Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Lisa Calkins, Pat Romanski, Mamoon Yunus

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Agile Computing

Cloud Security: Blog Feed Post

HTML5 WebSocket Security is Strong

Part 1 in a two-part blog post that discusses HTML5 WebSocket and security

This is a two-part blog post that discusses HTML5 WebSocket and security. In this, the first post, I will talk about the security benefits that come from being HTTP-compatible and the WebSocket standard itself. In the second post (coming soon) I will highlight some of the extra security capabilities that Kaazing WebSocket Gateway offers, things that real-world WebSocket applications will want to be fully secure.

A WebSocket connection starts its life as an HTTP handshake, which then upgrades in-place to speak the WebSocket wire protocol. As such, many existing HTTP security mechanisms also apply to a WebSocket connection — one of the reasons why the WebSocket standard deliberately chose the strategy of being HTTP compatible.

Unified HTTP and WebSocket Security

Thanks to the HTTP/WebSocket unified security model, the following is a list of some standard HTTP security methods that can be applied to a WebSocket connection. Remember this is not something you get for free: each WebSocket gateway/server needs to implement any of these they consider important. (Kaazing’s Gateway supports all of them, and more.)

  • Same encryption as HTTPS using TLS/SSL

    The way you do encryption with WebSocket is the same as you do for HTTP. With HTTPS, the client and server first establish a secure envelope (connection) and only then begin the HTTP protocol. In exactly the same way, WebSocket Secure (WSS) first establishes a secure envelope, then begins the HTTP handshake, and then the upgrade to the WebSocket wire protocol.Right up until the upgrade to the WebSocket protocol takes place, there is no difference between HTTPS and WSS, they are identical. The benefit of this is that if you know how to configure HTTPS for encrypted communication, then you also know how to configure WSS for encrypted WebSocket communication.

  • Origin-based security

    Just like HTTP, a WebSocket endpoint is defined by a URL which means origin-based security can be applied (as you would for HTTP). WebSocket always uses the origin security model, as defined by RFC 6454. If your WebSocket gateway/server can be configured for origin-based access control then you can do cross-origin WebSocket connections in a secure way.Cross-origin communication has traditionally been a bane of Web development because it opens the door to malicious cross-scripting attacks. But thanks to the standard origin security model it can now be done securely. This is another good example of an HTTP security capability that can also apply to WebSocket due to being HTTP-compatible.Be sure to pick a WebSocket gateway/server which supports origin-based security because it lets you partition your application over different hosts or even domains, giving you architectural flexibility. (Or perhaps you want a WebSocket-based service that other sites can access securely, such as for mashup applications, for example).Just like existing HTTP Ajax/Comet applications, without cross-origin support you are constrained to either having your WebSocket connection forced to connect to the same origin only or you have to endure security risks when making cross-origin connections.

  • Cookie-based interaction pattern

    It is common for applications to store session information in cookies. When connecting to a server it can validate the payload of the cookie and let users proceed without continually forcing them to enter their credentials.If you already use cookies for existing Web applications there’s no reason a WebSocket gateway/server can’t read the same cookies for session management.

Incidentally, given that Kaazing was a major contributor to the original WebSocket wire protocol specification, many of these security benefits derive from Kaazing’s submissions to the standard.

Native WebSocket Security

Here are some non-HTTP-related security features defined by the WebSocket standard itself.

  • Subprotocol validation

    The WebSocket protocol was designed as a transport layer for higher-level protocols (just like TCP, but for the Web). For example, you can transport existing protocols like XMPP, AMQP, Stomp, etc over the Web, through firewalls and proxies, using the standard ports 80/443.The Sec-WebSocket-Protocol header specifies what subprotocol (the application-level protocol layered over the WebSocket protocol) is negotiated between the client and the WebSocket gateway/server.A WebSocket connection can navigate through HTTP communication ports advertising the shape of the protocol that is going to be spoken on top of WebSocket. Therefore a gateway/server, or intermediaries, can properly assess that the traffic flowing is compliant or put security policies in place.This protocol-level inspection allows security policies to go deeper than typical HTTP packet-level inspection. The kind of deep packet inspection usually reserved for LANs and WANs now applies equally well over the Web with WebSocket.This is one of the advantages of using WebSocket as a transport layer for higher-level protocols rather than sending proprietary messages directly over the WebSocket connection.

  • Client-to-Server Masking

    Each WebSocket frame — think of a frame as a message — is automatically masked to prevent old or badly-implemented intermediaries from accidentally or deliberately causing issues based on bytes in the payload. Unlike HTTP, code on the client cannot successfully predict the precise bytes used to represent the payload of messages sent to the WebSocket gateway/server.Each frame contains the masking key so WebSocket-aware intermediaries can unmask the messages for protocol or packet inspection, or to enforce security policies, etc.

Don’t Forget Fallback

When thinking about WebSocket and security, another important consideration is fallback. Many WebSocket gateways/servers have fallback for cases when a WebSocket connection cannot be established. This is a practical concern since you have to deal with old browsers, intermediaries that interfere, etc. A WebSocket application can expect to have many users relying on fallback methods in the real world.

Therefore it is important that any security features you use for WebSocket also apply to the fallback when a WebSocket connection cannot be established. Moreover it should be completely transparent to your developers. They don’t want to have to write different code for those cases where fallback kicks in.

For example, many WebSocket providers will fall back to Comet or Ajax when a WebSocket connection cannot be made. But what happens if you utilize cross-origin policies? (And you should.) Will they be honored by the this fallback method…?

Another popular fallback strategy when a WebSocket connection isn’t possible is to use Flash Sockets. But what happens, for example, if you are using cookie-based or HTTP authentication? (And you should!) Will the Flash connectivity seamlessly and transparently respond to such a challenge…? Or are your application developers going to have to code around this scenario?

Since this article is about security, it should be pointed out that using Flash Sockets as a fallback is a potential security risk. They grant the right for application code served by the source origin to open a raw TCP connection cross-origin to the HTTP port of the target origin. This makes it possible for malicious sites to dynamically load some Flash which has the ability to attack the HTTP port directly. WebSocket and HTTP preserve the security model of the Web, Flash doesn’t.

Summary

A WebSocket application can be made secure because various standards provide for that possibility. And since WebSocket is HTTP-compatible it benefits from many of the same security techniques that can be applied to HTTP. It is up to each WebSocket gateway/server to implement some or all of these standard security protections.

Just like you would pick a web server or application server with the security features you need, you need to pick a WebSocket gateway/server with the security features you need. Any WebSocket vendor that only has a few or none of them is not serious about security.

If you are building a real-world or enterprise WebSocket-based application then think about your security needs early. It’s not something you want to “bolt on” later because that will mean having to change your architecture or write a lot of extra code. An enterprise WebSocket gateway/server will have security built into the architecture that you can simply configure when you’re ready.

Because when you don’t take security seriously, your customers won’t take you seriously.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Kaazing Blog

Kaazing is helping define the future of the event-driven enterprise by accelerating the Web for the Internet of Things.

Comments (0)

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
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...
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...
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...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo has been named “Bronze Sponsor” 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. Calligo is an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalized support service from its globally located cloud platform...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Elastifile 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. Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is software-defined data infrastructure designed for seamless and efficient management of dynamic workloads across heterogeneous environments. Elastifile provides the architecture needed to optimize your hybrid cloud environment, by facilitating efficient...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” 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. Launched in 2016, Cloudistics helps anyone bring the power of the cloud to the data center in an easy-to-use, on- premises cloud platform that automatically provides high performance resources for all types of applications: Docke...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Golden Gate University 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. Since 1901, non-profit Golden Gate University (GGU) has been helping adults achieve their professional goals by providing high quality, practice-based undergraduate and graduate educational programs in law, taxation, business and related professions. Many of its courses are taug...