Introducing the OATH Toolkit
I am happy to announce a project that I have been working quietly on for about a year: the OATH Toolkit. OATH stands for Open AuTHentication and is an organization that specify standards around authentication. That is a pretty broad focus, but practically it has translated into work on specifying standards around deploying and using electronic token based user authentication such as the YubiKey.
OATH’s most visible specification has been the HOTP algorithm which is a way to generate event-based one-time passwords from a shared secret using HMAC-SHA1. HOTP has been published through the IETF as RFC 4226. Built on top of HOTP is the time-based variant called TOTP, which requires a clock in the token. OATH do some other work too, like specifying a data format for transferring the token configuration data (e.g., serial number and shared secret) called PSKC.
The aim of my project OATH Toolkit is to provide an implementation of various OATH related technologies. I’m intentionally leaving it open ended because you never know what they may specify that I find interesting. However, the primary goal has been to focus on HOTP and TOTP. Throughout 2010, the project was called HOTP Toolkit but that name made it difficult to support TOTP in a non-confusing way. During the last month, after discussion with Daniel Pocock on Dynalogin which is a potential consumer of my package, I took the time to create a fork of the HOTP Toolkit and the OATH Toolkit was born.
Now what does the OATH Toolkit actually do? Primarily it provides a library called liboath that implements HOTP and TOTP. Liboath is a relatively small library, and my goal is to keep it well documented and of high quality. There is GTK-DOC generated API documentation. Of course there is a command line tool to go with it, called oathtool which makes working with HOTP/TOTP from the command line easier. It can generate and validate one-time passwords. Let’s say you want to generate the first four OTP based on the dummy key 1234.
jas@latte:~$ oathtool -w4 1234
By default the tool is using HOTP, but you can switch it into TOTP mode with the –totp parameter. The output OTP will now depend on the current time on your machine, unless you specify the time manually using the –now parameter.
jas@latte:~$ oathtool –now=”2011-01-20 15:46 UTC” –totp 1234
The tool can do more, check the oathtool man page for all the details.
The final component of the OATH Toolkit is a PAM module pam_oath. With it, you can login to your machine using an OTP and optionally a password. Right now the user and password management is simplistic, but that should improve over time. To setup single-factor authentication for su you would create a file containing the user information and HOTP key as /etc/users.oath like this:
HOTP root – 1234
Then configure PAM to use the pam_oath module like this in /etc/pam.d/su:
auth requisite pam_oath.so debug usersfile=/etc/users.oath window=20
The user file will be rewritten every time you su to hold the current state. There is a README for the PAM-module with more documentation.
That’s it for an intro! From the OATH Toolkit webpage we link to binary packages for Debian and Ubuntu so please try the OATH Toolkit yourself and provide feedback to the oath-toolkit-help mailing list.