Applies to openSUSE Leap 42.3

6 Network Authentication with Kerberos

An open network provides no means of ensuring that a workstation can identify its users properly, except through the usual password mechanisms. In common installations, the user must enter the password each time a service inside the network is accessed. Kerberos provides an authentication method with which a user registers only once and is trusted in the complete network for the rest of the session. To have a secure network, the following requirements must be met:

  • Have all users prove their identity for each desired service and make sure that no one can take the identity of someone else.

  • Make sure that each network server also proves its identity. Otherwise an attacker might be able to impersonate the server and obtain sensitive information transmitted to the server. This concept is called mutual authentication, because the client authenticates to the server and vice versa.

Kerberos helps you meet these requirements by providing strongly encrypted authentication. Only the basic principles of Kerberos are discussed here. For detailed technical instruction, refer to the Kerberos documentation.

6.1 Kerberos Terminology

The following glossary defines some Kerberos terminology.


Users or clients need to present some kind of credentials that authorize them to request services. Kerberos knows two kinds of credentials—tickets and authenticators.


A ticket is a per-server credential used by a client to authenticate at a server from which it is requesting a service. It contains the name of the server, the client's name, the client's Internet address, a time stamp, a lifetime, and a random session key. All this data is encrypted using the server's key.


Combined with the ticket, an authenticator is used to prove that the client presenting a ticket is really the one it claims to be. An authenticator is built using the client's name, the workstation's IP address, and the current workstation's time, all encrypted with the session key known only to the client and the relevant server. An authenticator can only be used once, unlike a ticket. A client can build an authenticator itself.


A Kerberos principal is a unique entity (a user or service) to which it can assign a ticket. A principal consists of the following components:

  • primary:  The first part of the principal. In the case of users, this is usually the same as the user name.

  • instance (optional) Additional information characterizing the primary. This string is separated from the primary by a /. and tux/ can both exist on the same Kerberos system and are treated as different principals.

  • realm:  Specifies the Kerberos realm. Normally, your realm is your domain name in uppercase letters.

mutual authentication

Kerberos ensures that both client and server can be sure of each other's identity. They share a session key, which they can use to communicate securely.

session key

Session keys are temporary private keys generated by Kerberos. They are known to the client and used to encrypt the communication between the client and the server for which it requested and received a ticket.


Almost all messages sent in a network can be eavesdropped, stolen, and resent. In the Kerberos context, this would be most dangerous if an attacker manages to obtain your request for a service containing your ticket and authenticator. The attacker could then try to resend it (replay) to impersonate you. However, Kerberos implements several mechanisms to deal with this problem.

server or service

Service is used to refer to a specific action to perform. The process behind this action is called a server.

6.2 How Kerberos Works

Kerberos is often called a third-party trusted authentication service, which means all its clients trust Kerberos's judgment of another client's identity. Kerberos keeps a database of all its users and their private keys.

To ensure Kerberos is working correctly, run both the authentication and ticket-granting server on a dedicated machine. Make sure that only the administrator can access this machine physically and over the network. Reduce the (networking) services running on it to the absolute minimum—do not even run sshd.

6.2.1 First Contact

Your first contact with Kerberos is quite similar to any login procedure at a normal networking system. Enter your user name. This piece of information and the name of the ticket-granting service are sent to the authentication server (Kerberos). If the authentication server knows you, it generates a random session key for further use between your client and the ticket-granting server. Now the authentication server prepares a ticket for the ticket-granting server. The ticket contains the following information—all encrypted with a session key only the authentication server and the ticket-granting server know:

  • The names of both, the client and the ticket-granting server

  • The current time

  • A lifetime assigned to this ticket

  • The client's IP address

  • The newly-generated session key

This ticket is then sent back to the client together with the session key, again in encrypted form, but this time the private key of the client is used. This private key is only known to Kerberos and the client, because it is derived from your user password. Now that the client has received this response, you are prompted for your password. This password is converted into the key that can decrypt the package sent by the authentication server. The package is unwrapped and password and key are erased from the workstation's memory. As long as the lifetime given to the ticket used to obtain other tickets does not expire, your workstation can prove your identity.

6.2.2 Requesting a Service

To request a service from any server in the network, the client application needs to prove its identity to the server. Therefore, the application generates an authenticator. An authenticator consists of the following components:

  • The client's principal

  • The client's IP address

  • The current time

  • A checksum (chosen by the client)

All this information is encrypted using the session key that the client has already received for this special server. The authenticator and the ticket for the server are sent to the server. The server uses its copy of the session key to decrypt the authenticator, which gives it all the information needed about the client requesting its service, to compare it to that contained in the ticket. The server checks if the ticket and the authenticator originate from the same client.

Without any security measures implemented on the server side, this stage of the process would be an ideal target for replay attacks. Someone could try to resend a request stolen off the net some time before. To prevent this, the server does not accept any request with a time stamp and ticket received previously. In addition to that, a request with a time stamp differing too much from the time the request is received is ignored.

6.2.3 Mutual Authentication

Kerberos authentication can be used in both directions. It is not only a question of the client being the one it claims to be. The server should also be able to authenticate itself to the client requesting its service. Therefore, it sends an authenticator itself. It adds one to the checksum it received in the client's authenticator and encrypts it with the session key, which is shared between it and the client. The client takes this response as a proof of the server's authenticity and they both start cooperating.

6.2.4 Ticket Granting—Contacting All Servers

Tickets are designed to be used for one server at a time. Therefore, you need to get a new ticket each time you request another service. Kerberos implements a mechanism to obtain tickets for individual servers. This service is called the ticket-granting service. The ticket-granting service is a service (like any other service mentioned before) and uses the same access protocols that have already been outlined. Any time an application needs a ticket that has not already been requested, it contacts the ticket-granting server. This request consists of the following components:

  • The requested principal

  • The ticket-granting ticket

  • An authenticator

Like any other server, the ticket-granting server now checks the ticket-granting ticket and the authenticator. If they are considered valid, the ticket-granting server builds a new session key to be used between the original client and the new server. Then the ticket for the new server is built, containing the following information:

  • The client's principal

  • The server's principal

  • The current time

  • The client's IP address

  • The newly-generated session key

The new ticket has a lifetime, which is either the remaining lifetime of the ticket-granting ticket or the default for the service. The lesser of both values is assigned. The client receives this ticket and the session key, which are sent by the ticket-granting service, but this time the answer is encrypted with the session key that came with the original ticket-granting ticket. The client can decrypt the response without requiring the user's password when a new service is contacted. Kerberos can thus acquire ticket after ticket for the client without bothering the user.

6.3 User View of Kerberos

Ideally, a user only contact with Kerberos happens during login at the workstation. The login process includes obtaining a ticket-granting ticket. At logout, a user's Kerberos tickets are automatically destroyed, which makes it difficult for anyone else to impersonate this user.

The automatic expiration of tickets can lead to a somewhat awkward situation when a user's login session lasts longer than the maximum lifespan given to the ticket-granting ticket (a reasonable setting is 10 hours). However, the user can get a new ticket-granting ticket by running kinit. Enter the password again and Kerberos obtains access to desired services without additional authentication. To get a list of all the tickets silently acquired for you by Kerberos, run klist.

Here is a short list of applications that use Kerberos authentication. These applications can be found under /usr/lib/mit/bin or /usr/lib/mit/sbin after installing the package krb5-apps-clients. They all have the full functionality of their common Unix and Linux brothers plus the additional bonus of transparent authentication managed by Kerberos:

  • telnet, telnetd

  • rlogin

  • rsh, rcp, rshd

  • ftp, ftpd

  • ksu

You no longer need to enter your password for using these applications because Kerberos has already proven your identity. ssh, if compiled with Kerberos support, can even forward all the tickets acquired for one workstation to another one. If you use ssh to log in to another workstation, ssh makes sure that the encrypted contents of the tickets are adjusted to the new situation. Simply copying tickets between workstations is not sufficient because the ticket contains workstation-specific information (the IP address). XDM and GDM offer Kerberos support, too. Read more about the Kerberos network applications in Kerberos V5 UNIX User's Guide at

6.4 Installing and Administering Kerberos

A Kerberos environment consists of several components. A key distribution center (KDC) holds the central database with all Kerberos-relevant data. All clients rely on the KDC for proper authentication across the network. Both the KDC and the clients need to be configured to match your setup:

General Preparations

Check your network setup and make sure it meets the minimum requirements outlined in Section 6.4.1, “Kerberos Network Topology”. Choose an appropriate realm for your Kerberos setup, see Section 6.4.2, “Choosing the Kerberos Realms”. Carefully set up the machine that is to serve as the KDC and apply tight security, see Section 6.4.3, “Setting Up the KDC Hardware”. Set up a reliable time source in your network to make sure all tickets contain valid time stamps, see Section 6.4.4, “Configuring Time Synchronization”.

Basic Configuration

Configure the KDC and the clients, see Section 6.4.5, “Configuring the KDC” and Section 6.4.6, “Configuring Kerberos Clients”. Enable remote administration for your Kerberos service, so you do not need physical access to your KDC machine, see Section 6.4.7, “Configuring Remote Kerberos Administration”. Create service principals for every service in your realm, see Section 6.4.8, “Creating Kerberos Service Principals”.

Enabling Kerberos Authentication

Various services in your network can use Kerberos. To add Kerberos password-checking to applications using PAM, proceed as outlined in Section 6.4.9, “Enabling PAM Support for Kerberos”. To configure SSH or LDAP with Kerberos authentication, proceed as outlined in Section 6.4.10, “Configuring SSH for Kerberos Authentication” and Section 6.4.11, “Using LDAP and Kerberos”.

6.4.1 Kerberos Network Topology

Any Kerberos environment must meet the following requirements to be fully functional:

  • Provide a DNS server for name resolution across your network, so clients and servers can locate each other. Refer to Book “Reference”, Chapter 19 “The Domain Name System” for information on DNS setup.

  • Provide a time server in your network. Using exact time stamps is crucial to a Kerberos setup, because valid Kerberos tickets must contain correct time stamps. Refer to Book “Reference”, Chapter 18 “Time Synchronization with NTP” for information on NTP setup.

  • Provide a key distribution center (KDC) as the center piece of the Kerberos architecture. It holds the Kerberos database. Use the tightest possible security policy on this machine to prevent any attacks on this machine compromising your entire infrastructure.

  • Configure the client machines to use Kerberos authentication.

The following figure depicts a simple example network with only the minimum components needed to build a Kerberos infrastructure. Depending on the size and topology of your deployment, your setup may vary.

Kerberos Network Topology
Figure 6.1: Kerberos Network Topology
Tip: Configuring Subnet Routing

For a setup similar to the one in Figure 6.1, “Kerberos Network Topology”, configure routing between the two subnets ( and Refer to Book “Reference”, Chapter 13 “Basic Networking”, Section “Configuring Routing” for more information on configuring routing with YaST.

6.4.2 Choosing the Kerberos Realms

The domain of a Kerberos installation is called a realm and is identified by a name, such as EXAMPLE.COM or simply ACCOUNTING. Kerberos is case-sensitive, so is actually a different realm than EXAMPLE.COM. Use the case you prefer. It is common practice, however, to use uppercase realm names.

It is also a good idea to use your DNS domain name (or a subdomain, such as ACCOUNTING.EXAMPLE.COM). As shown below, your life as an administrator can be much easier if you configure your Kerberos clients to locate the KDC and other Kerberos services via DNS. To do so, it is helpful if your realm name is a subdomain of your DNS domain name.

Unlike the DNS name space, Kerberos is not hierarchical. You cannot set up a realm named EXAMPLE.COM, have two subrealms named DEVELOPMENT and ACCOUNTING underneath it, and expect the two subordinate realms to somehow inherit principals from EXAMPLE.COM. Instead, you would have three separate realms for which you would need to configure cross-realm authentication for users from one realm to interact with servers or other users from another realm.

For the sake of simplicity, let us assume you are setting up just one realm for your entire organization. For the remainder of this section, the realm name EXAMPLE.COM is used in all examples.

6.4.3 Setting Up the KDC Hardware

The first thing required to use Kerberos is a machine that acts as the key distribution center, or KDC for short. This machine holds the entire Kerberos user database with passwords and all information.

The KDC is the most important part of your security infrastructure—if someone breaks into it, all user accounts and all of your infrastructure protected by Kerberos is compromised. An attacker with access to the Kerberos database can impersonate any principal in the database. Tighten security for this machine as much as possible:

  1. Put the server machine into a physically secured location, such as a locked server room to which only a very few people have access.

  2. Do not run any network applications on it except the KDC. This includes servers and clients—for example, the KDC should not import any file systems via NFS or use DHCP to retrieve its network configuration.

  3. Install a minimal system first then check the list of installed packages and remove any unneeded packages. This includes servers, such as inetd, portmap, and CUPS, plus anything X-based. Even installing an SSH server should be considered a potential security risk.

  4. No graphical login is provided on this machine as an X server is a potential security risk. Kerberos provides its own administration interface.

  5. Configure /etc/nsswitch.conf to use only local files for user and group lookup. Change the lines for passwd and group to look like this:

    passwd:         files
    group:          files

    Edit the passwd, group, and shadow files in /etc and remove the lines that start with a + character (these are for NIS lookups).

  6. Disable all user accounts except root's account by editing /etc/shadow and replacing the hashed passwords with * or ! characters.

6.4.4 Configuring Time Synchronization

To use Kerberos successfully, make sure that all system clocks within your organization are synchronized within a certain range. This is important because Kerberos protects against replayed credentials. An attacker might be able to observe Kerberos credentials on the network and reuse them to attack the server. Kerberos employs several defenses to prevent this. One of them is that it puts time stamps into its tickets. A server receiving a ticket with a time stamp that differs from the current time rejects the ticket.

Kerberos allows a certain leeway when comparing time stamps. However, computer clocks can be very inaccurate in keeping time—it is not unheard of for PC clocks to lose or gain half an hour during a week. For this reason, configure all hosts on the network to synchronize their clocks with a central time source.

A simple way to do so is by installing an NTP time server on one machine and having all clients synchronize their clocks with this server. Do this either by running an NTP daemon in client mode on all these machines or by running ntpdate once a day from all clients (this solution probably works for a few clients only). The KDC itself needs to be synchronized to the common time source as well. Because running an NTP daemon on this machine would be a security risk, it is probably a good idea to do this by running ntpdate via a cron entry. To configure your machine as an NTP client, proceed as outlined in Book “Reference”, Chapter 18 “Time Synchronization with NTP”, Section 18.1 “Configuring an NTP Client with YaST”.

A different way to secure the time service and still use the NTP daemon is to attach a hardware reference clock to a dedicated NTP server and an additional hardware reference clock to the KDC.

It is also possible to adjust the maximum deviation Kerberos allows when checking time stamps. This value (called clock skew) can be set in the krb5.conf file as described in Section, “Adjusting the Clock Skew”.

6.4.5 Configuring the KDC

This section covers the initial configuration and installation of the KDC, including the creation of an administrative principal. This procedure consists of several steps:

  1. Install the RPMs.  On a machine designated as the KDC, install the following software packages: krb5, krb5-server and krb5-client packages.

  2. Adjust the Configuration Files.  The /etc/krb5.conf and /var/lib/kerberos/krb5kdc/kdc.conf configuration files must be adjusted for your scenario. These files contain all information on the KDC.

  3. Create the Kerberos Database.  Kerberos keeps a database of all principal identifiers and the secret keys of all principals that need to be authenticated. Refer to Section, “Setting Up the Database” for details.

  4. Adjust the ACL Files: Add Administrators.  The Kerberos database on the KDC can be managed remotely. To prevent unauthorized principals from tampering with the database, Kerberos uses access control lists. You must explicitly enable remote access for the administrator principal to enable them to manage the database. The Kerberos ACL file is located under /var/lib/kerberos/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl. Refer to Section 6.4.7, “Configuring Remote Kerberos Administration” for details.

  5. Adjust the Kerberos Database: Add Administrators.  You need at least one administrative principal to run and administer Kerberos. This principal must be added before starting the KDC. Refer to Section, “Creating a Principal” for details.

  6. Start the Kerberos Daemon.  After the KDC software is installed and properly configured, start the Kerberos daemon to provide Kerberos service for your realm. Refer to Section, “Starting the KDC” for details.

  7. Create a Principal for Yourself.  You need a principal for yourself. Refer to Section, “Creating a Principal” for details. Setting Up the Database

Your next step is to initialize the database where Kerberos keeps all information about principals. Set up the database master key, which is used to protect the database from accidental disclosure (in particular if it is backed up to tape). The master key is derived from a pass phrase and is stored in a file called the stash file. This is so you do not need to enter the password every time the KDC is restarted. Make sure that you choose a good pass phrase, such as a sentence from a book opened to a random page.

When you make tape backups of the Kerberos database (/var/lib/kerberos/krb5kdc/principal), do not back up the stash file (which is in /var/lib/kerberos/krb5kdc/.k5.EXAMPLE.COM). Otherwise, everyone able to read the tape could also decrypt the database. Therefore, keep a copy of the pass phrase in a safe or some other secure location, because you will need it to restore your database from backup tape after a crash.

To create the stash file and the database, run:

kdb5_util create -r EXAMPLE.COM -s

You will see the following output:

Initializing database '/var/lib/kerberos/krb5kdc/principal' for realm 'EXAMPLE.COM',
master key name 'K/M@EXAMPLE.COM'
You will be prompted for the database Master Password.
It is important that you NOT FORGET this password.
Enter KDC database master key:  1
Re-enter KDC database master key to verify:  2


Type the master password.


Type the password again.

To verify, use the list command:


kadmin> listprincs

You will see several principals in the database, which are for internal use by Kerberos:

krbtgt/EXAMPLE.COM@EXAMPLE.COM Creating a Principal

Create two Kerberos principals for yourself: one normal principal for everyday work and one for administrative tasks relating to Kerberos. Assuming your login name is exampleuserIII_plain, proceed as follows:


kadmin> ank geeko

You will see the following output:

geeko@EXAMPLE.COM's Password: 1
Verifying password: 2


Type exampleuserIII_plain's password.


Type exampleuserIII_plain's password again.

Next, create another principal named geeko/admin by typing ank geeko/admin at the kadmin prompt. The admin suffixed to your user name is a role. Later, use this role when administering the Kerberos database. A user can have several roles for different purposes. Roles act like completely different accounts that have similar names. Starting the KDC

Start the KDC daemon and the kadmin daemon. To start the daemons manually, enter:

sudo systemctl start krb5kdc
sudo systemctl start kadmind

Also make sure that the services KDC (krb5kdc) and kadmind (kadmind) are started by default when the server machine is rebooted. Enable them by entering:

sudo systemctl enable krb5kdc kadmind

or by using the YaST Services Manager.

6.4.6 Configuring Kerberos Clients

When the supporting infrastructure is in place (DNS, NTP) and the KDC has been properly configured and started, configure the client machines. To configure a Kerberos client, use one of the two manual approaches described below.

When configuring Kerberos, there are two approaches you can take—static configuration in the /etc/krb5.conf file or dynamic configuration with DNS. With DNS configuration, Kerberos applications try to locate the KDC services using DNS records. With static configuration, add the host names of your KDC server to krb5.conf (and update the file whenever you move the KDC or reconfigure your realm in other ways).

DNS-based configuration is generally a lot more flexible and the amount of configuration work per machine is a lot less. However, it requires that your realm name is either the same as your DNS domain or a subdomain of it. Configuring Kerberos via DNS also creates a minor security issue—an attacker can seriously disrupt your infrastructure through your DNS (by shooting down the name server, spoofing DNS records, etc.). However, this amounts to a denial of service at worst. A similar scenario applies to the static configuration case unless you enter IP addresses in krb5.conf instead of host names. Static Configuration

One way to configure Kerberos is to edit /etc/krb5.conf. The file installed by default contains various sample entries. Erase all of these entries before starting. krb5.conf is made up of several sections (stanzas), each introduced by the section name in brackets like [this].

To configure your Kerberos clients, add the following stanza to krb5.conf (where is the host name of the KDC):

        default_realm = EXAMPLE.COM

        EXAMPLE.COM = {
                kdc =
                admin_server =

The default_realm line sets the default realm for Kerberos applications. If you have several realms, add additional statements to the [realms] section.

Also add a statement to this file that tells applications how to map host names to a realm. For example, when connecting to a remote host, the Kerberos library needs to know in which realm this host is located. This must be configured in the [domain_realms] section:

[domain_realm] = EXAMPLE.COM = EXAMPLE.COM

This tells the library that all hosts in the DNS domains are in the EXAMPLE.COM Kerberos realm. In addition, one external host named should also be considered a member of the EXAMPLE.COM realm. DNS-Based Configuration

DNS-based Kerberos configuration makes heavy use of SRV records. See (RFC2052) A DNS RR for specifying the location of services at

The name of an SRV record, as far as Kerberos is concerned, is always in the format _service._proto.realm, where realm is the Kerberos realm. Domain names in DNS are case-insensitive, so case-sensitive Kerberos realms would break when using this configuration method. _service is a service name (different names are used when trying to contact the KDC or the password service, for example). _proto can be either _udp or _tcp, but not all services support both protocols.

The data portion of SRV resource records consists of a priority value, a weight, a port number, and a host name. The priority defines the order in which hosts should be tried (lower values indicate a higher priority). The weight value is there to support some sort of load balancing among servers of equal priority. You probably do not need any of this, so it is okay to set these to zero.

MIT Kerberos currently looks up the following names when looking for services:


This defines the location of the KDC daemon (the authentication and ticket granting server). Typical records look like this:

_kerberos._udp.EXAMPLE.COM.  IN  SRV    0 0 88
_kerberos._tcp.EXAMPLE.COM.  IN  SRV    0 0 88

This describes the location of the remote administration service. Typical records look like this:

_kerberos-adm._tcp.EXAMPLE.COM. IN  SRV    0 0 749

Because kadmind does not support UDP, there should be no _udp record.

As with the static configuration file, there is a mechanism to inform clients that a specific host is in the EXAMPLE.COM realm, even if it is not part of the DNS domain. This can be done by attaching a TXT record to _kerberos.host_name, as shown here:  IN TXT "EXAMPLE.COM" Adjusting the Clock Skew

The clock skew is the tolerance for accepting tickets with time stamps that do not exactly match the host's system clock. Usually, the clock skew is set to 300 seconds (five minutes). This means a ticket can have a time stamp somewhere between five minutes behind and five minutes ahead of the server's clock.

When using NTP to synchronize all hosts, you can reduce this value to about one minute. The clock skew value can be set in /etc/krb5.conf like this:

        clockskew = 60

6.4.7 Configuring Remote Kerberos Administration

To be able to add and remove principals from the Kerberos database without accessing the KDC's console directly, tell the Kerberos administration server which principals are allowed to do what by editing /var/lib/kerberos/krb5kdc/kadm5.acl. The ACL (access control list) file allows you to specify privileges with a precise degree of control. For details, refer to the manual page with man 8 kadmind.

For now, grant yourself the privilege to administer the database by putting the following line into the file:

geeko/admin              *

Replace the user name exampleuserIII_plain with your own. Restart kadmind for the change to take effect.

You should now be able to perform Kerberos administration tasks remotely using the kadmin tool. First, obtain a ticket for your admin role and use that ticket when connecting to the kadmin server:

kadmin -p geeko/admin
Authenticating as principal geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.
Password for geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM:
kadmin:  getprivs
current privileges: GET ADD MODIFY DELETE

Using the getprivs command, verify which privileges you have. The list shown above is the full set of privileges.

As an example, modify the principal exampleuserIII_plain:

kadmin -p geeko/admin
Authenticating as principal geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.
Password for geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM:

kadmin:  getprinc geeko
Principal: geeko@EXAMPLE.COM
Expiration date: [never]
Last password change: Wed Jan 12 17:28:46 CET 2005
Password expiration date: [none]
Maximum ticket life: 0 days 10:00:00
Maximum renewable life: 7 days 00:00:00
Last modified: Wed Jan 12 17:47:17 CET 2005 (admin/admin@EXAMPLE.COM)
Last successful authentication: [never]
Last failed authentication: [never]
Failed password attempts: 0
Number of keys: 2
Key: vno 1, Triple DES cbc mode with HMAC/sha1, no salt
Key: vno 1, DES cbc mode with CRC-32, no salt
Policy: [none]

kadmin:  modify_principal -maxlife "8 hours" geeko
Principal "geeko@EXAMPLE.COM" modified.
kadmin:  getprinc geeko
Principal: geeko@EXAMPLE.COM
Expiration date: [never]
Last password change: Wed Jan 12 17:28:46 CET 2005
Password expiration date: [none]
Maximum ticket life: 0 days 08:00:00
Maximum renewable life: 7 days 00:00:00
Last modified: Wed Jan 12 17:59:49 CET 2005 (geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM)
Last successful authentication: [never]
Last failed authentication: [never]
Failed password attempts: 0
Number of keys: 2
Key: vno 1, Triple DES cbc mode with HMAC/sha1, no salt
Key: vno 1, DES cbc mode with CRC-32, no salt
Policy: [none]

This changes the maximum ticket life time to eight hours. For more information about the kadmin command and the options available, see the krb5-doc package or refer to the man 8 kadmin manual page.

6.4.8 Creating Kerberos Service Principals

So far, only user credentials have been discussed. However, Kerberos-compatible services usually need to authenticate themselves to the client user, too. Therefore, special service principals must be in the Kerberos database for each service offered in the realm. For example, if offers an LDAP service, you need a service principal, ldap/, to authenticate this service to all clients.

The naming convention for service principals is SERVICE/HOSTNAME@REALM, where HOSTNAME is the host's fully qualified host name.

Valid service descriptors are:

Service Descriptor



Telnet, RSH, SSH


NFSv4 (with Kerberos support)


HTTP (with Kerberos authentication)







Service principals are similar to user principals, but have significant differences. The main difference between a user principal and a service principal is that the key of the former is protected by a password. When a user obtains a ticket-granting ticket from the KDC, they needs to type their password, so Kerberos can decrypt the ticket. It would be inconvenient for system administrators to obtain new tickets for the SSH daemon every eight hours or so.

Instead, the key required to decrypt the initial ticket for the service principal is extracted by the administrator from the KDC only once and stored in a local file called the keytab. Services such as the SSH daemon read this key and use it to obtain new tickets automatically, when needed. The default keytab file resides in /etc/krb5.keytab.

To create a host service principal for enter the following commands during your kadmin session:

kadmin -p geeko/admin
Authenticating as principal geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM with password.
Password for geeko/admin@EXAMPLE.COM:
kadmin:  addprinc -randkey host/
WARNING: no policy specified for host/;
defaulting to no policy
Principal "host/" created.

Instead of setting a password for the new principal, the -randkey flag tells kadmin to generate a random key. This is used here because no user interaction is wanted for this principal. It is a server account for the machine.

Finally, extract the key and store it in the local keytab file /etc/krb5.keytab. This file is owned by the superuser, so you must be root to execute the next command in the kadmin shell:

kadmin:  ktadd host/
Entry for principal host/ with kvno 3, encryption type Triple
DES cbc mode with HMAC/sha1 added to keytab WRFILE:/etc/krb5.keytab.
Entry for principal host/ with kvno 3, encryption type DES
cbc mode with CRC-32 added to keytab WRFILE:/etc/krb5.keytab.

When completed, make sure that you destroy the admin ticket obtained with kinit above with kdestroy.

6.4.9 Enabling PAM Support for Kerberos

Warning: Incomplete Configuration Locks Users Out

An incomplete Kerberos configuration may completely lock you out of your system, including the root user. To prevent this, add the ignore_unknown_principals directive to the pam_krb5 module after you have added the pam_krb5 module to the existing PAM configuration files as described below.

tux > sudo pam-config --add --krb5-ignore_unknown_principals

This will direct the pam_krb5 module to ignore some errors that would otherwise cause the account phase to fail.

openSUSE® Leap comes with a PAM module named pam_krb5, which supports Kerberos login and password update. This module can be used by applications such as console login, su, and graphical login applications like GDM. That is, it can be used in all cases where the user enters a password and expects the authenticating application to obtain an initial Kerberos ticket on their behalf. To configure PAM support for Kerberos, use the following command:

tux > sudo pam-config --add --krb5

The above command adds the pam_krb5 module to the existing PAM configuration files and makes sure it is called in the right order. To make precise adjustments to the way in which pam_krb5 is used, edit the file /etc/krb5.conf and add default applications to PAM. For details, refer to the manual page with man 5 pam_krb5.

The pam_krb5 module was specifically not designed for network services that accept Kerberos tickets as part of user authentication. This is an entirely different matter, and is discussed below.

6.4.10 Configuring SSH for Kerberos Authentication

OpenSSH supports Kerberos authentication in both protocol version 1 and 2. In version 1, there are special protocol messages to transmit Kerberos tickets. Version 2 does not use Kerberos directly anymore, but relies on GSSAPI, the General Security Services API. This is a programming interface that is not specific to Kerberos—it was designed to hide the peculiarities of the underlying authentication system, be it Kerberos, a public-key authentication system like SPKM, or others. However, the included GSSAPI library only supports Kerberos.

To use sshd with Kerberos authentication, edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config and set the following options:

# These are for protocol version 1
# KerberosAuthentication yes
# KerberosTicketCleanup yes

# These are for version 2 - better to use this
GSSAPIAuthentication yes
GSSAPICleanupCredentials yes

Then restart your SSH daemon using sudo systemctl restart sshd.

To use Kerberos authentication with protocol version 2, enable it on the client side as well. Do this either in the systemwide configuration file /etc/ssh/ssh_config or on a per-user level by editing ~/.ssh/config. In both cases, add the option GSSAPIAuthentication yes.

You should now be able to connect using Kerberos authentication. Use klist to verify that you have a valid ticket, then connect to the SSH server. To force SSH protocol version 1, specify the -1 option on the command line.

Tip: Additional Information

The file /usr/share/doc/packages/openssh/README.kerberos discusses the interaction of OpenSSH and Kerberos in more detail.

Tip: Additional Directives for Protocol Version 2

The GSSAPIKeyExchange mechanism (RFC 4462) is supported. This directive specifies how host keys are exchanged. For more information, see the sshd_config manual page (man sshd_config).

6.4.11 Using LDAP and Kerberos

When using Kerberos, one way to distribute the user information (such as user ID, groups, and home directory) in your local network is to use LDAP. This requires a strong authentication mechanism that prevents packet spoofing and other attacks. One solution is to use Kerberos for LDAP communication, too.

OpenLDAP implements most authentication flavors through SASL, the simple authentication session layer. SASL is a network protocol designed for authentication. The SASL implementation is cyrus-sasl, which supports several authentication flavors. Kerberos authentication is performed through GSSAPI (General Security Services API). By default, the SASL plug-in for GSSAPI is not installed. Install the cyrus-sasl-gssapi with YaST.

To enable Kerberos to bind to the OpenLDAP server, create a principal ldap/ and add that to the keytab.

By default, the LDAP server slapd runs as user and group ldap, while the keytab file is readable by root only. Therefore, either change the LDAP configuration so the server runs as root or make the keytab file readable by the group ldap. The latter is done automatically by the OpenLDAP start script (/usr/lib/openldap/start) if the keytab file has been specified in the OPENLDAP_KRB5_KEYTAB variable in /etc/sysconfig/openldap and the OPENLDAP_CHOWN_DIRS variable is set to yes, which is the default setting. If OPENLDAP_KRB5_KEYTAB is left empty, the default keytab under /etc/krb5.keytab is used and you must adjust the privileges yourself as described below.

To run slapd as root, edit /etc/sysconfig/openldap. Disable the OPENLDAP_USER and OPENLDAP_GROUP variables by putting a comment character in front of them.

To make the keytab file readable by group LDAP, execute

chgrp ldap /etc/krb5.keytab
chmod 640 /etc/krb5.keytab

A third (and maybe the best) solution is to tell OpenLDAP to use a special keytab file. To do this, start kadmin, and enter the following command after you have added the principal ldap/

ktadd -k /etc/openldap/ldap.keytab ldap/

Then in the shell run:

chown ldap.ldap /etc/openldap/ldap.keytab
chmod 600 /etc/openldap/ldap.keytab

To tell OpenLDAP to use a different keytab file, change the following variable in /etc/sysconfig/openldap:


Finally, restart the LDAP server using sudo systemctl restart slapd. Using Kerberos Authentication with LDAP

You are now able to automatically use tools such as ldapsearch with Kerberos authentication.

ldapsearch -b ou=people,dc=example,dc=com '(uid=geeko)'

SASL/GSSAPI authentication started
SASL installing layers

# geeko, people,
dn: uid=geeko,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com
uid: geeko
cn: Suzanne Geeko

As you can see, ldapsearch prints a message that it started GSSAPI authentication. The next message is very cryptic, but it shows that the security strength factor (SSF for short) is 56 (The value 56 is somewhat arbitrary. Most likely it was chosen because this is the number of bits in a DES encryption key). This means that GSSAPI authentication was successful and that encryption is being used to protect integrity and provide confidentiality for the LDAP connection.

In Kerberos, authentication is always mutual. This means that not only have you authenticated yourself to the LDAP server, but also the LDAP server has authenticated itself to you. In particular, this means communication is with the desired LDAP server, rather than some bogus service set up by an attacker. Kerberos Authentication and LDAP Access Control

There is one minor piece of the puzzle missing—how the LDAP server can find out that the Kerberos user tux@EXAMPLE.COM corresponds to the LDAP distinguished name uid=tux,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com. This sort of mapping must be configured manually using the saslExpr directive. In this example, the "authz-regexp" change in LDIF would look as follows:

dn: cn=config
add: olcAuthzRegexp
olcAuthzRegexp: uid=(.*),cn=GSSAPI,cn=auth uid=$1,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com

All these changes can be applied via ldapmodify on the command line.

When SASL authenticates a user, OpenLDAP forms a distinguished name from the name given to it by SASL (such as tux) and the name of the SASL flavor (GSSAPI). The result would be uid=tux,cn=GSSAPI,cn=auth.

If a authz-regexp has been configured, it checks the DN formed from the SASL information using the first argument as a regular expression. If this regular expression matches, the name is replaced with the second argument of the authz-regexp statement. The placeholder $1 is replaced with the substring matched by the (.*) expression.

More complicated match expressions are possible. If you have a more complicated directory structure or a schema in which the user name is not part of the DN, you can even use search expressions to map the SASL DN to the user DN.

For more information, see the slapd-config man page.

6.5 Setting up Kerberos using LDAP and Kerberos Client

YaST includes the module LDAP and Kerberos Client that helps define authentication scenarios involving either LDAP or Kerberos.

It can also be used to join Kerberos and LDAP separately. However, in many such cases, using this module may not be the first choice, such as for joining Active Directory (which uses a combination of LDAP and Kerberos). For more information, see Section 4.2, “Configuring an Authentication Client with YaST”.

Start the module by selecting Network Services › LDAP and Kerberos Client.

LDAP and Kerberos Client Window
Figure 6.2: LDAP and Kerberos Client Window

To configure a Kerberos client, follow the procedure below:

  1. In the window LDAP and Kerberos Client, click Change Settings.

    Choose the tab Authentication via Kerberos.

    Tab Authentication via Kerberos
  2. Click Add Realm.

  3. In the appearing dialog, specify the correct Realm name. Usually, the realm name is an uppercase version of the domain name. Additionally, you can specify the following:

    • To apply mappings from the realm name to the domain name, activate Map Domain Name to the Realm and/or Map Wildcard Domain Name to the Realm.

    • You can specify the Host Name of Administration Server, the Host Name of Master Key Distribution Server and additional Key Distribution Centers.

      All of these items are optional if they can be automatically discovered via the SRV and TXT records in DNS.

    • To manually map Principals to local user names, use Custom Mappings of Principal Names to User Names.

      You can also use auth_to_local rules to supply such mappings using Custom Rules for Mapping Principal Names to User Names. For more information about using such rules, see the official documentation at

    Continue with OK.

  4. To add more realms, repeat from Step 2.

  5. Enable Kerberos users logging in and creation of home directories by activating Allow Kerberos Users to Authenticate and Automatically Create Home Directory.

  6. If you left empty the optional text boxes in Step 3, make sure to enable automatic discovery of realms and key distribution centers by activating Use DNS TXT Record to Discover Realms and Use DNS SRV Record to Discover KDC Servers.

  7. You can additionally activate the following:

    • Allow Insecure Encryption (for Windows NT) allows the encryption types listed as weak at

    • Allow KDC on Other Networks to Issue Authentication Tickets allows forwarding of tickets.

    • Allow Kerberos-Enabled Services to Take on The Identity Of a User allows the use of proxies between the computer of the user and the key distribution center.

    • Issue Address-Less Tickets for Computers Behind NAT allows granting tickets to users behind networks using network address translation.

  8. To set up allowed encryption types and define the name of the keytab file which lists the names of principals and their encrypted keys, use the Extended Options.

  9. Finish with OK and Finish.

    YaST may now install extra packages.

6.6 For More Information

The official site of MIT Kerberos is There, find links to any other relevant resource concerning Kerberos, including Kerberos installation, user, and administration guides.

The book Kerberos—A Network Authentication System by Brian Tung (ISBN 0-201-37924-4) offers extensive information.

Print this page