Claims, Tokens, End-to-End Security

One of the panels at the recent EIC 2008 on End-to-End Security for SOA applications there was a discussion about whether this target could really be achieved. One comment was that built-in federation awareness in every single web services won't work with thousands of web services you might have today or in future. The handling of trusts would be too complex, was the argument.

Yes, if you handle every trust separately. No, if there is sort of a trust broker for at least most of the web services which provides a standard trust with no specific configuration per web service. In that case even that concept might work - and federation-enabling web services could be done by the application these services run on.

But it can be done easier, in the context of Web Service Security applications or other approaches. My position is that a web service has to run in the context of the user's identity. Usually the context will be derived, e.g. a role, a group or something else. A layer like the Web Service Security should be able to work with such a context, which might be provided within a SAML token. But, in general, it might be any type of claim - Kim Cameron's concept of claim-based security fits in pretty well here.

In fact, the issue can be solved very easy: Take the information in a claim or assertion, transform it to a parameter and invoke the web service based with this parameter. Then the web service can return exactly the information which is relevant (or allowed to see) to the identity the parameter has been derived from. The application infrastructure has just to work as a special type of STS (Security Token Service) which transforms security tokens into parameters for web services.

With this approach, it is as well possible to completely implement the idea of claims into SOA security. The accounting of web services works as well, because the platform from which web services are invoked knows about the identity (or something derived from), because it knows the claim or assertion. And the web service itself can be fully identity- and federation-ignorant.

In fact, there is no reason not to implement a real end-to-end security, either with Federation and an efficient trust handling or with a claims-/assertion-/parameter-based approach like described.



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