Kerberos Concepts - Principals, Keytabs and Delegation Tokens

This section describes how Hadoop uses Kerberos principals and keytabs for user authentication. It also briefly describes how Hadoop uses delegation tokens to authenticate jobs at execution time, to avoid overwhelming the KDC with authentication requests for each job.

Kerberos Principals

A user in Kerberos is called a principal, which is made up of three distinct components: the primary, instance, and realm. A Kerberos principal is used in a Kerberos-secured system to represent a unique identity. The first component of the principal is called the primary, or sometimes the user component. The primary component is an arbitrary string and may be the operating system username of the user or the name of a service. The primary component is followed by an optional section called the instance, which is used to create principals that are used by users in special roles or to define the host on which a service runs, for example. An instance, if it exists, is separated from the primary by a slash and then the content is used to disambiguate multiple principals for a single user or service. The final component of the principal is the realm. The realm is similar to a domain in DNS in that it logically defines a related group of objects, although rather than hostnames as in DNS, the Kerberos realm defines a group of principals . Each realm can have its own settings including the location of the KDC on the network and supported encryption algorithms. Large organizations commonly create distinct realms to delegate administration of a realm to a group within the enterprise. Realms, by convention, are written in uppercase characters.

Kerberos assigns tickets to Kerberos principals to enable them to access Kerberos-secured Hadoop services. For the Hadoop daemon principals, the principal names should be of the format service/ Here, service in the service/ principal refers to the username of an existing Unix account that is used by Hadoop daemons, such as hdfs or mapred.

Human users who want to access the Hadoop cluster also need to have Kerberos principals of the format, username@YOUR-REALM.COM; in this case, username refers to the username of the user's Unix account, such as joe or jane. Single-component principal names (such as joe@YOUR-REALM.COM) are typical for client user accounts. Hadoop does not support more than two-component principal names.

Kerberos Keytabs

A keytab is a file containing pairs of Kerberos principals and an encrypted copy of that principal's key. A keytab file for a Hadoop daemon is unique to each host since the principal names include the hostname. This file is used to authenticate a principal on a host to Kerberos without human interaction or storing a password in a plain text file. Because having access to the keytab file for a principal allows one to act as that principal, access to the keytab files should be tightly secured. They should be readable by a minimal set of users, should be stored on local disk, and should not be included in host backups, unless access to those backups is as secure as access to the local host.

Delegation Tokens

Users in a Hadoop cluster authenticate themselves to the NameNode using their Kerberos credentials. However, once the user is authenticated, each job subsequently submitted must also be checked to ensure it comes from an authenticated user. Since there could be a time gap between a job being submitted and the job being executed, during which the user could have logged off, user credentials are passed to the NameNode using delegation tokens that can be used for authentication in the future.

Delegation tokens are a secret key shared with the NameNode, that can be used to impersonate a user to get a job executed. While these tokens can be renewed, new tokens can only be obtained by clients authenticating to the NameNode using Kerberos credentials. By default, delegation tokens are only valid for a day. However, since jobs can last longer than a day, each token specifies a JobTracker as a renewer which is allowed to renew the delegation token once a day, until the job completes, or for a maximum period of 7 days. When the job is complete, the JobTracker requests the NameNode to cancel the delegation token.

Token Format

The NameNode uses a random masterKey to generate delegation tokens. All active tokens are stored in memory with their expiry date (maxDate). Delegation tokens can either expire when the current time exceeds the expiry date, or, they can be canceled by the owner of the token. Expired or canceled tokens are then deleted from memory. The sequenceNumber serves as a unique ID for the tokens. The following section describes how the Delegation Token is used for authentication.
TokenID = {ownerID, renewerID, issueDate, maxDate, sequenceNumber}
TokenAuthenticator = HMAC-SHA1(masterKey, TokenID) 
Delegation Token = {TokenID, TokenAuthenticator}

Authentication Process

To begin the authentication process, the client first sends the TokenID to the NameNode. The NameNode uses this TokenID and the masterKey to once again generate the corresponding TokenAuthenticator, and consequently, the Delegation Token. If the NameNode finds that the token already exists in memory, and that the current time is less than the expiry date (maxDate) of the token, then the token is considered valid. If valid, the client and the NameNode will then authenticate each other by using the TokenAuthenticator that they possess as the secret key, and MD5 as the protocol. Since the client and NameNode do not actually exchange TokenAuthenticators during the process, even if authentication fails, the tokens are not compromised.

Token Renewal

Delegation tokens must be renewed periodically by the designated renewer (renewerID). For example, if a JobTracker is the designated renewer, the JobTracker will first authenticate itself to the NameNode. It will then send the token to be authenticated to the NameNode. The NameNode verifies the following information before renewing the token:
  • The JobTracker requesting renewal is the same as the one identified in the token by renewerID.
  • The TokenAuthenticator generated by the NameNode using the TokenID and the masterKey matches the one previously stored by the NameNode.
  • The current time must be less than the time specified by maxDate.

If the token renewal request is successful, the NameNode sets the new expiry date to min(current time+renew period, maxDate). If the NameNode was restarted at any time, it will have lost all previous tokens from memory. In this case, the token will be saved to memory once again, this time with a new expiry date. Hence, designated renewers must renew all tokens with the NameNode after a restart, and before relaunching any failed tasks.

A designated renewer can also revive an expired or canceled token as long as the current time does not exceed maxDate. The NameNode cannot tell the difference between a token that was canceled, or has expired, and one that was erased from memory due to a restart, since only the masterKey persists in memory. The masterKey must be updated regularly.