RFC 9237 ACE AIF April 2022
Bormann Standards Track [Page]
Stream:
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
RFC:
9237
Category:
Standards Track
Published:
ISSN:
2070-1721
Author:
C. Bormann
Universität Bremen TZI

RFC 9237

An Authorization Information Format (AIF) for Authentication and Authorization for Constrained Environments (ACE)

Abstract

Information about which entities are authorized to perform what operations on which constituents of other entities is a crucial component of producing an overall system that is secure. Conveying precise authorization information is especially critical in highly automated systems with large numbers of entities, such as the Internet of Things.

This specification provides a generic information model and format for representing such authorization information, as well as two variants of a specific instantiation of that format for use with Representational State Transfer (REST) resources identified by URI path.

Status of This Memo

This is an Internet Standards Track document.

This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has received public review and has been approved for publication by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Further information on Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 7841.

Information about the current status of this document, any errata, and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc9237.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Constrained devices, as they are used in the Internet of Things, need security in order to operate correctly and prevent misuse. One important element of this security is that devices in the Internet of Things need to be able to decide which operations requested of them should be considered authorized, ascertain that the authorization to request the operation does apply to the actual requester as authenticated, and ascertain that other devices they make requests of are the ones they intended.

To transfer detailed authorization information from an authorization manager (such as an ACE-OAuth authorization server [RFC9200]) to a device, a compact representation format is needed. This document defines such a format -- the Authorization Information Format (AIF). AIF is defined both as a general structure that can be used for many different applications and as a specific instantiation tailored to REST resources and the permissions on them, including some provision for dynamically created resources.

1.1. Terminology

This memo uses terms from the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP) [RFC7252] and the Internet Security Glossary [RFC4949]; CoAP is used for the explanatory examples as it is a good fit for constrained devices.

The shape of data is specified in Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL) [RFC8610] [RFC9165]. Terminology for constrained devices is defined in [RFC7228].

The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "NOT RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP 14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all capitals, as shown here.

The term "byte", abbreviated by "B", is used in its now customary sense as a synonym for "octet".

2. Information Model

Authorizations are generally expressed through some data structures that are cryptographically secured (or transmitted in a secure way). This section discusses the information model underlying the payload of that data (as opposed to the cryptographic armor around it).

The semantics of the authorization information defined in this document are that of an allow-list: everything is denied until it is explicitly allowed.

For the purposes of this specification, the underlying access control model will be that of an access matrix, which gives a set of permissions for each possible combination of a subject and an object. We are focusing the AIF data item on a single row in the access matrix (such a row has often been called a "capability list") without concern to the subject for which the data item is issued. As a consequence, AIF MUST be used in a way that the subject of the authorizations is unambiguously identified (e.g., as part of the armor around it).

The generic model of such a capability list is a list of pairs of object identifiers (of type Toid) and the permissions (of type Tperm) that the subject has on the object(s) identified.

AIF-Generic<Toid, Tperm> = [* [Toid, Tperm]]
Figure 1: Definition of Generic AIF

In a specific data model (such as the one specified in this document), the object identifier (Toid) will often be a text string, and the set of permissions (Tperm) will be represented by a bit set, which in turn is represented as a number (see Section 3).

AIF-Specific = AIF-Generic<tstr, uint>
Figure 2: Commonly Used Shape of a Specific AIF

2.1. REST-Specific Model

In the specific instantiation of the REST resources and the permissions on them, for the object identifiers (Toid), we use the URI of a resource on a CoAP server. More specifically, since the parts of the URI that identify the server ("authority" in [RFC3986]) are authenticated during REST resource access (Section 4.2.2 of [RFC9110] and Section 6.2 of [RFC7252]), they naturally fall into the realm handled by the cryptographic armor; we therefore focus on the "path" ("path-abempty") and "query" parts of the URI (URI-local-part in this specification, as expressed by the Uri-Path and Uri-Query options in CoAP). As a consequence, AIF MUST be used in a way that clearly shows who is the target (enforcement point) of these authorizations (note that there may be more than one target that the same authorization applies to, e.g., in a situation with homogeneous devices).

For the permissions (Tperm), we use a simple permissions model that lists the subset of the REST (CoAP or HTTP) methods permitted. This model is summarized in Table 1.

Table 1: An Authorization Instance in the AIF Information Model
URI-local-part Permission Set
/s/temp GET
/a/led PUT, GET
/dtls POST

In this example, a device offers a temperature sensor /s/temp for read-only access, a LED actuator /a/led for read/write, and a /dtls resource for POST access.

As shown in the data model (Section 3), the representations of REST methods provided are limited to those that have a CoAP method number assigned; an extension to the model may be necessary to represent permissions for exotic HTTP methods.

2.2. Limitations

This simple information model only allows granting permissions for statically identifiable objects, e.g., URIs for the REST-specific instantiation. One might be tempted to extend the model towards URI templates [RFC6570] (for instance, to open up an authorization for many parameter values as in /s/temp{?any*}). However, that requires some considerations of the ease and unambiguity of matching a given URI against a set of templates in an AIF data item.

This simple information model also does not allow expressing conditionalized access based on state outside the identification of objects (e.g., "opening a door is allowed if that is not locked").

Finally, the model does not provide any special access for a set of resources that are specific to a subject, e.g., that the subject created itself by previous operations (PUT, POST, or PATCH/iPATCH [RFC8132]) or that were specifically created for the subject by others.

2.3. REST-Specific Model with Dynamic Resource Creation

The REST-Specific Model with Dynamic Resource Creation addresses the need to provide defined access to dynamic resources that were created by the subject itself, specifically, a resource that is made known to the subject by providing Location-* options in a CoAP response or using the Location header field in HTTP [RFC9110] (the Location-indicating mechanisms). (The concept is somewhat comparable to "Access Control List (ACL) inheritance" in the Network File System version 4 (NFSv4) protocol [RFC8881], except that it does not use a containment relationship but rather the fact that the dynamic resource was created from a resource to which the subject had access.) In other words, it addresses an important subset of the third limitation mentioned in Section 2.2.

Table 2: An Authorization Instance in the AIF Information Model with Dynamic Resource Creation
URI-local-part Permission Set
/a/make-coffee POST, Dynamic-GET, Dynamic-DELETE

For a method X, the presence of a Dynamic-X permission means that the subject holds permission to exercise the method X on resources that have been returned in a 2.01 (201 Created) response by a Location-indicating mechanism to a request that the subject made to the resource listed. In the example shown in Table 2, POST operations on /a/make-coffee might return the location of a resource dynamically created on the coffee machine that allows GET to find out about the status of, and DELETE to cancel, the coffee-making operation.

Since the use of the extension defined in this section can be detected by the mentioning of the Dynamic-X permissions, there is no need for another explicit switch between the basic and the model extended by dynamic resource creation; the extended model is always presumed once a Dynamic-X permission is present.

3. Data Model

Different data model specializations can be defined for the generic information model given above.

In this section, we will give the data model for simple REST authorization as per Sections 2.1 and 2.3. As discussed, in this case the object identifier is specialized as a text string giving a relative URI (URI-local-part as the absolute path on the server serving as the enforcement point). The permission set is specialized to a single number REST-method-set by the following steps:

This data model could be interchanged in the JSON [RFC8259] representation given in Figure 3.

[["/s/temp",1],["/a/led",5],["/dtls",2]]
Figure 3: An Authorization Instance Encoded in JSON (40 Bytes)

In Figure 4, a straightforward specification of the data model (including both the methods from [RFC7252] and the new ones from [RFC8132], identified by the method code minus 1) is shown in CDDL [RFC8610] [RFC9165]:

AIF-REST = AIF-Generic<local-path, REST-method-set>
local-path = tstr   ; URI relative to enforcement point
REST-method-set = uint .bits methods
methods = &(
  GET: 0
  POST: 1
  PUT: 2
  DELETE: 3
  FETCH: 4
  PATCH: 5
  iPATCH: 6
  Dynamic-GET: 32; 0 .plus Dynamic-Offset
  Dynamic-POST: 33; 1 .plus Dynamic-Offset
  Dynamic-PUT: 34; 2 .plus Dynamic-Offset
  Dynamic-DELETE: 35; 3 .plus Dynamic-Offset
  Dynamic-FETCH: 36; 4 .plus Dynamic-Offset
  Dynamic-PATCH: 37; 5 .plus Dynamic-Offset
  Dynamic-iPATCH: 38; 6 .plus Dynamic-Offset
)
Figure 4: AIF in CDDL

For the information shown in Table 1 and Figure 3, a representation in Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) [RFC8949] is given in Figure 5; again, several optimizations and improvements are possible.

83                        # array(3)
   82                     # array(2)
      67                  # text(7)
         2f732f74656d70   # "/s/temp"
      01                  # unsigned(1)
   82                     # array(2)
      66                  # text(6)
         2f612f6c6564     # "/a/led"
      05                  # unsigned(5)
   82                     # array(2)
      65                  # text(5)
         2f64746c73       # "/dtls"
      02                  # unsigned(2)
Figure 5: An Authorization Instance Encoded in CBOR (28 Bytes)

Note that choosing 32 as Dynamic-Offset means that all future CoAP methods that are registered can be represented both as themselves and in the Dynamic-X variant, but only the dynamic forms of methods 1 to 21 are typically usable in a JSON form [RFC7493].

4. Media Types

This specification defines media types for the generic information model, expressed in JSON (application/aif+json) or in CBOR (application/aif+cbor). These media types have parameters for specifying Toid and Tperm; default values are the values "URI-local-part" for Toid and "REST-method-set" for Tperm, as per Section 3 of the present specification.

A specification that wants to use generic AIF with different Toid and/or Tperm is expected to request these as media type parameters (Section 5.2) and register a corresponding Content-Format (Section 5.3).

5. IANA Considerations

5.1. Media Types

IANA has added the following media types to the "Media Types" registry. The registration entries are in the following subsections.

Table 3: New Media Types
Name Template Reference
aif+cbor application/aif+cbor RFC 9237, Section 4
aif+json application/aif+json RFC 9237, Section 4

5.1.1. application/aif+cbor

Type name:

application

Subtype name:

aif+cbor

Required parameters:

N/A

Optional parameters:


Toid:
the identifier for the object for which permissions are supplied. A value from the "Sub-Parameter Registry for application/aif+cbor and application/aif+json" subregistry for Toid. Default value: "URI-local-part" (RFC 9237).
Tperm:
the data type of a permission set for the object identified via a Toid. A value from the "Sub-Parameter Registry for application/aif+cbor and application/aif+json" subregistry for Tperm. Default value: "REST-method-set" (RFC 9237).
Encoding considerations:

binary (CBOR)

Security considerations:

Section 6 of RFC 9237

Interoperability considerations:

N/A

Published specification:

Section 4 of RFC 9237

Applications that use this media type:

Applications that need to convey structured authorization data for identified resources, conveying sets of permissions.

Fragment identifier considerations:

The syntax and semantics of fragment identifiers is as specified for "application/cbor". (At publication of RFC 9237, there is no fragment identification syntax defined for "application/cbor".)

Person & email address to contact for further information:

ACE WG mailing list (ace@ietf.org) or IETF Applications and Real-Time Area (art@ietf.org)

Intended usage:

COMMON

Restrictions on usage:

N/A

Author/Change controller:

IETF

Provisional registration:

no

5.1.2. application/aif+json

Type name:

application

Subtype name:

aif+json

Required parameters:

N/A

Optional parameters:


Toid:
the identifier for the object for which permissions are supplied. A value from the media-type parameter subregistry for Toid. Default value: "URI-local-part" (RFC 9237).
Tperm:
the data type of a permission set for the object identified via a Toid. A value from the media-type parameter subregistry for Tperm. Default value: "REST-method-set" (RFC 9237).
Encoding considerations:

binary (JSON is UTF-8-encoded text)

Security considerations:

Section 6 of RFC 9237

Interoperability considerations:

N/A

Published specification:

Section 4 of RFC 9237

Applications that use this media type:

Applications that need to convey structured authorization data for identified resources, conveying sets of permissions.

Fragment identifier considerations:

The syntax and semantics of fragment identifiers is as specified for "application/json". (At publication of RFC 9237, there is no fragment identification syntax defined for "application/json".)

Person & email address to contact for further information:

ACE WG mailing list (ace@ietf.org) or IETF Applications and Real-Time Area (art@ietf.org)

Intended usage:

COMMON

Restrictions on usage:

N/A

Author/Change controller:

IETF

Provisional registration:

no

5.2. Registries

For the media types application/aif+cbor and application/aif+json, IANA has created a subregistry within [IANA.media-type-sub-parameters] for the media-type parameters Toid and Tperm, populated with the following:

Table 4: New Media Type Parameters
Parameter name Description/Specification Reference
Toid URI-local-part local-part of URI RFC 9237
Tperm REST-method-set set of REST methods represented RFC 9237

The registration policy is Specification Required [RFC8126]. The designated expert will engage with the submitter to ascertain whether the requirements of this document are addressed:

  • The specifications for Toid and Tperm need to realize the general ideas of unambiguous object identifiers and permission lists in the context where the AIF data item is intended to be used, and their structure needs to be usable with the intended media types (application/aif+cbor and application/aif+json) as identified in the specification.
  • The parameter names need to conform to Section 4.3 of [RFC6838], but preferably are in [KebabCase] so they can be easily translated into names used in popular programming language APIs.

The designated experts will develop further criteria and guidelines as needed.

5.3. Content-Format

IANA has registered Content-Format numbers in the "CoAP Content-Formats" subregistry, within the "Constrained RESTful Environments (CoRE) Parameters" registry [IANA.core-parameters], as follows:

Table 5: New Content-Formats
Content-Type Content Coding ID Reference
application/aif+cbor - 290 RFC 9237
application/aif+json - 291 RFC 9237

In the registry as defined by Section 12.3 of [RFC7252] at the time of writing, the column "Content-Type" is called "Media type" and the column "Content Coding" is called "Encoding".

Note that applications that register Toid and Tperm values are encouraged to also register Content-Formats for the relevant combinations.

6. Security Considerations

The security considerations of [RFC7252] apply when AIF is used with CoAP, and, if complex formats such as URIs are used for Toid or Tperm, specifically Section 11.1 of [RFC7252]. Some wider issues are discussed in [RFC8576].

When applying these formats, the referencing specification needs to be careful to ensure that:

For the data formats, the security considerations of [RFC8259] and [RFC8949] apply.

A plain implementation of AIF might implement just the basic REST model as per Section 2.1. If it receives authorizations that include permissions that use the REST-Specific Model with Dynamic Resource Creation (Section 2.3), it needs to either reject the AIF data item entirely or act only on the permissions that it does understand. In other words, the semantics underlying an allow-list as discussed above need to hold here as well.

An implementation of the REST-Specific Model with Dynamic Resource Creation (Section 2.3) needs to carefully keep track of the dynamically created objects and the subjects to which the Dynamic-X permissions apply -- both on the server side to enforce the permissions and on the client side to know which permissions are available.

7. References

7.1. Normative References

[RFC2119]
Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc2119>.
[RFC3986]
Berners-Lee, T., Fielding, R., and L. Masinter, "Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax", STD 66, RFC 3986, DOI 10.17487/RFC3986, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc3986>.
[RFC6838]
Freed, N., Klensin, J., and T. Hansen, "Media Type Specifications and Registration Procedures", BCP 13, RFC 6838, DOI 10.17487/RFC6838, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6838>.
[RFC7252]
Shelby, Z., Hartke, K., and C. Bormann, "The Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)", RFC 7252, DOI 10.17487/RFC7252, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7252>.
[RFC8126]
Cotton, M., Leiba, B., and T. Narten, "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in RFCs", BCP 26, RFC 8126, DOI 10.17487/RFC8126, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8126>.
[RFC8174]
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8174>.
[RFC8610]
Birkholz, H., Vigano, C., and C. Bormann, "Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL): A Notational Convention to Express Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR) and JSON Data Structures", RFC 8610, DOI 10.17487/RFC8610, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8610>.
[RFC9110]
Fielding, R., Ed., Nottingham, M., Ed., and J. Reschke, Ed., "HTTP Semantics", RFC 9110, DOI 10.17487/RFC9110, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc9110>.
[RFC9165]
Bormann, C., "Additional Control Operators for the Concise Data Definition Language (CDDL)", RFC 9165, DOI 10.17487/RFC9165, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc9165>.

7.2. Informative References

[IANA.core-parameters]
IANA, "Constrained RESTful Environments (CoRE) Parameters", <https://www.iana.org/assignments/core-parameters>.
[IANA.media-type-sub-parameters]
IANA, "MIME Media Type Sub-Parameter Registries", <https://www.iana.org/assignments/media-type-sub-parameters>.
[KebabCase]
"Kebab Case", , <http://wiki.c2.com/?KebabCase>.
[RFC4949]
Shirey, R., "Internet Security Glossary, Version 2", FYI 36, RFC 4949, DOI 10.17487/RFC4949, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc4949>.
[RFC6570]
Gregorio, J., Fielding, R., Hadley, M., Nottingham, M., and D. Orchard, "URI Template", RFC 6570, DOI 10.17487/RFC6570, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6570>.
[RFC7228]
Bormann, C., Ersue, M., and A. Keranen, "Terminology for Constrained-Node Networks", RFC 7228, DOI 10.17487/RFC7228, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7228>.
[RFC7493]
Bray, T., Ed., "The I-JSON Message Format", RFC 7493, DOI 10.17487/RFC7493, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc7493>.
[RFC8132]
van der Stok, P., Bormann, C., and A. Sehgal, "PATCH and FETCH Methods for the Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP)", RFC 8132, DOI 10.17487/RFC8132, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8132>.
[RFC8259]
Bray, T., Ed., "The JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Data Interchange Format", STD 90, RFC 8259, DOI 10.17487/RFC8259, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8259>.
[RFC8576]
Garcia-Morchon, O., Kumar, S., and M. Sethi, "Internet of Things (IoT) Security: State of the Art and Challenges", RFC 8576, DOI 10.17487/RFC8576, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8576>.
[RFC8881]
Noveck, D., Ed. and C. Lever, "Network File System (NFS) Version 4 Minor Version 1 Protocol", RFC 8881, DOI 10.17487/RFC8881, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8881>.
[RFC8949]
Bormann, C. and P. Hoffman, "Concise Binary Object Representation (CBOR)", STD 94, RFC 8949, DOI 10.17487/RFC8949, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8949>.
[RFC9200]
Seitz, L., Selander, G., Wahlstroem, E., Erdtman, S., and H. Tschofenig, "Authentication and Authorization for Constrained Environments Using the OAuth 2.0 Framework (ACE-OAuth)", RFC 9200, DOI 10.17487/RFC9200, , <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc9200>.

Acknowledgements

Jim Schaad, Francesca Palombini, Olaf Bergmann, Marco Tiloca, and Christian Amsüss provided comments that shaped the direction of this document. Alexey Melnikov pointed out that there were gaps in the media type specifications, and Loganaden Velvindron provided a shepherd review with further comments. Many thanks also to the IESG reviewers, who provided several small but significant observations. Benjamin Kaduk provided an extensive review as Responsible Area Director and indeed is responsible for much improvement in the document.

Author's Address

Carsten Bormann
Universität Bremen TZI
Postfach 330440
D-28359 Bremen
Germany