Password Upgrade on Bind


As passwords have to be stored in a secure manner, this is a really important aspect of 389 Directory Server’s secure operation goals. It’s important that we continue to improve and provide the “best” storage of credentials for administrators and their users so that their accounts are secure from various types of attack.

Password storage best practices over time

Overtime we have seen a lot of changes in password storage practice from:

Today’s best practice (2019) is kdf - the reason is that an algorithm like SHA is designed for hardware performance and effeciency. Awesome for verifying TLS packets are correct from the wire, but not so good with passwords as attackers can brute force passwords offline at a high rate.

KDF’s are intended to require at least some minimum work factor, so that an attacker with the password list must spend a great deal of resources to attack the passwords offline.

To make it clear, in 389 Directory Server the current only secure password storage mechanism is PBKDF2_SHA256 or if this is not possible, SSHA512. All other algorithms are considered insecure, and should NOT be used in any circumstance.

How we improve this situation

As a project we still have to support these older algorithms like MD5 as deployments may have long-running service accounts that have not had their passwords rotated in a long time (Which is fine, password rotation is harmful based on modern advice).

To help improve this, we can upgrade the quality of the password hash on login. During a simple bind, we have access to the plaintext password due to the nature of the bind operation allowing us to “rehash” it and save it.

A high level overview is:

client              server

simple_bind(pw)  ->  conn->pw (the plaintext pw)
                         if entry->hash == hash(conn->pw)
                              if entry->hash != pwd-storage-scheme
                                   entry-> hash = new_hash(pw)
                              return success
                              return failure

How to alter this behaviour

We believe this is a setting that you should leave enabled due to the benefits it provides.

If you have a special scenario that precludes this, you can disable the behaviour with:

dn: cn=config
nsslapd-enable-upgrade-hash: off

It’s worth noting that the common reasons to want to disable this all have security issues. For example:

In almost all cases the only secure option is LDAPS (TLS) with simple bind or SASL PLAIN, and using the strongest hash type and allow enable-upgrade-hash to remain on.

Due to 389’s “config improvement on upgrade” policy, as we add better options for password hash types these will continue to improve “over time” with no action required from you.

Extra: Threat Modeling of the Risks

It’s always worth looking at the threat models that exist and how we face and solve these. This setting helps by:


William Brown

Last modified on 2 December 2019