18.3 Authentication

ASP.NET supports four authentication modes: None, Windows, Forms, and Passport. Enable these authentication modes using a combination of IIS administration, configuration settings, and code. Configure different authentication modes for different ASP.NET applications using settings in your application's Web.config file; however, you cannot configure authentication modes below the level of an application root.

Understand that before a client request reaches your ASP.NET application, it must pass through IIS authentication. The result of IIS authentication provides the input that drives the .NET authentication mechanism. For the Windows authentication of ASP.NET, IIS authentication provides your application with the information about the authenticated Windows user. However, for the None, Forms, and Passport authentication modes, it is most likely that you will want to turn off IIS authentication by enabling anonymous access to IIS.

Unless you enable impersonation (discussed in Section 18.5 later in this chapter), ASP.NET authentication has no effect on the Windows user context under which your ASP.NET application executes. Your application executes in the context of the ASP.NET worker process identity, which we discussed in the previous section. ASP.NET authentication controls the identity and principal assigned to your ASP.NET application. We introduced the concepts of identities and principals in Chapter 10 and showed how to use them to enforce role-based security.

In the following sections, we discuss each of the ASP.NET authentication modes, but first we summarize the IIS authentication modes, which you must configure correctly to make ASP.NET authentication and impersonation function.

18.3.1 Configuring IIS Authentication Modes

IIS supports a variety of authentication modes, which are configured through Internet Services Manager. IIS allows you to configure authentication down to the individual file level, and enable multiple authentication mechanisms simultaneously.

Enabling anonymous authentication means that IIS will not force a client to authenticate regardless of whether other authentication mechanisms are enabled. This is often a source of confusion and unexpected behavior. For any other form of IIS authentication to work, you must disable anonymous authentication.

To configure the IIS authentication mode for a folder or file, you must select it in Internet Service Manager, open its properties window, and select the Directory Security tab. From the Anonymous access and authentication control group on this tab, click the Edit button to open the Authentication Methods window shown in Figure 18-2. Figure 18-2 shows the Authentication Methods window as it appears for IIS Version 5.1 running on Windows XP Professional.

Figure 18-2. Configuring IIS authentication modes

The Authentication Methods window allows you to configure four of the five authentication mechanisms supported by IIS. Except for anonymous access, each method depends on a client application providing credentials that IIS can map to a valid Windows user account. If the credentials do not match a valid Windows account, IIS rejects the client request. This dependency on Windows user accounts is the key factor you must consider when deciding to implement IIS authentication and ASP.NET Windows authentication (which we discuss later in this section). For large-scale, web-based, and cross-platform projects, depending on a Windows user accounts database may be inappropriate. We summarize each of the IIS authentication mechanisms here:

Anonymous access

Anonymous access is more an absence of authentication than an authentication mechanism. IIS accepts requests from any user and does not try to authenticate them. The User name and Password boxes allow you to specify the credentials of a Windows account under which the ASP.NET worker process runs if impersonation is enabled, which we discuss in Section 18.5 later in this chapter.

Basic authentication

When a client requests a resource protected by Basic authentication, IIS challenges the client to provide a username and password. The client application responds by sending the username and password details across the network in clear text, meaning that Basic authentication is inappropriate for secure applications unless you use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) to provide a secure connection between your server and the client.

Digest authentication

Digest authentication operates in the same way as Basic authentication, but the client passes a hash of the user's password across the network instead of the clear text password. This makes Digest authentication more secure than Basic authentication but requires the IIS Server to be a member of a Windows domain that uses Active Directory to contain its user accounts. Only Active Directory allows IIS to access a user's password in such a way as to allow IIS to verify the hashed password provided by the client.

Integrated Windows authentication

When IIS challenges a client to provide user credentials, the client application does not prompt the user for account information; instead, it extracts the necessary details from the operating system based on the currently logged-on user. Credentials are communicated using Windows authentication protocols, which ensure that passwords are not sent across the network. However, the dependence on client-side Windows account information and Windows authentication protocols limits the clients with which this type of authentication can be used.

Client Certificate authentication

Client Certificate authentication requires every client to have an X509 digital certificate. Each certificate maps to a specific Windows user account. When a client makes a request, it contains the client's certificate. IIS validates the certificate and determines which Windows user is making the request. Unlike the other authentication mechanisms listed here, you do not configure Client Certificate authentication using the interface shown in Figure 18-2. Compared to the other authentication mechanisms, Client Certificate authentication requires significant configuration and management to implement correctly; consult the IIS documentation for details on how to configure Client Certificate authentication.

18.3.2 No Authentication

If you are not concerned about authenticating users, or intend to use some custom authentication mechanism implemented within your ASP.NET application, you can turn off ASP.NET authentication with the following configuration file setting:

<configuration>   <system.web>     <authentication mode="None">   </system.web> </configuration>

Even if you are not concerned about using ASP.NET authentication mechanisms, you can still enable IIS authentication so that you can allow only permitted Windows users to access your application. To allow truly unrestricted access to your application, enable anonymous access to IIS.

18.3.3 Windows Authentication

Windows authentication relies on IIS to authenticate any inbound requests using one of its built-in Basic, Digest, Integrated, or Client Certificate Certificate authentication mechanisms before the request reaches your ASP.NET application. As long as IIS anonymous authentication is not enabled, IIS will ensure that the requesting user has a valid Windows account and pass the authenticated user's information to the ASP.NET application.

With Windows authentication enabled, the ASP.NET application principal is set to an instance of System.Security.Principal.WindowsPrincipal configured to represent the authenticated Windows user. See Chapter 10 for details on how you can use the WindowsPrincipal object to enforce role-based security within your ASP.NET application.

To enable Windows authentication, configure the <authentication> element as shown in the following example:

<configuration>   <system.web>     <authentication mode="Windows">   </system.web> </configuration>

18.3.4 Forms Authentication

Windows authentication requires users of your ASP.NET application to have Windows user accounts. As we have mentioned, for large web-based and cross-platform applications, this may not be feasible or desirable. Forms authentication allows you to implement a custom authentication mechanism where you can authenticate users against any type of authority.

To use Forms authentication, you should enable IIS anonymous access. If you do not have anonymous access enabled, IIS will force all clients to authenticate using whatever mechanism is enabled prior to running the Forms authentication mechanism; this is not normally the desired behavior.

Forms authentication relies on URL authorization to trigger the authentication process; we discuss URL authorization in Section 18.4 later in this chapter. For now, it is enough to understand that authorization controls the application resources an authenticated user is permitted to access. The Forms authentication process works as follows:

  1. The client requests a resource from your ASP.NET application for which you have configured authorization checks for example, the Main.aspx file.

  2. ASP.NET checks for an authentication cookie in the client request. If no cookie is found, the client is redirected to an HTML page where they can enter their credentials usually a username and password.

  3. The user submits her credentials to your ASP.NET application, and you authenticate them against whatever authority you have decided to use commonly a database or directory server.

  4. If the user's credentials are valid, ASP.NET creates an authentication cookie and sends it back to the client along with a redirection to the resource that she originally requested.

  5. In future requests, the authentication cookie will exist, and so ASP.NET will not redirect the client to the authentication page, as long as the cookie has not expired.

Although ASP.NET provides much of the infrastructure and a number of utility classes to simplify the Forms authentication process, much of the implementation comes down to you. In the following sections, we implement a simple Forms authentication mechanism to demonstrate the steps required. The example consists of three files: Web.config, Logon.aspx, and Main.aspx.

To run the application, place each of these files in a folder accessible through IIS, and configure the folder as an application root using Internet Service Manager. In the two .aspx pages, there are only small sections of code, which we include inline instead of in code-behind files. In any but the most trivial of ASP.NET application, we recommend that you use code-behind modules to improve the readability and maintainability of your application.

During the Forms authentication process, a user's credentials are sent over the network in clear text. You must encrypt the underlying network communications using SSL or TLS if you want to protect the user's credentials during authentication. Configuring Forms authentication

The first step in implementing Forms authentication is to configure your ASP.NET application. The following Web.config file demonstrates each of the configuration elements that affect Forms authentication:

<configuration>   <system.web>     <authentication mode="Forms">       <forms name="ProgDotNetSecurity" loginUrl="Logon.aspx" protection="All"        timeout="180" path="/" requireSSL="false" slidingExpiration="true">         <credentials passwordFormat="Clear">           <user name="Alice" password="secret1"/>           <user name="Bob" password="secret2"/>           <user name="Eve" password="secret3"/>         </credentials>       </forms>     </authentication>     <authorization>       <deny users="?"/>     </authorization>   </system.web> </configuration>

Most essential is the <authentication mode="Forms"> element, which is the main switch to tell ASP.NET that you want to use Forms authentication. The child <forms> element configures some aspects of the Forms authentication process and the structure of the authentication cookie that ASP.NET will create. The most important attribute is loginUrl, which specifies the URL to where ASP.NET will redirect an unauthenticated client request. We specify the Logon.aspx file, which will reside in the same folder as this Web.config file and the rest of our sample application.

The <credentials> element and its child <user> elements provide a static authority against which you can authenticate named users. In our example, we have defined three user accounts: Alice, Bob, and Eve. Passwords for each account can be stored in clear text, as we have done in the example, or hashed using either SHA-1 or MD5; the passwordFormat attribute of the <credentials> element specifies the password format. Use of the <credentials> element is optional; though it is easy to use and useful for testing purposes, it rarely provides a suitable solution for a secure production system.

Table 18-2 lists the attributes of the <forms>, <credentials>, and <user> elements and describes their purpose.

Table 18-2. Attributes of the forms, credentials, and user elements



<forms> element attributes



The name of the cookie your application uses for ASP.NET Forms authentication. Defaults to .ASPXAUTH.


If no authentication cookie is found in a client request, the client is redirected to the specified URL for authentication.


Specifies the type of encryption to use for cookies. Possible values are All, None, Encryption, and Validation.


An integer value that specifies the number of minutes after creation at which the authentication cookie expires. If slidingExpiration is true, timeout specifies the number of minutes from when the cookie was last used before it expires. The timeout value affects only session cookies; persistent cookies do not time out.


The path for the cookie. It is best to leave this as its default value (/) to avoid the problem of browsers not correctly returning authentication cookies due to case-mismatch issues.


Specifies whether a secure connection is required to transmit the authentication cookie. Valid values are true and false.


Specifies whether sliding expiration is enabled, which resets an authentication cookie's expiration time each time it is used. Valid values are true and false.

<credentials> element attributes



Specifies the algorithm used to generate the hashed passwords listed for any contained <user> elements. Possible values are Clear, MD5, and SHA1. Clear means that passwords are listed in clear text; MD5 and SHA1 identify the specific hashing algorithm used to encrypt the password. For a complete description of hashing algorithms, see Chapter 13.

<user> element attributes



The user's name.


The user's password encoded using the mechanism specified in the passwordFormat attribute of the enclosing <credentials> element. It is important to understand that passwords encoded using the SHA-1 or MD5 hashing algorithms cannot be converted back to their original clear-text password. For a complete description of hashing algorithms, see Chapter 13.

Also critical to the Forms authentication configuration is the <authorization> element, which lists the application resources that require authorization to access. The need for authorization is what triggers ASP.NET to enforce Forms authentication. If a client tries to access an application resource (SomeFile.aspx), for example, that does not require authorization; the client will not be required to have an authentication cookie. We discuss the syntax of the <authorization> element in Section 18.4 later in this chapter. For now, it is enough to know that the configuration shown here means that all anonymous users are denied access to all files; this requires all client request to have an authentication cookie. Creating the logon page

Following the configuration of our ASP.NET application, the next step is to create a login page. This is the page where ASP.NET redirects all unauthenticated user requests. Remember that client requests containing a valid authentication cookie are routed directly to the requested application resource; only those without an authentication cookie are redirected to the login page.

In our Web.config file in the previous section, we used the loginUrl attribute of the <forms> elements to specify that the name of our login page is Logon.aspx, and that it is located in the application directory; Logon.aspx displays the interface shown in Figure 18-3.

Figure 18-3. Forms authentication logon page

The following code implements the Logon.aspx page; most of the code is responsible for drawing the static interface elements. After the user enters his credentials and clicks on Logon, the Logon_Click method executes. We have highlighted the two lines that perform the most crucial elements of the Forms authentication:

# C# <html>   <script language="C#" runat="server">     void Logon_Click(Object sender, EventArgs e) {       // Perform authentication of the user credentials.       // Use the static FormsAuthentication.Authenticate method       // to authenticate the credentials against those contained       // in the <credentials> element of Web.config.       if (FormsAuthentication.Authenticate(Name.Text,Password.Text)) {                // Credentials OK, redirect to originally requested page.         FormsAuthentication.RedirectFromLoginPage(Name.Text,true);       }     }   </script>        <body>     <h2>Forms Authentication Example - Logon Page</h2>     <form  method="post" runat="server">       <table>         <tr align="right">           <td>User Name : </td>           <td><asp:TextBox  runat="server"/></td>         </tr>         <tr align="right">           <td>Password : </td>           <td><asp:TextBox  runat="server"/></td>         </tr>         <tr align="center">           <td colspan="2">             <asp:Button  runat="server" Text="Logon"                OnClick="Logon_Click"/>           </td>         </tr>                      </table>       </form>   </body> </html> # Visual Basic .NET <html>   <script language="vb" runat="server">     Sub Logon_Click(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As EventArgs)       ' Perform authentication of the user credentials.       ' Use the static FormsAuthentication.Authenticate method       ' to authenticate the credentials against those contained       ' in the <credentials> element of Web.config.       If FormsAuthentication.Authenticate(Name.Text,Password.Text) Then                ' Credentials OK, redirect to originally requested page.         FormsAuthentication.RedirectFromLoginPage(Name.Text, True)       End If     End Sub   </script>        <body>     <h2>Forms Authentication Example - Logon Page</h2>     <form  method="post" runat="server">       <table>         <tr align="right">           <td>User Name : </td>           <td><asp:TextBox  runat="server"/></td>         </tr>         <tr align="right">           <td>Password : </td>           <td><asp:TextBox  runat="server"/></td>         </tr>         <tr align="center">           <td colspan="2">             <asp:Button  runat="server" Text="Logon"                OnClick="Logon_Click"/>           </td>         </tr>                      </table>       </form>   </body> </html>

The first highlighted line calls the static FormsAuthentication.Authenticate method, which looks at the users you have defined in the <credentials> element of our Web.config file. If the supplied username and password match one of the listed user accounts, the Authenticate method returns true, and you should authenticate the user. Note that you could use any mechanism at this point to authenticate the user; we have used the Web.config <credentials> element for simplicity. It would be more common to reference a database or directory to authenticate a user in most production systems.

The System.Web.Security.FormsAuthentication class provides a set of static helper members for use during the processing of Forms logon requests and the management of authentication cookies. Refer to the .NET Framework documentation for a complete description of available functionality.

The second highlighted line calls the static FormsAuthentication.RedirectFromLoginPage method once you have authenticated the user's credentials successfully. The first argument to the RedirectFromLoginPage method is the name of the authenticated user. This is stored in the authentication cookie.

On future client requests, ASP.NET extracts the username from the authentication cookie and creates a System.Web.Security.FormsIdentity object from it; FormsIdentity implements the System.Security.Principal.IIdentity interface. ASP.NET places the FormsIdentity inside a System.Security.Principal.GenericPrincipal object, which it assigns to the ASP.NET process.

The second argument to the RedirectFromLoginPage method is a Boolean, which specifies whether the authentication cookie should be persisted or remain valid only for the session. In this instance, we have specified true in order to persist the cookie. Creating the protected page

The Web.config and Logon.aspx files are all that is required to implement simple Forms authentication. With the configuration specified, any request for an ASP.NET application resource in the application must contain a valid authentication cookie, or ASP.NET will redirect the request to the Logon.aspx page.

To complete our example, we create a page named Main.aspx. The Main.aspx page presents the user with the interface shown in Figure 18-4. It shows the identity represented by the current thread's principal (accessed using System.Threading.Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name) and the Windows account under which the ASP.NET worker process is executing (accessed through System.Security.Principal.WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent( ).Name).

Figure 18-4. Forms authentication protected page

Example 18-1 contains the code for Main.aspx. Most of the code implements the static user interface elements or displays the user identity details when the page is first loaded. However, we have included a Logout button to demonstrate how to terminate a client session:

Example 18-1. Main.aspx
# C# <html>   <script language="C#" runat="server">     void Page_Load(Object sender, EventArgs e) {                // Initialize the Label values to show the Identity represented       // by the current thread's Principal and Windows access token.       Principal.Text =          System.Threading.Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name;       Token.Text =          System.Security.Principal.WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent(  ).Name;     }          void Logout_Click(Object sender, EventArgs e) {            // Remove the cookie       FormsAuthentication.SignOut(  );              // Redirect back to logon page       Response.Redirect("Main.aspx");     }   </script>                   <body>     <h1>Principal and Access Token Values</h1>       <form  method="post" runat="server">         <table>           <tr>             <td>PRINCIPAL [Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name] :</td>             <td><asp:Label  runat="server"/></td>           </tr>           <tr>             <td>TOKEN [WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent(  ).Name] :</asp:Label></td>             <td><asp:Label  runat="server"/></td>           </tr>           <tr align="center">             <td colspan="2">               <asp:Button  runat="server" Text="Logout"                 OnCLick="Logout_Click"/>             </td>           </tr>         </table>       </form>     </body> </html> # Visual Basic .NET <html>   <script language="vb" runat="server">     Sub Page_Load(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As EventArgs)                ' Initialize the Label values to show the Identity represented       ' by the current thread's Principal and Windows access token.       Principal.Text = _         System.Threading.Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name       Token.Text = _         System.Security.Principal.WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent(  ).Name     End Sub          Sub Logout_Click(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As EventArgs)            ' Remove the cookie       FormsAuthentication.SignOut(  )              ' Redirect back to logon page       Response.Redirect("Main.aspx")     End Sub   </script>                   <body>     <h1>Principal and Access Token Values</h1>       <form  method="post" runat="server">         <table>           <tr>             <td>PRINCIPAL [Thread.CurrentPrincipal.Identity.Name] :</td>             <td><asp:Label  runat="server"/></td>           </tr>           <tr>             <td>TOKEN [WindowsIdentity.GetCurrent(  ).Name] :</asp:Label></td>             <td><asp:Label  runat="server"/></td>           </tr>           <tr align="center">             <td colspan="2">               <asp:Button  runat="server" Text="Logout"                 OnCLick="Logout_Click"/>             </td>           </tr>         </table>       </form>     </body> </html>

When the user clicks the Logout button, ASP.NET executes the Logout_Click method, which contains two highlighted lines of code that constitute our logout functionality.

The first line calls the FormsAuthentication.SignOut method, which forces the deletion of the client's authentication cookie. In the second line, we call the Response.Redirect method to redirect the client back to the Main.aspx page. This causes the client to reload the current page, but because the client no longer has a valid authentication cookie, ASP.NET redirects the request to the Logon.aspx page for authentication.

18.3.5 Passport Authentication

Microsoft Passport .NET provides a suite of web-based services designed to centralize and simplify Internet authentication and purchasing. ASP.NET Passport authentication uses the single-sign-in (SSI) capabilities of Passport .NET to authenticate users requesting access to your ASP.NET applications.

SSI allows a you to use a single username and password to access all services that participate in the Passport .NET service. This frees you from having to remember multiple usernames and passwords, or ensuring that they are kept the same on all sites. As more web sites adopt the use of Passport .NET, the value of SSI will grow, making your web experience simpler and more pleasurable; however, to date the uptake has been limited.

The requirements of implementing Passport authentication make a useable demonstration beyond the scope of this book. You must install the Passport .NET SDK on your development machine, and learn how to use it. Then you need to license the Passport .NET service to use it from your web site, and you must have a publicly accessible domain name that the Passport .NET service can use to communicate with your site. Finally, all of your users need to create Passport .NET accounts to access your system. For further details on Microsoft Passport .NET, visit its home page at http://www.passport.net.

Programming. NET Security
Programming .Net Security
ISBN: 0596004427
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 346

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