Feb 15, 2013

Protecting Web Resources

We are working on a modernization program, as part of which we have built a new enterprise Portal that replaces existing Websphere Portal. This new Portal is a simple Web20 application with ExtJS4.0/Spring/Restful services running on the VMware Tc Server.

This migration required replacing Webspere Portal components with light-weight open source products.  However, WebSEAL was one product that was impressively lightweight and helped us solve some complex integration problems.

WebSEAL is the resource manager that acts as a reverse Web proxy. It receives HTTP/HTTPS requests from a Web browser and delivering content from its own Web server or from junctioned back-end Web application servers. Web Requests passing through WebSEAL are authorized by the Tivoli Access Manager.

We were already using WebSEAL for authentication, single sign-on and high level HTTP URL authorization. In new Portal, we extended its use for integrating third party application with Portal.

Websphere Portal (WSP)  used WebClipper technology  to integrate and render third-party applications. WebClipper runs from within the portal server and manage session and identity across Portal and third-party apps. This solution was highly complex and created tight-coupling between app and the Portal.
In the new Portal we replaced WebClipper with WebSEAL-based integration, where we created a WebSEAL junction for the application, and used the secured junction URL to be rendered the app as  ExtJS Tabs within the Portal. WebSEAL provided secure rendering and session management for the app & Portal. WebSEAL also passed authentication token to the app, as trust HTTP Headers, eliminating the need to engage Portal server. 

We even used WebSEAL as an operational tool to control user traffic at
 run time.  We plan to use WebSEAL to display error pages or redirect traffic to a specific web resources. While this can be done on any webserver, WebSEAL allows the redirection based on fine grain permissions/ACLs.

WebSEAL is an excellent product, I am not sure if there is any open source product that can provide the same capabilities. Its only limitation is that it is tightly coupled with Tivoli Access management and enforces security policies against just Tivoli Access Manager, also that it is not open source.

Spring Security does provide similar web security against any policy manager and can be configured as an HTTP reserve proxy. However, Spring Security protects web resources within its own web context and needs an application server. If you need to protect third-party web resources/application using Spring security, you will need to stream the HTTP request and attach security headers to it. For protecting simple webservices  this approach will work. But for protecting web applications, streaming can create complexities. Moreover, you will need to serve application’s static content through the app server.

As the trend of HTTP interface grows, products  provide HTTP/JSON interfaces, ex Solr, CoucbBase , so will the need to non-instrusively secure web-resources . I would like to know how others are solving this problem.

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