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ASP.NET Ver 1.1 Web Application and Windows Authentication – A Case Study

, 19 Dec 2006
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The purpose of this case study is to explain how to implement application security for ASP.NET web applications using ‘Integrated Windows Authentication’.

1. Introduction

Application Security has an important role in information management. Distributing the right information to the right people at the right time is the key to information management. In addition to making sure that information reaches the right people, it also has to make sure that it should never reach unauthorized hands. Here is the role of information security. Providing application security is an important aspect of ensuring information security. The main purpose of application security is to protect the application and data from unauthorized access.

The purpose of this case study is to explain how to implement application security for ASP.NET web applications using ‘Integrated Windows Authentication’.

2. How to secure web applications

Authentication and Authorization are the two factors of ensuring application security.

2.1. Authentication

Authentication is the process of deciding who can access the application. User name and password are the most common mechanisms for authentication.

2.2. Authorization

Authorization is the process of deciding what an authenticated user can do with the application. An application may provide different functionalities for the access of different users. Access to various functionalities can be restricted based on the type of the user. This is called role based authorization. For example, an ‘administrator’ will have a lot more access rights than a ‘guest user’.

3. What is ‘Integrated Windows Authentication’?

In integrated Windows authentication, the application makes use of the credentials of Windows users. IIS supplies the client credentials to ASP.NET. Based on the application specific security architecture, the application can validate these credentials against the ‘access rights information’ configured for the application. Only if the validation is successful, the user is allowed to access the application.

Sample screenshot

3.1. Single Sign on

This technology allows the user to use the same credentials for accessing multiple applications. Once the user has successfully logged on to the Operating system, other applications can make use of these credentials from the Operating System. ‘Single Sign on’ can be implemented in ASP.NET applications by using ‘Integrated Windows Authentication’. Once a user has logged on to the Windows Operating System, he/she is able to freely access the application as if no more sign on is required (provided the user has been given access rights to the application). However, during application startup, it silently checks for the credentials of the user against ‘access rights information’ configured for the application. Only if the credentials are matching, the user is allowed to access the application.

4. Where is ‘Windows Authentication’ applicable?

Since ‘Windows Authentication’ uses the credentials of Windows users, it can be used only for an intranet application. In an intra-net application, the administrator has full control over the network users. The application can be designed in such a way that it can display all the ‘Active Directory’ users so that the administrator of the application can configure the users authenticated for the application. Integrated Windows authentication is best suited for an intranet environment, where both user and Web server computers are in the same domain, and where administrators can ensure that every user has Microsoft Internet Explorer, version 2.0 or later.

5. Windows Authentication and Authorization schemes

Using the WindowsAuthenticationModule provider, it is possible to provide web application security with a minimum of ASP.NET coding. The provider module constructs a WindowsIdentity object. The default implementation constructs a WindowsPrincipal object and attaches it to the application context. The WindowsPrincipal object maps identities to Windows groups. Using the authorization tag of the web.config file, it is possible to restrict users/groups from accessing various application folders.

It is also possible to implement a custom Windows authorization scheme. For this purpose, you can use the WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate event handler to create a WindowsPrincipal or a GenericPrincipal object from a WindowsIdentity object. You can then use one of the new objects to implement your own custom authentication scheme.

6. How ‘Windows Authentication’ works - A case study

Here is a case study showing how to implement Windows Authentication and Role based security in ASP.NET. It starts with a detailed problem definition followed by the solution architecture. It also gives step by step details of the solution-implementation.

6.1. Problem definition

Here is a web application for preparing business plans for a multinational company ABC. All the users are registered in the Active Directory of its intranet domain and need to access the application from this intranet. The application offers the following functionality to users:

  1. Prepare master data
  2. Create business plans
  3. Approve or reject plans
  4. Prepare reports

Access for the Master Data (MD) users should be strictly restricted to ‘Prepare master data function’ where as Central Support Team (CST) can access all the functionality except ‘Approve or Reject Plans’. The Area Managers (AM) can only access ‘Approve or Reject Plans’ and ‘Prepare Reports’. Based on this requirement, we need to implement role based, single sign on security for this application.

6.2. Solution architecture

We can use ‘Windows Authentication’ to provide role-based, single sign on security to this application. In order to enable Windows Authentication, we need to configure IIS directory settings to ‘Integrated Windows Authentication’. This will enable IIS to get the client credentials and pass it on to the ASP.NET application.

In this case study, we use custom Windows authorization. Using the WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate event handler, we create a GenericPrincipal object from a WindowsIdentity object. The reasons for choosing a custom authorization are listed below:

  1. The application roles are not related to Windows groups, and
  2. The application files are not physically grouped based on the roles.

The application also requires a few additional ‘administrative’ screens to manage the user-roles and authentication information. The user screen should display all the user names from ‘Active Directory’ so that the administrator can select only those users who need to access the application. This screen should also allow the admin to assign any of the following three roles to the user – ‘MD’, ‘CST’, or ‘AM’. This information is stored in a separate ‘Users’ table in the database.

On session startup, the application has to check the client credentials sent by IIS against that stored in the database. If it does not find a match, it has to report an attempt for unauthorized access and exit the application. If the client credentials match, then it constructs a client cookie which stores the user credentials and the role information. For subsequent requests, instead of hitting the database for validating the client-credentials, the application makes use of this client-cookie. In order to secure the client cookie, using the ‘user identity’ and ‘role’ information, we create a FormsAuthenticationTicket. This FormsAuthenticationTicket is then passed as the parameter to the Encrypt method of the FormsAuthentication class to get an encrypted string of FormsAuthenticationTicket. This string is then stored in a client cookie.

On each request, if the user is authenticated, the application creates a security Principal object and stores the user-role information in it. Then this Principal object is put in HttpContext.Current.User. On each Page_Load event, the application can access the Principal object from HttpContext.Current.User and validate whether the user role is authorized to access the page.

6.3. Implementation details

6.3.1. Configure IIS security settings for the application

In the IIS security settings for the application, check ‘Integrated Windows Authentication’ and uncheck all other options.

6.3.2. Web.Config entries for Windows Authentication

In Web.config, under the System.Web tag, put the following entries:

<authenticationmode="Windows"/>
<authorization>
< allow users ="*" />
</authorization>

If you want to make sub processes (e.g.: Web Services), use the same credentials of the main thread using the following entry:

<identityimpersonate="true"/>

6.3.3. User management screens

As already stated in the ‘Solution Architecture’ section, the application should have screens for ‘user management’. Using this screen, the administrator can map AD-user names against application roles. In this application, the user-roles are predefined hard-coded values - ‘MD’, ‘CST’, and ‘AM’. The application-administrator can either directly type in the AD-user name or the application may display all the AD-user names so that the administrator can select the user names. In order to display the AD-usernames, the application can query the Windows Active Directory using the .NET base class System.DirectoryServices.

6.3.4. Security Principal object

Create a class which implements the System.Security.Principal.IPrincipal interface.

using System;
using System.Security.Principal;
public class myAppPrincipal:IPrincipal
{
    private IIdentity       m_identity;
    private string []       m_roles;
    private string            m_userId;
    public MyAppPrincipal(IIdentity identity, string [] roles)
    {
         m_identity = identity;
         m_roles = new string[roles.Length];
         roles.CopyTo(m_roles, 0);
         Array.Sort(m_roles);
         m_userId = identity.Name;
    }
    public IIdentity Identity
    {
         get
         {
              return m_identity;
         }
    }
    public string UserId
    {
         get
         {
              return m_userId;
         }
         set 
         {
              m_userId = value;
         }
    }
    public bool IsInRole(string role)
    {
         return Array.BinarySearch(m_roles, role) >=0 ? true : false;
    }
}

6.3.5. Checking Authentication and identifying roles

The most important part of implementing security is to ensure that on each request, the application verifies the authentication and resolves the user role. For this purpose, we make use of the following global application level events:

  • WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate(Object source, WindowsAuthenticationEventArgs e)
  • Application_AuthenticateRequest(Object sender, EventArgs e)

These events are raised automatically on each request.

WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate is raised first. In the corresponding method, we implement the following logic:

  1. Check whether authenticationCookie for the application exists. If so, return from the method. If it does not exist, continue with the next steps.
  2. Extract the AD-user name sent by IIS. It is available in the event argument as e.Identity.Name.
  3. Query the database for application-roles against this user-name.
  4. Create a Forms Authentication ticket and embed a string of user roles in it.
  5. Create a new applicationauthenticationCookie and store the encrypted Forms Authentication ticket in it.

Inside the method for the Application_AuthenticateRequest event, do the following.

  1. Read applicationauthenticationCookie and re-create the Forms Authentication ticket.
  2. Read the user roles from the Forms Authentication ticket and create an object of the Principal object which contains these user-roles.
  3. Store this Principal object in HttpContext.Current.User.

The following code shows the implementation of these tasks:

protected void WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate(Object source, 
               WindowsAuthenticationEventArgs e)
{
    if(Request.Cookies.Get("authCookie") != null)
        return;
    string strUserIdentity;
    string strUserRoles;
    FormsAuthenticationTicket formsAuthTicket;
    HttpCookie httpCook;
    String strEncryptedTicket;
    strUserIdentity = e.Identity.Name; 
    strUserRoles = GetUserRoles(strUserIdentity); // "MD|CST|AM" from DB
    formsAuthTicket = new FormsAuthenticationTicket(1, strUserIdentity, DateTime.Now, 
    DateTime.Now.AddMinutes(60), false, strUserRoles);
    strEncryptedTicket = FormsAuthentication.Encrypt(formsAuthTicket);
    httpCook = new HttpCookie("authCookie", strEncryptedTicket);
    Response.Cookies.Add(httpCook);
}

protected void Application_AuthenticateRequest(Object sender, EventArgs e)
{
    FormsAuthenticationTicket formsAuthTicket;
    HttpCookie httpCook;
    GenericIdentity objGenericIdentity;
    myAppPrincipal objMyAppPrincipal;
    string[] strRoles;
    httpCook = Context.Request.Cookies.Get("authCookie");
    formsAuthTicket = FormsAuthentication.Decrypt(httpCook.Value);
    objGenericIdentity = new GenericIdentity(formsAuthTicket.Name);
    strRoles = formsAuthTicket.UserData.Split('|');
    objMyAppPrincipal = new myAppPrincipal(objGenericIdentity, strRoles);
    HttpContext.Current.User = objMyAppPrincipal;
}

6.3.6. Checking role based Authorization

On the Page_Load of each web page, check whether the user current-role available in HttpContext.Current.User is allowed to access the page. If not, then redirect to a common page showing the message ‘You are not authorized to view this page’.

7. Summary

  • Providing application security is an important aspect of ensuring information security.
  • Authentication helps to verify that the user is, in fact, who the user claims to be. The application obtains credentials (various forms of identification, such as name and password) from a user and validates those credentials against some authority. If the credentials are valid, the entity that submitted the credentials is considered an authenticated identity. Authorization limits access rights by granting or denying specific permissions to an authenticated identity.
  • ASP.NET uses Windows authentication in conjunction with Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) authentication. When IIS authentication is complete, ASP.NET uses the authenticated identity to authorize access.
  • In ASP.NET, Windows Authentication can be used along with either ‘Windows role’ based authorization or ‘Custom authorization’. In ‘Windows role’ based authorization, access to the application folder for Windows users/groups is granted/denied as per the setting in web.config. Whereas in ‘custom authorization’, this logic is implemented programmatically.

8. Abbreviations

Abbreviation Expansion
AD Active Directory
IIS Internet Information Services
MD Master Data
CST Central Support Team
AM Area Manager

9. Reference

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

josekonoor
Web Developer
India India
Pls visit my site at www.geocities.com/josekonoor
 
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Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinprofessionalketan italiya17-Jul-13 20:59 
Generallogin programmatically to a web site.. Pinmemberntc07254-Aug-08 22:54 
GeneralRegarding Active directory PinmemberDhananjayShenolikar27-May-07 20:04 
QuestionGlobal events being called twice PinmemberMincyGeorge12-Feb-07 5:00 
AnswerRe: Global events being called twice PinmemberTim McCurdy27-May-08 5:03 
GeneralHelp me! asp.net web Application Authentication For SmartCard Pinmemberboydevelop7-Feb-07 17:49 
AnswerRe: Help me! asp.net web Application Authentication For SmartCard Pinmemberjosekonoor23-Feb-07 21:19 
GeneralWindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate called multiple times PinmemberHameer Saleem4-Dec-06 18:23 
GeneralRe: WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate called multiple times PinmemberHameer Saleem4-Dec-06 18:27 
GeneralRe: WindowsAuthentication_OnAuthenticate called multiple times PinmemberTim McCurdy27-May-08 5:04 
QuestionHow to Logout the User PinmemberHameer Saleem19-Nov-06 20:52 
AnswerRe: How to Logout the User Pinmemberjosekonoor23-Nov-06 19:41 
GeneralRe: How to Logout the User Pinmemberricksj18-Jan-07 17:40 
GeneralBravo PinmemberHameer Saleem5-Nov-06 23:12 
GeneralRe: Bravo Pinmemberjosekonoor8-Nov-06 1:37 
QuestionCookie Value Not Persisting Pinmemberscommisso27-Oct-06 11:02 
AnswerRe: Cookie Value Not Persisting Pinmemberjosekonoor8-Nov-06 1:43 
AnswerRe: Cookie Value Not Persisting PinmemberTim McCurdy27-May-08 5:06 
AnswerRe: Cookie Value Not Persisting PinmemberPradeep Babu Yadagani31-Jan-10 6:45 
QuestionCheers and a request PinmemberLeonelCorso29-Jun-06 9:24 
AnswerRe: Cheers and a request Pinmemberjosekonoor29-Jun-06 17:44 
GeneralSingle Sign on using 'windows role' Pinmemberstarbros6-Jun-06 11:30 
GeneralRe: Single Sign on using 'windows role' [modified] Pinmemberjosekonoor6-Jun-06 20:49 
GeneralEvents in Global file Pinmembershashankkadge8-May-06 5:08 
GeneralRe: Events in Global file Pinmemberjosekonoor18-May-06 20:25 

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