Currently, once a Kerberos key has been created it is not possible to retrieve it from the KDC. The only option is to generate a new key. However it is suboptimal when multiple machines (e.g. a cluster) need to share the same key (high availability/load balancing purposes). In these cases distributing the key needs to be performed completely through out of band/custom channels.

A mechanism to be able to retrieve an existing key from the KDC (subject to access control) resolves the secure distribution channel problem. Leaving to the cluster members only the problem of retrieving the key when a new one is created or an old one rotated.

Additionally, the current setkeytab extended operation is suboptimal as it creates keys on the client system. This has 2 bad side effects:

  1. Password policies can’t be applied because the server never sees the plain text

  2. Keys for algorithms unknown to the client but known to the server cannot be generated (useful when admins workstations request keys on behalf of other systems).

Use Cases#

A load balancing cluster of HTTP server that allow GSSAPI/Krb5 negotiation#

The load balancing servers need to be able to share the same Service Principal Name (SPN) for HTTP/public-http-server-name@REALM and key so that whichever cluster member a client contact can decrypt the ticket and authenticate the client.

This may be coupled with throwaway machines, where for example the number of load balancer cluster members increase dynamically with the traffic, so new machines are added to the pool dynamically.

In this case, assuming provisioning of individual machines credentials is taken care of by the provisioning software, each machine can be given the right to fetch the key for the common SPN, so that they can obtain the necessary key material via an authenticated request to the IPA server.


The solution is to extend the password management plugin in FreeIPA to also allow retrieving existing keys, and subject retrieval to strict access control.

One of the problems of designing access control is that we cannot rely just on making the KrbPrincipalKey attribute readable. Because that attribute is actually encrypted and needs to be decrypted before a keytab can be returned. It would also mean the attribute can be explicitly fetched and brute force attacks run on it.

Because we need to process a request we need to create a new extended operation similar to the setkeytab extended operation already available.

New Extended operation#

New Extended operation OID: 2.16.840.1.113730.

The new extended operation allows to create a new keytab or get an existing one and aim to supplant the current setkeytab extended operation, allowing to eventually turn off the old one.

The following is the psudo-ASN.1 code definition for the extended operation payload:

KeytabGetRequest ::= CHOICE {
    newkey s     [0] NewKeys,
    curkey s     [0] CurrentKeys,
    reply        [2] Reply
NewKeys ::= SEQUENCE {
    serviceIdentity [0] OCTET STRING,
    enctypes        [1] SEQUENCE OF Int16,
    password        [2] OCTET STRING OPTIONAL
CurrentKeys ::= SEQUENCE {
    serviceIdentity [0] OCTET STRING

If the getNew attribute is true a new keytab is being requested. In this case a password may be provided or not. If not one is generated randomly. In case a password is provided it is subject to password policy checking as per policies defined on the entry for which a keytab is being requested. A list of enctypes is always necessary in input when a new keytab is requested. However the list is filtered though the allowable enctypes list and if nothing is left the operation is refused.

If the getNew attribute is false, then the existing key is being requested. In this case password and enctypes MUST NOT be set.

Reply ::= SEQUENCE {
    new_kvno        Int32
    keys            SEQUENCE OF KrbKey,
KrbKey ::= SEQUENCE {
    key       [0] EncryptionKey,
    salt      [1] KrbSalt OPTIONAL,
    s2kparams [2] OCTET STRING OPTIONAL,
EncryptionKey ::= SEQUENCE {
    keytype   [0] Int32,
    keyvalue  [1] OCTET STRING
KrbSalt ::= SEQUENCE {
    type      [0] Int32,
    salt      [1] OCTET STRING

The reply actually is very similar to the current setkeytab request format.

A kvno is returned, followed by a sequence of KrbKeys. Each KrbKey is constituted of an EncryptionKey buffer which includes an integer that indicated the encryption type used and an octet string that holds the actual key material. Optionally a KrbSalt is added again indicating type and optionally a value.

This is the information actually needed by a client to be able to write out a keytab after receiving the reply.

Access Control#

It would be nice, at this point to be able to have a way to express access control related to actions taken by extended operations rather than just direct access to attributes and to relate this access to actors and targets.

The actors are the users attempting the operation as authenticated by the Directory Server. The targets are the objects that hold the information. What is missing is a way to describe permissions that tie a specific extended operation to them.

For this a new schema is necessary, based on a nice feature that is available in LDAP - sub-types.

New Schema#


IPA_OID.11.51 NAME 'ipaAllowedToPerform'
              DESC 'DNs allowed to perform an operation'
              SUP distinguishedName X-ORIGIN 'IPA-v3')
IPA_OID.11.52 NAME 'ipaProtectedOperation'
              DESC 'Operation to be protected'
              EQUALITY caseIgnoreMatch SYNTAX{128} )


IPA_OID.12.22 NAME 'ipaAllowedOperations'
              SUP top AUXILIARY
              DESC 'Class to apply access controls to arbitrary operations'
              MAY ( ipaAllowedToPerform $ ipaProtectedOperation ) X-ORIGIN 'IPA v3')

This schema allows to add the ipaAllowedToPerform attribute to an object, with a sub-type that indicates what special operation we want to allow. The DN in the value indicates who is allowed to perform the operation. The ipaProtectedOperation attribute is “virtual” and is only ever used in ACI instructions. An extended plugin that want to check if an operation is possible will check if operating on the ipaProtectedOperation;sub-type attribute is allowed but that operation will never actually be performed. However if it were nothing would really happen, a useless attribute may end up being added to an object, but that wouldn’t change the security properties of the operation.

New ACIs#

The extended operation uses 2 named sub-types: read_keys/write_keys. The read_keys sub-type identify the ability to retrieve a key, while write_keys allows someone to create a new key (from a password or a randomly generated one).

An example ACI rule to allow retrieval is this:

aci: (targetattr="ipaProtectedOperation;read_keys")(version 3.0; acl "Users allowed to retrieve keytab keys"; allow(read) userattr="ipaAllowedToPerform;read_keys#USERDN";)

For this ACI to have effect an attribute needs to be added to a target service entry like this:

dn: HTTP/,cn=services,cn=accounts,dc=example,dc=com
changetype: modify
add: objectclass
objectclass: ipaAllowedOperations
add: ipaAllowedToPerform;read_key

With this ACI and attributes in place, and hosts can retrieve an existing keytab for the service HTTP on the host.

V4/Keytab Retrieval Management design page describes administration interface for setting the ipaAllowedToPerform attribute. CLI equivalent for the LDIF above is:

ipa service-allow-retrieve-keytab HTTP/ --hosts={,,}

Compatibility with older FreeIPA servers#

ipa-getkeytab falls back to the old extended operation for fetching new keys when an old server does not have the new extended operation.


The old setkeytab operation was used in conjunction with the managedBy attribute to allow to set keytabs by other entities. For example the host keytab is allowed, by default to request arbitrary services keys on the same hosts via the managedBy attribute.

In order to preserve this feature an additional ACI has been provided:

aci: (targetattr="ipaProtectedOperation;write_keys")(version 3.0; acl "Entities are allowed to rekey managed entries"; allow(write) userattr="managedby#USERDN";)

Feature Management#




ipa-getkeytab has a new -r switch:

`` -r, –retrieve Retrieve current keys without changing them``

How to Test#

Use Case: A load balancing cluster of HTTP server that allow GSSAPI/Krb5 negotiation (TBD)#

  1. Install FreeIPA server with DNS on a host, e.g. with hostname server.example.test

  2. Enroll FreeIPA clients client1.example.test and client2.example.test

  3. Create DNS A record client.example.test that has 2 forward addresses of client1.example.test and client2.example.test

  4. Add a new host client.example.test - there will be no client enrolled to it:

    ipa host-add client.example.test

  5. Add a new service HTTP/client.example.test:

    ipa service-add HTTP/client.example.test

  6. Allow client1.example.test and client2.example.test to read client.example.test Kerberos key by configuring ipaAllowedToPerform;read_key attribute following the example in New ACIs section.

    ipa service-allow-retrieve-keytab HTTP/client.example.test --hosts={client1.example.test,client2.example.test}

  7. On both client1.example.test and client2.example.test read the keytab for client.example.test

    ipa-getkeytab -r -s server.example.test -p HTTP/client.example.test -k /etc/httpd/conf/client.keytab

  8. Configure Apache with mod_auth_kerb on both clients and secure it with Kerberos

  9. With any FreeIPA user with valid Kerberos ticket, try to access web server on client.example.test. It should work fine whether forwarded to client1.example.test or client2.example.test

Category:FreeIPA V4 Test Plan Category:FreeIPA Test Plan