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Identity management. Aalto University , autumn 2012. Outline. Single sign-on OpenId SAML and Shibboleth Corporate IAM Strong identity. Single sign-on (SSO). Users have too many user accounts Cannot remember the passwords Service access slow and inconvenient

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Identity management

Identity management

Aalto University, autumn 2012


  • Single sign-on

  • OpenId

  • SAML and Shibboleth

  • Corporate IAM

  • Strong identity

Single sign on sso
Single sign-on (SSO)

  • Users have too many user accounts

    • Cannot remember the passwords

    • Service access slow and inconvenient

    • Forgotten, unmanaged accounts are a security risk

       Need for an SSO solution

  • SSO types:

    • Pseudo-SSO: separate authentication to each service; client software manages the credentials and hides the login from user

    • Proxy-based SSO: pseudo-SSO implemented in a proxy; proxy in the network manages user credentials and hides the login details from the client

    • True SSO: user authenticates to a separate authentication service, which asserts user identity to other services

    • Federated SSO: authentication between administrative domains

  • Main problem with SSO systems: there’re so many of them

Openid architecture
OpenId architecture

  • Standard for SSO to web sites


  • End user creates an OpenId (=identity) at some OpenId provider (OP)

  • End user registers the OpenId at various relaying parties (RP) i.e. web sites

  • End user authenticates to RP with the help of OP

  • The end user needs a web browser i.e. user agent (UA)

Openid 2 0 protocol
OpenId 2.0 protocol

  • Identifier is an HTTP URL (or XRI): gives the OP address

    • e.g.,

  • Direct messages use HTTP POST

  • Indirect messages use HTTP GET and Redirect

    • Data fields sent as URL parameters via the browser

  • Method of user authentication not specified; typically a password

Openid 2 0 security
OpenId 2.0 security

  • Approval /failure message from OP to RP is authenticated with a MAC and timestamp

    • RP can either establish a MAC key with Diffie-Hellman (step 3) or ask OP to verify the MAC for it (step 7)

  • TLS is not required by OpenId spec but needed for real security:

    • RP must authenticate OP in the Diffie-Hellman or direct verification step

    • UA must authenticate OP before user types in the password

    • TLS can be used between UA and RP to protect service access (Q: does it matter?)

  • User must pay attention:

    • Check https and the OP name in the browser address bar before typing in the password

    • Check RP name on OP login page before approving login

Openid notes
OpenId notes

  • What does “open” mean?

    • Anyone can become an identity provider

    • User can choose any identity provider

    • Services accept the identity chosen by the user

    • Works on any web browser without proprietary software

  • In practice, not always so open:

    • RP policy may determine which OPs are accepted

    • OP policy may determine which RPs are accepted

  • For privacy, user-provided id may just point to OP without identifying the user

    • e.g.

  • OpenId specification is poorly written

    • Assumes the reader knows previous versions

    • Uses XRI, Yadis and XRDS: very complex and incomplete specifications

  • Security not obvious:

    • Focus on implementation, not on secure protocol design

    • Vague security claims especially when used without TLS

Saml and shibboleth
SAML and Shibboleth

Saml 2 0 architecture
SAML 2.0 architecture

  • Security assertion markup language (SAML 2.0)

    • OASIS standard(combines ideas from SAML 1.1, Liberty Alliance identity-federation framework 1.2, and Shibboleth 1.3)

  • Service provider (SP) and identity provider (IdP) establish a trust relation by exchanging metadata

  • Principal (= user, subject) registers with the IdP

  • Principal authenticates to IdP and then to SP

Identity management

  • SAML is a complex family of protocols:

    • Assertions are statements by IdP about a principal, written in XML

    • Protocols define message flows for requesting assertions

    • Bindings define how protocol messages are transported over HTTP, SOAP etc.

    • Profiles define useful combinations of assertions, protocols and bindings

    • Metadata defines trust relations

  • Unlike OpenId, SAML is based on contractual relations

    • Metadata must be first exchanged between IdP and SP

    • Federation may set rules for its member IdPs and SPs

    • User cannot decide which id to use where

  • Typical profile: SAML web browser SSO profile

Saml web browser sso profile
SAML web browser SSO profile

  • IdP-initiated or SP-initiated SSO:

    • User first logs into the IdP, or first connects to SP

  • Bindings to HTTP messages

    • Redirect: message from SP to IdP is sent in GET URL via browser, with help of HTTP redirection

    • POST: message between SP and IdP is sent in HTTP form via browser, submitted by user click or script

    • Artifact: reference to message is sent in GET URL via browser, with the help of HTTP redirection, and the actual message is retrieved directly from sender

  • SOAP binding not used in this profile

Saml web browser sso profile1
SAML web browser SSO profile

  • Protocol for SP-initiated SSP:

    • AuthnRequest and Response

  • How to send these messages over HTTP?

     Need to choose bindings; 6 different combinations

Saml web browser sso profile2
SAML web browser SSO profile

  • Example: redirect-artifact binding:

    • SP sends <AuthnRequest> to IdP in GET URL with HTTP redirect

    • IdP sends an artifact to SP in GET URL with HTTP redirect

    • SP retrieves <Response> from IdP with artifact resolution protocol

Saml security
SAML security

  • Response must be signed by IdP

  • TSL needed for all connections:

    • Protects password; protects secrecy of user attributes; prevents redirections to wrong site

  • Attributes in the Response are signed by IdP

Shibboleth 2
Shibboleth 2

  • Open-source implementation of SAML 2.0 for web SSO (wiki)

    • Developed by the Internet 2 project

  • Used mainly in research and educational institutions; many other commercial and open-source SAML implementation exist

  • If SP supports multiple IdPs, SP-initiated authentication goes via the where are you from (WAYF) page

    • One more step of redirection for the AuthnRequest

  • Federation is a group of IdPs and SPs that

    • share metadata in one signed file

    • agree on an attribute schema

    • agree on CA for TLS

    • have a service agreement that sets out rules for the federation

      e.g. Haka federation

Sessions in shibboleth
Sessions in Shibboleth

  • Shibboleth implements two kinds of sessions:

    • IdP session between browser and the IdP (IdP cookies)  user only needs to type in password once

    • SP session between browser and each SP (SP cookies)

  • Additional application sessions:

    • Web middleware incl. PHP, JSP and ASP.NET implements sessions using cookies, URL or web form)

    • Applications may set their own cookies

  • No single logout

    • Logging out of SP does not usually log the user out of the IdP can log back to SP without password

    • Logging out of IdP does not log the user out of SPs

    • Logging out of one SO does not log the user out of other SPs

  • Application sessions complicate the situation further  Shibboleth logout behavior is hard to understand

Saml attributes
SAML attributes

  • In addition to user identity, <Response> from IdP to SP contains user attributes

    • Attributes sent to each SP are selected based on attribute filters in metadata

  • Example:

    cn = Tuomas Aura

    o = Teknillinenkorkeakoulu

    eduPersonAffiliation = employee;faculty;member

  • Try

  • User attributes are personal data

    • For legal reasons, IdP needs user confirmation before transferring attributes to SP  the annoying check box after IdP login

Corporate iam1
Corporate IAM

  • Federated identity and authentication is not sufficient:

    • Need to configure access permissions for users in the services

    • Need to monitor access control state in the system

    • Need to revoke access rights

  • Identity and access management (IAM) systems

    • Define roles and groups for the organization

    • Enable centralized role assignment, revocation and monitoring

  • Example:

    • student enrolls to university, then becomes employee, then graduates, finally leaves employment

  • Central IAM server and IAM agent at each supported service

     more expensive to develop and deploy than federated authentication

Strong identity

Strong authentication
Strong authentication

  • Goal: authentication equivalent to verifying national identity card or passport

  • Why is it needed?

    • Initial id check when registering new users, e.g. students enrolling to university

    • Required by law for access to government services and personal information

    • Increasing trust in commercial online transactions — but this has long since been solved in other ways

  • Why not use OpenId or SAML?

    • OpenId allows user to choose identifier  no secure link to a real person

    • SAML works internally in organizations and between organizations that have a contract  not for new, open online services

Finnish electronic identity card
Finnish electronic identity card

  • Finnish identity cards (HST-kortti) have a smartcard chip with three key pairs

    • Signature, encryption and authentication keys


  • Keys are certified by the national population register (VRK)

  • Has not gained popularity; few people have an id card; even fewer ever use it for electronic authentication

    • Why?

Tupas authentication
Tupas authentication

  • Tupas uses bank accounts for strong authentication

    • Defined by Federation of Finnish Financial Services

    • Developed from online the payment system (commonly used in Finland for online purchases)

    • User authentication with one-time passwords

  • Advantage: everyone has a bank account, and banks are required to know the identity of their customers  no cost for identity proofing

  • Example:

Tupas authentication1
Tupas authentication

  • Three-corner authentication model: user, user’s bank, online service

     Each service must set up a shared key with each bank

    Smaller banks are not supported by all online services

Mobile signature
Mobile signature

  • Mobile phone operators install a signature key on the SIM

    • ETSI standard, developed from earlier “business SIM”

    • No direct access from phone to signature key; signatures are requested via the operator’s mobile signature service provider (MSSP)

  • Advantages: everyone has a SIM card, and operators have 24/7 service for revocation

  • Four-corner authentication model:

    • Mobile operators have contracts with each other

    • Each service and user only needs to have a contract with one operator

  • Deployment and adoption has been slow

    • Requires identity proofingi.e. checking if the subject identity before issuing the certificate (now done with Tupas in Finland)

    • Operators want a fee for every transaction  low number of transactions  may not be a viable business

Reading material
Reading material

  • Online:

    • OpenId 2.0,

    • SAML 2.0 Technical Overview,


  • How much security does OpenId exactly give if TLS is not used?

  • Learn about XRI name space and XRI discovery. If XRI is used as the user identifier in OpenId, how is the user supposed to authenticate the OP before typing in the password?

  • How much difference does it make to security and privacy if the user-provided id points to the OP without identifying the user, and the user identity is entered only at the OP site?

  • Look at the Haka federation metadata for Shibboleth 2. How does this create trust between an IdP and SP? What ways are there to limit the trust?

  • Can you capture the AuthnRequest and Response messages when logging into Noppa? Which bindings are used?

  • Why exactly is TLS needed at each stage in SAML/Shibboleth authentication, or is it?

  • Compare the logout (and re-login) behavior of Noppa, Oodi and Which sessions get deleted, when and how?

  • Despite similarities in the protocols, OpenId, SAML and Tupas have different goals and make different assumptions about the relations between entities. What differences are there?