Welcome!

Security Authors: Roger Strukhoff, Paul Speciale, Elizabeth White, Kevin Jackson, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Java, Security

Java: Article

SOA Focus - Web Services Security in Java EE

The present and future

In my earlier article "Moving to SOA in J2EE 1.4" published in the February issue of JDJ I introduced you to the new object distribution model based on Web Services that became available to Enterprise Java applications with the advent of Java EE 1.4. In this article I want to look at the security features available in Java EE SOA.

Here you'll get thehands-on knowledge of Web Services security in Java EE that we acquired when adding security support to OptimalJ-generated SOA applications. It's based on the J2EE 1.4 specification itself as well as on what is actually supported and it works in three major J2EE 1.4 application servers - JBoss 4.0.4, WebSphere 6.0.2.x, and WebLogic 9.1. You'll also learn about the new mandatory security features available to Web Service endpoints in Java EE 5.0.

Overview of Security in Java EE
Java EE comes with a mature security model that provides for the guaranteed features that have to be supported by all compliant application servers: authentication, authorization, confidentiality, and integrity. Though not yet required by the specification, most high-end application servers also support some sort of auditing of security-related events and non-repudiation - in other words a way of preventing an invocation sender from denying responsibility for the action - for communicating with Web Service components.

Authorization is based on logical security roles that are simple names defined by the component provider or application assembler in XML deployment descriptors. The code underneath all Java EE components - JSPs, servlets, and Enterprise JavaBeans - can be restricted declaratively based on logical security roles. In the case of EJBs, access can be limited on an Enterprise Bean's method level, whereas access to JSPs and servlets is enforced based on their URL and the HTTP method utilized (e.g. POST, GET, etc.). Besides declarative authorization, programmatic authorization is also supported so that a component's code can dynamically inquire whether the security context of the current user is associated with a particular logical security role and make a decision based on this analysis. How a given principal is actually mapped to a set of security roles depends on the Java EE notion of a security domain and the principal authentication mechanisms associated with the domain.

The confidentiality and integrity requirements are met at the transport layer with the help of the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL 3.0) protocol and the related IETF standard Transport Layer Security (TLS 1.0) protocol. For SSL and TLS only X.509 certificates are supported for authenticating principals. Kerberos-based authentication mechanisms in TLS are presently regarded as optional and aren't implemented by the application servers this article concentrates on.

The authentication security requirement is by far the most difficult to explain since it requires understanding the Java EE notion of a security domain, which is essentially a security mechanism used to authenticate the user. Here are the three arbitrary examples of security domains:

  1. A security domain where users are authenticated based on their X509 certificates presented during an SSL handshake. In this case the protocol used by the client for communicating with the application server can be HTTPS, IIOP/SSL, or JRMP/SSL.
  2. A security domain that uses the SRP protocol in communicating a user's name and password to the server in a secure fashion. Here the communications protocol that the client uses can be JRMP.
  3. A security domain that uses the HTTP Basic Authentication in communicating a user name and password to the server. Such a security domain will use either HTTP or HTTPS as the supported communications protocol.
Different security domains entail different types of principals for representing users. In the first security domain presented above, a principal will be derived from an X509 certificate or a certificate chain that the user presented during an SSL handshake. In the second example, a principal will be taken from the user name specified by the client. Here's a code sample taken from JBoss that shows how a certificate chain can be mapped to a principal:

public Principal toPrinicipal(
       X509Certificate[] certs) {
    Principal subject = certs[0].getSubjectDN();
    return subject;
}

Thus a security domain deals with a set of principals of a particular kind (e.g., based on X509 certificates, Kerberos tickets, plain user names, etc.). This set is termed a principal realm. For each principal realm, there's mapping between its principals and the one or more logical security roles that are used in Java EE applications. Application servers offer a plethora of ways to represent a principal realm, the most common of which are a local OS user registry, an LDAP server, an RDBMS schema, a Kerberos KDC, or a simple .properties files.

Modern Java EE application servers support different security domains or let users define their own based on the JAAS login modules available. See the sidebar "What is JAAS?" for more information on using JAAS in Java EE.

When a Java EE application is deployed, the deployer assigns the application modules to the security domains that have been configured in the targeted application server installation. Typically, the components of a Java EE module (an EJB .jar module or a Web .war module) are all assigned to the same security domain; some application servers let the components of a given module be assigned to different security domains, but this practice is generally avoided since it can easily lead to confusion. Java EE doesn't standardize the scope of a security domain and leaves it up to vendors. At the moment all high-end application servers let a security domain span multiple application server installations (which typically form a cluster).

Security Context Propagation and Single Sign-on
A Java EE application server features three different containers (there's also an applet container that is typically embodied by a Web browser program): a Web Container that hosts JSPs and servlet components, an EJB Container where EJB components are deployed, and an Application client container (see the sidebar "Application client containers" for more details on this concept). EJB and Web Containers are typically collocated, and components running in the Web Container can access EJBs of the corresponding EJB container. Figure 1 depicts the relationships between the three containers and various ways in which a client can access a Java EE application. For simplicity's sake I depicted all the enterprise components as running in the same application server on a single node, but it doesn't have to be this way; modern application servers let them be distributed among multiple nodes.

The following are the two typical usage scenarios shown in Figure 1 involving access to an enterprise Java application:

1.  A user accesses a JSP or a servlet component deployed in a Web Container with a Web browser. He authenticates himself to the Web Container using either 1) a username and password that his Web browser prompts him to enter (Basic HTTP Authentication) or 2) an X509 certificate that the browser lets the user choose from a pre-installed set of user certificates. The servlet component carries out the presentation-related activities and invokes an EJB Session component (using a local invocation in the same JVM or RMI-based protocol) to carry out the business logic-related tasks. To fulfill the business logic task the session bean can invoke an Entity EJB, call on an EIS with a help of a JCA resource adapter, or carry out some JDBC-based data access. After completing its work, the session component returns the processing results to the servlet component, which in turn renders them to the user in HTML.

The user can then invoke the servlet or some Web component or JSP again.The application server maintains a session with the user's browser and doesn't require re-authentication.

2.  A Java client application uses either RMI-IIOP or RMI-JRPM to access the server. The application prompts the user for a name and credentials and authenticates itself to the server with the help of JAAS and one or more JAAS the login modules provided by the vendor. For RMI-IIOP, the CSIv2 SAS protocol will most likely be used to communicate authentication data to the server. The client application accesses an EJB deployed in an EJB Container. Like the first scenario, the invoked EJB can call other EJBs or enterprise services.

The client application then goes on to invoke another EJB without having to re-authenticate the user. Listing 1 is an example of such a client application for WebSphere.

A lot can be gathered from these scenarios and from Figure 1.

First, they show that external clients can access components running in the WEB container by using either HTTP or HTTPS and components hosted in the EJB container with RMI-IIOP or RMI-JRMP. They also show that components can use 1) local invocations in the same JVM, 2) RMI-IIOP, or 3) RMI-JRMP for inter-component communication. Which of the three is used depends on the vendor and the configuration of the application server.

Second, in both examples the clients authenticated themselves to the container before being able to use a component, and the application server propagated the established client security context when the component invoked the other EJBs.

Third, the samples demonstrate Java EE support for single sign-on (frequently abbreviated as SSO), thanks to which needless re-authentications are avoided for subsequent application are avoided server access. The propagation of the client security context and single sign-on are two important security characteristics of Java EE.

Application servers let the client security context be propagated if local JVM invocations, RMI-IIOP, or RMI-JRMP are used as inter-component communication transports and the component targeted belongs to the same security domain. A client security context typically consists of a principal object (whose type depends on the security domain of the Java EE application) and zero or more associated credentials presented during authentication. Java EE specifies RMI-IIOP and the accompanying CSIv2 OMG spec as the only interoperable way of propagating a client security context that must be understood and supported by all compliant application servers (a security context propagated with RMI-JRMP is only meaningful if the targeted component runs in an application server from the same vendor). Using CORBA-related standards for interoperability among disparate application servers reflects the CORBA-oriented nature of the early Java EE specifications that holds to this day.


More Stories By Andrei Iltchenko

Andrei Iltchenko is a development lead at Compuware Corporation where he works on the MDA product OptimalJ and is responsible for the business logic area of OptimalJ-generated J2EE applications. He is also a Sun certified Java developer for Java Web Services, a Sun Certified Business Component Developer, a Sun Certified Developer, and a Sun Certified Programmer.

Comments (4)

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
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash Inc., will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone a...
BSQUARE is a global leader of embedded software solutions. We enable smart connected systems at the device level and beyond that millions use every day and provide actionable data solutions for the growing Internet of Things (IoT) market. We empower our world-class customers with our products, services and solutions to achieve innovation and success. For more information, visit www.bsquare.com.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic • Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it’s a mix of architectural style...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accelerate their digital channels with APIs, drive partner adoption, monetize their assets, and achieve a...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
Connected devices are changing the way we go about our everyday life, from wearables to driverless cars, to smart grids and entire industries revolutionizing business opportunities through smart objects, capable of two-way communication. But what happens when objects are given an IP-address, and we rely on that connection, sometimes with our lives? How do we secure those vast data infrastructures and safe-keep the privacy of sensitive information? This session will outline how each and every connected device can uphold a core root of trust via a unique cryptographic signature – a “bir...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...