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Network Working Group                                         Alan DeKok
INTERNET-DRAFT                                                FreeRADIUS
Category: Informational
Expires: November 11, 2009
9 June 2009

                  DTLS as a Transport Layer for RADIUS

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   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents in effect on the date of
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   Please review these documents carefully, as they describe your rights
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   The RADIUS protocol [RFC2865] has limited support for authentication
   and encryption of RADIUS packets.  The protocol transports data "in
   the clear", although some parts of the packets can have "hidden"
   content.  Packets may be replayed verbatim by an attacker, and
   client-server authentication is based on fixed shared secrets.  This
   document specifies how the Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS)
   protocol may be used as a solution to these problems.  It also
   describes how this proposal can co-exist with current RADIUS systems.

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Table of Contents

1.  Introduction .............................................    4
   1.1.  Terminology .........................................    4
   1.2.  Requirements Language ...............................    5
2.  Building on Existing Foundations .........................    6
   2.1.  Changes to RADIUS ...................................    6
   2.2.  Changes from RadSec .................................    6
      2.2.1.  Changes from RadSec to RDTLS ...................    7
      2.2.2.  Reinforcement of RadSec ........................    8
3.  Reception of Packets .....................................    8
   3.1.  Protocol Disambiguation .............................    9
4.  Connection Management ....................................   10
   4.1.  Server Connection Management ........................   10
      4.1.1.  Table Management ...............................   10
   4.2.  Client Connection Management ........................   11
5.  Processing Algorithm .....................................   12
6.  Diameter Considerations ..................................   13
7.  IANA Considerations ......................................   13
8.  Security Considerations ..................................   14
   8.1.  Legacy RADIUS Security ..............................   14
9.  References ...............................................   15
   9.1.  Normative references ................................   15
   9.2.  Informative references ..............................   16

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1.  Introduction

   The RADIUS protocol as described in [RFC2865], [RFC2866], and
   [RFC5176] has traditionally used methods based on MD5 [RFC1321] for
   per-packet authentication and integrity checks.  However, the MD5
   algorithm has known weaknesses such as [MD5Attack] and [MD5Break].
   As a result, previous specifications such as [RFC5176] have
   recommended using IPSec to secure RADIUS traffic.

   While RADIUS over IPSec has been widely deployed, there are
   difficulties with this approach.  The simplest point against IPSec is
   that there is no straightforward way for a RADIUS application to
   control or monitor the network security policies.  That is, the
   requirement that the RADIUS traffic be encrypted and/or authenticated
   is implicit in the network configuration, and is not enforced by the
   RADIUS application.

   This specification takes a different approach.  We define a method
   for using DTLS [RFC4347] as a RADIUS transport protocol.  This
   approach has the benefit that the RADIUS application can directly
   monitor and control the security policies associated with the traffic
   that it processes.

   Another benefit is that RADIUS over DTLS continues to be a UDP-based
   protocol.  This continuity ensures that existing network-layer
   infrastructure (firewall rules, etc.) does not need to be changed
   when RADIUS clients and servers are upgraded to support RADIUS over

   This specification does not, however, solve all of the problems
   associated with RADIUS.  The DTLS protocol does not add reliable or
   in-order transport to RADIUS.  DTLS also does not support
   fragmentation of application-layer messages, or of the DTLS messages
   themselves.  This specification therefore continues to have all of
   the issues that RADIUS currently has with order, reliability, and

1.1.  Terminology

   This document uses the following terms:

     This term is a short-hand for "RADIUS over DTLS".

RDTLS client
     This term refers both to RADIUS clients as defined in [RFC2865],
     and to Dynamic Authorization clients as defined in [RFC5176], that
     implement RDTLS.

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RDTLS server
     This term refers both to RADIUS servers as defined in [RFC2865],
     and to Dynamic Authorization servers as defined in [RFC5176], that
     implement RDTLS.

silently discard
     This means that the implementation discards the packet without
     further processing.  The implementation MAY provide the capability
     of logging the error, including the contents of the silently
     discarded packet, and SHOULD record the event in a statistics

1.2.  Requirements Language

   In this document, several words are used to signify the requirements
   of the specification.  The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED",
   and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in

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2.  Building on Existing Foundations

   Adding DTLS as a RADIUS transport protocol requires a number of
   changes to systems implementing standard RADIUS. This section
   outlines those changes, and defines new behaviors necessary to
   implement DTLS.

2.1.  Changes to RADIUS

   The RADIUS packet format is unchanged from [RFC2865], [RFC2866], and
   [RFC5176].  Specifically, all of the following portions of RADIUS
   MUST be unchanged when using RADIUS over DTLS:

      * Packet format
      * Permitted codes
      * Request Authenticator calculation
      * Response Authenticator calculation
      * Minimum packet length
      * Maximum packet length
      * Attribute format
      * Vendor-Specific Attribute (VSA) format
      * Permitted data types
      * Calculations of dynamic attributes such as CHAP-Challenge,
        or Message-Authenticator.
      * Calculation of "encrypted" attributes such as Tunnel-Password.
      * UDP port numbering and usage

   The RADIUS packets are encapsulated in DTLS, which acts as a
   transport layer for it. The requirements above ensure the simplest
   possible implementation and widest interoperability of this

   The only changes made to RADIUS in this specification are the
   following two items:

      (1) The Length checks defined in [RFC2865] Section 3 MUST use the
      length of the decrypted DTLS data instead of the UDP packet

      (2) The shared secret secret used to compute the MD5 integrity
      checks and the attribute encryption MUST be "radsec".

   All other portions of RADIUS are unchanged.

2.2.  Changes from RadSec

   While this specification is largely RadSec over UDP instead of TCP,
   there are some differences between the two methods.

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   This section goes through the [RADSEC] document in detail, explaining
   the differences between RadSec and RDTLS.  As most of [RADSEC] also
   applies to RDTLS, we highlight only the changes here, explaining how
   to interpret [RADSEC] for this specification:

      * We replace references to "TCP" with "UDP"

      * We replace references to "RadSec" with "RDTLS"

      * We replace references to "TLS" with "DTLS"

   Those changes are sufficient to cover the majority of the differences
   between the two specifications.  The text below goes through some of
   the sections of [RADSEC], giving additional commentary only where

2.2.1.  Changes from RadSec to RDTLS

   Section 2.1 does not apply to RDTLS.  The relationship between RADIUS
   packet codes and UDP ports in RDTLS is unchanged from RADIUS.

   Section 2.2 applies also to RDTLS, except for the recommendation that
   implementations "SHOULD" support TLS_RSA_WITH_RC4_128_SHA, which does
   not apply to RDTLS.

   Section 2.3 does not apply to RDTLS.  See the comments above on
   Section 2.1.  The relationship between RADIUS packet codes and UDP
   ports in RDTLS is unchanged from RADIUS.

   Section 3.3 item (1) does not apply to RDTLS.  Each RADIUS packet is
   encapsulated in one DTLS packet, and there is no "stream" of RADIUS
   packets inside of a TLS session.  Implementors MUST enforce the
   requirements of [RFC2865] Section 3 for the RADIUS Length field,
   using the length of the decrypted DTLS data for the checks.  This
   check replaces the RADIUS method of using the length field from the
   UDP packet.

   Section 3.3 item (3) does not apply to RTDLS.  The relationship
   between RADIUS packet codes and UDP ports in RDTLS is unchanged from

   Section 3.3 item (4) does not apply to RDTLS.  As RDTLS still uses
   UDP for a transport, the use of negative ICMP responses is unchanged
   from RADIUS.

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2.2.2.  Reinforcement of RadSec

   We wish to re-iterate that much of [RADSEC] applies to this document.
   Specifically, Section 4 and Section 6 of that document are applicable
   in whole to RDTLS.

3.  Reception of Packets

   As this specification permits implementations to to accept both
   traditional RADIUS and DTLS packets on the same port, we define a
   method to disambiguate between packets for the two protocols.  This
   method is applicable only to RADIUS servers.  RDTLS clients SHOULD
   use connected sockets, as discussed in Section X.Y, below.

   RDTLS servers MUST maintain a boolean flag for each RADIUS client
   that indicates whether or not it supports RDTLS.  The interpretation
   of this flag is as follows. If the flag is "false", then the client
   may support RDTLS.  Packets from the client need to be examined to
   see if they are RADIUS or RDTLS.  If the flag is "true" then the
   client supports RDTLS, and all packets from that client MUST be
   processed as RDTLS.

   Note that this last requirement can impose significant changes for
   RADIUS clients.  Clients can no longer have multiple independent
   RADIUS implementations or processes that originate packets.  We
   RECOMMEND that RDTLS clients implement a local RADIUS proxy that
   arbitrates all RADIUS traffic.

   This flag MUST be exposed to administrators of the RADIUS server.  As
   RADIUS clients are upgraded, administrators can then manually mark
   them as supporting RDTLS.

   We recognize, however, the upgrade path from RADIUS to RDTLS is
   important.  This path requires an RDTLS server to accept packets from
   a RADIUS client without knowing beforehand if they are RADIUS or
   DTLS.  The method to distinguish between the two is defined in the
   next section.

   Once an RDTLS server has established a DTLS session with a client
   that had the flag set to "false", it MUST set the flag to "true".
   This change forces all subsequent traffic from that client to use
   DTLS, and prevents bidding-down attacks.  The server SHOULD also
   notify the administrator that it has successfully established the
   first DTLS session with that client.

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3.1.  Protocol Disambiguation

   When a RADIUS client is not marked as supporting RDTLS, packets from
   that client may be, or may not be DTLS.  In order to provide a robust
   upgrade path, the RDTLS server MUST examine the packet to see if it
   is RADIUS or DTLS.  In order to justify the examination methods, we
   first examine the packet formats for the two protocols.

   The DTLS record format ([RFC4347] Section 4.1) is shown below, in

         struct {
                 uint8 type;
                 uint16 version;
                 uint16 epoch;
                 uint48 sequence_number;
                 uint16 length;
                 uint8 fragment[DTLSPlaintext.length];
         } DTLSPlaintext;

   The RADIUS record format ([RFC2865] Section 3) is shown below, in
   pseudo-code, with AuthVector.length=16.

         struct {
                 uint8 code;
                 uint8 id;
                 uint16 length;
                 uint8 vector[AuthVector.length];
                 uint8 data[RadiusPacket.length - 20];
         } RadiusPacket;

   We can see here that a number of fields overlap between the two
   protocols.  The low byte of the DTLS version and the high byte of the
   DTLS epoch overlap with the RADIUS length field.  The DTLS length
   field overlaps with the RADIUS authentication vector.  At first
   glance, it may be difficult for an application to accept both
   protocols on the same port.  However, this is not the case.

   For the initial packet of a DTLS connection, the type field has value
   22 (handshake), and the epoch and sequence number fields are
   initialized to zero.  The RADIUS code value of 22 has been assigned
   as Resource-Free-Response, but it is not in wide use.  In addition,
   that packet code is a response packet, and would not be sent by a
   RADIUS client to a server.

   As a result, protocol disambiguation is straightforward.  If the
   first byte of the packet has value 22, it is a DTLS packet, and is a
   DTLS connection initiation request.  Otherwise, it is a RADIUS

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   Once a DTLS session has been established, a separate tracking table
   is used to disambiguate the protocols.  The definition of this
   tracking table is given in the next section.

   The full processing algorithm is given below, in Section X.Y.

4.  Connection Management

   Where [RADSEC] can rely on the TCP state machine to perform
   connection tracking, this specification cannot.  As a result,
   implementations of this specification will need to perform connection
   management of the DTLS session in the application layer.

4.1.  Server Connection Management

   An RDTLS server MUST maintain a table that tracks ongoing DTLS
   sessions based on a key composed of the following 4-tuple:

      * source IP address * source port * destination IP address *
      destination port

   The contents of the tracking table are a implementation-specific
   value that describes an active DTLS session.  This connection
   tracking allows DTLS packets that have been received to be associated
   with an active DTLS session.

   RDTLS servers SHOULD NOT use a "connect" API to manage DTLS
   connections, as a connected UDP socket will accept packets only from
   one source IP address and port.  This limitation would prevent the
   server from engaging in the normal RADIUS practice of accepting
   packets from multiple clients on the same port.

   Note that [RFC5080] Section 2.2.2 defines a duplicate detection cache
   which tracks packets by key similar to that defined above.

4.1.1.  Table Management

   This tracking table is subject to Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.
   RDTLS servers SHOULD use the stateless cookie tracking technique
   described in [RFC4347] Section 4.2.1.  DTLS sessions SHOULD NOT be
   added to the tracking table until a ClientHello packet has been
   received with an appropriate Cookie value.

   Entries in the tracking table MUST deleted when a TLS Closure Alert
   ([RFC5246] Section 7.2.1) or a TLS Error Alert ([RFC5246] Section
   7.2.2) is received.  Where the RADIUS specifications require that a

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   RADIUS packet received via the DTLS session is to be "silently
   discarded", the entry in the tracking table corresponding to that
   DTLS session MUST also be deleted, the DTLS session MUST be closed,
   and any TLS session resumption parameters for that session MUST be

   As UDP does not offer guaranteed delivery of messages, RDTLS servers
   MUST also maintain a timestamp per DTLS session.  The timestamp
   SHOULD be updated on reception of a valid DTLS packet.  The timestamp
   MUST NOT be updated in other situations.  When a session has not been
   used for a period of time, the server SHOULD pro-actively close it,
   and delete the DTLS session from the tracking table.  The server MAY
   cache the TLS session parameters, in order to provide for fast
   session resumption.

   This session lifetime SHOULD be exposed as configurable setting.  It
   SHOULD NOT be set to less than 60 seconds, and SHOULD NOT be set to
   more than 600 seconds (10 minutes).  The minimum value useful value
   for this timer is determined by the application-layer watchdog
   mechanism defined in the following section.

   RDTLS servers SHOULD also keep track of the total number of sessions
   in the tracking table, and refuse to create new sessions when a large
   number are already being tracked.  As system capabilities vary
   widely, we can only recommend that this number SHOULD be exposed as a
   configurable setting.

4.2.  Client Connection Management

   RDTLS clients SHOULD use an operating system API to "connect" a UDP
   socket.  This "connected" socket will then rely on the operating
   system to perform connection tracking, and will be simpler than the
   method described above for servers.  RDTLS clients SHOULD NOT use
   "unconnected" sockets, as it causes increased complexity in the
   client application.

   Once a DTLS session is established, an RDTLS client SHOULD use the
   application-layer watchdog algorithm defined in [RFC3539] to
   determine server responsiveness.  The Status-Server packet defined in
   [STATUS] MUST be used as the "watchdog packet" in the watchdog

   RDTLS clients SHOULD pro-actively close sessions when they have been
   idle for a period of time.  We RECOMMEND that a session be closed
   when no traffic over than watchdog packets and (possibly) responses
   have been sent for three watchdog timeouts.  This behavior ensures
   that clients do not waste resources on the server by causing it to
   track idle sessions.

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   RDTLS clients SHOULD NOT send both normal RADIUS and RDTLS packets
   from the same source socket.  This practice causes increased
   complexity in the client application, and increases the potential for
   security breaches due to implementation issues.

   RDTLS clients SHOULD use TLS session resumption, where possible.
   This practice lowers the time and effort required to start a DTLS
   session with a server, and increases network responsiveness.

5.  Processing Algorithm

   The following algorithm MUST be used by an implementation of this
   protocol.  This algorithm is used to route packets to the appropriate
   destination.  We assume the following variables:

      D - implementation-specific handle to an existing DTLS session

      P - UDP packet received from the network.  This packet MUST
          also contain information about source IP/port, and
          destination IP/port.

      R - a RADIUS packet

      T - a tracking table used to manage ongoing DTLS sessions

   We also presume the following functions or functionality exists:

      receive_packet_from_network() - a function that reads a packet
      from the network, and returns P as above.  We presume also that
      this function performs the normal RADIUS client validation, and
      does not return P if the packet is from an unknown client.

      lookup_dtls_session() - a function that takes a packet P, a table
      T, and uses P to look up the corresponding DTLS session in T.  It
      returns either a session D, or a "null" indicator that no
      corresponding session exists.

      client_supports_rdtls() - a function that takes a packet P, and
      returns a boolean value as to whether or not the client
      originating the packet was marked as supporting RDTLS.

      process_dtls_packet() - a function that takes a DTLS packet P, and
      a DTLS session D.  It performs all necessary steps to use D to
      setup a DTLS session, and to decode P (where possible) into a
      RADIUS packet.  This function is also expected to perform checks
      for TLS errors.  On any fatal errors, it closes the session, and
      deletes D from the tracking table T.  If a RADIUS packet is
      decoded from P, it is returned by the function as R, otherwise a

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      "null" indicator is returned.

      process_dtls_clienthello() - a function that takes a DTLS packet
      P, and initiates a DTLS session.  If P contains a valid DTLS
      Cookie, a DTLS session D is created, and stored in the tracking
      table T.  If P does not contain a DTLS Cookie, no session is
      created, and instead a HelloVerifyRequest containing a cookie is
      sent in response.  Packets containing invalid cookies are

      process_radius_packet() - a function that takes a RADIUS packet P,
      and processes it using the normal RADIUS methods.

   The algorithm is as follows:

         P = receive_packet_from_network()
         D = lookup_dtls_session(T, P)

         if (D || client_supports_rdtls(P)) {
            R = process_dtls_packet(D, P)
            if (R) {

         } else if (first_octet_of_packet_is_22(P)) {

         } else {

   For simplicity, the timers necessary to perform expiry of "old"
   sessions are not included in the above algorithm.  This algorithm may
   also need to be modified if the RDTLS server supports client
   validation by methods other than source IP address.

6.  Diameter Considerations

   This specification is for a transport layer specific to RADIUS.  As a
   result, there are no Diameter considerations.

7.  IANA Considerations

   This specification does not create any new registries, nor does it
   require assignment of any protocol parameters.

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8.  Security Considerations

   This entire specification is devoted to discussing security
   considerations related to RADIUS.  However, we discuss a few
   additional issues here.

   This specification relies on the existing DTLS, RADIUS, and RadSec
   specifications.  As a result, all security considerations for DTLS
   apply to the DTLS portion of RDTLS.  Similarly, the TLS and RADIUS
   security issues discussed in [RADSEC] also apply to this
   specification.  All of the security considerations for RADIUS apply
   to the RADIUS portion of the specification.

   However, many security considerations raised in the RADIUS documents
   are related to RADIUS encryption and authorization.  Those issues are
   largely mitigated when DTLS is used as a transport method.  The
   issues that are not mitigated by this specification are related to
   the RADIUS packet format and handling, which is unchanged in this

   The only new portion of the specification that could have security
   implications is a servers ability to accept both RADIUS and DTLS
   packets on the same port.  The filter that disambiguates the two
   protocols is simple, and is just a check for the value of one byte.
   We do not expect this check to have any security issues.

   We also note that nothing prevents malicious clients from sending
   DTLS packets to existing RADIUS implementations, or RADIUS packets to
   existing DTLS implementations.  There should therefore be no issue
   with clients sending RDTLS packets to legacy servers that do not
   support the protocol.

8.1.  Legacy RADIUS Security

   We reiterate here the poor security of the legacy RADIUS protocol.
   We RECOMMEND that all RADIUS clients and servers implement this
   specification as soon as possible.  New attacks on MD5 have appeared
   over the past few years, and there is a distinct possibility that MD5
   may be completely broken in the near future.

   The existence of fast and cheap attacks on MD5 could result in a loss
   of all network security that depends on RADIUS.  Attackers could
   obtain user passwords, and possibly gain complete network access.  It
   is difficult to overstate the disastrous consequences of a successful
   attack on RADIUS.

   We also caution implementors (especially client implementors) about
   using RDTLS.  It may be tempting to use the shared secret as the

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   basis for a TLS pre-shared key (PSK) method, and to leave the user
   interface otherwise unchanged.  This practice MUST NOT be used.  The
   administrator MUST be given the option to use DTLS.  Any shared
   secret used for RADIUS MUST NOT be used for DTLS.  Re-using a shared
   secret between RADIUS and DTLS would negate all of the benefits found
   by using DTLS.

   When using PSK methods, RDTLS clients MUST support keys (i.e. shared
   secrets) that are at least 32 characters in length.

   RDTLS client implementors MUST expose a configuration that allows the
   administrator to choose the cipher suite.  RDTLS client implementors
   SHOULD expose a configuration that allows an administrator to
   configure all certificates necessary for certificate-based
   authentication.  These certificates include client, server, and root

   When using PSK methods, RDTLS servers MUST support keys (i.e. shared
   secrets) that are at least 32 characters in length.  RDTLS server
   administrators MUST use strong shared secrets for those PSK methods.
   We RECOMMEND using keys derived from a cryptographically secure
   pseudo-random number generator (CSPRNG).  For example, a reasonable
   key may be 32 characters of a SHA-256 hash of at least 64 bytes of
   data taken from a CSPRNG.  If this method seems too complicated, a
   certificate-based TLS method SHOULD be used instead.

   The previous RADIUS practice of using shared secrets that are minor
   variations of words is NOT RECOMMENDED, as it would negate nearly all
   of the security of DTLS.

9.  References

9.1.  Normative references

     Rigney, C., Willens, S., Rubens, A. and W. Simpson, "Remote
     Authentication Dial In User Service (RADIUS)", RFC 2865, June 2000.

     Aboba, B. et al., "Authentication, Authorization and Accounting
     (AAA) Transport Profile", RFC 3539, June 2003.

     Rescorla E., and Modadugu, N., "Datagram Transport Layer Security",
     RFC 4347, April 2006.

     Dierks, T. and E. Rescorla, "The Transport Layer Security (TLS)

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     Protocol Version 1.2", RFC 5246, August 2008.

     Winter. S, et. al., "TLS encryption for RADIUS over TCP (RadSec)",
     draft-ietf-radext-radsec-04.txt, March 2009 (work in progress)

     DeKok, A., "Use of Status-Server Packets in the Remote
     Authentication Dial In User Service (RADIUS) Protocol", draft-ietf-
     radext-status-server-04.txt, March 2009 (work in progress).

9.2.  Informative references

     Rivest, R. and S. Dusse, "The MD5 Message-Digest Algorithm", RFC
     1321, April 1992.

     Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement
     Levels", RFC 2119, March, 1997.

     Rigney, C., "RADIUS Accounting", RFC 2866, June 2000.

     Nelson, D. and DeKok, A, "Common Remote Authentication Dial In User
     Service (RADIUS) Implementation Issues and Suggested Fixes", RFC
     5080, December 2007.

     Chiba, M. et al., "Dynamic Authorization Extensions to Remote
     Authentication Dial In User Service (RADIUS)", RFC 5176, January

     Dobbertin, H., "The Status of MD5 After a Recent Attack",
     CryptoBytes Vol.2 No.2, Summer 1996.

     Wang, Xiaoyun and Yu, Hongbo, "How to Break MD5 and Other Hash
     Functions", EUROCRYPT. ISBN 3-540-25910-4, 2005.


   Parts of the text in Section 3 defining the Request and Response
   Authenticators were taken with minor edits from [RFC2865] Section 3.

   The author would like to thank Mike McCauley of Open Systems

DeKok, Alan                   Informational                    [Page 16]

INTERNET-DRAFT    DTLS as a Transport Layer for RADIUS       9 June 2009

   Consultants for making a Radiator server available for inter-
   operability testing.

Authors' Addresses

   Alan DeKok
   The FreeRADIUS Server Project

   Email: aland@freeradius.org

DeKok, Alan                   Informational                    [Page 17]

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