A One-Time Password System
RFC 1938

Document Type RFC - Proposed Standard (May 1996; No errata)
Obsoleted by RFC 2289
Last updated 2013-03-02
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Network Working Group                                          N. Haller
Request for Comments: 1938                                      Bellcore
Category: Standards Track                                        C. Metz
                                              Kaman Sciences Corporation
                                                                May 1996

                       A One-Time Password System

Status of this Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


   This document describes a one-time password authentication system
   (OTP). The system provides authentication for system access (login)
   and other applications requiring authentication that is secure
   against passive attacks based on replaying captured reusable
   passwords. OTP evolved from the S/KEY (S/KEY is a trademark of
   Bellcore) One-Time Password System that was released by Bellcore and
   is described in references [3] and [5].


   One form of attack on networked computing systems is eavesdropping on
   network connections to obtain authentication information such as the
   login IDs and passwords of legitimate users. Once this information is
   captured, it can be used at a later time to gain access to the
   system. One-time password systems are designed to counter this type
   of attack, called a "replay attack" [4].

   The authentication system described in this document uses a secret
   pass-phrase to generate a sequence of one-time (single use)
   passwords.  With this system, the user's secret pass-phrase never
   needs to cross the network at any time such as during authentication
   or during pass-phrase changes. Thus, it is not vulnerable to replay
   attacks.  Added security is provided by the property that no secret
   information need be stored on any system, including the server being

   The OTP system protects against external passive attacks against the
   authentication subsystem. It does not prevent a network eavesdropper
   from gaining access to private information and does not provide

Haller & Metz               Standards Track                     [Page 1]
RFC 1938               A One-Time Password System               May 1996

   protection against either "social engineering" or active attacks [9].


   There are two entities in the operation of the OTP one-time password
   system. The generator must produce the appropriate one-time password
   from the user's secret pass-phrase and from information provided in
   the challenge from the server. The server must send a challenge that
   includes the appropriate generation parameters to the generator, must
   verify the one-time password received, must store the last valid
   one-time password it received, and must store the corresponding one-
   time password sequence number. The server must also facilitate the
   changing of the user's secret pass-phrase in a secure manner.

   The OTP system generator passes the user's secret pass-phrase, along
   with a seed received from the server as part of the challenge,
   through multiple iterations of a secure hash function to produce a
   one-time password. After each successful authentication, the number
   of secure hash function iterations is reduced by one.  Thus, a unique
   sequence of passwords is generated.  The server verifies the one-time
   password received from the generator by computing the secure hash
   function once and comparing the result with the previously accepted
   one-time password.  This technique was first suggested by Leslie
   Lamport [1].


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

    - MUST

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

    - SHOULD

      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

Haller & Metz               Standards Track                     [Page 2]
RFC 1938               A One-Time Password System               May 1996

      enhances the product, for example; another vendor may omit the
      same item.


   The security of the OTP system is based on the non-invertability of a
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