Incorrect persistent NameID generation


When a SimpleSAMLphp Identity Provider is misconfigured, a bug in the software when trying to build a persistent NameID to univocally identify the authenticating subject could cause different users to get the same identifier generated, depending on the attributes available for them right after authentication.

Please note that even though this is possible thanks to a bug, an IdP must be misconfigured to release persistent NameIDs even if it is not properly configured to generate them based on the specifics of the deployment.


Persistent NameIDs will typically be sent as part of the Subject element of a SAML assertion, or as the contents of the eduPersonTargetedID attribute. Here is an example of such a NameID:

<NameID Format=“urn:oasis:names:tc:SAML:2.0:nameid-format:persistent“>

Some service providers will use this information to identify a user across sessions, because a persistent NameID will never change for a given user. This could lead to different users accessing the same account in those service providers.

In order to be affected by this issue, the following circumstances must concur:

If all these requirements are met, the SimpleSAML_Auth_ProcessingChain class will try to keep a unique user identifier in the state array (addUserID() method). Bear in mind that this code is executed before all the authentication processing filters configured, meaning that only those attributes retrieved for the user during initial authentication will be available. If no userid.attribute configuration option is set, the default eduPersonPrincipalName will then be used. However, since it is missing, no identifier will be kept. Alternatively, if userid.attribute is set to a missing or empty attribute, the addUserID() method will abort trying to register an identifier.

After executing all authentication processing filters, SimpleSAMLphp will build a SAML assertion. If the service provider requests persistent NameIDs, SimpleSAMLphp will attempt to generate one given that none is already available (because the saml:PersistentNameID filter was not used). At this point, the code will look for the simplesaml.nameidattribute configuration option in either the local IdP metadata or in the remote SP metadata. If none of them are configured, it will default to the unique user identifier previously registered by SimpleSAML_Auth_ProcessingChain. If no identifier was kept there, the code will log an error message:

Unable to generate NameID. Check the userid.attribute option.

However, instead of aborting the NameID generation at that point, it will go on and use a value missing from the state array as the source for the computation, meaning the null type will be used. Hence, all users connecting to a given service provider will get the same NameID generated, because all the input parameters will be the same:

Affected versions

All SimpleSAMLphp versions between 1.7.0 and 1.14.10, inclusive.


Those identity providers affected by this bug and misconfigured as previously described could be issuing SAML assertions with common NameIDs for all or a subset of their users. If a service provider uses those NameIDs to identify the users of the affected IdP, all the users will be associated with the same user account at the service provider, causing all sorts of potential security issues like information disclosure or unauthorized access.

While we can consider this unlikely to happen, some cases have been already observed. In particular, some identity providers using default configurations and consuming metadata automatically (i.e. using the metarefresh module) while using a user backend like Active Directory that does not populate eduPersonPrincipalName are particularly sensitive to this issue.


Upgrade to the latest version.

Configure a saml:PersistentNameID authentication processing filter according to your needs. Remember to check that the attribute used as the source for the NameID is present at the moment the saml:PersistentNameID filter is executed. The attribute used must be unique per user, and must not change over time.