authsrv, p9any, p9sk1, dp9ik – authentication protocols


This manual page describes the protocols used to authorize connections, confirm the identities of users and machines, and maintain the associated databases. The machine that provides these services is called the authentication server (AS). The AS may be a stand-alone machine or a general-use machine such as a CPU server. The network database ndb(6) holds for each public machine, such as a CPU server or file server, the name of the authentication server that machine uses.

Each machine contains four values important to authentication; a 56-bit DES key, a 128-bit AES key, a 28-byte authentication ID, and a 48-byte authentication domain name. The ID is a user name and identifies who is currently responsible for the kernel running on that machine. The domain name identifies the machines across which the ID is valid. Together, the ID and domain name identify the owner of a key.

When a terminal boots, factotum(4) prompts for user name and password. The user name becomes the terminal’s authentication ID. The password is converted using passtokey (see authsrv(2)) into a 56-bit DES and 128-bit AES keys and saved in memory. The authentication domain is set to the null string. If possible, factotum validates the key with the AS before saving it. For Internet machines the correct AS to ask is found using dhcpd(8).

When a CPU or file server boots, factotum reads the key, ID, and domain name from non-volatile RAM. This allows servers to reboot without operator intervention.

The details of any authentication are mixed with the semantics of the particular service they are authenticating so we describe them one case at a time. The following definitions will be used in the descriptions:


server’s host ID’s key  


client’s host ID’s key  


a nonce key created for a ticket (key)  


message m encrypted with key K  


an 8-byte random challenge from a client (chal)  


an 8-byte random challenge from a server (chal)  


server’s ID (authid)  


server’s authentication domain name (authdom)  


client’s ID (hostid, cuid)  


client’s desired ID on server (uid, suid)  


client → AS DH public key  


AS → client DH public key  


server → AS DH public key  


AS → server DH public key  


client’s 32-byte random string  


server’s 32-byte random string  

The parenthesized names are the ones used in the Ticketreq and Ticket structures in <authsrv.h>.

The message type constants AuthTreq, AuthChal, AuthPass, AuthOK, AuthErr, AuthMod, AuthApop, AuthOKvar, AuthChap, AuthMSchap, AuthCram, AuthVNC, and AuthPAK (type) are defined in <authsrv.h>, as are the encrypted message types AuthTs, AuthAs, AuthAc, AuthTp, and AuthHr (num).

Ticket Service

When a client and server wish to authenticate to each other, they do so using tickets issued by the AS. Obtaining tickets from the AS is the client’s responsibility.

The protocol to obtain a ticket pair is:


AuthTreq, IDs, DN, CHs, IDc, IDr  


AuthOK, Kc{AuthTc, CHs, IDc, IDr, Kn}, Ks{AuthTs, CHs, IDc, IDr, Kn}  

The two tickets are identical except for their type fields and the keys with which they are encrypted. The client and server can each decrypt one of the tickets, establishing a shared secret Kn.

The tickets can be viewed as a statement by the AS that “a client possessing the Kn key is allowed to authenticate as IDr.”

The presence of the server challenge CHs in the ticket allows the server to verify the freshness of the ticket pair.

The AS sets the IDr in the tickets to the requested IDr only if IDc is allowed to speak for (q.v.) IDr. If not, the AS sets IDr to the empty string.

If the users IDc or IDs do not exist, the AS silently generates one-time random keys to use in place of Kc or Ks, so that clients cannot probe the AS to learn whether a user name is valid.


The Plan 9 shared key protocol p9sk1 allows a client and server to authenticate each other. The protocol is:


The client starts by sending a random challenge to the server.  


AuthTreq, IDs, DN, CHs, ,
The server replies with a ticket request giving its id and authentication domain along with its own random challenge.  


Ks{AuthTs, CHs, IDc, IDr, Kn}, Kn{AuthAc, CHs}
The client adds IDc and IDr to the ticket request and obtains a ticket pair from the AS as described above. The client relays the server’s ticket along with an authenticator, the AuthAc message. The authenticator proves to the server that the client knows Kn and is therefore allowed to authenticate as IDr. (The inclusion of CHs in the authenticator avoids replay attacks.)  


Kn{AuthAs, CHc}
The server replies with its own authenticator, proving to the client that it also knows Kn and therefore Ks .  

The 64-bit shared secret Kn is used as the session secret.

Password authenticated key exchange

Initially, the server and client keys Ks and Kc were equivalent to the password derived 56-bit DES keys, which made the encrypted tickets subject to offline dictionary attacks and provided too small a key space against brute force attacks on current hardware.

The AuthPAK protocol is used to establish new 256-bit random keys with the AS for Ks and Kc before each ticket request on the connection.

The protocol is based on SPAKE2EE, where a hash of the user’s secret is used to encypt the public keys of a Elliptic-Curve Diffie-Hellman key exchange. The user’s ID and 128-bit AES key is hashed and mapped (using Elligator2) into two curve points PM and PN, called the pakhash. Both sides generate a random number xa/xb and make the public keys YA/YB as: YA=xa*G+PM, YB=xb*G+PN. After the public keys have been exchanged, each side calculates the shared secret as: Z=xa*(YB-PN)=xb*(YA-PM). The shared secret Z is then hashed with the transmitted public keys YA|YB producing the 256-bit pakkey.

The pakkey is then used in place of Ks and Kc to authenticate and encrypt tickets from the AS using Chacha20/Poly1305 AEAD for the next following request made on the connection.

The protocol (for AuthTreq) to establish keys Ks and Kc with the AS for IDs and IDc is:


AuthPAK, IDs, DN, CHs, IDc, IDr, YAs, YAc  


AuthOK, YBs, YBc  

The protocol (for AuthApop, AuthChap...) to establish a single server key Ks for IDs:


AuthPAK, , DN, CHs, IDs, IDc, YAs  


AuthOK, YBs  

The protocol (for AuthPass) to establish a single client key Kc for IDc:


AuthPAK, , , CHc, , IDc, YAc  


AuthOK, YBc  


The dp9ik protocol is an extended version of p9sk1 that adds the random strings RNc and RNs in the authenticator messages for the session key derivation and uses the password authenticated key exchange as described above to derive the ticket encryption keys Ks and Kc:


The client starts by sending a random challenge to the server.  


AuthPAK, IDs, DN, CHs, , , YAs
The server generates a new public key YAs and replies with a AuthPAK request giving its IDs and authentication domain DNs along with its own random challenge CHs and its public key YAs.  


YBs, Ks{AuthTs, CHs, IDc, IDr, Kn}, Kn{AuthAc, CHs, RNc}
The client generates its own public key YAc and adds it along with IDc and IDr to the AuthPAK request and obtains the public keys YBs and YBc from the AS response. At this point, client and AS have completed their authenticated key exchange and derive Kc as described above. Then the client requests a ticket pair using the same message but with AuthPAK type changed to AuthTreq. It decrypts his ticket with Kc extracting the shared secret Kn. The client relays the server’s YBs and ticket along with an authenticator, the AuthAc message. The server finishes his authenticated key exchange using YBs and derives Ks to decrypt his ticket to extract the shared secret Kn. When the decryption of the clients authenticator using Kn is successfull then this proves to the server that the client knows Kn and is therefore allowed to authenticate as IDr. The random string RNc is used in the derivation of the session secret.  


Kn{AuthAs, CHc, RNs}
The server replies with its own authenticator, proving to the client that it also knows Kn and contributes its random string RNs for the session secret.  

The 2048-bit session secret is derived with HKDF-SHA256 hashing the concatenated random strings RNc|RNs with the the shared secret key Kn.


P9any is the standard Plan 9 authentication protocol. It consists of a negotiation to determine a common protocol, followed by the agreed-upon protocol.

The negotiation protocol is:


proto@authdom proto@authdom ...  


proto dom  

Each message is a NUL-terminated UTF string. The server begins by sending a list of proto, authdom pairs it is willing to use. The client responds with its choice.

A second version of this protocol exists (indicated by the v.2 prefix before the list) where the server sends an explicit confirmation with a OK message before the agreed-upon protocol starts.


v.2 proto@authdom proto@authdom ...  


proto dom  



The p9any protocol is the protocol used by all Plan 9 services. The file server runs it over special authentication files (see fauth(2) and attach(5)). Other services, such as cpu(1), exportfs(4) and tlssrv(8) run p9any over the network and then use the session secret to derive an ssl(3) or tls(3) key to encrypt the rest of their communications.

Password Change

Users connect directly to the AS to change their passwords. The protocol is:


AuthPass, , , CHc, , IDc
The client sends a password change ticket request.  


Kc{AuthTp, CHc, IDc, IDc, Kn}
The server responds with a ticket containing the key Kn encrypted with the client’s key Kc  


Kn{AuthPass, old, new, changesecret, secret}
The client decrypts the ticket using the old password and then sends back an encrypted password request (Passwordreq structure) containing the old password and the new password. If changesecret is set, the AS also changes the user’s secret, the password used for non-Plan 9 authentications.  


AuthOK or AuthErr, 64-byte error message
The AS responds with simply AuthOK or with AuthErr followed by a 64-byte error message.  

Authentication Database

An ndb(2) database file /lib/ndb/auth exists for the AS. This database maintains “speaks for” relationships, i.e., it lists which users may speak for other users when authenticating. The attribute types used by the AS are hostid and uid. The value in the hostid is a client host’s ID. The values in the uid pairs in the same entry list which users that host ID may speak for. A uid value of * means the host ID may speak for all users. A uid value of !user means the host ID may not speak for user. For example:

	uid=!sys uid=!adm uid=*

is interpreted as bootes may speak for any user except sys and adm. This property is used heavily on CPU servers.

Foreign Protocols

The AS accepts ticket request messages of types other than AuthTreq to allow users to authenticate using non-Plan 9 protocols. In these situations, the server communicates directly with the AS. Some protocols must begin without knowing the client’s name. They ignore the client name in the ticket request. All the protocols end with the AS sending an AuthOK message containing a server ticket and authenticator.

AuthOK messages always have a fixed but context-dependent size. The occasional variable-length OK message starts with a AuthOKvar byte and a five-byte space-padded decimal length of the data that follows.

Anywhere an AuthOK message is expected, a AuthErr message may be substituted.

unhandled troff command .de


AuthOK, Ks{AuthTs, CHs, IDc, IDc, Kn}, Kn{AuthAc, CHs}  

unhandled troff command ..


AuthChal, , DN, CHs, IDs, IDc  


AuthOK, challenge  



unhandled troff command .Ok

This protocol allows the use of handheld authenticators such as SecureNet keys and SecureID tokens in programs such as telnetd and ftpd (see ipserv(8)).  

Challenge and response are text strings, NUL -padded to 16 bytes (NETCHLEN). The challenge is a random five-digit decimal number. When using a SecureNet key or netkey (see passwd(1)), the response is an eight-digit decimal or hexadecimal number that is an encryption of the challenge using the user’s DES key.  

When using a SecureID token, the challenge is ignored. The response is the user’s PIN followed by the six-digit number currently displayed on the token. In this case, the AS queries an external RADIUS server to check the response. Use of a RADIUS server requires an entry in the authentication database. For example:  


    radius=server-name secret=xyzzy
        uid=howard rid=trickey
        uid=sape   rid=smullender

In this example, the secret xyzzy is the hash key used in talking to the RADIUS server. The uid/rid lines map from Plan 9 user ids to RADIUS ids. Users not listed are assumed to have the same id in both places.  


AuthApop, , DN, CHs, IDs,  


AuthOKvar, challenge  


AuthApop, , DN, CHs, IDs, IDc; hexadecimal MD5 checksum  

unhandled troff command .Ok

This protocol implements APOP authentication (see pop3(8)). After receiving a ticket request of type AuthApop, the AS generates a random challenge of the form <random@domain>. The client then replies with a new ticket request giving the user name followed by the MD5 checksum of the challenge concatenated with the user’s secret. If the response is correct, the authentication server sends back a ticket and authenticator. If the response is incorrect, the client may repeat the ticket request/MD5 checksum message to try again.  

The AuthCram protocol runs identically to the AuthApop protocol, except that the expected MD5 checksum is the keyed MD5 hash using the user’s secret as the key (see hmac_md5 in sechash(2)).  


AuthChap, , DN, CHs, IDs,  




pktid, IDc, response  

unhandled troff command .Ok

This protocol implements CHAP authentication (see ppp(8)). The challenge is eight random bytes. The response is a 16-byte MD5 checksum over the packet id, user’s secret, and challenge. The reply packet is defined as OChapreply in <authsrv.h>.  


AuthMSchap, , DN, CHs, IDs,  




IDc, lm-response, nt-response  

unhandled troff command .Ok

This protocol implements Microsoft’s MS-CHAP authentication (see ppp(8)). The challenge is eight random bytes. The two responses are Microsoft’s LM and NT hashes. Only the NT hash may be used to authenticate, as the LM hash is considered too weak. The reply packet is defined as OMSchapreply in <authsrv.h>.  


AuthVNC, , DN, CHs, IDs, IDc  


AuthOKvar, challenge  



unhandled troff command .Ok

This protocol implements VNC authentication (see vncs in vnc(1)). The challenge is 16 random bytes, and the response is a DES ECB encryption of the challenge. The method by which VNC converts the user’s secret into a DES key is weak, considering only the first eight bytes of the secret.  



database file  


hash files for /lib/ndb/auth  


auth(2), fauth(2), cons(3), attach(5), auth(8)