This is a design page. It was used to design and discuss the initial implementation of the change. However, the state of this document does not necessarily correspond to the current state of the implementation since we do not keep this document up to date with further changes and bug fixes.

Passkey authentication Kerberos integration

The use of new tools to authenticate users, such as 2FA, U2F and FIDO2, is becoming increasingly popular. Currently SSSD provides local authentication of a centrally managed user with passkeys, but it doesn’t provide any way to authenticate remotely to a system. This diminishes the value provided by SSSD in some environments like big companies and governments, where remote authentication is a common pattern.

This design is an extension of the enable passkey authentication, where a centrally managed user can authenticate locally in a system with a passkey token. It describes a Kerberos pre-authentication mechanism using passkey authentication. Once it is completed, the received initial ticket granting ticket (TGT) can be used for single sign-on into other Kerberos-enabled services.

For that purpose SSSD needs to be modified to accommodate the new workflow, while still allowing the old one, where the user was authenticated locally without issuing any Kerberos ticket. The new workflow is used for online authentication against an IPA server. The old workflow is used for any offline authentication and for AD and other LDAP servers.

For the purpose of this feature, passkey is a FIDO2 compatible device supported by the libfido2 library.

As a user, not only do I want to sit in front of a system enrolled into a centralized identity management solution and log in (desktop and/or terminal) using a passkey device connected to the system, but I also want to get a Kerberos ticket to identify myself to other services.


rectangle Client #line.dashed {
    rectangle User

    rectangle Host #DodgerBlue {
        rectangle PAM #red
        rectangle SSSD #red
    rectangle passkey as key #ForestGreen
    rectangle "libkrb5" as kerberos #IndianRed

rectangle Datacenter #line.dashed {
    rectangle "FreeIPA server" as ipa #Aqua {
        rectangle "Kerberos KDC" as kdc #Yellow
        rectangle "ipa-otpd" as otpd #Yellow
        rectangle LDAP #Yellow
        rectangle passkey_child #Yellow

User -> PAM: 1- Login
PAM -> SSSD: 2- Authenticate
SSSD ---down-> kerberos: 3- pre_authenticate
kerberos -down-> kdc: 4- AS-REQ
kdc -up-> kerberos: 5- krb5 error
kerberos ---up-> SSSD: 6- krb5 error
SSSD -left-> PAM: 7- PIN needed
PAM -left-> User: 8- Ask for PIN
User -> PAM: 9- Input PIN
PAM -> SSSD: 10- Set PIN
SSSD --down-> key: 11- Request assertion with PIN
key --up-> SSSD: 12- Return assertion
SSSD ---down-> kerberos: 13- pre_authenticate
kerberos -down-> kdc: 14- AS-REQ
kdc -> otpd: 15- Access-Request
otpd -down-> LDAP: 16- Retrieve user information
LDAP -up-> otpd: 17- User information
otpd -> passkey_child: 18- Validate assertion
passkey_child -left-> otpd: 19- Authentication success
otpd -left-> kdc: 20- Authentication success
kdc -up-> kerberos: 21- AS-REP
kerberos ---up-> SSSD: 22- Authentication success and kerberos ticket
SSSD -left-> PAM: 23- Authentication success
PAM -left-> User: 24- Authentication success

'Ref: https://crashedmind.github.io/PlantUMLHitchhikersGuide/layout/layout.html


  • SSSD provides a pre-authentication method implementation (pre-auth plugin) to MIT Kerberos library.

  • When both the libkrb5 and the KDC support the same pre-authentication method, KDC responds to an AS-REQ message with a request to provide the assertion data required by the pre-authentication method.

  • SSSD’s pre-auth plugin obtains the assertion data from the passkey.

  • The assertion data is sent by libkrb5 back to the KDC server as a part of the AS-REQ exchange.

  • The KDC server in turn relays the request to the ipa-otpd, which retrieves the user information and ask the passkey_child to validate the assertion.

  • Once validated the Kerberos KDC issues a ticket and sends it to SSSD via libkrb5.

This design adds some complexity to the authentication process, as it adds another mechanism. This may lead to a degraded user experience. For this reason, the following authentication policy is implemented:

  • In the online case, the default policy is to try only methods which will return a Kerberos ticket. The order for the authentication methods mechanisms can be tuned with the auth_order option.

  • For the offline case, in order to offer a consistent behaviour with the online case, the user object stores the available authentication methods. The authentication is performed based on the available methods for the user, the tuning from local_auth_policy option, and the order defined in auth_order.

  • The user may decide to skip the passkey authentication by entering some characters in the interactive prompt; or if the user-verification is enabled, by entering an empty PIN.

When SSSD support for passkey authentication is enabled, the KDC advertises the support for passkey during AS-REQ request. If information about the Kerberos principal on the KDC side allows use of passkey authentication, KDC responds with a pre-authentication data to choose passkey authentication.

If the KDC doesn’t support passkey authentication, or if the KDC isn’t available, then the local authentication with passkey of a centrally managed user is performed.

The following sequence diagram illustrates the workflow taking into account all the components involved in it:

actor User

box "Client"
participant "passkey"
end box

participant "PAM"

box "SSSD"
participant "PAM responder"
participant "cache"
participant "IPA provider"
participant "krb5_child"
participant "passkey_child"
end box

participant "libkrb5"

box "FreeIPA server"
participant "Kerberos KDC"
participant "ipa-otpd"
participant "LDAP"
participant "passkey_child_ipa"
end box

User -> PAM: Login
PAM -> "PAM responder": pre_authenticate
"PAM responder" -> cache: Retrieve user information
cache -> "PAM responder": User information
"PAM responder" -> "IPA provider": pre_authenticate ()
"IPA provider" -> krb5_child: pre_authenticate ()
krb5_child -> "libkrb5": pre_authenticate ()
"libkrb5" -> "Kerberos KDC": AS-REQ (preauth)
"Kerberos KDC" -> "ipa-otpd": Access-Request (username)
"ipa-otpd" -> LDAP: Retrieve user information
LDAP -> "ipa-otpd": User information
"ipa-otpd" -> "Kerberos KDC": Access-Challenge(State, Reply-Message=assertion req data)
"Kerberos KDC" -> "libkrb5": krb5 error (preauth required PASSKEY, assertion req data)
"libkrb5" -> krb5_child: krb5 error (preauth required PASSKEY, assertion req data)

krb5_child -> "IPA provider": error (preauth required PASSKEY, assertion req data)
"IPA provider" -> "PAM responder": error (preauth required PASSKEY, assertion req data)
"PAM responder" -> PAM: Get PIN
PAM -> User: Ask for PIN
User -> PAM: Input PIN
PAM -> "PAM responder": Set PIN
"PAM responder" -> passkey_child: Run (assertion req data, PIN)
passkey_child -> "passkey": Request assertion (assertion req data, PIN)
"passkey" -> passkey_child: Return assertion
passkey_child -> "PAM responder": Assertion data

"PAM responder" -> "IPA provider": pre_authenticate (assertion)
"IPA provider" -> krb5_child: pre_authenticate (assertion)
krb5_child -> "libkrb5": pre_authenticate (assertion)
"libkrb5" -> "Kerberos KDC": AS-REQ (assertion in preauth)
"Kerberos KDC" -> "ipa-otpd": Access-Request (assertion data)
"ipa-otpd" -> passkey_child_ipa: Validate assertion
passkey_child_ipa -> "ipa-otpd": Authentication success
"ipa-otpd" -> "Kerberos KDC": Access-Accept
"Kerberos KDC" -> "libkrb5": AS-REP with ticket

"libkrb5" -> krb5_child: Kerberos ticket
krb5_child -> krb5_child: Store Kerberos ticket into ccache
krb5_child -> "IPA provider": Authentication success
"IPA provider" -> "PAM responder": Authentication success
"PAM responder" -> PAM: Authentication success
PAM -> User: Authentication success


  • The user tries to login with a centrally managed account in the system.

  • PAM relays this request to SSSD’s PAM responder.

  • The PAM responder retrieves the user information from the cache.

  • The PAM responder tries to pre-authenticate the user.

  • The IPA provider executes the krb5_child, which in turn uses libkrb5 to communicate with the Kerberos KDC.

  • libkrb5 sends an AS-REQ with the pre-authentication data.

  • Kerberos KDC receives the AS-REQ and queries Kerberos database driver (KDB) for the information about the Kerberos principal. It finds out that the principal object supports passkey pre-authentication. Then, KDC side of the pre-authentication method implementation uses RADIUS protocol to communicate with IPA server side (ipa-otpd daemon listens over UNIX domain socket used by the KDC). The RADIUS message Access-Request is sent to ipa-otpd.

  • ipa-otpd retrieves the user information and generate the assertion request data (more information on the format in Kerberos KDC - ipa-otpd), which is used to fill the Reply-Message that is returned to the Kerberos KDC.

  • The passkey assertion request data produced by the KDC side of the pre-authentication method implementation is returned to libkrb5 in an error response.

  • This information is passed between the various components until it reaches the PAM responder. It requests PAM to get the PIN from the user and it executes the passkey_child helper process with the assertion request data and the PIN as arguments.

  • The passkey_child requests the assertion with the assertion request data and the PIN.

  • The passkey returns the assertion data, which also is returned by the passkey_child.

  • The PAM responder fills the pre-authentication with the assertion data. The PAM responder checks if it matches with the one stored in the LDAP attribute, and it fails if they don’t match.

  • libkrb5 send another AS-REQ but this time with the assertion in the pre-authentication.

  • The Kerberos KDC generates the second Access-Request message, which contains the assertion data.

  • ipa-otpd asks the passkey_child that is located in the FreeIPA server to validate the assertion data. It replies with Access-Accept/Reject depending on the authentication result.

  • If the validation is successful the Kerberos KDC issues a ticket and wrap it in AS-REP.

  • krb5_child stores the ticket and return the authentication success to the IPA provider. This information is propagated by the PAM responder, PAM and finally the user.

This section defines the data needed to obtain and verify the assertion.

To obtain the assertion the following information is required:

  • Domain (String)

  • List of credential IDs in b64 (String)

  • User-verification (Int)

  • Cryptographic challenge (String)

To verify the assertion the following informations is required:

  • Username (String)

  • Domain (String)

  • Used credential ID in b64 (String)

  • Public key in b64 (String)

  • COSE type (String)

  • User-verification (Int)

  • Cryptographic challenge (String)

  • Authenticator data in b64 (String)

  • Assertion signature in b64 (String)

The Kerberos KDC is expected to provide the following json-formatted string when generating the first Access-Request:

"passkey": {
    "phase": 0

ipa-otpd is expected to return a json-formatted string with the assertion request data:

"passkey": {
    "phase": 1,
    "state": "$ipa_otpd state",
    "data": {
        "domain": "$domain",
        "credential_id": "$credential_id_list",
        "user_verification": "$user_verification",
        "cryptographic_challenge": "$cryptographic_challenge"

The second Access-Request generated by the Kerberos KDC should contain the following json-formatted string in the password field:

"passkey": {
    "phase": 2,
    "state": "$ipa_otpd state",
    "data": {
        "credential_id": "$credential_id",
        "cryptographic_challenge": "$cryptographic_challenge",
        "authenticator_data" :"$authenticator_data",
        "assertion_signature": "$assertion_signature",
        "user_id": "$user_id"

The passkey_helper process located in the FreeIPA server needs to regenerate the assertion data to be validated by the passkey. ipa-otpd executes the passkey_helper and thus, it is in charge of providing the assertion data as previously specified.

The following domain option can be used to tune the authentication policy:

  • local_auth_policy: local authentication methods policy. Some backends (i.e. LDAP, proxy provider) only support a password base authentication, while others can handle PKINIT based Smartcard authentication (AD, IPA), two-factor authentication (IPA), or other methods against a central instance. By default in such cases authentication is only performed with the methods supported by the backend.

    To allow more convenient or secure authentication methods which are supported by SSSD, but not by the backend in cases where a central authentication is not strictly required the local_auth_policy option is added.

    There are four possible values for this option: match, only, enable and disable. match is used to match offline and online states for Kerberos methods. only ignores the online methods and only offer the local ones. enable and disable define the methods for local authentication. As an example, enable:passkey, only enables passkey for local authencation.

    local_auth_policy is evaluated for all auth_providers, including none. The following configuration example allows local users to authenticate locally using any enabled method (i.e. smartcard, passkey).

id_provider = proxy
proxy_lib_name = files
auth_provider = none
local_auth_policy = only

The following prompting option (i.e. [prompting/sudo]) can be used to tune the authentication policy:

  • auth_order: authentication methods order policy. This is an ordered list of the authencation methods. If the method isn’t available for the user, then it will be skipped. Example: passkey, 2fa, password. Default: password.

In order for the administrator to enhance security and disable deprecated algorithms, a new IPA setting is required. This new option forces the use of a COSE algorithm when generating the keys. The setting holds a string (i.e. es256, rs256).