Kerberos Version 4 End of Life Announcement

In the past few years, several developments have shown the inadequacy of the security of version 4 of the Kerberos protocol. These developments have led the MIT Kerberos Team to begin the process of ending support for version 4 of the Kerberos protocol. The plan involves the eventual removal of Kerberos 4 support from the MIT implementation of Kerberos.

The Data Encryption Standard (DES) has reached the end of its useful life. DES is the only encryption algorithm supported by Kerberos 4, and the increasingly obvious inadequacy of DES motivates the retirement of the Kerberos 4 protocol. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which had previously certified DES as a US government encryption standard, has officially announced[1] the withdrawal of the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) for DES.

NIST's action reflects the long-held opinion of the cryptographic community that DES has too small a key space to be secure. Breaking DES encryption by an exhaustive search of its key space is within the means of some individuals, many companies, and all major governments. Consequently, DES cannot be considered secure for any long-term keys, particularly the ticket-granting key that is central to Kerberos.

Serious protocol flaws[2] have been found in Kerberos 4. These flaws permit attacks which require far less effort than an exhaustive search of the DES key space. These flaws make Kerberos 4 cross-realm authentication an unacceptable security risk and raise serious questions about the security of the entire Kerberos 4 protocol.

The known insecurity of DES, combined with the recently discovered protocol flaws, make it extremely inadvisable to rely on the security of version 4 of the Kerberos protocol. These factors motivate the MIT Kerberos Team to remove support for Kerberos version 4 from the MIT implementation of Kerberos.

The process of ending Kerberos 4 support began with release 1.3 of MIT Kerberos 5. In release 1.3, the default run-time configuration of the KDC disables support for version 4 of the Kerberos protocol. Release 1.4 of MIT Kerberos continues to include Kerberos 4 support (also disabled in the KDC with the default run-time configuration), but we intend to completely remove Kerberos 4 support from some future release of MIT Kerberos.

The MIT Kerberos Team has ended active development of Kerberos 4, except for the eventual removal of all Kerberos 4 functionality. We will continue to provide critical security fixes for Kerberos 4, but routine bug fixes and feature enhancements are at an end.

We recommend that any sites which have not already done so begin a migration to Kerberos 5. Kerberos 5 provides significant advantages over Kerberos 4, including support for strong encryption, extensibility, improved cross-vendor interoperability, and ongoing development and enhancement.

If you have questions or issues regarding migration to Kerberos 5, we recommend discussing them on the mailing list.


[1] National Institute of Standards and Technology. Announcing Approval of the Withdrawal of Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 43-3, Data Encryption Standard (DES); FIPS 74, Guidelines for Implementing and Using the NBS Data Encryption Standard; and FIPS 81, DES Modes of Operation. Federal Register 05-9945, 70 FR 28907-28908, 19 May 2005. DOCID:fr19my05-45

[2] Tom Yu, Sam Hartman, and Ken Raeburn. The Perils of Unauthenticated Encryption: Kerberos Version 4. In Proceedings of the Network and Distributed Systems Security Symposium. The Internet Society, February 2004.

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