Proof-of-Possession Access Tokens

By default, OAuth access tokens are so called bearer tokens. This means they are not bound to a client and anybody who possess the token can use it. The security concern here is that a leaked token could be used by a (malicious) third-parts to impersonate the client and/or user.

Proof-of-Possession (short PoP) tokens on the other hand are bound to the client that requested the token - this is also often called sender constraining. The binding is typically done cryptography to allow the client to proof that it knows an additional secret.

This proof is called the confirmation method and is expressed via the standard cnf claim,e.g.:

  "iss": "https://localhost:5001",
  "iat": 1609932801,
  "exp": 1609936401,
  "aud": "urn:resource1",

  "client_id": "web_app",
  "sub": "88421113",
  "cnf": "confirmation_method"

When using reference tokens, the cnf claim will be returned from the introspection endpoint.

Proof-of-possession using Mutual TLS

RFC 8705 specifies how to bind a TLS client certificate to an access token. With this method your IdentityServer will embed the SHA-256 thumbprint of the X.509 certificate into the access token via the cnf claims, e.g.:

  // rest omitted
  "cnf": { "x5t#S256": "bwcK0esc3ACC3DB2Y5_lESsXE8o9ltc05O89jdN-dg2" } 

This is done automatically if you authenticate the client using a TLS client certificate.

The client must then use the same client certificate to call the APIs, and your APIs can validate the cnf claim by comparing it to the thumbprint of the client certificate on the TLS channel.

If the access token would leak, it cannot be replayed without having access to the additional private key of the X.509 client certificate.

Combine TLS proof-of-possession with other authentication methods

It is not mandatory to authenticate your clients with a client certificate to get the benefit of proof-of-possession. You can combine this feature with an arbitrary client authentication method - or even no client authentication at all (e.g. for public mobile/native clients).

In this scenario, the client would create an X.509 certificate on the fly, and use that to establish the TLS channel to your IdentityServer. As long as the certificate is accepted by your web server, your IdentityServer can embed the cnf claim, and your APIs can validate it.

.NET Client

In .NET it is straight-forward to create an X.509 certificate on the fly and use it to open a TLS connection.

static X509Certificate2 CreateClientCertificate(string name)
    X500DistinguishedName distinguishedName = new X500DistinguishedName($"CN={name}");

    using (RSA rsa = RSA.Create(2048))
        var request = new CertificateRequest(distinguishedName, rsa, HashAlgorithmName.SHA256,RSASignaturePadding.Pkcs1);

            new X509KeyUsageExtension(
                X509KeyUsageFlags.DataEncipherment | 
                X509KeyUsageFlags.KeyEncipherment | 
                X509KeyUsageFlags.DigitalSignature , false));

            new X509EnhancedKeyUsageExtension(
                new OidCollection 
                    new Oid("") 
                }, false));

        return request.CreateSelfSigned(
            new DateTimeOffset(DateTime.UtcNow.AddDays(-1)), 
            new DateTimeOffset(DateTime.UtcNow.AddDays(10)));

Then use this client certificate on the TLS channel to request the token:

static async Task<TokenResponse> RequestTokenAsync()
    var client = new HttpClient(GetHandler(ClientCertificate));

    var disco = await client.GetDiscoveryDocumentAsync("");
    if (disco.IsError) throw new Exception(disco.Error);

        var response = await client.RequestClientCredentialsTokenAsync(new ClientCredentialsTokenRequest
        Address = disco.MtlsEndpointAliases.TokenEndpoint,

        ClientId = "client",
        Scope = "api1"

    if (response.IsError) throw new Exception(response.Error);
    return response;

static SocketsHttpHandler GetHandler(X509Certificate2 certificate)
    var handler = new SocketsHttpHandler();
    handler.SslOptions.ClientCertificates = new X509CertificateCollection { certificate };

    return handler;

Enabling support in your IdentityServer

The last step is to enable that feature in the options:

var builder = services.AddIdentityServer(options =>
    // other settings
    options.MutualTls.AlwaysEmitConfirmationClaim = true;