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1.3 GSS-API Overview

This section describes GSS-API from a protocol point of view.

The Generic Security Service Application Programming Interface provides security services to calling applications. It allows a communicating application to authenticate the user associated with another application, to delegate rights to another application, and to apply security services such as confidentiality and integrity on a per-message basis.

There are four stages to using the GSS-API:

  1. The application acquires a set of credentials with which it may prove its identity to other processes. The application’s credentials vouch for its global identity, which may or may not be related to any local username under which it may be running.
  2. A pair of communicating applications establish a joint security context using their credentials. The security context is a pair of GSS-API data structures that contain shared state information, which is required in order that per-message security services may be provided. Examples of state that might be shared between applications as part of a security context are cryptographic keys, and message sequence numbers. As part of the establishment of a security context, the context initiator is authenticated to the responder, and may require that the responder is authenticated in turn. The initiator may optionally give the responder the right to initiate further security contexts, acting as an agent or delegate of the initiator. This transfer of rights is termed delegation, and is achieved by creating a set of credentials, similar to those used by the initiating application, but which may be used by the responder.

    To establish and maintain the shared information that makes up the security context, certain GSS-API calls will return a token data structure, which is an opaque data type that may contain cryptographically protected data. The caller of such a GSS-API routine is responsible for transferring the token to the peer application, encapsulated if necessary in an application- application protocol. On receipt of such a token, the peer application should pass it to a corresponding GSS-API routine which will decode the token and extract the information, updating the security context state information accordingly.

  3. Per-message services are invoked to apply either: integrity and data origin authentication, or confidentiality, integrity and data origin authentication to application data, which are treated by GSS-API as arbitrary octet-strings. An application transmitting a message that it wishes to protect will call the appropriate GSS-API routine (gss_get_mic or gss_wrap) to apply protection, specifying the appropriate security context, and send the resulting token to the receiving application. The receiver will pass the received token (and, in the case of data protected by gss_get_mic, the accompanying message-data) to the corresponding decoding routine (gss_verify_mic or gss_unwrap) to remove the protection and validate the data.
  4. At the completion of a communications session (which may extend across several transport connections), each application calls a GSS-API routine to delete the security context. Multiple contexts may also be used (either successively or simultaneously) within a single communications association, at the option of the applications.

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