Welcome!

Java IoT Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Stackify Blog, Pat Romanski, Jason Bloomberg

Related Topics: Java IoT, Recurring Revenue

Java IoT: Article

Whatever Happened to JAAS?

JAAS has come a long way since it was an option for JDK 1.3.1

Introduced in 1995, Java has firmly established itself as a mature mainstream programming language for enterprises. The Java platform security model has evolved over the years to meet new requirements, and today enterprise Java developers have a large number of APIs and services to choose from to fulfill their security needs.

Originally touted as a secure runtime environment for downloadable executables (applets), Java platform security received a lot of attention early on and the rather inflexible security model was quickly identified as a weakness in the system. With the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE), Sun revamped the Java platform security model and introduced a fine-grained, flexible, and extensible security model for code-based security. This new model has largely been a success but it was restricted to code-based security. This makes sense for browser-based deployment environments but is not as relevant for server-side deployments. To address this gap, Java Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS) was introduced as an optional package for Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.3.1, and subsequently integrated into JDK 1.4.

Sun officially announced Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 1.0 in 2000. Just as Java became the mainstream programming language of choice, Java EE has been widely adopted as the primary application platform for enterprises. But the security needs of enterprise applications are quite different from those of downloadable executable code, so Java EE defined its own security model that is declarative, consistent, and portable across Java EE implementations.

JAAS was included officially as part of the Java EE 1.3 specification. Unfortunately, Java EE 1.3 did not attempt to resolve the differences between the Java EE security model and JAAS, which made it more difficult to deploy off-the-shelf JAAS login modules in some vendors' implementations.

State of Java EE Security
In this section, we'll provide a brief overview of the main players in the Java EE security landscape.

Java EE Declarative Security
Java EE defines a declarative and portable security model that applies to both Web and Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) modules and applications. The main goal of the declarative security model is to decouple security concerns from business application logic, so enterprise application developers can focus on the main business functions and services provided by the applications without worrying about
security.

The Java EE declarative security model applies to the servlet container and the EJB container. The servlet container security model is based on URL patterns, whereas the EJB security model is method-based.

For security-aware applications, Java EE also defines a programmatic API to handle more advanced security needs.

JAAS
Introduced as an option for JDK 1.3.1 and incorporated into J2EE 1.4, today JAAS has been quite widely adopted by commercial and open source vendors as the primary pluggable authentication framework for SE and EE applications alike.

JAAS defines a framework for subject-based authentication and authorization in a pluggable manner, decoupling applications from underlying security implementations.

Key components of JAAS include:

  • The definition of subject (javax.security.auth.Subject)
  • An authentication API (javax.security.auth.login.LoginContext) that supports pluggable and stacked authentications
  • An authentication SPI (javax.security.auth.spi.LoginModule) for pluggable authentication mechanisms
  • A configuration contract for configuring and associating login modules with applications
  • A typesafe callback contract (javax.security.auth.callback) for services to communicate with applications
  • The definition of SubjectDomainCombiner (javax.security.auth.SubjectDomainCombiner) for dynamically updating the protection domains with the principals from the subject, for integration with the J2EE security model

Figure 1 illustrates the JAAS authentication architecture.

The JAAS authentication framework has been stable since JAAS 1.0 - there were some very minor changes (the introduction of a LoginContext constructor that takes a configuration as an argument for dynamic configuration of login modules, for example), but in general applications written on top of JAAS 1.0 (JDK 1.3.1) continue to work without modification today (JDK 6.0). Perhaps more remarkable, login modules written to the JAAS 1.0 SPI can be plugged into today's applications, which reflects well on the overall design of the API.

Figure 2 illustrates the typical authentication call sequence.

Note that the application developer is largely decoupled from underlying login module implementations - especially if the login module implementation only uses the standard callbacks.

When integrating JAAS authentication with Java EE implementations, however, a number of thorny issues arise.

  • Although JAAS uses subject to represent a user, Java EE uses principal. A subject can - and usually does - contain multiple (custom) principal instances, so there must be a mechanism whereby a container can determine the principal instance representing the caller or user.
  • The standard JAAS callbacks are useful and valuable for Java Platform, Standard Edition applications, but they do not cover typical enterprise deployment scenarios. For instance, there is no standard definition of HttpServletRequestCallback or HttpServletResponseCallback, so if a login module provider needs to access the HttpServletRequest object (say to retrieve a HTTP header value), the
    login module provider must resort to a vendor-specific API, compromising portability.

Java Specification Request 196
When this was written, Java Specification Request (JSR) 196 was slated to be included as part of Java EE 6.0.

Figure 3 depicts the JSR 196 generic message processing model and the four interaction points.

This generic model applies to any message-processing runtime that integrates with JSR 196. The reader is encouraged to peruse JSR 196 for more details.

As part of JSR 196, a servlet container profile is defined, clarifying how servlet container implementations can integrate with this contract. When this was written, this profile is under consideration as a Java EE 6.0 requirement.

JSR 196 defines a standard SPI for authentication providers. Therefore, the interfaces introduced by JSR 196 are primarily used by Java EE container vendors. Consequently, Java EE application developers are not directly affected by a container vendor's uptake of this SPI.

On the other hand, JSR 196 directly addresses a few long-standing problems in the JAAS/Java EE landscape, namely determining a standard way to obtain user principals and group principals.

JAAS, being a flexible, pluggable standard, allows any login module to define its own custom principal type(s) and populate the custom principal instance(s) into the subject. But because the custom principal type(s) are not known to the container, the container can only determine which principal represents the caller's identity by introducing CallerPrincipalCallback. JSR 196 addresses this issue. The ServerAuthModules can indicate to the container which principal instance represents the caller, and you can ensure that getUserPrincipal and getRemoteUser return the correct and expected value instead of leaving it to the mercy of the vendor's implementation details.

The need to obtain group principals is an equally fundamental issue. This is addressed by introduction of GroupPrincipalCallback in JSR 196.

Conclusion
JAAS has come a long way since it was an option for JDK 1.3.1. With the introduction of JSR 196 in Java EE 6.0, many of the thorny issues that exist today will finally be addressed. JAAS has certainly evolved, and it looks to be well positioned to have a place in the enterprise marketplace for years to come.

•   •   •

SOAP Box: The Talented Callback Handler
One of the most versatile components introduced by JAAS is the typesafe callback contract (javax.security.auth.callback). We assume the reader is already familiar with the commonly used NameCallback and PasswordCallback through which the security services (login modules) obtain user name and password information. However, the callback contract is actually a generic two-way communication model that can be applied in many circumstances, both security-related and not.

For instance, JSR 196 takes advantage of the callback contract by defining a CallerPrincipalCallback whereby a security service (such as ServerAuthModule) can communicate with the container (or application) that the principal instance represents, solving a long-standing issue. JSR 115 defines a similar callback contract (javax.security.jacc.PolicyContextHandler) that enables the container to communicate additional contextual information to the policy provider to support advanced security policies such as the instance-based security model. In fact, with the callback model, notions such as XACML-styled obligations can be supported as well, without affecting existing APIs.

Finally, JSR 196 creates a bridge to JAAS login modules, helping to preserve existing investments in JAAS. It also properly decouples JAAS login modules from any protocol-specific processing. In the past, attempts to create a JAAS login module to integrate with a single sign-on solution failed because there was no portable way to access the HttpRequest/Response objects. JSR196 solves that issue - not by making HttpRequest/Response objects available to JAAS login modules, but by cleanly separating the component that deals with protocol-specific processing from the component that deals with credential validation (the JAAS login module). We believe this is the right approach.

When this was written, Glassfish was the only major Java EE provider that supports JSR 196, but the servlet container profile was slated to be part of Java EE 6.0, so you can expect major Java EE vendors to support this contract as well.

•   •   •

SOAP Box: Why JSR 196?
The benefits of JSR 196 include:

  • It is sufficiently rich to enable implementations of complex authentication protocols
  • It is portable across component containers and servers
    -WORA capabilities for server-side authentication modules
    -Application-level binding supports application-level authentication configurations and mechanisms
    -Security-aware enterprise applications can remain portable
  • It properly delegates security processing to ServerAuthModules, which are registered/configured at the container level and can be associated with applications
  • It supports and preserves the existing declarative Java EE security model, auth-constraint processing, and the like
  • It defines a servlet container profile and a SOAP profile (with Java Message Service, Internet Inter-ORB Protocol, and the like) to be defined in the future

By supporting JSR196, Java EE vendors benefit by leveraging the available ServerAuthModule implementations for competitive advantages.

How about Servlet Filters? Servlet filter is a very useful mechanism, but servlet filters must be configured as part of the application (via web.xml) and are considered part of the application. In fact, by the time a servlet filter is invoked, the authentication has already happened and auth-constraints have already been processed. That does not mean we cannot use servlet filters for security needs, but there are some undesirable tradeoffs with this approach.

How about Spring Security? Spring is perhaps the most important de facto application framework in use today, and Spring security (formerly ACEGI security) is the main security framework provided by Spring. It takes advantage of Spring-styled configuration, aspect-oriented programming, and inversion of control technologies. Not surprisingly, Spring security uses a filter-based approach. Users must configure a series of filters as part of the application, and then Spring security effectively replaces Java EE container security. To compensate, Spring security provides its own security model based on URL patterns, and provides features typically found in servlet container implementations. The features offered by Spring security are indeed valuable and should not be underestimated - and aside from servlet filters, there are few other options available today. However, there are inevitably tradeoffs involved when this method is employed, and users should be aware of them. In fact, when JSR 196 becomes readily available, we expect some of the features implemented via servlet filters be folded into ServerAuthModule implementations.

More Stories By Raymond K. Ng

Raymond K. Ng has been a professional software developer for 15 years and has been involved in high-scale enterprise Java development since JDK 1.0. He currently serves as architect and development lead of Oracle Platform Security Services (OPSS) and serves on the JCP Expert Groups for JSR 115 (JACC) and JSR 196. Raymond is a Consulting Member of the Technical Staff at Oracle Corporation and is the holder of multiple patents.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
jtp51 02/04/10 10:45:00 AM EST

Good article, with the emphasis on security in large corporations as where I am at, understanding not only JAAS but best practice security for applications is a must.

@ThingsExpo Stories
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dr. Robert Cohen, an economist and senior fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute, presented the findings of a series of six detailed case studies of how large corporations are implementing IoT. The session explored how IoT has improved their economic performance, had major impacts on business models and resulted in impressive ROIs. The companies covered span manufacturing and services firms. He also explored servicification, how manufacturing firms shift from se...
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Channels, a cybersecurity firm, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Channels, Inc. offers several products and solutions to its many clients, helping them protect critical data from being compromised and access to computer networks from the unauthorized. The company develops comprehensive data encryption security strategie...
An increasing number of companies are creating products that combine data with analytical capabilities. Running interactive queries on Big Data requires complex architectures to store and query data effectively, typically involving data streams, an choosing efficient file format/database and multiple independent systems that are tied together through custom-engineered pipelines. In his session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Tomer Levi, a senior software engineer at Intel’s Advanced Analytics ...
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, shared examples from a wide range of industries – including en...
Detecting internal user threats in the Big Data eco-system is challenging and cumbersome. Many organizations monitor internal usage of the Big Data eco-system using a set of alerts. This is not a scalable process given the increase in the number of alerts with the accelerating growth in data volume and user base. Organizations are increasingly leveraging machine learning to monitor only those data elements that are sensitive and critical, autonomously establish monitoring policies, and to detect...
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. Jack Norris reviews best practices to show how companies develop, deploy, and dynamically update these applications and how this data-first...
Intelligent Automation is now one of the key business imperatives for CIOs and CISOs impacting all areas of business today. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Brian Boeggeman, VP Alliances & Partnerships at Ayehu, will talk about how business value is created and delivered through intelligent automation to today’s enterprises. The open ecosystem platform approach toward Intelligent Automation that Ayehu delivers to the market is core to enabling the creation of the self-driving enterprise.
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, will provide a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
Because IoT devices are deployed in mission-critical environments more than ever before, it’s increasingly imperative they be truly smart. IoT sensors simply stockpiling data isn’t useful. IoT must be artificially and naturally intelligent in order to provide more value In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Engineering System Architect at Greenwave Systems, will discuss how IoT artificial intelligence (AI) can be carried out via edge analytics and machine learning techn...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arvind Radhakrishnen discussed how IoT offers new business models in banking and financial services organizations with the capability to revolutionize products, payments, channels, business processes and asset management built on strong architectural foundation. The following topics were covered: How IoT stands to impact various business parameters including customer experience, cost and risk management within BFS organizations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, will introduce two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a...