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An Overview of Authentication for Computer Communications

RFC 1994 is the standard for CHAP for authentication used by the servers to validate the identity of remote clients [5]. Both the server and the client perform a hash operation on the password and transmits the hash result rather than sending the password itself as shown in Figure 1. After the link is established the server sends a random challenge to the authenticating client entity. The entity responds with hash value calculated using the password and the challenge. The server checks the client response against its own computation and if the values match authentication is successful, else the connection is terminated.

CHAP provides protection against replay attacks through the use of random challenge value. Further the challenge can be used repeatedly to limit the time of exposure for any single attack. If the CHAP negotiations can be carried out in both directions, this results in mutual authentication.

The Microsoft Windows 2000 default authentication is based on the standard CHAP and the latest version is called MS-CHAP v2 [4]. It uses two-way authentication so that both the server and the client identities are verified. Like CHAP, MS-CHAP uses challenge-response mechanism to authenticate connection without sending any passwords. The MD4-hashed version of the user password, the peer-challenge string, the session identifier are combined to form SHA hash based response. Other authentication methods related to CHAP is EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol), and PAP (Password Authentication Protocol) [4].

CRAM-MD5 defined in IETF RFC 2195 [6] is a challenge-response authentication mechanism (CRAM) based on the HMAC-MD5 algorithm. HMAC-MD5 is keyed MD5 hash where the key is shared secret. CRAM provides protection against replay attacks. However, it can’t prevent cracking the password through a brute-force attack, so it is less effective than alternative mechanisms that avoid passwords or that use connections encrypted with SSL/TLS.

A more secure Salted Challenge Response Authentication Mechanism (SCRAM) defined in RFC 5802 [7] is a family of modern, password-based challenge–response authentication mechanisms providing authentication of a user to a server. In this protocol, both the client and the server exchange their respective nonce and prove to each other the knowledge of the shared secret leading to mutual authentication as shown in Figure 2. This is an assurance against man-in-the-middle attack. Although all clients and servers have to support the SHA-1, all hashing algorithm and functions defined by the IANA are supported. The main advantage of SCRAM is in storing passwords in data servers in a secure manner to avoid data breaches. The password along with the salt and iteration count are used in Password Based Key Derivation 2 (PBKDF2) algorithm to compute the hashed password. PBKDF2 applies a pseudorandom function to the input password along with a salt value and repeats the process many times to produce a derived key, which can then be used as a cryptographic key in subsequent operations. This makes the computational work for password cracking much more difficult, and is known as key stretching.

Figure 1: Challenge Handshake Protocol
Figure 1: Challenge Handshake Protocol
Figure 2: SCRAM Authentication Protocol
Figure 2: SCRAM Authentication Protocol

Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) is a networking protocol that provides centralized Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting management for users who connect and use a network service. RADIUS uses two packet types to manage the full AAA process; Access-Request, which manages authentication and authorization defined in RFC 2865 [8]; and Accounting-Request accounting, which is described by RFC 2866. RADIUS is often used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and enterprises to manage access to the Internet or internal networks, wireless networks, and integrated e-mail services. These networks may incorporate modems, digital subscriber line (DSL), access points, virtual private networks (VPNs), network ports, web servers, etc.

The user or machine sends a request to a Network Access Server (NAS) to gain access to a particular network resource using access credentials. In turn, the NAS sends a RADIUS Access Request message to the RADIUS server, requesting authorization to grant access via the RADIUS protocol. This request includes access credentials, typically in the form of username and password or security certificate provided by the user. Additionally, the request may contain other information which the NAS knows about the user, such as its network address or phone number, and information regarding the user’s physical point of attachment to the NAS.

The RADIUS server issues “Access Challenge” requesting additional information from the user such as a secondary password, PIN, token, or card following PAP, CHAP or EAP [9] authentication schemes. Once the user’s proof of identification is verified, along with, optionally, other information related to the request, RADIUS send “Access Accept” granting access to the user. In case of failure RADIUS returns “Access Reject” and the user is unconditionally denied access to all requested network resources.

DIAMETER, developed to provide a framework for AAA to overcome the limitations of RADIUS, is described in RFC 7075 [24]. The latter had issues with reliability, scalability, security and flexibility. RADIUS cannot deal effectively with remote access, IP mobility and policy control. The Diameter protocol defines a policy protocol used by clients to perform policy, AAA, and resource control. This allows a single server to handle policies for many services.

DIAMETER provides an upgrade path for RADIUS and provides extra features lacking in RADIUS. It has similar features as RADIUS: it can work in both local and roaming AAA situations; it supports stateful and stateless modes; and it supports application layer acknowledgement and defines failover.


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