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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 is an F5 evangelist for security, IoT, mobile and core. His background in theatre brings the slightly theatrical and fairly technical together to cover training, writing, speaking, along with overall product evangelism for F5. He's also produced over 350 videos and recorded over 50 audio whitepapers. 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.

Writer, speaker and Video Host, he's also been in such plays as The Glass Menagerie, All’s Well That Ends Well, Cinderella and others.

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As Enterprise business moves from Monoliths to Microservices, adoption and successful implementations of Microservices become more evident. The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Documenting hurdles and problems for the use of Microservices will help consultants, architects and specialists to avoid repeating the same mistakes and learn how and when to use (or not use) Microservices at the enterprise level. The circumstance when Microservices is an appropriate solution described in this article and based on the authors' wor...
Lots of cloud technology predictions and analysis are still dealing with future spending and planning, but there are plenty of real-world cloud use cases and implementations happening now. One approach, taken by stalwart GE, is to use SaaS applications for non-differentiated uses. For them, that means moving functions like HR, finance, taxes and scheduling to SaaS, while spending their software development time and resources on the core apps that make GE better, such as inventory, planning and sales. Essentially, as for more and more large enterprises, GE is getting out of the infrastructure b...
George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, once said, "You can't do it unless you can imagine it." Inour latest research on the future state of work in the retail sector, we find many industry executives struggling to imagine where the future is leading them and their organizations, not to mention the role digital technologies will play along the way. Traditional retailers are challenged by rapidly emerging new business models, such as Amazon Go and Facebook's launch of its digital commerce platform, Marketplace. Moreover, pioneering companies in the sharing economy (i.e., Uber) are expanding from...
Information Technology has advanced in different areas at different speeds. This has always been true, as people found workable solutions to the problems that faced them today, most often before there was a market for those solutions. While things like virtualization and eventually cloud computing grew slowly, programming languages sat at the same point for around a decade before the current round of new languages and approaches—Python, Ruby, Node, Swift—came about. These things seem unrelated, but there is a union of the two sets of changes that we are about to see blossom.
When discussing disruptive technologies, the topic of blockchain inevitably enters the conversation. Gartner recently listed blockchain as one of the ‘Key platform-enabling technologies to track.’ Approximately $1.4B has been invested in blockchain just this year, according to PwC executive Seamus Cushley. IBM announced this week a Blockchain-as-a-Service Enterprise offering at their Interconnect Conference. While there is a lot of ‘hype vs reality’ discussions going on, there is no arguing that blockchain is being taken very seriously across industries and cannot be ignored.
Next month will mark the 47th anniversary of Apollo 13. The film that recounts the story is a favorite of mine, probably because it so masterfully captures the incredible suspense, fear, and hope felt by people everywhere, that I personally recall very well. I also know how an organization’s digital transformation can generate similar reactions! Apollo 13 was likely a casualty of the space program’s incredibly aggressive schedule. NASA, with U.S. political and military leaders, was motivated by competition from the U.S.S.R. and fear of the potential consequences of not being first. Urgency of...
The Big Bang Theory is the pre-eminent explanation for the origins of the universe. It proposes, from an explosion of atoms, the universe rapidly expanded and in doing so created everything we know. But it did so in an erratic, haphazard and unstructured way. For every life form, an infinite amount of inhospitable desolate galaxies, planets and black holes were also created. Big Data is often associated with the birth of what is known as the Third Generation of IT and many are now at a crossroads: Do they continue down the current path, hoping to stumble upon a planet Earth as they navigate a...
Cloud computing is here to stay. The agility and scalability of the cloud model – as well as its ability to transform up-front capital expenditures into flexible operating expenditures – are too compelling to ignore. For CIOs in organizations of all sizes, the question is no longer whether to take advantage of the cloud … but how. Unfortunately, that question isn't as easy to answer as it might sound. Not all cloud providers are created equal. Different vendors offer different features, terms and service levels. And once you engage with one vendor, it can be difficult to change your mind down...
Containerization is popularly viewed as the ‘virtualization of virtualization’ or ‘next generation virtualization.’ However, containers have existed long before virtualization or the advent of modern container technology like Docker and Linux Containers. Similar tech was built into mainframe systems that pervaded the IT landscape for the preceding decades. However, the implication, as the name suggests, is that modern software containerization will have the same seismic impact on the IT industry as shipping containers have had on maritime freight transport. Indeed, it is quite common now for ...
In 2016, blockchain technology came close to hitting its peak on Gartner’s annual Hype Cycle, signaling an imminent shift from an emerging, theoretical technology to widespread adoption. Like cloud, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) before it, blockchain is the tech industry’s latest Next Big Thing. Analysts and industry experts say it holds immense potential for organizations, but many business leaders don’t yet see a practical application for their operations. While a lot of people know blockchain is the technology behind Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies, what about ent...
In the first article of this three-part series on hybrid cloud security, we discussed the Shared Responsibility Model, and examined how the most common attack strategies persist, are amplified, or are mitigated as assets move from data centers to the cloud. In part two, we talked about the unique security challenges that are introduced by public cloud environments. In this third and final installment, we’ll review why it’s essential to approach hybrid cloud security with different methods, tools and best practices than those used in the data center.
I happened to be in India last November when prime minister Modi announced the demonetization program, where 86% of the currency in the form of two paper bills (Rs. 500 and 1000 denomination) were made defunct. People were given time to deposit their existing currencies in the bank. Those who had unusually high volume of such currencies were supposed to declare the legal source or face stiff penalties such as 60-75% tax. The goal was to catch the money hoarders and black marketers who avoid paying taxes on such undeclared money.
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