RFC 2402 – IP Authentication Header

Network Working Group S. Kent
Request for Comments: 2402 BBN Corp
Obsoletes: 1826 R. Atkinson
Category: Standards Track @Home Network
November 1998

IP Authentication Header

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 (1998). All Rights Reserved.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction......................................................2
2. Authentication Header Format......................................3
2.1 Next Header...................................................4
2.2 Payload Length................................................4
2.3 Reserved......................................................4
2.4 Security Parameters Index (SPI)...............................4
2.5 Sequence Number...............................................5
2.6 Authentication Data ..........................................5
3. Authentication Header Processing..................................5
3.1 Authentication Header Location...............................5
3.2 Authentication Algorithms....................................7
3.3 Outbound Packet Processing...................................8
3.3.1 Security Association Lookup.............................8
3.3.2 Sequence Number Generation..............................8
3.3.3 Integrity Check Value Calculation.......................9 Handling Mutable Fields............................9 ICV Computation for IPv4.....................10 Base Header Fields.......................10 Options..................................11 ICV Computation for IPv6.....................11 Base Header Fields.......................11 Extension Headers Containing Options.....11 Extension Headers Not Containing Options.11 Padding...........................................12 Authentication Data Padding..................12 Implicit Packet Padding......................12
3.3.4 Fragmentation..........................................12
3.4 Inbound Packet Processing...................................13
3.4.1 Reassembly.............................................13
3.4.2 Security Association Lookup............................13
3.4.3 Sequence Number Verification...........................13
3.4.4 Integrity Check Value Verification.....................15
4. Auditing.........................................................15
5. Conformance Requirements.........................................16
6. Security Considerations..........................................16
7. Differences from RFC 1826........................................16
Appendix A -- Mutability of IP Options/Extension Headers............18
A1. IPv4 Options.................................................18
A2. IPv6 Extension Headers.......................................19
Author Information..................................................22
Full Copyright Statement............................................22

1. Introduction

The IP Authentication Header (AH) is used to provide connectionless
integrity and data origin authentication for IP datagrams (hereafter
referred to as just "authentication"), and to provide protection
against replays. This latter, optional service may be selected, by
the receiver, when a Security Association is established. (Although
the default calls for the sender to increment the Sequence Number
used for anti-replay, the service is effective only if the receiver
checks the Sequence Number.) AH provides authentication for as much
of the IP header as possible, as well as for upper level protocol
data. However, some IP header fields may change in transit and the
value of these fields, when the packet arrives at the receiver, may
not be predictable by the sender. The values of such fields cannot
be protected by AH. Thus the protection provided to the IP header by
AH is somewhat piecemeal.

AH may be applied alone, in combination with the IP Encapsulating
Security Payload (ESP) [KA97b], or in a nested fashion through the
use of tunnel mode (see "Security Architecture for the Internet
Protocol" [KA97a], hereafter referred to as the Security Architecture
document). Security services can be provided between a pair of
communicating hosts, between a pair of communicating security
gateways, or between a security gateway and a host. ESP may be used
to provide the same security services, and it also provides a
confidentiality (encryption) service. The primary difference between
the authentication provided by ESP and AH is the extent of the
coverage. Specifically, ESP does not protect any IP header fields

unless those fields are encapsulated by ESP (tunnel mode). For more
details on how to use AH and ESP in various network environments, see
the Security Architecture document [KA97a].

It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the terms and concepts
described in the Security Architecture document. In particular, the
reader should be familiar with the definitions of security services
offered by AH and ESP, the concept of Security Associations, the ways
in which AH can be used in conjunction with ESP, and the different
key management options available for AH and ESP. (With regard to the
last topic, the current key management options required for both AH
and ESP are manual keying and automated keying via IKE [HC98].)

SHOULD NOT, RECOMMENDED, MAY, and OPTIONAL, when they appear in this
document, are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119 [Bra97].

2. Authentication Header Format

The protocol header (IPv4, IPv6, or Extension) immediately preceding
the AH header will contain the value 51 in its Protocol (IPv4) or
Next Header (IPv6, Extension) field [STD-2].

0 1 2 3
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
| Next Header | Payload Len | RESERVED |
| Security Parameters Index (SPI) |
| Sequence Number Field |
| |
+ Authentication Data (variable) |
| |

The following subsections define the fields that comprise the AH
format. All the fields described here are mandatory, i.e., they are
always present in the AH format and are included in the Integrity
Check Value (ICV) computation (see Sections 2.6 and 3.3.3).

2.1 Next Header

The Next Header is an 8-bit field that identifies the type of the
next payload after the Authentication Header. The value of this
field is chosen from the set of IP Protocol Numbers defined in the
most recent "Assigned Numbers" [STD-2] RFC from the Internet Assigned
Numbers Authority (IANA).

2.2 Payload Length

This 8-bit field specifies the length of AH in 32-bit words (4-byte
units), minus "2". (All IPv6 extension headers, as per RFC 1883,
encode the "Hdr Ext Len" field by first subtracting 1 (64-bit word)
from the header length (measured in 64-bit words). AH is an IPv6
extension header. However, since its length is measured in 32-bit
words, the "Payload Length" is calculated by subtracting 2 (32 bit
words).) In the "standard" case of a 96-bit authentication value
plus the 3 32-bit word fixed portion, this length field will be "4".
A "null" authentication algorithm may be used only for debugging
purposes. Its use would result in a "1" value for this field for
IPv4 or a "2" for IPv6, as there would be no corresponding
Authentication Data field (see Section on "Authentication
Data Padding").

2.3 Reserved

This 16-bit field is reserved for future use. It MUST be set to
"zero." (Note that the value is included in the Authentication Data
calculation, but is otherwise ignored by the recipient.)

2.4 Security Parameters Index (SPI)

The SPI is an arbitrary 32-bit value that, in combination with the
destination IP address and security protocol (AH), uniquely
identifies the Security Association for this datagram. The set of
SPI values in the range 1 through 255 are reserved by the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for future use; a reserved SPI
value will not normally be assigned by IANA unless the use of the
assigned SPI value is specified in an RFC. It is ordinarily selected
by the destination system upon establishment of an SA (see the
Security Architecture document for more details).

The SPI value of zero (0) is reserved for local, implementation-
specific use and MUST NOT be sent on the wire. For example, a key
management implementation MAY use the zero SPI value to mean "No
Security Association Exists" during the period when the IPsec
implementation has requested that its key management entity establish
a new SA, but the SA has not yet been established.

2.5 Sequence Number

This unsigned 32-bit field contains a monotonically increasing
counter value (sequence number). It is mandatory and is always
present even if the receiver does not elect to enable the anti-replay
service for a specific SA. Processing of the Sequence Number field
is at the discretion of the receiver, i.e., the sender MUST always
transmit this field, but the receiver need not act upon it (see the
discussion of Sequence Number Verification in the "Inbound Packet
Processing" section below).

The sender's counter and the receiver's counter are initialized to 0
when an SA is established. (The first packet sent using a given SA
will have a Sequence Number of 1; see Section 3.3.2 for more details
on how the Sequence Number is generated.) If anti-replay is enabled
(the default), the transmitted Sequence Number must never be allowed
to cycle. Thus, the sender's counter and the receiver's counter MUST
be reset (by establishing a new SA and thus a new key) prior to the
transmission of the 2^32nd packet on an SA.

2.6 Authentication Data

This is a variable-length field that contains the Integrity Check
Value (ICV) for this packet. The field must be an integral multiple
of 32 bits in length. The details of the ICV computation are
described in Section 3.3.2 below. This field may include explicit
padding. This padding is included to ensure that the length of the
AH header is an integral multiple of 32 bits (IPv4) or 64 bits
(IPv6). All implementations MUST support such padding. Details of
how to compute the required padding length are provided below. The
authentication algorithm specification MUST specify the length of the
ICV and the comparison rules and processing steps for validation.

3. Authentication Header Processing

3.1 Authentication Header Location

Like ESP, AH may be employed in two ways: transport mode or tunnel
mode. The former mode is applicable only to host implementations and
provides protection for upper layer protocols, in addition to
selected IP header fields. (In this mode, note that for "bump-in-
the-stack" or "bump-in-the-wire" implementations, as defined in the
Security Architecture document, inbound and outbound IP fragments may
require an IPsec implementation to perform extra IP
reassembly/fragmentation in order to both conform to this
specification and provide transparent IPsec support. Special care is
required to perform such operations within these implementations when
multiple interfaces are in use.)

In transport mode, AH is inserted after the IP header and before an
upper layer protocol, e.g., TCP, UDP, ICMP, etc. or before any other
IPsec headers that have already been inserted. In the context of
IPv4, this calls for placing AH after the IP header (and any options
that it contains), but before the upper layer protocol. (Note that
the term "transport" mode should not be misconstrued as restricting
its use to TCP and UDP. For example, an ICMP message MAY be sent
using either "transport" mode or "tunnel" mode.) The following
diagram illustrates AH transport mode positioning for a typical IPv4
packet, on a "before and after" basis.

IPv4 |orig IP hdr | | |
|(any options)| TCP | Data |

IPv4 |orig IP hdr | | | |
|(any options)| AH | TCP | Data |
|<------- authenticated ------->|
except for mutable fields

In the IPv6 context, AH is viewed as an end-to-end payload, and thus
should appear after hop-by-hop, routing, and fragmentation extension
headers. The destination options extension header(s) could appear
either before or after the AH header depending on the semantics
desired. The following diagram illustrates AH transport mode
positioning for a typical IPv6 packet.

IPv6 | | ext hdrs | | |
| orig IP hdr |if present| TCP | Data |

IPv6 | |hop-by-hop, dest*, | | dest | | |
|orig IP hdr |routing, fragment. | AH | opt* | TCP | Data |
|<---- authenticated except for mutable fields ----------->|

* = if present, could be before AH, after AH, or both

ESP and AH headers can be combined in a variety of modes. The IPsec
Architecture document describes the combinations of security
associations that must be supported.

Tunnel mode AH may be employed in either hosts or security gateways
(or in so-called "bump-in-the-stack" or "bump-in-the-wire"
implementations, as defined in the Security Architecture document).
When AH is implemented in a security gateway (to protect transit
traffic), tunnel mode must be used. In tunnel mode, the "inner" IP
header carries the ultimate source and destination addresses, while
an "outer" IP header may contain distinct IP addresses, e.g.,
addresses of security gateways. In tunnel mode, AH protects the
entire inner IP packet, including the entire inner IP header. The
position of AH in tunnel mode, relative to the outer IP header, is
the same as for AH in transport mode. The following diagram
illustrates AH tunnel mode positioning for typical IPv4 and IPv6

IPv4 | new IP hdr* | | orig IP hdr* | | |
|(any options)| AH | (any options) |TCP | Data |
|<- authenticated except for mutable fields -->|
| in the new IP hdr |

IPv6 | | ext hdrs*| | | ext hdrs*| | |
|new IP hdr*|if present| AH |orig IP hdr*|if present|TCP|Data|
|<-- authenticated except for mutable fields in new IP hdr ->|

* = construction of outer IP hdr/extensions and modification
of inner IP hdr/extensions is discussed below.

3.2 Authentication Algorithms

The authentication algorithm employed for the ICV computation is
specified by the SA. For point-to-point communication, suitable
authentication algorithms include keyed Message Authentication Codes
(MACs) based on symmetric encryption algorithms (e.g., DES) or on
one-way hash functions (e.g., MD5 or SHA-1). For multicast
communication, one-way hash algorithms combined with asymmetric
signature algorithms are appropriate, though performance and space
considerations currently preclude use of such algorithms. The
mandatory-to-implement authentication algorithms are described in
Section 5 "Conformance Requirements". Other algorithms MAY be

3.3 Outbound Packet Processing

In transport mode, the sender inserts the AH header after the IP
header and before an upper layer protocol header, as described above.
In tunnel mode, the outer and inner IP header/extensions can be
inter-related in a variety of ways. The construction of the outer IP
header/extensions during the encapsulation process is described in
the Security Architecture document.

If there is more than one IPsec header/extension required, the order
of the application of the security headers MUST be defined by
security policy. For simplicity of processing, each IPsec header
SHOULD ignore the existence (i.e., not zero the contents or try to
predict the contents) of IPsec headers to be applied later. (While a
native IP or bump-in-the-stack implementation could predict the
contents of later IPsec headers that it applies itself, it won't be
possible for it to predict any IPsec headers added by a bump-in-the-
wire implementation between the host and the network.)

3.3.1 Security Association Lookup

AH is applied to an outbound packet only after an IPsec
implementation determines that the packet is associated with an SA
that calls for AH processing. The process of determining what, if
any, IPsec processing is applied to outbound traffic is described in
the Security Architecture document.

3.3.2 Sequence Number Generation

The sender's counter is initialized to 0 when an SA is established.
The sender increments the Sequence Number for this SA and inserts the
new value into the Sequence Number Field. Thus the first packet sent
using a given SA will have a Sequence Number of 1.

If anti-replay is enabled (the default), the sender checks to ensure
that the counter has not cycled before inserting the new value in the
Sequence Number field. In other words, the sender MUST NOT send a
packet on an SA if doing so would cause the Sequence Number to cycle.
An attempt to transmit a packet that would result in Sequence Number
overflow is an auditable event. (Note that this approach to Sequence
Number management does not require use of modular arithmetic.)

The sender assumes anti-replay is enabled as a default, unless
otherwise notified by the receiver (see 3.4.3). Thus, if the counter
has cycled, the sender will set up a new SA and key (unless the SA
was configured with manual key management).

If anti-replay is disabled, the sender does not need to monitor or
reset the counter, e.g., in the case of manual key management (see
Section 5.) However, the sender still increments the counter and when
it reaches the maximum value, the counter rolls over back to zero.

3.3.3 Integrity Check Value Calculation

The AH ICV is computed over:
o IP header fields that are either immutable in transit or
that are predictable in value upon arrival at the endpoint
for the AH SA
o the AH header (Next Header, Payload Len, Reserved, SPI,
Sequence Number, and the Authentication Data (which is set
to zero for this computation), and explicit padding bytes
(if any))
o the upper level protocol data, which is assumed to be
immutable in transit Handling Mutable Fields

If a field may be modified during transit, the value of the field is
set to zero for purposes of the ICV computation. If a field is
mutable, but its value at the (IPsec) receiver is predictable, then
that value is inserted into the field for purposes of the ICV
calculation. The Authentication Data field is also set to zero in
preparation for this computation. Note that by replacing each
field's value with zero, rather than omitting the field, alignment is
preserved for the ICV calculation. Also, the zero-fill approach
ensures that the length of the fields that are so handled cannot be
changed during transit, even though their contents are not explicitly
covered by the ICV.

As a new extension header or IPv4 option is created, it will be
defined in its own RFC and SHOULD include (in the Security
Considerations section) directions for how it should be handled when
calculating the AH ICV. If the IP (v4 or v6) implementation
encounters an extension header that it does not recognize, it will
discard the packet and send an ICMP message. IPsec will never see
the packet. If the IPsec implementation encounters an IPv4 option
that it does not recognize, it should zero the whole option, using
the second byte of the option as the length. IPv6 options (in
Destination extension headers or Hop by Hop extension header) contain
a flag indicating mutability, which determines appropriate processing
for such options. ICV Computation for IPv4 Base Header Fields

The IPv4 base header fields are classified as follows:

Internet Header Length
Total Length
Protocol (This should be the value for AH.)
Source Address
Destination Address (without loose or strict source routing)

Mutable but predictable
Destination Address (with loose or strict source routing)

Mutable (zeroed prior to ICV calculation)
Type of Service (TOS)
Fragment Offset
Time to Live (TTL)
Header Checksum

TOS -- This field is excluded because some routers are known to
change the value of this field, even though the IP
specification does not consider TOS to be a mutable header

Flags -- This field is excluded since an intermediate router might
set the DF bit, even if the source did not select it.

Fragment Offset -- Since AH is applied only to non-fragmented IP
packets, the Offset Field must always be zero, and thus it
is excluded (even though it is predictable).

TTL -- This is changed en-route as a normal course of processing
by routers, and thus its value at the receiver is not
predictable by the sender.

Header Checksum -- This will change if any of these other fields
changes, and thus its value upon reception cannot be
predicted by the sender. Options

For IPv4 (unlike IPv6), there is no mechanism for tagging options as
mutable in transit. Hence the IPv4 options are explicitly listed in
Appendix A and classified as immutable, mutable but predictable, or
mutable. For IPv4, the entire option is viewed as a unit; so even
though the type and length fields within most options are immutable
in transit, if an option is classified as mutable, the entire option
is zeroed for ICV computation purposes. ICV Computation for IPv6 Base Header Fields

The IPv6 base header fields are classified as follows:

Payload Length
Next Header (This should be the value for AH.)
Source Address
Destination Address (without Routing Extension Header)

Mutable but predictable
Destination Address (with Routing Extension Header)

Mutable (zeroed prior to ICV calculation)
Flow Label
Hop Limit Extension Headers Containing Options

IPv6 options in the Hop-by-Hop and Destination Extension Headers
contain a bit that indicates whether the option might change
(unpredictably) during transit. For any option for which contents
may change en-route, the entire "Option Data" field must be treated
as zero-valued octets when computing or verifying the ICV. The
Option Type and Opt Data Len are included in the ICV calculation.
All options for which the bit indicates immutability are included in
the ICV calculation. See the IPv6 specification [DH95] for more
information. Extension Headers Not Containing Options

The IPv6 extension headers that do not contain options are explicitly
listed in Appendix A and classified as immutable, mutable but
predictable, or mutable. Padding Authentication Data Padding

As mentioned in section 2.6, the Authentication Data field explicitly
includes padding to ensure that the AH header is a multiple of 32
bits (IPv4) or 64 bits (IPv6). If padding is required, its length is
determined by two factors:

- the length of the ICV
- the IP protocol version (v4 or v6)

For example, if the output of the selected algorithm is 96-bits, no
padding is required for either IPv4 or for IPv6. However, if a
different length ICV is generated, due to use of a different
algorithm, then padding may be required depending on the length and
IP protocol version. The content of the padding field is arbitrarily
selected by the sender. (The padding is arbitrary, but need not be
random to achieve security.) These padding bytes are included in the
Authentication Data calculation, counted as part of the Payload
Length, and transmitted at the end of the Authentication Data field
to enable the receiver to perform the ICV calculation. Implicit Packet Padding

For some authentication algorithms, the byte string over which the
ICV computation is performed must be a multiple of a blocksize
specified by the algorithm. If the IP packet length (including AH)
does not match the blocksize requirements for the algorithm, implicit
padding MUST be appended to the end of the packet, prior to ICV
computation. The padding octets MUST have a value of zero. The
blocksize (and hence the length of the padding) is specified by the
algorithm specification. This padding is not transmitted with the
packet. Note that MD5 and SHA-1 are viewed as having a 1-byte
blocksize because of their internal padding conventions.

3.3.4 Fragmentation

If required, IP fragmentation occurs after AH processing within an
IPsec implementation. Thus, transport mode AH is applied only to
whole IP datagrams (not to IP fragments). An IP packet to which AH
has been applied may itself be fragmented by routers en route, and
such fragments must be reassembled prior to AH processing at a
receiver. In tunnel mode, AH is applied to an IP packet, the payload
of which may be a fragmented IP packet. For example, a security
gateway or a "bump-in-the-stack" or "bump-in-the-wire" IPsec
implementation (see the Security Architecture document for details)
may apply tunnel mode AH to such fragments.

3.4 Inbound Packet Processing

If there is more than one IPsec header/extension present, the
processing for each one ignores (does not zero, does not use) any
IPsec headers applied subsequent to the header being processed.

3.4.1 Reassembly

If required, reassembly is performed prior to AH processing. If a
packet offered to AH for processing appears to be an IP fragment,
i.e., the OFFSET field is non-zero or the MORE FRAGMENTS flag is set,
the receiver MUST discard the packet; this is an auditable event. The
audit log entry for this event SHOULD include the SPI value,
date/time, Source Address, Destination Address, and (in IPv6) the
Flow ID.

NOTE: For packet reassembly, the current IPv4 spec does NOT require
either the zero'ing of the OFFSET field or the clearing of the MORE
FRAGMENTS flag. In order for a reassembled packet to be processed by
IPsec (as opposed to discarded as an apparent fragment), the IP code
must do these two things after it reassembles a packet.

3.4.2 Security Association Lookup

Upon receipt of a packet containing an IP Authentication Header, the
receiver determines the appropriate (unidirectional) SA, based on the
destination IP address, security protocol (AH), and the SPI. (This
process is described in more detail in the Security Architecture
document.) The SA indicates whether the Sequence Number field will
be checked, specifies the algorithm(s) employed for ICV computation,
and indicates the key(s) required to validate the ICV.

If no valid Security Association exists for this session (e.g., the
receiver has no key), the receiver MUST discard the packet; this is
an auditable event. The audit log entry for this event SHOULD
include the SPI value, date/time, Source Address, Destination
Address, and (in IPv6) the Flow ID.

3.4.3 Sequence Number Verification

All AH implementations MUST support the anti-replay service, though
its use may be enabled or disabled by the receiver on a per-SA basis.
(Note that there are no provisions for managing transmitted Sequence
Number values among multiple senders directing traffic to a single SA
(irrespective of whether the destination address is unicast,
broadcast, or multicast). Thus the anti-replay service SHOULD NOT be
used in a multi-sender environment that employs a single SA.)

If the receiver does not enable anti-replay for an SA, no inbound
checks are performed on the Sequence Number. However, from the
perspective of the sender, the default is to assume that anti-replay
is enabled at the receiver. To avoid having the sender do
unnecessary sequence number monitoring and SA setup (see section
3.3.2), if an SA establishment protocol such as IKE is employed, the
receiver SHOULD notify the sender, during SA establishment, if the
receiver will not provide anti-replay protection.

If the receiver has enabled the anti-replay service for this SA, the
receiver packet counter for the SA MUST be initialized to zero when
the SA is established. For each received packet, the receiver MUST
verify that the packet contains a Sequence Number that does not
duplicate the Sequence Number of any other packets received during
the life of this SA. This SHOULD be the first AH check applied to a
packet after it has been matched to an SA, to speed rejection of
duplicate packets.

Duplicates are rejected through the use of a sliding receive window.
(How the window is implemented is a local matter, but the following
text describes the functionality that the implementation must
exhibit.) A MINIMUM window size of 32 MUST be supported; but a
window size of 64 is preferred and SHOULD be employed as the default.
Another window size (larger than the MINIMUM) MAY be chosen by the
receiver. (The receiver does NOT notify the sender of the window

The "right" edge of the window represents the highest, validated
Sequence Number value received on this SA. Packets that contain
Sequence Numbers lower than the "left" edge of the window are
rejected. Packets falling within the window are checked against a
list of received packets within the window. An efficient means for
performing this check, based on the use of a bit mask, is described
in the Security Architecture document.

If the received packet falls within the window and is new, or if the
packet is to the right of the window, then the receiver proceeds to
ICV verification. If the ICV validation fails, the receiver MUST
discard the received IP datagram as invalid; this is an auditable
event. The audit log entry for this event SHOULD include the SPI
value, date/time, Source Address, Destination Address, the Sequence
Number, and (in IPv6) the Flow ID. The receive window is updated
only if the ICV verification succeeds.


Note that if the packet is either inside the window and new, or is
outside the window on the "right" side, the receiver MUST
authenticate the packet before updating the Sequence Number window

3.4.4 Integrity Check Value Verification

The receiver computes the ICV over the appropriate fields of the
packet, using the specified authentication algorithm, and verifies
that it is the same as the ICV included in the Authentication Data
field of the packet. Details of the computation are provided below.

If the computed and received ICV's match, then the datagram is valid,
and it is accepted. If the test fails, then the receiver MUST
discard the received IP datagram as invalid; this is an auditable
event. The audit log entry SHOULD include the SPI value, date/time
received, Source Address, Destination Address, and (in IPv6) the Flow


Begin by saving the ICV value and replacing it (but not any
Authentication Data padding) with zero. Zero all other fields
that may have been modified during transit. (See section
for a discussion of which fields are zeroed before performing the
ICV calculation.) Check the overall length of the packet, and if
it requires implicit padding based on the requirements of the
authentication algorithm, append zero-filled bytes to the end of
the packet as required. Perform the ICV computation and compare
the result with the saved value, using the comparison rules
defined by the algorithm specification. (For example, if a
digital signature and one-way hash are used for the ICV
computation, the matching process is more complex.)

4. Auditing

Not all systems that implement AH will implement auditing. However,
if AH is incorporated into a system that supports auditing, then the
AH implementation MUST also support auditing and MUST allow a system
administrator to enable or disable auditing for AH. For the most
part, the granularity of auditing is a local matter. However,
several auditable events are identified in this specification and for
each of these events a minimum set of information that SHOULD be
included in an audit log is defined. Additional information also MAY
be included in the audit log for each of these events, and additional
events, not explicitly called out in this specification, also MAY

result in audit log entries. There is no requirement for the
receiver to transmit any message to the purported sender in response
to the detection of an auditable event, because of the potential to
induce denial of service via such action.

5. Conformance Requirements

Implementations that claim conformance or compliance with this
specification MUST fully implement the AH syntax and processing
described here and MUST comply with all requirements of the Security
Architecture document. If the key used to compute an ICV is manually
distributed, correct provision of the anti-replay service would
require correct maintenance of the counter state at the sender, until
the key is replaced, and there likely would be no automated recovery
provision if counter overflow were imminent. Thus a compliant
implementation SHOULD NOT provide this service in conjunction with
SAs that are manually keyed. A compliant AH implementation MUST
support the following mandatory-to-implement algorithms:

- HMAC with MD5 [MG97a]
- HMAC with SHA-1 [MG97b]

6. Security Considerations

Security is central to the design of this protocol, and these
security considerations permeate the specification. Additional
security-relevant aspects of using the IPsec protocol are discussed
in the Security Architecture document.

7. Differences from RFC 1826

This specification of AH differs from RFC 1826 [ATK95] in several
important respects, but the fundamental features of AH remain intact.
One goal of the revision of RFC 1826 was to provide a complete
framework for AH, with ancillary RFCs required only for algorithm
specification. For example, the anti-replay service is now an
integral, mandatory part of AH, not a feature of a transform defined
in another RFC. Carriage of a sequence number to support this
service is now required at all times. The default algorithms
required for interoperability have been changed to HMAC with MD5 or
SHA-1 (vs. keyed MD5), for security reasons. The list of IPv4 header
fields excluded from the ICV computation has been expanded to include
the OFFSET and FLAGS fields.

Another motivation for revision was to provide additional detail and
clarification of subtle points. This specification provides
rationale for exclusion of selected IPv4 header fields from AH
coverage and provides examples on positioning of AH in both the IPv4

and v6 contexts. Auditing requirements have been clarified in this
version of the specification. Tunnel mode AH was mentioned only in
passing in RFC 1826, but now is a mandatory feature of AH.
Discussion of interactions with key management and with security
labels have been moved to the Security Architecture document.


For over 3 years, this document has evolved through multiple versions
and iterations. During this time, many people have contributed
significant ideas and energy to the process and the documents
themselves. The authors would like to thank Karen Seo for providing
extensive help in the review, editing, background research, and
coordination for this version of the specification. The authors
would also like to thank the members of the IPsec and IPng working
groups, with special mention of the efforts of (in alphabetic order):
Steve Bellovin, Steve Deering, Francis Dupont, Phil Karn, Frank
Kastenholz, Perry Metzger, David Mihelcic, Hilarie Orman, Norman
Shulman, William Simpson, and Nina Yuan.

Appendix A -- Mutability of IP Options/Extension Headers

A1. IPv4 Options

This table shows how the IPv4 options are classified with regard to
"mutability". Where two references are provided, the second one
supercedes the first. This table is based in part on information
provided in RFC1700, "ASSIGNED NUMBERS", (October 1994).

Copy Class # Name Reference
---- ----- --- ------------------------ ---------
IMMUTABLE -- included in ICV calculation
0 0 0 End of Options List [RFC791]
0 0 1 No Operation [RFC791]
1 0 2 Security [RFC1108(historic but in use)]
1 0 5 Extended Security [RFC1108(historic but in use)]
1 0 6 Commercial Security [expired I-D, now US MIL STD]
1 0 20 Router Alert [RFC2113]
1 0 21 Sender Directed Multi- [RFC1770]
Destination Delivery
MUTABLE -- zeroed
1 0 3 Loose Source Route [RFC791]
0 2 4 Time Stamp [RFC791]
0 0 7 Record Route [RFC791]
1 0 9 Strict Source Route [RFC791]
0 2 18 Traceroute [RFC1393]

1 0 8 Stream ID [RFC791, RFC1122 (Host Req)]
0 0 11 MTU Probe [RFC1063, RFC1191 (PMTU)]
0 0 12 MTU Reply [RFC1063, RFC1191 (PMTU)]
1 0 17 Extended Internet Proto [RFC1385, RFC1883 (IPv6)]
0 0 10 Experimental Measurement [ZSu]
1 2 13 Experimental Flow Control [Finn]
1 0 14 Experimental Access Ctl [Estrin]
0 0 15 ??? [VerSteeg]
1 0 16 IMI Traffic Descriptor [Lee]
1 0 19 Address Extension [Ullmann IPv7]

NOTE: Use of the Router Alert option is potentially incompatible with
use of IPsec. Although the option is immutable, its use implies that
each router along a packet's path will "process" the packet and
consequently might change the packet. This would happen on a hop by
hop basis as the packet goes from router to router. Prior to being
processed by the application to which the option contents are
directed, e.g., RSVP/IGMP, the packet should encounter AH processing.

However, AH processing would require that each router along the path
is a member of a multicast-SA defined by the SPI. This might pose
problems for packets that are not strictly source routed, and it
requires multicast support techniques not currently available.

NOTE: Addition or removal of any security labels (BSO, ESO, CIPSO) by
systems along a packet's path conflicts with the classification of
these IP Options as immutable and is incompatible with the use of

NOTE: End of Options List options SHOULD be repeated as necessary to
ensure that the IP header ends on a 4 byte boundary in order to
ensure that there are no unspecified bytes which could be used for a
covert channel.

A2. IPv6 Extension Headers

This table shows how the IPv6 Extension Headers are classified with
regard to "mutability".

Option/Extension Name Reference
----------------------------------- ---------
MUTABLE BUT PREDICTABLE -- included in ICV calculation
Routing (Type 0) [RFC1883]

Hop by Hop options [RFC1883]
Destination options [RFC1883]

Fragmentation [RFC1883]

Options -- IPv6 options in the Hop-by-Hop and Destination
Extension Headers contain a bit that indicates whether the
option might change (unpredictably) during transit. For
any option for which contents may change en-route, the
entire "Option Data" field must be treated as zero-valued
octets when computing or verifying the ICV. The Option
Type and Opt Data Len are included in the ICV calculation.
All options for which the bit indicates immutability are
included in the ICV calculation. See the IPv6
specification [DH95] for more information.

Routing (Type 0) -- The IPv6 Routing Header "Type 0" will
rearrange the address fields within the packet during
transit from source to destination. However, the contents
of the packet as it will appear at the receiver are known
to the sender and to all intermediate hops. Hence, the

IPv6 Routing Header "Type 0" is included in the
Authentication Data calculation as mutable but predictable.
The sender must order the field so that it appears as it
will at the receiver, prior to performing the ICV

Fragmentation -- Fragmentation occurs after outbound IPsec
processing (section 3.3) and reassembly occurs before
inbound IPsec processing (section 3.4). So the
Fragmentation Extension Header, if it exists, is not seen
by IPsec.

Note that on the receive side, the IP implementation could
leave a Fragmentation Extension Header in place when it
does re-assembly. If this happens, then when AH receives
the packet, before doing ICV processing, AH MUST "remove"
(or skip over) this header and change the previous header's
"Next Header" field to be the "Next Header" field in the
Fragmentation Extension Header.

Note that on the send side, the IP implementation could
give the IPsec code a packet with a Fragmentation Extension
Header with Offset of 0 (first fragment) and a More
Fragments Flag of 0 (last fragment). If this happens, then
before doing ICV processing, AH MUST first "remove" (or
skip over) this header and change the previous header's
"Next Header" field to be the "Next Header" field in the
Fragmentation Extension Header.


[ATK95] Atkinson, R., "The IP Authentication Header", RFC 1826,
August 1995.

[Bra97] Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Level", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

[DH95] Deering, S., and B. Hinden, "Internet Protocol version 6
(IPv6) Specification", RFC 1883, December 1995.

[HC98] Harkins, D., and D. Carrel, "The Internet Key Exchange
(IKE)", RFC 2409, November 1998.

[KA97a] Kent, S., and R. Atkinson, "Security Architecture for the
Internet Protocol", RFC 2401, November 1998.

[KA97b] Kent, S., and R. Atkinson, "IP Encapsulating Security
Payload (ESP)", RFC 2406, November 1998.

[MG97a] Madson, C., and R. Glenn, "The Use of HMAC-MD5-96 within
ESP and AH", RFC 2403, November 1998.

[MG97b] Madson, C., and R. Glenn, "The Use of HMAC-SHA-1-96 within
ESP and AH", RFC 2404, November 1998.

[STD-2] Reynolds, J., and J. Postel, "Assigned Numbers", STD 2, RFC
1700, October 1994. See also:


The views and specification here are those of the authors and are not
necessarily those of their employers. The authors and their
employers specifically disclaim responsibility for any problems
arising from correct or incorrect implementation or use of this

Author Information

Stephen Kent
BBN Corporation
70 Fawcett Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

Phone: +1 (617) 873-3988
EMail: kent@bbn.com

Randall Atkinson
@Home Network
425 Broadway,
Redwood City, CA 94063

Phone: +1 (415) 569-5000
EMail: rja@corp.home.net

Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1998). All Rights Reserved.

This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
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document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing
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Posted on: August 1, 2009

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