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5.6 The DIGEST-MD5 mechanism

The DIGEST-MD5 mechanism is based on repeated hashing using MD5. After the MD5 break may be argued to be weaker than HMAC-MD5 that CRAM-MD5 builds on, but DIGEST-MD5 supports other features. For example, authorization identities and data integrity and privacy protection are supported. Like CRAM-MD5, only a hashed password is transferred. Consequently, DIGEST-MD5 needs access to the correct password to verify the client response – however the server can store the password in hashed form, another improvement compared to CRAM-MD5 . Alas, this makes it impossible to use, e.g., PAM on the server side.

In the client, this mechanism is always enabled, and it requires the GSASL_AUTHID, GSASL_PASSWORD, GSASL_SERVICE, and GSASL_HOSTNAME properties. If set, GSASL_AUTHZID and GSASL_REALM will also be used.

In the server, the mechanism will first request the GSASL_DIGEST_MD5_HASHED_PASSWORD callback property to get the user’s hashed password. If the callback doesn’t supply a hashed password (i.e., it returns ‘GSASL_NO_CALLBACK’), the GSASL_PASSWORD callback property will be requested. Both callbacks may use the GSASL_AUTHID, GSASL_AUTHZID and GSASL_REALM properties to determine which users’ password should be used. The server will then compare the client response with a computed correct response, and accept the user accordingly.

The server uses the GSASL_QOPS callback to get the set of quality of protection values to use. By default, it advertises support for authentication (qop-auth) only. You can use the callback, for example, to make the server advertise support for authentication with integrity layers.

The client uses the GSASL_QOP callback to get the quality of protection value to request. The client must choose one of the QOP values offered by the server (which may be inspected through the GSASL_QOPS property). If the client does not return a value, qop-auth is used by default.

The security layers of DIGEST-MD5 are rarely used in practice due to interoperability and security reasons. You are recommended to use TLS instead.

The DIGEST-MD5 mechanism is specified in RFC 2831. RFC 6331 labels DIGEST-MD5 as historic and it contains a good exposition of the disadvantages with DIGEST-MD5.


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