely that if a
device implements the mechanism describe here, it should use the naming scheme
in section 3.3 rather than using arbitrary names.

Implementations that require the use of nonstandard locations or ports or
HTTPS rather than HTTP in combination with well-known locations should use an
HTTP redirect at the well-known location to point to the nonstandard location.
For example if the print spooler in section 3.3 used an SSL-protected server
named printspooler-server with an abs_path portion of cert_access, it would
use an HTTP 302 redirect to https://printspooler-server/cert_access.  This
combines the plug-and-play capability of well-known locations with the ability
to use nonstandard locations and ports.

The SIA and AIA extensions are used to indicate the location for the CRL store
interface rather than the CRLDistributionPoint (CRLDP) extension since the two
perform entirely different functions.  A CRLDP contains "a pointer to the
current CRL", a fixed location containing a CRL for the current certificate,
while the SIA/AIA extension indicates "how to access CA information and
services for the subject/issuer of the certificate in which the extension
appears", in this case the CRL store interface that provides CRLs for any
certificates issued by the CA.  In addition CRLDP associates other attribute
information with a query that is incompatible with the simple query mechanisms
presented in this document.

A single server can be used to handle both CRLDP and AIA/SIA queries provided
the CRLDP form uses an HTTP URI.  Since CRLDP points to a single static
location for a CRL, a query can be pre-constructed and stored in the CRLDP
extension.  Software that uses the CRLDP will retrieve the single CRL that
applies to the certificate from the server, and software that uses the AIA/SIA
can retrieve any CRL from the server.  Similar pre-constructed URIs may also
be useful in other circumstances, for example for links on web pages, to place
in appropriate locations like the issuerAltName, or even for technical
support/helpdesk staff to email to users who can't find the certificate
themselves, as described in section 2.5.  The resulting certstore URL, when
clicked on by the user, will directly access the certificate when used in
conjunction with any certificate-aware application such as a browser or mail

4. Security Considerations

HTTP caching proxies are common on the Internet, and some proxies may not
check for the latest version of an object correctly.  [RFC2616] specifies that
responses to query URLs should not be cached, and most proxies and servers
correctly implement the "Cache-Control: no-cache" mechanism, which can be used
to override cacheing ("Pragma: no-cache" for HTTP 1.0).  However in the rare
instance in which an HTTP request for a certificate or CRL goes through a
misconfigured or otherwise broken proxy, the proxy may return an out-of-date

Care should be taken to ensure that only valid queries are fed through to the
back-end used to retrieve certificates.  Allowing an attacker to submit
arbitrary queries may allow them to manipulate the certificate store in
unexpected ways if the back-end tries to interpret the query contents.  For
example if a certificate store is implemented using an RDBMS for which the
calling application assembles a complete SQL string to perform the query, and
the SQL query is built up as "SELECT certificate FROM certificates WHERE iHash
= " + <search key>, and <search key> is set to "X;DELETE FROM certificates"
the results of the query will be quite different from what was expected by the
certificate store administrator.  The same applies to queries by name and
email address.  Even a read-only query can be problematic, for example setting
<search key> to "UNION SELECT password FROM master.sysxlogins" will list all
passwords in an SQL Server database (in an easily-decrypted format) if the
user is running under the sa (DBA) account.  Straightforward sanitisation of
queries may not be sufficient to prevent all attacks, for example a filter
that removes the SQL query string "DELETE" can be bypassed by submitting the
string embedded in another instance of the string.  Removing "DELETE" from
"DELDELETEETE" leaves the outer "DELETE" in place.  Abusing the truncation of
over-long strings by filters can also be used as a means of attack, with the
attacker ensuring that the truncation occurs in the middle of an escape
sequence, bypassing the filtering.  The use of parameterised queries (often
called placeholders) that aren't vulnerable to SQL injection should be used to
avoid these attacks.

In addition since some query data may be en/decoded before being sent to the
back-end, applications should check both the en- and de-coded form for valid
data.  A simple means of avoiding these problems is to use parameterised
commands rather than hand-assembling SQL strings for use in queries (this is
also more efficient for most database interfaces).  The use of parameterised
commands means that the query value is never present in any position where it
could be interpreted as a portion of the query command.

Alongside filtering of queries, the back-end should be configured to disable
any form of update access via the web interface.  For Berkeley DB this
restriction can be imposed by opening the certificate store in read-only mode
from the web interface.  For relational databases, it can be imposed through
the SQL GRANT/REVOKE mechanism, for example "REVOKE ALL ON certificates FROM
webuser; GRANT SELECT ON certificates TO webuser" will allow read-only access
of the appropriate kind for the web interface.  Server-specific security
measures may also be employed, for example SQL Server provides the built-in
db_datareader account which only allows read access to tables (but see the
note above about what can be done even with read-only access), and the ability
to run the server under a dedicated low-privilege account (a standard feature
of Unix systems).

5. IANA Considerations

No action by IANA is needed.  The AIA/SIA accessMethod types are identified by
object identifiers (OIDs) from an arc managed by the PKIX working group.
Should additional accessMethods be introduced (for example for attribute
certificates or non-X.509 certificate types), the advocates for such
accessMethods are expected to assign the necessary OIDs from their own arcs.


Anders Rundgren, Blake Ramsdell, Jeff Jacoby, David Shaw, and members of the
ietf-pkix working group provided useful input and feedback on this document.

Author Address

Peter Gutmann
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland, New Zealand

References (Normative)

  [FIPS 180] Federal Information Processing Standards Publication (FIPS PUB)
             180-1, Secure Hash Standard, 17 April 1995.

  [RFC1866] "Hypertext Markup Language - 2.0", RFC 1866, T. Berners-Lee and D.
            Connolly, November 1995.

  [RFC2616] "Hypertext Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, R. Fielding,
            J. Gettys, J. Mogul, H. Frystyk, L. Masinter, P. Leach, and
            T. Berners-Lee, June 1999.

  [RFC2119] "Key Words for Use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels",
            RFC 2119, S.Bradner, March 1997.

  [RFC2440] "OpenPGP Message Format", RFC 2440, J. Callas, L. Donnerhacke,
            H. Finney, and R. Thayer, November 1998.

  [RFC2585] "Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure: Operational Protocols:
            FTP and HTTP", RFC 2585, R. Housley and P. Hoffman, May 1999

  [RFC2782] "A DNS RR for specifying the location of services (DNS SRV)",
            RFC 2782, A.Gulbrandsen, P.Vixie, and L.Esibov, February 2000.

  [RFC3156] "MIME Security with OpenPGP", M. Elkins, D. Del Torto,
            R. Levien, and T. Roessler, August 2001.

  [RFC3275] "XML-Signature Syntax and Processing", D. Eastlake 3rd, J.
            Reagle, D. Solo, March 2002.

  [RFC3280] "Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure: Certificate and CRL
            Profile", RFC 3280, R. Housley, W. Ford, W. Polk, and D. Solo,
            April 2002.

References (Informative)

  [Birkholz] "Special Ops: Host and Network Security for Microsoft, Unix,
              and Oracle", Erik Birkholz et al, Syngress Publishing,
              November 2002.

  [Garcia-Molina] "Main Memory Database Systems", Hector Garcia-Molina and
                  Kenneth Salem, IEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data
                  Engineering, Vol.4, No.6 (December 1992), p.509.

  [Gutmann] "A Reliable, Scalable General-purpose Certificate Store", P.
            Gutmann, Proceedings of the 16th Annual Computer Security
            Applications Conference, December 2000.

  [Heidemann] "Performance Interactions Between P-HTTP and TCP
              Implementations", J.Heidemann, ACM Computer Communications
              Review, April 1997.

  [Ji] "Affinity-based Management of Main Memory Database Clusters", Minwen
       Ji, ACM Transactions on Internet Technology, Vol.2, No.4 (November
       2002), p.307.

  [Krishnamurthy] "PRO-COW: Protocol Compliance on the Web - A Longitudinal
                  Survey", Balachander Krishnamurthy and Martin Arlitt,
                  Proceedings of the 3rd Usenix Symposium on Internet
                  Technologies and Systems (USITS'01), March 2001, p.109.

  [Nielsen] "Network Performance Effects of HTTP/1.1, CSS1, and PNG",
            H.Nielsen, J.Gettys, A.Baird-Smith, E.Prud'hommeaux, H.Wium Lie,
            and C.Lilley, 24 June 1997,

  [PKCS11] PKCS #11 Cryptographic Token Interface Standard, RSA Laboratories,
           December 1999.

  [PKCS15] PKCS #15 Cryptographic Token Information Syntax Standard, RSA
           Laboratories, June 2000.

  [RFC3205] "On the use of HTTP as a substrate", RFC 3205, K.Moore,
            February 2002.

  [RFC3390] "Increasing TCP's Initial Window", RFC 3390, M.Allman, S.Floyd,
            and C.Partridge, October 2002.

  [Spero] "Analysis of HTTP Performance Problems", S.Spero, July 1994,

  [UPNP] "Universal Plug and Play Device Architecture, Version 1.0", UPnP
         Forum, 8 June 2000.

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