Category: Google Apps

OAuth vs WS-Trust/WS*

I moderated a session at the recent SSO Summit titled “What is OAuth and WS-Trust, and where does it fit into your web services SSO initiatives“.

User-centric identity” is past-its-prime and “Identity as a Service‘ has already been beaten enough. And hence I was glad to get a chance to dig into the services/API use cases (some of the which are very complementary to the browser SSO use cases).

Here are some of the scenarios that we discussed:
(Eve was the scribe…so I’m hoping  she has better notes).

  • Server-2-Server mashup – User goes to travelsite.com and books his flight. And expects the travel site to make an API call and add an event to his Google Calendar.
  • Enterprise SOA  – An enterprise had a legacy/maiinframe system. An overpriced consultant convinced them to put an SOA layer in front and expose the functions via a web application. The user logs in the web application (SSO or otherwise), makes an API call to the SOA layer and the system requires the call to be ‘identity enabled’ for security as well as audit purposes.
  • SSO + Data (User present) – User login to flight.com. Books his flight. SSO to hotel.com. Hotel.com has the username but requires the flight information – dates etc (transient data) to auto-populate the reservation fields. Hotel.com makes an API call back to flight.com to retrieve the data.
  • Desktop Client – SaaS vendor (think Salesforce etc) has a web front, which the customer uses to access their data. The SaaS vendor also makes the data available via an API (which can then be leveraged via an Outlook or Eclipse plug-in or a mobile version). SAML handles the browser based SSO use cases but the it gets tricky for desktop based clients when there is no browser present. The consumer equivalent of this will be TurboTax or MS-Money, which currently ask the users to enter their FI credentials to allow them to retrieve data on user’s behalf.

The OAuth vs WS-Trust/WS* has many similarities to the OpenID vs SAML debate. Much like OpenID, OAuth was started in the consumer centric world. Both the protocols boasts to be light weight, focus on limited set of use cases and does it very well. SAML as well as WS-Trust/WS* have roots in the enterprise world, require an engineering degree to be able to understand the specs but they are much ahead in terms of maturity and have gone through many security reviews.

However, in the case of OpenID / SAML, there seems be to a resting state -  OpenID is the front-runner in the blog/consumer/social networking space (MySpace, Orange recently announced support for it) and SAML is the defacto in the enterprise as well as SaaS space (Google, and recently Salesforce announced support for SAML).

In the case of OAuth/WS-Trust, it’s a little less clear. OAuth seems to have a lot of traction in the consumer space (twitter, flickr, pownce etc). WS-Trust/WS* has better adoption in the conventional enterprise web services/ SOA space. However, the enterprise SaaS space is still open. The likes of Google Apps are trying to merge the lines between the consumer and the enterprise market. Google GData API recently announced support for OAuth (it supports SAML for browser SSO). And hence an enterprise with a traditional SAML/WS-Trust/WS-* infrastructure may be tempted/required to have OAuth support to access their data. Or they may ask their SaaS vendors to enable their APIs with WS*.

SignOn.com as an Auto-Connect IdP

We have just enabled SignOn.com as an Auto-Connect IdP end point. What does this mean?

If you are an SP and are interested in evaluating Auto-Connect, you can now use SignOn.com as an IdP to validate your setup.

    The short version

A few months ago, Ping Identity announced the concept of Auto-Connect. Auto-Connect eliminates the need of manual configuration for SAML connections. It relies on SAML assertion to carry user’s information but follows an OpenID style IdP discovery process; thus allowing the SPs and IdPs to connect dynamically. As an example, a user can simply type in his email address at the SP application to initiate the process, which then allows the user to SSO to the SP application via the Identity provider. To see it in action:

  • Go to SignOn.com and create an account.
  • Enable Google Apps for your account via My Account (more details here. This will give you an email address e.g. joe@signon.com.
  • Go to http://autoconnect.pingidentity.com, type in your SignOn.com email address and click ‘Sign In’.

You will be redirected to SignOn.com for authentication and then SSO to autoconnect.pingidentity.com.

    The long version

What is Auto-Connect?
Majority of the SAML implementations today require a decent amount of configuration to setup a partner connection. This includes setting up the right bindings, profiles, certs etc. This model works for a limited number of partners but has trouble scaling as the number of partners increase. A few months ago, Ping Identity announced the concept of Auto-Connect. The objective being to avoid any manual configuration and setting up partner connections dynamically. The feature is especially useful to an entity who wants to provide SSO capability to a large number of partners. A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider, for example, can provide SSO to innumerable clients without specifying redundant connection information for each one. Or an enterprise that has a need to SSO to multiple outsourced services. Once the initial setup is done, adding a new partner is simply adding the partner’s domain name in the white list.

How to try it out?
If you simply want to see it in action, we have setup a demo SP application at http://autoconnect.pingidentity.com. If you want to set it up for your enterprise, use the following steps:

  • Download PingFederate from here.
  • Run through the PingFederate ‘Getting Started’ guide.
  • Set up your SP application (you can use any of the bundled sample applications as a starting point).
  • Enable Auto-Connect (configuring your metadata endpoint etc).
  • Add SignOn.com to your Auto-Connect whitelist.
  • Access the SP application and enter user@signon.com.
  • User will be redirected to SignOn.com.
  • Authenticate using userid/password or Information card.
  • User will be redirected to the SP application.
  • SP application will display the user’s attributes as specified in SignOn.com.

What happens behind the scene?

autoconnect

  • User sends a logon request with an email address to the SP application. For example: joe@signon.com.
  • The application parses the email address and sends a request to PingFederate. For example: https://sp_host.com:9031/sp/ startSSO.ping/?Domain=signon.com.
  • The SP PingFederate server looks up the domain in the Auto-Connect white list.
  • If the domain is in the list, the SP retrieves connection metadata from the IdP’s public endpoint. By default, PingFederate looks for the metadata by prepending http://saml to the domain. In case of SignOn.com, the metadata is hosted at http://saml.signon.com.
  • After validating the metadata, the SP sends an authentication request to the IdP’s SSO service.
  • PingFederate IdP server at SignOn.com verifies the domain name of the requester.
  • The IdP retrieves the SP’s metadata via its public endpoint and verifies the metadata signature.
  • The IdP requests user authentication (SignOn.com supports username/password and Information Cards for authentication).
  • Once the user is authenticated, the IdP returns a signed SAML assertion to the SP’s Assertion Consumer Service (ACS) endpoint.
  • The SP logs the user on to the requested resource.

SignOn.com / Google Apps Integration

One of the reasons behind launching SignOn.com was to compare and contrast different identity protocols. There are things that you can learn by reading the specs. And then there are things that you can learn by deploying/implementing the specs.

We have had support for OpenID and Information Cards for a long time. With the latest release, we have added support for SAML by leveraging PingFederate.

Additionally, we have integrated with Google Apps. Google Apps is a service from Google that features applications for mail, calendaring, docs etc.

Google Apps

This allows SignOn.com users to

  • Add Google Apps services to their SignOn.com accounts (e.g. you can have an email address like joe@signon.com that’s hosted by Google Apps).
  • Single Sign-On to Google Apps via their SignOn.com credentials (username/password or Information cards).

Your username for Google Apps will be the same as your user name for SignOn.com. For example, if your SignOn.com username is joe, your email address will be joe@signon.com.

In order to enable your SignOn.com Google Apps Account, do the following:

  • Login to SignOn.com (register if you don’t have an existing account).
  • Go to My Profile tab and make sure that you have your firstname and lastname populated (we need this information to create your Google Apps Account).
  • Go to My Accounts Tab.
  • Scroll down and you will see ‘Partner Accounts’. Click Add. This will enable your account with Google Apps.
  • Go to the home page again. And you should see another link e.g.<username>@signon.com. Click on this and this will take you to your mailbox.
  • For the first time access, you will have to go through Google CAPTCHA to complete the registration process with Google Apps.

For future access, you can either go to your SignOn.com home page and click on Google Apps links (IdP initiated SSO).
Or you can access Google App services directly by going to the following URLs, and it will redirect you to SignOn.com for authentication (SP initiated SSO).

Appreciate any feedback.

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