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Appeal of decision to advance RFC6376 (Douglas Otis; 2013-05-30) - 2013-05-30
Response - 2013-06-27

IESG Report regarding "Appeal of decision to advance RFC6376"

June 27, 2013


Douglas Otis and Dave Rand have appealed the action taken by the IESG to
advance RFC 6376, DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Signatures, from
(the legacy status of) Draft Standard to Internet Standard. The document
was advanced under the criteria defined in section 2 of RFC 6410. The
IESG has taken this to be an appeal under section 6.5.2 of RFC 2026.
Following the procedure described there, the IESG has reviewed the
complaint and re-examined the advancement of RFC 6376 to Internet
Standard. We have concluded that the criteria for advancement to
Internet Standard have been met and that our action was correct. No
further action is warranted.


This appeal appears to be brought under section 6.5.2 of RFC 2026:

If an individual should disagree with an action taken by the IESG in this process, that person should first discuss the issue with the IESG Chair. If the IESG Chair is unable to satisfy the complainant then the IESG as a whole should re-examine the action taken, along with input from the complainant, and determine whether any further action is needed. The IESG shall issue a report on its review of the complaint to the IETF.

Normally, an appeal on the basis of a technical error would be brought
under section 6.5.1 of RFC 2026, claiming "the Working Group has made an
incorrect technical choice which places the quality and/or integrity of
the Working Group's product(s) in significant jeopardy." However, the
time for that sort of appeal (within two months of the action) is long
past, since the Working Group in question has since closed. Nonetheless,
the appeal sets forth new technical information and complains that
advancement to Internet Standard is unwarranted. That is a valid basis
for an appeal of advancement as an IESG action under section 6.5.2.

After reviewing the criteria for advancement to Internet Standard
defined in section 2 of RFC 6410, we have concluded that this appeal is
claiming that criteria (1) has not been satisified:

(1) There are at least two independent interoperating implementations with widespread deployment and successful operational experience.

In particular, since this appeal is based on a purported technical error
in the spec, we read the appeal to mean that interoperability and "successful operational experience" have not been appropriately
established. None of the other criteria appear to make sense in the
context of this appeal.

RFC 6376 is currently at the abandoned status of Draft Standard, which
it obtained when advancing RFC 4871 from Proposed Standard. This
occurred prior to the publication of RFC 6410, hence the use of the old
Draft Standard status.

An interoperability report was prepared at that time:

In evaluating this appeal, we therefore tried to determine if anything
of the new information provided indicates that the interoperability and
successful operational experience has changed since issuance of that
report, in particular the issues raised in the cited Internet-Draft
prepared prior to and during this appeal:

We have also reviewed the messages posted to the IETF discussion list
responding to draft-otis-dkim-harmful.


The argument set forth in draft-otis-dkim-harmful is that there is a way
to construct or alter an email message that will have a DKIM signature
that validates as per RFC 6376, have a second "From:" header field
prepended to it (rendering the message non-conforming to RFC 5322) that
will not be in the scope of data signed in the DKIM signature, and
therefore be accepted through a spam filter and presented to the
end-user as being both DKIM-validated and appearing to be "from" the
address in the prepended "From:" field that was not included in the DKIM
signature. The draft concludes that therefore the DKIM specification
needs to require that messages with multiple "From:" header fields be
rejected as part of the protocol itself.

However, as described in the recent discussion on the main IETF mailing
list, the DKIM Working Group considered this argument during document
development and concluded the following:

  • DKIM itself is designed to allow the sending MTA to attach a
    signature-authenticated domain name to an email message such that the
    receiver can validate that signature. In particular, DKIM is not a
    complete anti-spam solution and it is not a solution to secure the
    entire content of a message from in-transit modification. A valid DKIM
    signature cannot, in and of itself, identify a message as not having
    been altered, and it cannot identify a message as not being spam.
    Therefore, the addition of a requirement to identify all such
    alterations was considered out of scope for the protocol.

  • Other parts of a spam system are perfectly well able to identify a
    message with multiple "From:" header fields as suspicious and therefore
    mark the message as improperly modified or as spam. A change to the DKIM
    spec to handle this case was seen as unnecessary.

  • The document does give advice on how to avoid the potential for
    problems. It describes the possibility of inserting an extra "From:" field, the limitations of what information DKIM actually provides, and
    what can be done in the context of DKIM if a sending MTA does want to
    not have the signature validate in such a case.

The conclusion of the WG was that the concern was considered, but that
the risk associated with extra "From:" fields was sufficiently mitigated
by the text in the document and that the opinion expressed in
draft-otis-dkim-harmful was an outlier.

The appeal argues that the above conclusions are not satisfactory, and
that new information makes it appropriate to revisit the conclusion and
therefore not reclassify the document as Internet Standard. The Internet
Draft states that the appellants' tests indicate that there are a
significant increase in the number of messages with valid DKIM
signatures that have multiple "From:" fields. However, other posters to
the IETF list indicate that they are seeing no such significant
appearance of messages with valid DKIM signatures and multiple "From:" fields. Furthermore, even if such messages did appear, the appellants
provide no data to indicate that spam engines are accepting these
messages solely based on the DKIM signature, and they provide no data to
indicate that such messages are being displayed to end users
inappropriately as "certified not spam" with the additional "From:" field being displayed as the author of the message.

Therefore, we find nothing in the appeal to indicate that DKIM itself is
non-interoperable or that its deployment has not been successful. We
conclude that the decision to move the document to Internet Standard was
appropriate. No change of action will be made.