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RFC 2480

Gateways and MIME Security Multiparts

Pages: 6
Proposed Standard

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Network Working Group                                        N. Freed
Request for Comments: 2480               Innosoft International, Inc.
Category: Standards Track                                January 1999

                 Gateways and MIME Security Multiparts

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 (1999).  All Rights Reserved.

1.  Abstract

   This document examines the problems associated with use of MIME
   security multiparts and gateways to non-MIME environments. A set of
   requirements for gateway behavior are defined which provide
   facilities necessary to properly accomodate the transfer of security
   multiparts through gateways.

2.  Requirements Notation

   This document occasionally uses terms that appear in capital letters.
   When the terms "MUST", "MUST NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", and "MAY"
   appear capitalized, they are being used to indicate particular
   requirements of this specification. A discussion of the meanings of
   the terms "MUST", "SHOULD", and "MAY" appears in  RFC 1123 [2]; the
   terms "MUST NOT" and "SHOULD NOT" are logical extensions of this

3.  The Problem

   Security multiparts [RFC-1847] provide an effective way to add
   integrity and confidentiality services to protocols that employ MIME
   objects [RFC-2045, RFC-2046]. Difficulties arise, however, in
   heterogeneous environments involving gateways to environments that
   don't support MIME. Specifically:

    (1)   Security services have to be applied to MIME objects in
          their entirety. Failure to do so can lead to security
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          For example, a signature that covers only object data and not
          the object's MIME labels would allow someone to tamper with
          the labels in an undetectable fashion.  Similarly, failure to
          encrypt MIME label information exposes information about the
          content that could facilitate traffic analysis.

          Composite MIME objects (e.g., multipart/mixed, message/rfc822)
          also have to be secured as a unit.  Again, failure to do so
          may facilitate tampering, reveal important information
          unnecessarily, or both.

    (2)   Gateways that deal with MIME objects have to be able to
          convert them to non-MIME formats.

          For example, gateways often have to transform MIME labelling
          information into other forms. MIME type information may end up
          being expressed as a file extension or as an OID.

          Gateways also have to take apart composite MIME objects into
          their component parts, converting the resulting set of parts
          into whatever form the non-MIME environments uses for
          composite objects. Failure to do so makes the objects unusable
          in any environment that doesn't support MIME. In many cases
          this also means that multi-level MIME structures have to be
          converted into a sequential list of parts.

    (3)   Security services have to be deployed in an end-to-end
          fashion. Failure to do so again can lead to security

          An integrity service deployed at something other than a
          connection end point means a region exists between the point
          where the integrity service is applied and the actual end
          point where object tampering is possible. A confidentiality
          service deployed at something other than a connection end
          point means a region exists where the object is transferred in
          the clear. And worse, distributed private keys are usually
          necessary whenever someone other than the originator applies
          an integrity service or someone other than the recipient
          removes a confidentiality service, which in turn may make
          theft of private key information a possibility.

          All of these issues can be addressed, of course. For example,
          it may be possible to use multiple overlapping security
          services to assure that no exposure exists even though there
          is no end-to-end security per se. And keys can be distributed
          in a secure fashion. However, such designs tend to be quite
          complex, and complexity in a security system is highly
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   The preceeding three requirments are fundamentally in conflict: It is
   possible to satisfy two of them at once, but not all three at once.

   In fact the conflict is even worse than it first appears. In most
   situations of this sort some sort of compromise is possible which,
   while not satisfying any of the requirements completely, does
   optimize some sort of average of all the requirements. Such a
   solution does not exist in this case, however, because many real
   world situations exist where any one of these requirements absolutely
   must be satisfied.

4.  Solving the Problem

   Since the previously described problem doesn't allow for a single
   solution the only viable approach is to require that gateways provide
   multiple solutions.  In particular, gateways

    (1)   MUST provide the ability to tunnel multipart/signed and
          multipart/encrypted objects as monolithic entities if there is
          any chance whatsoever that MIME capabilities exist on the
          non-MIME side of the gateway. No changes to content of the
          multipart are permitted, even when the content is itself a
          composite MIME object.

          This option must be provided so that entities behind the
          gateway that are capable of processing security multiparts and
          their MIME content will work properly.  As mentioned
          previously, situations exist where application security
          requirements are absolute and must be accomodated, even when
          meeting them causes problems for other agents.

          Exceptions are allowed only when there is no possibility of
          MIME support on one side of the gateway.  For example, a
          gateway to a voice messaging system may have no useful way to
          represent a signed MIME object.

    (2)   MUST provide the ability to take apart multipart/signed
          objects, exposing the content (and in the process ruining the
          signature). When this approach is selected, gateways SHOULD
          NOT remove the signature. Instead, gateways SHOULD keep the
          signature intact and add to it a note that it will probably be
          invalid for checking the message contents, but may still be
          contain valuable information about the sender.
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          This option must be provided so that entities behind the
          gateway which are incapable of processing MIME will work

    (3)   SHOULD provide the ability to select between the previous two
          options on per-user basis.

    (4)   MAY provide facilities to check signatures and decrypt
          encrypted content. Such facilities MUST NOT be enabled by
          default; the potential security exposure involved has to be
          assessed before such capabilities can be used.

    (5)   MAY provide facilities to sign and/or encrypt material passing
          from the non-MIME side to the MIME side of the gateway. Again,
          such facilities MUST NOT be enabled by default; the potential
          security exposure involved in the transfer of unsecured
          content within the application domain behind the gateway has
          to be assessed before such capabilities can be used.

   A gateway which complies with the above requirements is considered to
   be security multiparts compliant.

5.  Security Considerations

   This entire document is about security.
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6.  References

   [RFC-822]  Crocker, D., "Standard for the Format of ARPA Internet
              Text Messages", STD 11, RFC 822, August, 1982.

   [RFC-1847] Galvin, J., Murphy, S., Crocker, S. and N. Freed,
              "Security Multiparts for MIME: Multipart/Signed and
              Multipart/Encrypted", RFC 1847, October 1995.

   [RFC-1123] Braden, R., Ed., "Requirements for Internet Hosts --
              Application and Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, October 1989.

   [RFC-2045] Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
              Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message
              Bodies", RFC 2045, December 1996.

   [RFC-2046] Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
              Extensions (MIME) Part Two: Media Types", RFC 2046,
              December 1996.

   [RFC-2049] Freed, N. and N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
              Extensions (MIME) Part Five: Conformance Criteria and
              Examples", RFC 2049, December 1996.

7.  Author's Address

   Ned Freed
   Innosoft International, Inc.
   1050 Lakes Drive
   West Covina, CA 91790

   Phone: +1 626 919 3600
   Fax:   +1 626 919 3614
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8.  Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (1999).  All Rights Reserved.

   This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
   others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it
   or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published
   and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any
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   included on all such copies and derivative works.  However, this
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   The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
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   This document and the information contained herein is provided on an