Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Standards Corner: IETF SCIM Working Group Reaches Consensus

On the Oracle Fusion blog, I blog about the recent SCIM working group consensus, SCIM 2's advantages, and its position relative to LDAP.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Standards Corner: Preventing Pervasive Monitoring

On Wednesday night, I watched NBC’s interview of Edward Snowden. The past year has been tumultuous one in the IT security industry. There has been some amazing revelations about the activities of governments around the world; and, we have had several instances of major security bugs in key security libraries: Apple's ‘gotofail’ bug  the OpenSSL Heartbleed bug, not to mention Java’s zero day bug, and others. Snowden’s information showed the IT industry has been underestimating the need for security, and highlighted a general trend of lax use of TLS and poorly implemented security on the Internet. This did not go unnoticed in the standards community and in particular the IETF.
Last November, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) met in Vancouver Canada, where the issue of “Internet Hardening” was discussed in a plenary session. Presentations were given by Bruce SchneierBrian Carpenter,  and Stephen Farrell describing the problem, the work done so far, and potential IETF activities to address the problem pervasive monitoring. At the end of the presentation, the IETF called for consensus on the issue. If you know engineers, you know that it takes a while for a large group to arrive at a consensus and this group numbered approximately 3000. When asked if the IETF should respond to pervasive surveillance attacks? There was an overwhelming response for ‘Yes'. When it came to 'No', the room echoed in silence. This was just the first of several consensus questions that were each overwhelmingly in favour of response. This is the equivalent of a unanimous opinion for the IETF.
Since the meeting, the IETF has followed through with the recent publication of a new “best practices” document on Pervasive Monitoring (RFC 7258). This document is extremely sensitive in its approach and separates the politics of monitoring from the technical ones.
Pervasive Monitoring (PM) is widespread (and often covert) surveillance through intrusive gathering of protocol artefacts, including application content, or protocol metadata such as headers. Active or passive wiretaps and traffic analysis, (e.g., correlation, timing or measuring packet sizes), or subverting the cryptographic keys used to secure protocols can also be used as part of pervasive monitoring. PM is distinguished by being indiscriminate and very large scale, rather than by introducing new types of technical compromise.
The IETF community's technical assessment is that PM is an attack on the privacy of Internet users and organisations. The IETF community has expressed strong agreement that PM is an attack that needs to be mitigated where possible, via the design of protocols that make PM significantly more expensive or infeasible. Pervasive monitoring was discussed at the technical plenary of the November 2013 IETF meeting [IETF88Plenary] and then through extensive exchanges on IETF mailing lists. This document records the IETF community's consensus and establishes the technical nature of PM.
The draft goes on to further qualify what it means by “attack”, clarifying that
The term is used here to refer to behavior that subverts the intent of communicating parties without the agreement of those parties. An attack may change the content of the communication, record the content or external characteristics of the communication, or through correlation with other communication events, reveal information the parties did not intend to be revealed. It may also have other effects that similarly subvert the intent of a communicator.
The past year has shown that Internet specification authors need to put more emphasis into information security and integrity. The year also showed that specifications are not good enough. The implementations of security and protocol specifications have to be of high quality and superior testing. I’m proud to say Oracle has been a strong proponent of this, having already established its own secure coding practices.

Cross-posted from Oracle Fusion Blog.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Draft 05 of IETF SCIM Specifications

I am happy to announce that draft 05 of the SCIM specifications has been published at the IETF. We are down to a handful of issues (8) to sort out.

Major changes:

  • Clarifications on case preservation and exact match filter processing
  • Added IANA considerations
  • Formalized internationalization and encoding (UTF-8)
  • Added security considerations for using GET with confidential attributes
  • General editing and clarifications

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Standards Corner: Basic Auth MUST Die!

Basic Authentication (part of RFC2617) was developed along with HTTP1.1 (RFC2616) when the web was relatively new. This specification envisioned that user-agents (browsers) would ask users for their user-id and password and then pass the encoded information to the web server via the HTTP Authorization header.

Basic Auth approach quickly died in popularity in favour of form based login where browser cookies were used to maintain user session, rather than repeated re-transmission of the user-id and password for each web request. Basic Auth was clinically dead and ceased being the "state-of-the-art" method for authentication.

These days, now that non-browser based applications are increasing in popularity, one of the first asks by architects is support for Basic Authentication. It seems the Basic Authentication "zombie" lives on. Why is this? Is it for testing purposes?

Why should Basic Authentication die?

Well, for one, Basic Auth requires that web servers have access to "passwords" which have continually been shown to be one of the weakest security architecture. Further, it requires that the client application ask users directly for their user-id and password greatly increasing the points of attack a hacker might have. A user giving an application (whether a mobile application or a web site) their user-id and password is allowing that application the ability to impersonate the user.  Further, we now know that password re-use continues to undermine this simple form of authentication.

There are better alternatives.

A better alternative uses "tokens", such as the cookies I mentioned above, to track client/user login state. An even better solution, not easily done with Basic Auth, is to use an adaptive authentication service whose job it is to evaluate not only a user's id and password, but can also evaluate multiple factors for authentication. This can go beyond the idea of something you know, to something you are, and something you have types of factors. Many service providers are even beginning to evaluate network factors as well, such as, has the user logged in from this IP address and geographical location before?

In order to take advantage of such an approach, the far better solution is to demand OAuth2 as a key part of your application security architecture for non-browser applications and APIs. Just like form-based authentication dramatically improved browser authentication in the 2000s, OAuth2 (RFC6749 and 6750), and its predecessor, Kerberos, provide a much better way for client applications to obtain tokens that can be used for authenticated access to web services.

Token authentication is far superior because:
  • Tokens cleanly separate user authentication and delegation from the application's activities with web services.
  • Tokens do not require that clients impersonate users. They can be highly scoped and restrictive in nature.
  • The loss of a token, means only a single service is compromised where as the loss of a password compromises every site where a user-id and password is used.
  • Tokens can be issued by multi-factor authentication systems.
  • Tokens do not require access to a password data store for validation.
  • Tokens can be cryptographically generated and thus can be validated by web services in a "stateless" fashion (not requiring access to a central security database).
  • Tokens can be easily expired and re-issued.
RFC 2617 Basic Authentication is not only dead. It needs to be buried. Stop using it. You can do it!

Cross-posted from Oracle Fusion Blog.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Standards Corner: Maturing REST Specifications and the Internet of Things

Cross-posted from the Oracle Fusion Middleware Blog.
As many of you know, much of today's standards around REST center around IETF based specifications. As such, I thought I would share some RESTful services related news coming from last week's IETF meetings. Many working groups are now in the final stages of moving key specifications into standard status…

Friday, February 14, 2014

New IETF SCIM drafts - Revision 03 Details

Yesterday, the IETF SCIM (System for Cross Domain Identity Management) Working Group published new draft specification revisions:

This draft was essentially a clean-up of the specification text into IETF format as well as a series of clarifications and fixes that will greatly improve the maturity and interoperability of the SCIM drafts. SCIM has had a number of outstanding issues to resolve and in this draft, we managed to knock off a whole bunch of outstanding issues - 27 in all! More change log details are also available in the appendix of each draft.

Key updates include:

  • New attribute characteristics: 
    • returned - When are attributes returned in response to queries
    • mutability - Are attributes readOnly, immutable, readWrite, or writeOnly
    • readOnly - this boolean has been replaced by mutability
  • Filters
    • A new "not" negation operator added
    • A missing ends with (ew) filter was added
    • Filters can now handle complex attributes allowing multiple conditions to be applied to the same value in a multi-valued complex attributes. For example:
      • filter=userType eq "Employee" and emails[type eq "work" and value co "@example.com"]
  • HTTP
    • Clarified the response to an HTTP DELETE
    • Clarified support for HTTP Redirects
    • Clarified impact of attribute mutability on HTTP PUT requests
  • General
    • Made server root level queries optional
    • Updated examples to use '/v2' paths rather than '/v1'
    • Added complete JSON Schema representation for Users, Groups, and EnterpriseUser.
    • Reformatting of documents to fit normal IETF editorial practice
Thanks to everyone in the working group for their help in getting this one out!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Double-blind Identity

Note: Cross-posted from the Oracle Fusion Blog.

On November 13 and 14, the Government of British Columbia, Canada, launched the first in a series of public consultations on identity and digital services. For several years now, BC has been working on a new identity services project that would enable citizens to securely access government services online. For BC, there is clear motivation: reducing identity management and fraud costs in everything from drivers licenses to health insurance. BC's hope is that this can play a role in helping provide better services down the road as well as improving the overall privacy of residents.

For background to the challenges and motivations for BC, check out former BC CIO Dave Nikolejsin's talk on the importance of identity management in 2012 and the principles behind BC's identity project:

Incidentally my favourite quote from this video is: "Government will never be downstream from your Facebook account".

This first public consultation was focused as technical level-set meeting including standards community members from companies like Microsoft and Oracle and other vendors, as well as some members US Govt's NSTIC program, New Zealand Gov't, and British Columbia including its privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham. Most importantly, the meeting included several members of the general BC public picked at random from over 15,000 applicants. The day was spent educating and putting participants on a more equal footing on the basics of identity theory as well the challenges and objectives BC has for this program.

As part of this level-set, Collin Wallis, Identity Architect for the New Zealand Gov't, gave a great talk on how NZ and BC are similar in size and have many of the same overall cultural values and privacy concerns. He spoke about NZ's current "RealMe" deployments and their immediate focus on the "authentication". A similar presentation is available here.
The BC Gov't showed an overall architecture based on issuing new driver's licenses and Government Services Cards with near field chips (NFCs) supplied by SecureKey. The architecture depends mainly on OAuth2 authorization and SAML federation techniques that provide a "directed" identifier approach creating an infrastructure that has privacy qualities that could be said to be "double-blind".

You may recall that the term "double-blind" comes from medical research where both the tester and subject are blinded.  In the case of identity, the term implies the authenticator and relying party are blinded in a way that ensures privacy for the subject (the citizen).  The authenticator is not able to observe what personal information is shared or how the identifier is used assuring the citizen of freedom of use without monitoring. The relying party receives a directed identifier for the citizen unique to the relying party's use (see Kim Cameron's Law of Identity #4). What this stuff means is that two relying parties cannot share information directly based on a common identifier (as would happen if one used an omni-directional identifier like a SSN/SIN or Driver's License number). The same individual authenticating to two different parties appears to have separate identities. Hence the architecture could be said to be a double-blind system with strong privacy enabling qualities in its core design.

If successful, NZ and BC citizens may soon use their New Zealand RealMe or BC Government Services Id as a common authenticator to login and/or obtain services, while at the same time, avoid the privacy problems that occur when using a common identity such as offered by social networks, using personal email addresses. Their biggest challenge: BC and NZ need to avoid the fears of other national identity programs such as the US's "REAL ID" or the UK's "National ID" programs by building public confidence in its privacy-centred architecture.

For me personally, the most inspirational aspect of the consultation process was the leadership that Minister Andrew Wilkinson and his CTO, Ian Bailey, showed by adopting an "unconference" format that those of us in the IAM industry have come to know well at our regular meeting Internet Identity Workshop meetings. Following the first day's level-set session, an unconference session was led by Kaliya Hamlin (aka IdentityWoman) as well as Aron and Mike of IdentityNorth on the second day. This format was so successful that the group acknowledged highlights of the day were the members of the general public who chose not only to participate in deep theoretical discussion, but lead 3 of the most insightful sessions of the day!

To be clear, double-blind identity is not necessarily that new--we may have just put a term to it. After-all, there have been many systems with pseudononymous authentication. However, as technologists, we've been too accustomed to centralized architectures where both authentication and personal information in the form of claims come from a common provider (an Identity Provider). In these traditional enterprise architectures privacy has taken a back seat since employees don't often need to expect privacy in regards to performing their jobs. In contrast, these two governments are showing that privacy-enabled identity systems require separation of personal information from authentication services. I wonder what this means for cloud services architectures of the future and whether the current all-knowing social networks can survive the privacy problems they are running into by amassing so much information. It certainly suggests that the social network big data approach where all personal information is in one place is not the right way to go if governments really care about privacy.

Disclosure:  I am a resident of British Columbia. While my employer is a supplier to the government of British Columbia, I am not currently directly involved in this or any other projects with BC. My participation and comments are based as both resident and a member of the identity standards community. The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Standards Corner: OAuth WG Client Registration Problem

Update: Cross-Posted on the Oracle Fusion Middleware blog.

This afternoon, the OAuth Working Group will meet at IETF88 in Vancouver to discuss some important topics important to the maturation of OAuth. One of them is the OAuth client registration problem.

OAuth (RFC6749) was initially developed with a simple deployment model where there is only monopoly or singleton cloud instance of a web API (e.g. there is one Facebook, one Google, on LinkedIn, and so on). When the API publisher and API deployer are the same monolithic entity, it easy for developers to contact the provider and register their app to obtain a client_id and credential.

But what happens when the API is for an open source project where there may be 1000s of deployed copies of the API (e.g. such as wordpress).  In these cases, the authors of the API are not the people running the API. In these scenarios, how does the developer obtain a client_id?

An example of an "open deployed" API is OpenID Connect. Connect defines an OAuth protected resource API that can provide personal information about an authenticated user -- in effect creating a potentially common API for potential identity providers like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, or Oracle.  In Oracle's case, Fusion applications will soon have RESTful APIs that are deployed in many different ways in many different environments. How will developers write apps that can work against an openly deployed API with whom the developer can have no prior relationship?

At present, the OAuth Working Group has two proposals two consider:

Dynamic Registration

Dynamic Registration was originally developed for OpenID Connect and UMA. It defines a RESTful API in which a prospective client application with no client_id creates a new client registration record with a service provider and is issued a client_id and credential along with a registration token that can be used to update registration over time.

As proof of success, the OIDC community has done substantial implementation of this spec and feels committed to its use.  Why not approve?

Well, the answer is that some of us had some concerns, namely:
  1. Recognizing instances of software - dynamic registration treats all clients as unique. It has no defined way to recognize that multiple copies of the same client are being registered other then assuming if the registration parameters are similar it might be the same client.
  2. Versioning and Policy Approval of open APIs and clients - many service providers have to worry about change management. They expect to have approval cycles that approve versions of server and client software for use in their environment.  In some cases approval might be wide open, but in many cases, approval might be down to the specific class of software and version.
  3. Registration updates - when does a client actually need to update its registration?  Shouldn't it be never?  Is there some characteristic of deployed code that would cause it to change?
  4. Options lead to complexity - because each client is treated as unique, it becomes unclear how the clients and servers will agree on what credentials forms are acceptable and what OAuth features are allowed and disallowed.  Yet the reality is, developers will write their application to work in a limited number of ways. They can't implement all the permutations and combinations that potential service providers might choose.
  5. Stateful registration - if the primary motivation for registration is to obtain a client_id and credential, why can't this be done in a stateless fashion using assertions?
  6. Denial of service - With so much stateful registration and the need for multiple tokens to be issued, will this not lead to a denial of service attack / risk of resource depletion?  At the very least, because of the information gathered, it would difficult for service providers to clean up "failed" registrations and determine active from inactive or false clients.
  7. There has yet to be much wide-scale "production" use of dynamic registration other than in small closed communities.

Client Association

A second proposal, Client Association, has been put forward by Tony Nadalin of Microsoft and myself. We took at look at existing use patterns to come up with a new proposal. At the Berlin meeting, we considered how WS-STS systems work.  More recently, I took a review of how mobile messaging clients work. I looked at how Apple, Google, and Microsoft each handle registration with APNS, GCM, and WNS, and a similar pattern emerges.  This pattern is to use an existing credential (mutual TLS auth), or client bearer assertion and swap for a device specific bearer assertion.

In the client association proposal, the developer's registration with the API publisher is handled by having the developer register with an API publisher (as opposed to the party deploying the API) and obtaining a software "statement". Or, if there is no "publisher" that can sign a statement, the developer may include their own self-asserted software statement.

A software statement is a special type of assertion that serves to lock application registration profile information in a signed assertion. The statement is included with the client application and can then be used by the client to swap for an instance specific client assertion as defined by section 4.2 of the OAuth Assertion draft and profiled in the Client Association draft. The software statement provides a way for service provider to recognize and configure policy to approve classes of software clients, and simplifies the actual registration to a simple assertion swap. Because the registration is an assertion swap, registration is no longer "stateful" - meaning the service provider does not need to store any information to support the client (unless it wants to).

Has this been implemented yet? Not directly. We've only delivered draft 00 as an alternate way of solving the problem using well-known patterns whose security characteristics and scale characteristics are well understood.

Dynamic Take II

At roughly the same time that Client Association and Software Statement were published, the authors of Dynamic Registration published a "split" version of the Dynamic Registration (draft-richer-oauth-dyn-reg-core and draft-richer-oauth-dyn-reg-management). While some of the concerns above are addressed, some differences remain. Registration is now a simple POST request. However it defines a new method for issuing client tokens where as Client Association uses RFC6749's existing extension point. The concern here is whether future client access token formats would be addressed properly.  Finally, Dyn-reg-core does not yet support software statements.


The WG has some interesting discussion to bring this back to a single set of specifications. Dynamic Registration has significant implementation, but Client Association could be a much improved way to simplify implementation of the overall OpenID Connect specification and improve adoption. In fairness, the existing editors have already come a long way. Yet there are those with significant investment in the current draft. There are many that have expressed they don't care. They just want a standard. There is lots of pressure on the working group to reach consensus quickly.

And that folks is how the sausage is made.

Note:  John Bradley and Justin Richer recently published draft-bradley-stateless-oauth-client-00 which on first look are getting closer. Some of the details seem less well defined, but the same could be said of client-assoc and software-statement. I hope we can merge these specs this week.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Draft for Enabling OAuth2 To Be Used for Authentication

In my last blog post, I discussed the issue of OAuth2 and authentication:  Simple Authentication for OAuth 2? What is the Right Approach? As promised, I submitted a draft to the IETF for discussion in Berlin at the beginning of the month. While the working group didn't get a lot of time in the meeting to talk about the authentication issue (it wasn't formally on the charter), the submission did receive quite a bit of discussion in the hallways and on the IETF OAuth WG mailing list -- some of which I have already addressed in my last blog post.

Since the Berlin meeting, I have reviewed the feedback and have submitted an update. Draft 01 is now aligned to be compatible with OpenID Connect. In other words:
  • If you are a web  developer, and the only problem you want to solve today is "how can I use OAuth to authenticate my users?", the new User Authentication and Consent for Clients draft is intended to solve just that problem. 
  • But, if you decide you want to add an attribute provider (user profile) services to your requirements, you can upgrade to the OpenID Connect drafts as an extension to authentication without impacting existing code.
The new draft also allows clients to request a minimum Level of Assurance (per NIST-800-63 or ISO 29115) for the authentication -- a useful feature if the clients would like the service provider to do a higher assurance authentication (such as a multi-factor or biometric) than it might otherwise normally perform.

My thanks to Tony Nadalin and Mike Jones of Microsoft for their contributions to this draft.