Internet-Draft Txn-Tokens August 2023
Tulshibagwale, et al. Expires 3 March 2024 [Page]
Intended Status:
A. Tulshibagwale
G. Fletcher
Capital One
P. Kasselman

Transaction Tokens


Transaction Tokens (Txn-Tokens) enable workloads in a trusted domain to ensure that user identity and authorization context of an external programmatic request, such as an API invocation, are preserved and available to all workloads that are invoked as part of processing such a request. Txn-Tokens also enable workloads within the trusted domain to optionally immutably assert to downstream workloads that they were invoked in the call chain of the request.

Status of This Memo

This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

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This Internet-Draft will expire on 3 March 2024.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Modern computing architectures often use multiple independently running components called workloads. In many cases, external invocations through externally visible interfaces such as APIs result in a number of internal workloads being invoked in order to process the external invocation. These workloads often run in virtually or physically isolated networks. These networks and the workloads running within their perimeter may be compromised by attackers through software supply chain, privileged user compromise or other attacks. Workloads compromised through external attacks, malicious insiders or software errors can cause any or all of the following unauthorized actions:

The results of these actions are unauthorised access to resources.

2. Overview

Transaction Tokens (Txn-Token) are a means to mitigate damage from such attacks or spurious invocations. A valid Txn-Token indicates a valid external invocation. They ensure that the identity of the user or a workload that made the external request is preserved throughout subsequent workload invocations. They preserve any context such as:

Cryptographically protected Txn-Tokens ensure that downstream workloads cannot make unauthorized modifications to such information, and cannot make spurious calls without the presence of an external trigger.

2.1. What are Transaction Tokens?

Txn-Tokens are short-lived, signed JWTs [RFC7519] that assert the identity of a user or a workload and assert an authorization context. The authorization context provides information expected to remain constant during the execution of a call as it passes through multiple workloads.

When necessary, a Txn-Token may include embedded tokens, as described in [JWTEmbeddedTokens]. This is called a Nested Txn-Token. This nesting enables workloads in a call chain to assert their invocation during the call chain to downstream workloads.

2.2. Creating Txn-Tokens

2.2.1. Leaf Txn-Tokens

Txn-Tokens are typically created when a workload is invoked using an endpoint that is externally visible, and is authorized using a separate mechanism, such as an OAuth [RFC6749] access token or an OpenID Connect [OpenIdConnect] ID token. We call this token a "Leaf Txn-Token". This workload then performs an OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange [RFC8693] to obtain a Txn-Token. To do this, it invokes a special Token Service (the Txn-Token Service) and provides context that is sufficient for it to generate a Txn-Token. This context MAY include:

  • The external authorization token (e.g., the OAuth access token)
  • A previously created Txn-Token (leaf or nested)
  • Parameters that are required to be bound for the duration of this call
  • Additional context, such as the incoming IP address, User Agent information, or other context that can help the Txn-Token Service to issue the Txn-Token

The Txn-Token Service responds to a successful invocation by generating a Txn-Token. The calling workload then uses the Txn-Token to authorize its calls to subsequent workloads. Subsequent workloads may obtain Txn-Tokens of their own.

2.2.2. Nested Txn-Tokens

A Nested Txn-Token is a means for a workloads to record their processing of a Txn-Token and for downstream workloads to verify that a certain upstream workload has been invoked in the call chain.

A workload within the call chain of such an external call MAY generate a new Nested Txn-Token. To generate the Nested Txn-Token, it creates a self-signed JWT Embedded Token [JWTEmbeddedTokens] that includes the received Txn-Token by value. Subsequent workloads can therefore know that the signing workload was in the path of the call chain.

2.2.3. Replacement Txn-Tokens

A service within a call chain may choose to replace the Txn-Token. This can typically happen due to the following reasons:

  • The current Txn-Token has become bloated (due to lots of nesting)
  • The service wants to add to the context of the current Txn-Token
  • The service wants to remove some intermediate signers' information to avoid leaking information about internal systems

To get a replacement Txn-Token, a service will request a new Txn-Token from the Txn-Token Service and provide the current Txn-Token and other parameters in the request. The Txn-Token service must exercise caution in what kinds of replacement requests it supports so as to not negate the entire value of Txn-Tokens.

2.3. Txn-Token Lifetime

Txn-Tokens are expected to be short-lived (order of minutes, e.g., 5 minutes), and as a result MAY be used only for the expected duration of an external invocation. If a long-running process such as an batch or offline task is involved, it can use a separate mechanism to perform the external invocation, but the resulting Txn-Token is still short-lived.

2.4. Benefits of Txn-Tokens

Txn-Tokens help prevent spurious invocations by ensuring that a workload receiving an invocation can independently verify the user or workload on whose behalf an external call was made and any context relevant to the processing of the call. Through the presence of additional signatures on the Txn-Token, a workload receiving an invocation can also independently verify that specific workloads were within the path of the call before it was invoked.

2.5. Txn-Token Issuance and Usage Flows

2.5.1. Basic Flow

Figure 1 shows the basic flow of how Txn-Tokens are used in an a multi-workload environment.

     1    ┌──────────────┐    2      ┌──────────────┐
─────────▶│              ├───────────▶              │
          │   External   │           │  Txn-Token   │
     7    │   Endpoint   │    3      │   Service    │
◀─────────┤              ◀───────────│              │
          └────┬───▲─────┘           └──────────────┘
               │   │
             4 │   │ 6
          │              │
          │   Internal   │
          │  µ-service   │
          │              │
               │   │
               ▼   │
             5   o    6
               │   ▲
               │   │
          │              │
          │   Internal   │
          │  µ-service   │
          │              │
Figure 1: Basic Transaction Tokens Architecture
  1. External endpoint is invoked using conventional authorization mechanism such as an OAuth 2.0 Access token
  2. External endpoint provides context and incoming authorization (e.g., access token) to the Txn-Token Service
  3. Txn-Token Service mints a Txn-Token that provides immutable context for the transaction and returns it to the requester
  4. The external endpoint initiates a call to an internal microservice and provides the Txn-Token as authorization
  5. Subsequent calls to other internal microservices use the same Txn-Token to authorize calls
  6. Responses are provided to callers based on successful authorization by the invoked microservices
  7. External client is provided a response to the external invocation

2.5.2. Nested Txn-Token Flow

Figure 2 shows an internal microservice generating a Nested Txn-Token in the flow

     1    ┌──────────────┐    2      ┌──────────────┐
─────────▶│              ├───────────▶              │
          │   External   │           │  Txn-Token   │
     9    │   Endpoint   │    3      │   Service    │
◀─────────┤              ◀───────────│              │
          └────┬───▲─────┘           └──────────────┘
               │   │
             4 │   │ 8
          │              │
          │   Internal   │
          │  µ-service   │
          │              │
               │   │
               ▼   │
             5   o    8
               │ o ▲
               │   │
               │   │
          ║              ╠──────┐
          ║   Internal   ║      │ 6
          ║  µ-service   ║      │
          ║              ◀──────┘
               │   │
               ▼   │
             7   o    8
               │   ▲
               │   │
          │              │
          │   Internal   │
          │  µ-service   │
          │              │
Figure 2: Flow with Nested Txn-Token generating service

In the diagram above, steps 1-5 are the same as in Section 2.5.1.

  1. An internal microservice determines it needs to generate a Nested Txn-Token. It uses its own private key to generate a Nested Txn-Token
  2. The internal microservice uses the Nested Txn-Token to authorize calls to downstream services
  3. Responses are provided to callers based on successful authorization by the invoked microservices
  4. External client is provided a response to the external invocation

2.5.3. Replacement Txn-Token Flow

An intermediate service may decide to obtain a replacement Txn-Token from the Txn-Token service. That flow is described below in Figure 3

     1    ┌──────────────┐    2      ┌──────────────┐
─────────▶│              ├───────────▶              │
          │   External   │           │              │
     10   │   Endpoint   │    3      │              │
◀─────────┤              ◀───────────│              │
          └────┬───▲─────┘           │              │
               │   │                 │              │
             4 │   │ 9               │              │
          ┌────▼───┴─────┐           │              │
          │              │           │              │
          │   Internal   │           │              │
          │  µ-service   │           │              │
          │              │           │              │
          └────┬───▲─────┘           │  Txn-Token   │
               │   │                 │   Service    │
               ▼   │                 │              │
                 o                   │              │
             5   o    9              │              │
               │ o ▲                 │              │
               │   │                 │              │
               │   │                 │              │
          ┌────▼───┴─────┐    6      │              │
          │              ├───────────▶              │
          │   Internal   │           │              │
          │  µ-service   │    7      │              │
          │              ◀───────────│              │
          └────┬───▲─────┘           │              │
               │   │                 │              │
               ▼   │                 └──────────────┘
             8   o    9
               │   ▲
               │   │
          │              │
          │   Internal   │
          │  µ-service   │
          │              │
Figure 3: Replacement Txn-Token Flow

In the diagram above, steps 1-5 are the same as in Section 2.5.1

  1. An intermediate service determines that it needs to obtain a Replacement Txn-Token. It requests a Replacement Txn-Token from the Txn-Token Service. It passes the incoming Txn-Token in the request, along with any additional context it needs to send the Txn-Token Service.
  2. The Txn-Token Service responds with a replacement Txn-Token
  3. The service that requested the Replacement Txn-Token uses that Txn-Token for downstream call authorization
  4. Responses are provided to callers based on successful authorization by the invoked microservices
  5. External client is provided a response to the external invocation

3. Notational Conventions

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.

4. Terminology


An independent computational unit that can autonomously receive and process invocations, and can generate invocations of other workloads. Examples of workloads include containerized microservices, monolithic services and infrastructure services such as managed databases.

Trust Domain:

A virtually or physically separated network, which contains two or more workloads. The workloads within an Trust Domain may be invoked only through published interfaces. A Trust Domain must have an identifier that is used as the aud (audience) value in Txn-Tokens. The format of this identifier is a universal resource identifier. Each Trust Domain has exactly one Txn-Token Service.

External Endpoint:

A published interface to an Trust Domain that results in the invocation of a workload within the Trust Domain.

Call Chain:

A sequence of invocations that results from the invocation of an external endpoint.

Transaction Token (Txn-Token):

A signed JWT that has a short lifetime, which provides immutable information about the user or workload, certain parameters of the call and certain contextual attributes of the call. A Txn-Token may contain a nested Txn-Token.

Leaf Txn-Token:

A Txn-Token that does not contain a txn_token claim in its JWT body.

Nested Txn-Token:

A JWT Embedded Token [JWTEmbeddedTokens] that embeds a Txn-Token by value.

Authorization Context:

A JSON object containing a set of claims that represent the immutable context of a call chain.

Transaction Token Service (Txn-Token Service):

A special service within the Trust Domain, which issues Txn-Tokens to requesting workloads. Each Trust Domain has exactly one Txn-Token Service.

5. Txn-Token Format

A Txn-Token is a JSON Web Token [RFC7519] protected by a JSON Web Signature [RFC7515]. The following describes the required values in a Txn-Token:

5.1. JWT Header

In the JWT Header:

  • The typ claim MUST be present and MUST have the value txn_token.
  • Key rotation of the signing key SHOULD be supported through the use of a kid claim.

Figure 4 is a non-normative example of the JWT Header of a Txn-Token

    "typ": "txn_token",
    "alg": "RS256",
    "kid": "identifier-to-key"
Figure 4: Example: Txn-Token Header

5.2. JWT Body

5.2.1. Common Claims

The JWT body MUST have the following claims regardless of whether the Txn-Token is a Leaf Txn-Token or a Nested Txn-Token:

  • An iss claim, whose value is a URN [RFC8141] that uniquely identifies the workload or the Txn-Token Service that created the Txn-Token.
  • An iat claim, whose value is the time at which the Txn-Token was created.
  • An exp claim, whose value is the time at which the Txn-Token expires. Note that if this claim is in a Nested Txn-Token, then this exp value MUST NOT exceed the exp value of the Txn-Token included in the JWT Body.

5.2.2. Leaf Txn-Token Claims

The following claims MUST be present in the JWT body of a Leaf Txn-Token:

  • A tid claim, whose value is the unique identifier of entire call chain.
  • A sub_id claim, whose value is the unique identifier of the user or workload on whose behalf the call chain is being executed. The format of this claim MAY be a Subject Identifier as specified in [SubjectIdentifiers].
  • An azc claim, whose value is a JSON object that contains values that remain constant in the call chain.

Figure 5 shows a non-normative example of the JWT body of a Leaf Txn-Token:

    "iss": "https://trust-domain.example/txn-token-service",
    "iat": "1686536226000",
    "exp": "1686536526000",
    "tid": "97053963-771d-49cc-a4e3-20aad399c312",
    "sub_id": {
        "format": "email",
        "email": "user@trust-domain.example"
    "azc": {
        "action": "BUY", // parameter of external call
        "ticker": "MSFT", // parameter of external call
        "quantity": "100", // parameter of external call
        "user_ip": "", // env context of external call
        "user_level": "vip" // computed value not present in external call
Figure 5: Example: Leaf Txn-Token Body

5.2.3. Nested Txn-Token Claim

A Nested Txn-Token is a JWT Embedded Token [JWTEmbeddedTokens], which embeds a Txn-Token by value. The following claims MUST be present in a Nested Txn-Token:

  • A type claim, whose value is urn:ietf:params:oauth:token-type:txn_token.
  • A token claim, whose value is an encoded JWT representation of a Txn-Token.

Figure 6 shows a non-normative example the JWT body of a nested Txn-Token

    "iss": "https://trust-domain.example/fraud-detection",
    "iat": "1686536236000",
    "exp": "1686536526000",
    "type": "urn:ietf:params:oauth:token-type:txn_token",
    "token": "eyJ0eXAiOiJ0cmF0Iiwi...thwd8"
Figure 6: Example: Nested Txn-Token Body

6. Txn-Token Service

A Txn-Token Service provides a OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange [RFC8693] endpoint that can respond to Txn-Token issuance requests. The token exchange requests it supports require extra parameters than those defined in the OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange [RFC8693] specification. The unique properties of the Txn-Token requests and responses are described below. The Txn-Token Service MAY optionally support other OAuth 2.0 endpoints and features, but that is not a requirement for it to be a Txn-Token Service.

Each Trust Domain MUST have exactly one Txn-Token Service.

7. Requesting Leaf Txn-Tokens

A workload requests a Txn-Token from a Transaction Token Service using OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange [RFC8693]. The request to obtain a Txn-Token using this method is called a Txn-Token Request, and a successful response is called a Txn-Token Response. A Txn-Token Request is a Token Exchange Request, as described in Section 2.1 of [RFC8693] with additional parameters. A Txn-Token Response is a OAuth 2.0 token endpoint response, as described in Section 5 of [RFC6749], where the token_type in the response has the value txn_token.

7.1. Txn-Token Request

A Txn-Token Request is an OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange Request, as described in Section 2.1 of [RFC8693], with an additional parameter in the request. The following parameters are required in the Txn-Token Request by the OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange specification [RFC8693]:

  • The audience value MUST be set to the Trust Domain name
  • The requested_token_type value MUST be urn:ietf:params:oauth:token-type:txn_token
  • The subject_token value MUST be the external token received by the workload that authorized the call
  • The subject_token_type value MUST be present and indicate the type of the authorization token present in the subject_token parameter

The following additional parameter MUST be present in a Txn-Token Request:

  • A parameter named rctx , whose value is a JSON object. This object contains the request context, i.e. any information the Transaction Token Service needs to understand the context of the incoming request

Figure 7 shows a non-normative example of a Txn-Token Request.

POST /txn-token-service/token_endpoint HTTP 1.1
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded

Figure 7: Example: Txn-Token Request

7.2. Txn-Token Response

A successful response to a Txn-Token Request by a Transaction Token Service is called a Txn-Token Response. If the Transaction Token Service responds with an error, the error response is as described in Section 5.2 of [RFC6749]. The following describes required values of a Txn-Token Response:

  • The token_type value MUST be set to txn_token
  • The access_token value MUST be the Txn-Token
  • The response MUST NOT include the values expires_in, refresh_token and scope

Figure 8 shows a non-normative example of a Txn-Token Response.

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Type: application/json
Cache-Control: no-cache, no-store

  "issued_token_type": "urn:ietf:params:oauth:token-type:txn_token",
  "access_token": "eyJCI6IjllciJ9...Qedw6rx"
Figure 8: Example: Txn-Token Response

7.3. Creating Replacement Txn-Tokens

A workload within a call chain may request the Transaction Token Server to replace a Txn-Token. Replacement Txn-Tokens are Leaf Txn-Tokens.

Workloads MAY request replacement Txn-Tokens in order to change (add to, remove or modify) the asserted values within a Txn-Token, to remove nesting and / or reduce token bloat.

7.3.1. Txn-Token Service Responsibilities

A Txn-Token Service replacing a Txn-Token must consider that modifying previously asserted values from existing Txn-Tokens can completely negate the benefits of Txn-Tokens. When issuing replacement Txn-Tokens, a Transaction Token Server therefore:

  • MAY enable modifications to asserted values that reduce the scope of permitted actions
  • MAY enable reduction of token bloat by removing nesting, and placing workload identifiers as asserted values instead
  • MAY enable additional asserted values
  • SHOULD NOT enable modification to asserted values that expand the scope of permitted actions

7.3.2. Replacement Txn-Token Request

To request a replacement Txn-Token, the requester makes a Txn-Token Request as described in Section 7.1 but includes the Txn-Token to be replaced as the value of the subject_token parameter.

7.3.3. Replacement Txn-Token Response

A successful response by the Transaction Token Server to a Replacement Txn-Token Request is a Txn-Token Response as described in Section 7.2

7.3.4. Removing Nesting

A Replacement Txn-Token Request MAY include a Nested Txn-Token in its request. If the request is successful, the Transaction Token Server SHALL always respond with a Leaf Txn-Token.

If the Replacement Txn-Token Request has a Nested Txn-Token in the request's subject_token parameter, then the Transaction Token Server MAY include information about services that had signed the Nested Txn-Token that is requested to be replaced.

If the Transaction Token Server wishes to include information about any nested Txn-Token signers, then it SHALL include a field named previous_signers in the azc value of the Txn-Token that it issues. The value of this field MUST be an array of strings. Each string is the value of the iss field of a Nested Txn-Tokens received in the Replacement Txn-Token Request. Note that:

  • A Nested Txn-Token is a recursive structure, and the iss value is present at each level of nesting
  • The Transaction Token Server MAY choose to include or exclude any iss value in the previous_signers field of the Txn-Token it generates

7.4. Mutual Authentication of the Txn-Token Request

A Txn-Token Service MUST ensure that it authenticates any workloads requesting Txn-Tokens. In order to do so:

  • It MUST name a limited, pre-configured set of workloads that MAY request Txn-Tokens
  • It MUST individually authenticate the requester as being one of the named requesters
  • It SHOULD rely on mechanisms, such as [Spiffe] or some other means of performing MTLS [RFC8446], to securely authenticate the requester
  • It SHOULD NOT rely on insecure mechanisms, such as long-lived shared secrets to authenticate the requesters

The requesting workload MUST have a pre-configured location for the Transaction Token Service. It SHOULD rely on mechanisms, such as [Spiffe], to securely authenticate the Transaction Token Service before making a Txn-Token Request.

8. Creating Nested Txn-Tokens

A workload within a call chain MAY create a Nested Txn-Token. It does so by embedding the Txn-Token it receives by value in a JWT Embedded Token [JWTEmbeddedTokens]. Nested Txn-Tokens are self-signed and not requested from a separate service.

The expiration time of a enclosing Txn-Token MUST NOT exceed the expiration time of an embedded Txn-Token.

9. IANA Considerations

This memo includes no request to IANA.

10. Security Considerations

10.1. Txn-Token Lifetime

A Txn-Token is not resistant to replay attacks. A long-lived Txn-Token therefore represents a risk if it is stored in a file, discovered by an attacker, and then replayed. For this reason, a Txn-Token lifetime must be kept short, not exceeding the lifetime of a call-chain. Even for long-running "batch" jobs, a longer lived access token should be used to initiate the request to the batch endpoint. It then obtains short-lived Txn-Tokens that may be used to authorize the call to downstream services in the call-chain.

Because Txn-Tokens are short-lived, the Txn-Token response from the Txn-Token service does not contain the refresh_token field. A Txn-Token is also cannot be issued by presenting a refresh_token.

The expires_in and scope fields of the OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange specification [RFC8693] are also not used in Txn-Token responses. The expires_in is not required since the issued token has an exp field, which indicates the token lifetime. The scope field is omitted from the request and therefore omitted in the response.

10.2. Sender Constrained Tokens

Although Txn-Tokens are short-lived, they MAY be sender constrained as an additional layer of defence to prevent them from being re-used by a compromised or malicious workload under the control of a hostile actor.

10.3. Access Tokens

When creating Txn-Tokens, the Txn-Token MUST NOT contain the Access Token presented to the external endpoint. If an Access Token is included in a Txn-Token, an attacker may extract the Access Token from the Txn-Token, and replay it to any Resource Server that can accept that Access Token. Txn-Token expiry does not protect against this attack since the Access Token may remain valid even after the Txn-Token has expired.

11. References

11.1. Normative References

Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, , <>.
Rescorla, E., "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.3", RFC 8446, DOI 10.17487/RFC8446, , <>.
Hardt, D., Ed., "The OAuth 2.0 Authorization Framework", RFC 6749, DOI 10.17487/RFC6749, , <>.
Jones, M., Bradley, J., and N. Sakimura, "JSON Web Token (JWT)", RFC 7519, DOI 10.17487/RFC7519, , <>.
Jones, M., Bradley, J., and N. Sakimura, "JSON Web Signature (JWS)", RFC 7515, DOI 10.17487/RFC7515, , <>.
Saint-Andre, P. and J. Klensin, "Uniform Resource Names (URNs)", RFC 8141, DOI 10.17487/RFC8141, , <>.
Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC 2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174, , <>.
Jones, M., Nadalin, A., Campbell, B., Ed., Bradley, J., and C. Mortimore, "OAuth 2.0 Token Exchange", RFC 8693, DOI 10.17487/RFC8693, , <>.
Sakimura, N., Bradley, J., Jones, M., Medeiros, B. de., and C. Mortimore, "OpenID Connect Core 1.0 incorporating errata set 1", , <>.
Backman, A., Scurtescu, M., and P. Jain, "Subject Identifiers for Security Event Tokens", n.d., <>.
Shekh-Yusef, R., Hardt, D., and G. D. Marco, "JSON Web Token (JWT) Embedded Tokens", n.d., <>.

11.2. Informative References

Cloud Native Computing Foundation, "Secure Production Identity Framework for Everyone", n.d., <>.



Dr. Kelley W. Burgin, PhD.
MITRE Corporation
Hannes Tschofenig
Arm Ltd.
Evan Gilman

Authors' Addresses

Atul Tulshibagwale
George Fletcher
Capital One
Pieter Kasselman