Posts tagged Microsoft

Last week I was in San Francisco for the 16th Internet Identity Workshop to disseminate the Linkey project and engage with those in the online identity communities.

The event was sponsored by many big names including Microsoft, Ping Identity, Google, Janrain, Yubico, Cisco, OneID and NetIQ. In attendance were employees from all of the sponsor companies as well as delegates ranging from freelance developers to information compliance officers at big companies to authors of many Internet specifications and protocols such as OpenID, OAuth and SAML. About half of hundred or so delegates had travelled from outside North America including about ten of us from Europe. Surprisingly I was the only delegate representing an educational institution.

The conference itself was un-conference style – i.e. each morning delegates would volunteer sessions which were then slotted into the timetable. A full list of all of the sessions can be found here. The sessions people put forward tended to either be very technical or were higher level, almost philosophical discussions.

Here is a list of sessions I attended (session notes can be found here):

  • T1G: Native Apps – SSO
  • T2B: Strong 2-Factor For All – Google and FIDO Alliance
  • T3C: The OAuth Complicit Flow
  • T4G: Identity Federation: Failed Consumer Experiences and WHat We Can Do About It
  • W1H: OAUTH Client Registration
  • W3B: OAuth 2 Bootstrapping from device to browser (technical)
  • W4B: Google’s Auth goals for the next 5 years
  • Google are strongly committed to OAuth!!!!
  • W5I: OAuth 2 Federation – RS trust external AS
  • TH2E: Practical DATA PROTECTION – Avoidance? EU and US ?
  • TH3A: RESPECT CONNECT “Facebook Connect for Personal Clouds” OR “Social Login that Doesn’t Suck”
  • TH4F: Self-Hosted Personal Clouds (FreedomBox and Raspberry PI)

The two main overarching topics throughout the event were “privacy” and “data ownership”. There were also a number of sessions about security, with one session that I attended by Google about 2-factor authentication resulting in quite heated discussion (namely because the work Google and the FIDO Alliance is not public and there is a high fee for membership).

Another interesting session was called “The OAuth Complicit Flow” (notes here) which had the premise of “what if the an OAuth authorisation server asked you to agree to “allow this application to connect to your account and murder someone” and there was no deny button. The discussion dealt with the issue of some applications asking for too many permissions, users not reading through the approve screens (similar to how users just accept EULA agreements) and applications refusing to let users access them unless they agree to allowing the application share stuff on their Facebook wall, or see the user’s friend list. Potential solutions that came out of this discussion was “reactive” permission requests as opposed to “preemptive” permissions – similar to how some iOS apps don’t ask for permission to send push notifications unless you click a button in the settings for that app.

I got the opportunity to have a chat with Mike Jones from Microsoft who has been leading much of the work on the OAuth 2.0 and OpenID Connect specifications. He answered a few questions I had about edge cases in implementations and he was interested in the PHP libraries I’d developed as part of the project.

I didn’t have the opportunity to talk at length about Linkey but in all the sessions I attended I tried to take part and I had some really interesting discussions with people about some of work that we’re doing in HE around open data and open APIs (including work on OAuth) and I was able to talk about some of the issues we faced with implementing OAuth in enterprise environments (because of incompatibility and lack of understanding compared to SAML).

I feel that the conference was definitely worth attending and I would encourage JISC and other interested parties in the education sectors to try and attend the next Internet Identity Workshop as I left feeling that we’re dealing with some very similar problems that even the very large organisations present such as Oracle are dealing with.

I’ve spent the last few weeks working away on the OAuth PHP library which now includes a resource server as well as an authentication server. I’ve also started merging in Phil Sturgeon’s OAuth 2.0 client code library, which when I’ve finished, will result in a mean, lean PHP library for working with any aspect of OAuth 2.0 (authentication, resource sharing or client side). Both server classes are now fully unit tested and I’m at 90% code coverage for all of the methods. I’ve started writing documentation for the library too and I’m going to write a tutorial on how to build an OAuth secured API server in the CodeIgniter framework.

On the UAG side, both Tim and I have been reading Mastering Microsoft Forefront UAG 2010 Customisation (Amazon link). I’ve now got some ideas about how we can easily integrate the university’s OAuth server that I developed with our UAG install. More on this soon.

The OAuth website describes OAuth as:

An open protocol to allow secure API authorisation in a simple and standard method from desktop and web applications.

Essentially OAuth is a security protocol that enables users to grant third-party access to their web resources without sharing their passwords.

OAuth grew out of discussions between developers from Twitter and Ma.gnolia who wanted to authorise desktop applications to access their services. A working group was formed in 2007 to draft a proposal for an open standard. Developers from both Google and Yahoo also contributed to this work.

The first OAuth Core 1.0 draft was released in late 2007. In 2008 it was decided that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) would adopt the specification to allow wider discussion and further standardisation work.

A minor revision (OAuth 1.0 Revision A) was published in June 2008 to fix a security hole. The OAuth 1.0 Protocol was published by the IETF OAuth Working Group in April 2010 as RFC 5849.

A number of Internet companies and services adopted OAuth 1.0 but it was considered too much of a pain in the arse to work with by developers because it involved complicated signatures being passed around and there were too many requests between clients and services.

In May 2010 work began on version 2.0 of the OAuth protocol. Version 2.0 is not backwards compatible with OAuth 1.0a and focuses on developer simplicity. It also features more flows to allow the use of OAuth in more situations, as well as extensions to the core protocol to enable interoperability with assertion based protocols such as SAML.

OAuth has been adopted by many large Internet services and companies, here are some to name a few:

  • Google (v2.0)
  • Yahoo (v1.0a)
  • Twitter (v1.0a and v2.0[1]))
  • Github (v2.0)
  • Microsoft (v2.0)
  • Foursquare (v2.0)
  • Salesforce (v2.0)
  • Facebook (v2.0)

We have been using OAuth 2.0 here at the University of Lincoln since late 2011 where we investigated using it for the Total ReCal project so that students here at the university could access their event data. Our implementation was based on some work I’d already been doing in the area based in my own time.

We currently have over 30 application using OAuth to interact with our data sets including the Student Union website, the staff directory, Orbital, and four 3rd year student final projects.

In October 2011 I spoke at EduServ’s Federated Access Management conference about how OAuth works and how we are using it. The slides for this presentation can be found at https://speakerdeck.com/u/alexbilbie/p/introduction-to-oauth.

During the Linkey project I’m going to be redeveloping my CodeIgniter OAuth 2.0 server to a be a framework-agnostic Composer package. I’m also going to be adding support for the bearer extension and the assertions extension.


  1. Currently on Twitter Connect supports OAuth 2.0 using the XXX flow.  ↩