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RFC 2245 - Anonymous SASL Mechanism

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Network Working Group                                          C. Newman
Request for Comments: 2245                                      Innosoft
Category: Standards Track                                  November 1997

                        Anonymous SASL Mechanism

Status of this Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1997).  All Rights Reserved.


   It is common practice on the Internet to permit anonymous access to
   various services.  Traditionally, this has been done with a plain
   text password mechanism using "anonymous" as the user name and
   optional trace information, such as an email address, as the
   password.  As plaintext login commands are not permitted in new IETF
   protocols, a new way to provide anonymous login is needed within the
   context of the SASL [SASL] framework.

1. Conventions Used in this Document

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", and "MAY"
   in this document are to be interpreted as defined in "Key words for
   use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels" [KEYWORDS].

2. Anonymous SASL mechanism

   The mechanism name associated with anonymous access is "ANONYMOUS".
   The mechanism consists of a single message from the client to the
   server.  The client sends optional trace information in the form of a
   human readable string.  The trace information should take one of
   three forms: an Internet email address, an opaque string which does
   not contain the '@' character and can be interpreted by the system
   administrator of the client's domain, or nothing.  For privacy
   reasons, an Internet email address should only be used with
   permission from the user.

   A server which permits anonymous access will announce support for the
   ANONYMOUS mechanism, and allow anyone to log in using that mechanism,
   usually with restricted access.

   The formal grammar for the client message using Augmented BNF [ABNF]

   message         = [email / token]

   TCHAR           = %x20-3F / %x41-7E
                     ;; any printable US-ASCII character except '@'

   email           = addr-spec
                     ;; as defined in [IMAIL], except with no free
                     ;; insertion of linear-white-space, and the
                     ;; local-part MUST either be entirely enclosed in
                     ;; quotes or entirely unquoted

   token           = 1*255TCHAR

3. Example

   Here is a sample anonymous login between an IMAP client and server.
   In this example, "C:" and "S:" indicate lines sent by the client and
   server respectively.  If such lines are wrapped without a new "C:" or
   "S:" label, then the wrapping is for editorial clarity and is not
   part of the command.

   Note that this example uses the IMAP profile [IMAP4] of SASL.  The
   base64 encoding of challenges and responses, as well as the "+ "
   preceding the responses are part of the IMAP4 profile, not part of
   SASL itself.  Newer profiles of SASL will include the client message
   with the AUTHENTICATE command itself so the extra round trip below
   (the server response with an empty "+ ") can be eliminated.

   In this example, the user's opaque identification token is "sirhc".

        S: * OK IMAP4 server ready
        C: A001 CAPABILITY
        S: A001 OK done
        S: +
        C: c2lyaGM=
        S: A003 OK Welcome, trace information has been logged.

4. Security Considerations

   The anonymous mechanism grants access to information by anyone.  For
   this reason it should be disabled by default so the administrator can
   make an explicit decision to enable it.

   If the anonymous user has any write privileges, a denial of service
   attack is possible by filling up all available space.  This can be
   prevented by disabling all write access by anonymous users.

   If anonymous users have read and write access to the same area, the
   server can be used as a communication mechanism to anonymously
   exchange information.  Servers which accept anonymous submissions
   should implement the common "drop box" model which forbids anonymous
   read access to the area where anonymous submissions are accepted.

   If the anonymous user can run many expensive operations (e.g., an
   IMAP SEARCH BODY command), this could enable a denial of service
   attack.  Servers are encouraged to limit the number of anonymous
   users and reduce their priority or limit their resource usage.

   If there is no idle timeout for the anonymous user and there is a
   limit on the number of anonymous users, a denial of service attack is
   enabled.  Servers should implement an idle timeout for anonymous

   The trace information is not authenticated so it can be falsified.
   This can be used as an attempt to get someone else in trouble for
   access to questionable information.  Administrators trying to trace
   abuse need to realize this information may be falsified.

   A client which uses the user's correct email address as trace
   information without explicit permission may violate that user's
   privacy.  Information about who accesses an anonymous archive on a
   sensitive subject (e.g., sexual abuse) has strong privacy needs.
   Clients should not send the email address without explicit permission
   of the user and should offer the option of supplying no trace token
   -- thus only exposing the source IP address and time.  Anonymous
   proxy servers could enhance this privacy, but would have to consider
   the resulting potential denial of service attacks.

   Anonymous connections are susceptible to man in the middle attacks
   which view or alter the data transferred.  Clients and servers are
   encouraged to support external integrity and encryption mechanisms.

   Protocols which fail to require an explicit anonymous login are more
   susceptible to break-ins given certain common implementation
   techniques.  Specifically, Unix servers which offer user login may

   initially start up as root and switch to the appropriate user id
   after an explicit login command.  Normally such servers refuse all
   data access commands prior to explicit login and may enter a
   restricted security environment (e.g., the Unix chroot function) for
   anonymous users.  If anonymous access is not explicitly requested,
   the entire data access machinery is exposed to external security
   attacks without the chance for explicit protective measures.
   Protocols which offer restricted data access should not allow
   anonymous data access without an explicit login step.

5. References

   [ABNF] Crocker, D. and P. Overell, "Augmented BNF for Syntax
   Specifications: ABNF", RFC 2234, November 1997.

   [IMAIL] Crocker, D., "Standard for the Format of Arpa Internet Text
   Messages", STD 11, RFC 822, August 1982.

   [IMAP4] Crispin, M., "Internet Message Access Protocol - Version
   4rev1", RFC 2060, December 1996.

   [KEYWORDS] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
   Requirement Levels", RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [SASL] Myers, J., "Simple Authentication and Security Layer (SASL)",
   RFC 2222, October 1997.

6. Author's Address

   Chris Newman
   Innosoft International, Inc.
   1050 Lakes Drive
   West Covina, CA 91790 USA

   Email: chris.newman@innosoft.com

7.  Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1997).  All Rights Reserved.

   This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
   others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it
   or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published
   and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any
   kind, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are
   included on all such copies and derivative works.  However, this
   document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing
   the copyright notice or references to the Internet Society or other
   Internet organizations, except as needed for the purpose of
   developing Internet standards in which case the procedures for
   copyrights defined in the Internet Standards process must be
   followed, or as required to translate it into languages other than

   The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
   revoked by the Internet Society or its successors or assigns.

   This document and the information contained herein is provided on an


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