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Solving Substantiation with SAML
In the digital world, identity verification is not as easy as showing the computer monitor a driver’s license

Organizations are deploying distributed, hybrid architectures that can span multiple security domains. At any moment, a user could be accessing the corporate data center, the organization’s cloud infrastructure, or even a third party, #SaaS web application. #SAML can provide the identity information necessary to implement an enterprise-wide single sign-on solution.

Proving or asserting one’s identity in the physical world is often as simple as showing a driver’s license or state ID card. As long as the photo matches the face, that’s typically all that is needed to verify identity. This substantiation of identity is a physical form of authentication, and depending on the situation, the individual is then authorized either to receive something or to do something, for instance, enter a bar, complete a purchase, etc.

In the digital world, identity verification is not as easy as showing the computer monitor a driver’s license. To gain entry, you must provide information like a name, password, randomly generated token number—something you have, something you know, or something you are—to prove you are who you say you are.

Gaining access to corporate assets is no different. Many organizations have multiple different resource portals, however, each requiring digital proof of identity. Their users may also need to access partner portals, cloud based Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, or distributed, hybrid infrastructures that span multiple data centers, each requiring a unique user name and password. In addition, the average employee must maintain about 15 different passwords for both her private and corporate identities, with many of those passwords also being used for social media and other risky entities. Statistics show that 35 to 50 percent of help desk calls are related to password problems, with each call costing a company between $25 and $50 per request.

Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is an XML-based standard that allows secure web domains to exchange user authentication and authorization data. It directly addresses the problem of how to provide the users of web browsers with single sign-on (SSO) convenience. With SAML, an online service provider can contact a separate online identity provider to authenticate users who are attempting to access secure content. For example, a user might need to log in to Salesforce.com, but Salesforce (the service provider) has no mechanism to validate the user. Salesforce would then send a request to an identity provider, such as F5 BIG-IP Access Policy Manager (APM), to validate the requesting user’s identity. BIG-IP APM version 11.3 supports SAML federation, acting as either a service provider or an identity provider, enhancing the employee’s online experience and potentially reducing password-related tickets at the help desk.

BIG-IP APM version 11.3 can act as either a SAML service provider or a SAML identity provider, enabling both federation and SSO within an enterprise.

BIG-IP APM as a Service Provider

When a user initiates a request from a SAML IdP and the resources, such as an internal SharePoint site, are protected by BIG-IP APM, BIG-IP APM consumes that SAML assertion (claim) and validates its trustworthiness. This ultimately allows the user access to the resource. If the user goes directly to BIG-IP APM (as an SP) to access a resource (like SharePoint), then the user will be directed to the IdP to authenticate and get an assertion. Once a user is authenticated with a SAML IdP and accesses a resource behind BIG-IP APM, he or she will not need to authenticate again.

BIG-IP APM as an Identity Provider

Provided there is an SP that accepts assertions, a user can authenticate with BIG-IP APM to create an assertion. BIG-IP APM authenticates the user and displays resources. When the user clicks on an application, BIG-IP APM generates an assertion. That assertion can be passed on to the SP, which allows access to the resource without further authentication. When the user visits the SP first, the process is SP initiated; when the user goes directly to the IdP (in this case, BIG-IP APM) first to authenticate, the process is IdP initiated.

BIG-IP APM in a SAML Federation

SAML can be used to federate autonomous BIG-IP APM systems. This allows a user to connect to one BIG-IP device, authenticate, and transparently move to other participating BIG-IPs devices. Session replication is not part of SAML, but administrators can populate session information on participating systems. This means that BIG-IP device federation does not enable the use of a single session within the federation; it only enables information exchange among multiple members of the federation.  Each participating BIG-IP device maintains its own independent session with the client, and each has its own access policy that executes separately and independently.
Participating federation members can exchange information with any other federation members outside of sessions where needed. A common configuration is to have a dedicated BIG-IP device as a primary member to which users are authenticated and that provides information to other members. This allows a number of other BIG-IP devices to work in conjunction with that primary member.  The primary member is dedicated as an IdP, while the other participating members operate as SPs

Benefits

The benefits of deploying BIG-IP APM as a SAML solution certainly include better password management, fewer help desk calls, and an improved user experience, but BIG-IP APM can also add additional context to requests. For instance, it can include endpoint inspection results as attributes to inform the application of the client’s security posture. In addition, IT administrators do not need to retrofit applications (e.g., .NET apps do not need a Kerberos claims plug-in). Another advantage is extensive session variable support, which allows organizations to
customize each user session. BIG-IP APM can bring SAML to resources and applications with minimal back-end changes—or none. These benefits all complement the values of BIG-IP APM to the overall traffic management of an organization’s IT infrastructure.

IT infrastructure has changed dramatically over the past few years, with many applications moving to cloud-based services. Corporate employees have also morphed into a mobile workforce that requires secure access to that infrastructure any time, from anywhere, and with any device. Bridging the identity gap between physically and logically separated services allows organizations to stay agile in this ever-changing environment and gives users the secure access they need around the clock.

BIG-IP APM version 11.3, in addition to delivering high availability and protecting organizations’ critical assets, provides a SAML 2.0 solution that offers the identity bridge needed to manage access across systems.

ps

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About Peter Silva
Peter Silva covers security for F5’s Technical Marketing Team. After working in Professional Theatre for 10 years, Peter decided to change careers. Starting out with a small VAR selling Netopia routers and the Instant Internet box, he soon became one of the first six Internet Specialists for AT&T managing customers on the original ATT WorldNet network.

Now having his Telco background he moved to Verio to focus on access, IP security along with web hosting. After losing a deal to Exodus Communications (now Savvis) for technical reasons, the customer still wanted Peter as their local SE contact so Exodus made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. As only the third person hired in the Midwest, he helped Exodus grow from an executive suite to two enormous datacenters in the Chicago land area working with such customers as Ticketmaster, Rolling Stone, uBid, Orbitz, Best Buy and others.

Bringing the slightly theatrical and fairly technical together, he covers training, writing, speaking, along with overall product evangelism for F5’s security line. He's also produced over 200 F5 videos and recorded over 50 audio whitepapers. Prior to joining F5, he was the Business Development Manager with Pacific Wireless Communications. He’s also been in such plays as The Glass Menagerie, All’s Well That Ends Well, Cinderella and others. He earned his B.S. from Marquette University, and is a certified instructor in the Wisconsin System of Vocational, Technical & Adult Education.

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Cloud Expo - Cloud Looms Large on SYS-CON.TV


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So exactly how do you kick start a DevOps strategy? For example, say your organization is tied down to a very sequential, but cumbersome Waterfall approach to software development that is wasting precious dollars and hindering productivity? In the following we’ve outlined some strategy tips that every business leader will need to consider as they start down the path of DevOps adoption. Whatever steps your organization takes on the DevOps path of rolling out software faster and more effectively and deployment will require the support of your senior level management team. Explain the advantages of DevOps to the executive team in terms that they can easily understand. Provide an outline of how DevOps and cloud computing can save on ROI and get your new mobile application into the hands of the customer faster and more effectively with higher quality.
The IoT has the potential to transform the world, bringing new functions and efficiency to big problems such as disease, poverty, traffic, and government transparence. It also makes for a nice Christmas gift for “kids in science fair projects.” This latter point was made by Broadcom and Brian Bedrosian, the company's senior director for wireless connectivity. Specifically, the company has introduced its Wiced Sense Kit at a price of US$20. The kit—suitable for adult use, of course, as well--allows IoT developers and the millions of “makers” in the thriving Maker Movement to build sensors that communicate with iPhones, home communication hubs, and other devices. Suggested uses include baby monitors, door locks, and personal healthcare monitors. Broadcom's kit presumably competes with a US$25 kit from Texas Instruments, which also has Android and Bluetooth functionality.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting personal. Wearables, ingestables, even implantables – devices that not only help us with our fitness, but can monitor and manage disease and its treatment – are right around the corner. And where the IoT goes, money follows. In this case, Big Pharma smells opportunity. But while these new consumer doodads get all the press, health-related IoT technologies are only the tip of the iceberg for the Digital Transformation hitting the pharmaceutical industry, as it struggles with a turbulent business landscape. “There are very few blockbuster drugs,” explains Eric Pilkington, EVP Digital Strategy at McCann Health North America. “The pharma companies are trying to figure out what to do. The competitors are the generics: identical and cheaper. The pharmas have to provide value beyond the drug itself.”
Such devices and connected technologies exist today, and the sector is driving the leading edge of the Internet of Things under the label of the “Connected Home” or “Smart Home”. Fact is, some pretty traditional low-tech concepts are becoming technology-enabled, such as/including locking doors, turning on the lights, heating the home, etc. What this means is that technology companies are broadening into areas that have historically been outside of their business plans. Apple is in the fitness business. Google is in the heating business. Samsung is in the appliance business. Others include cable TV and Internet provider Comcast, and the Schlage-brand lock maker Ingersoll Rand.
When we talk about the impact of BYOD and BYOA and the Internet of Things, we often focus on the impact on data center architectures. That's because there will be an increasing need for authentication, for access control, for security, for application delivery as the number of potential endpoints (clients, devices, things) increases. That means scale in the data center. What we gloss over, what we skip, is that before any of these "things" ever makes a request to access an application it had to execute a DNS query. Every. Single. Thing.
Elasticity is hailed as one of the biggest benefits of cloud and software-defined architectures. It's more efficient than traditional scalability models that only went one direction: up. It's based on the premise that wasting money and resources all the time just to ensure capacity on a seasonal or periodic basis is not only unappealing, but unnecessary in the age of software-defined everything. The problem is that scaling down is much, much harder than scaling up. Oh, not from the perspective of automation and orchestration. That is, as the kids say these days, easy peasy lemon squeezy. APIs have made the ability to add and remove resources simplicity itself. There isn't a load balancing service available today without this capability - at least not one that's worth having.
As enterprises work to rapidly embrace the mobile revolution, both for their workforce and to engage more deeply with their customers, the pressure is on for IT to support the tools needed by their application developers. Mobile application developers are working with a massive variety of technologies and platforms, but one trend that stands out is the rapid adoption of NoSQL database engines and the use of Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) platforms and services to run them. Gartner has predicted that by 2017, 20% of enterprises will have their own internal mobile app store, meaning that enterprises are deploying both commercial and custom applications to their workforce at increasing speeds. There’s no denying the massive growth in mobile applications within the enterprise.
The Internet of Things is only going to make that even more challenging as businesses turn to new business models and services fueled by a converging digital-physical world. Applications, whether focused on licensing, provisioning, managing or storing data for these "things" will increase the already significant burden on IT as a whole. The inability to scale from an operational perspective is really what software-defined architectures are attempting to solve by operationalizing the network to shift the burden of provisioning and management from people to technology.
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Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

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