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Cross-Domain Single Sign-On Authentication with JAAS

Leverage your existing JAAS enterprise security system to provide SSO across multiple subsystems. Implementing this J2EE security model will take your security architecture to the next level.


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ingle sign-on (SSO) is a very hot topic. Businesses in every industry are eager to integrate legacy systems into newer applications, and SSO can alleviate the headaches users experience when trying to manage a long list of user names and passwords for various systems. Enter the Java Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS).

As I wrote in a DevX 10-Minute Solution, "JAAS Security in Action": JAAS “is a flexible, standardized API that supports runtime pluggability of security modules.” If you are unfamiliar with JAAS, I recommend reading that article and reviewing the downloadable code before continuing, as this article assumes an understanding of JAAS. It takes the next logical step from a security architecture standpoint: integrating your J2EE security model to provide SSO across multiple subsystems by leveraging your existing LDAP directory server, database server, or any other enterprise security system.

Before going any further, let's clarify how this article uses the term "domain": It refers to security domains (LDAP, database, etc.) and not Web domains. If you are interested in using JAAS to share authentication information between multiple Web applications, read the article "Implement Single Sign-on with JAAS" written by James Tao in October of 2002. Additionally, if you are interested in Web applications that exist across firewalls and participate in some sort of Web service exchange, read the joint Web Single Sign-On Identify specifications that Microsoft and Sun recently published.



Securing the Enterprise

Single sign-on allows users to enter security credentials once (typically by logging into a workstation or a Web application) and have those credentials propagated to each local and network application the user accesses during his or her session. Local applications exchange authentication information directly, while remote network applications exchange authentication information across the network via encrypted security tokens.

Regardless of whether the deployment scenario is local, across a network, or a combination of the two, the security challenges are the same: sharing credentials between domains, correctly interpreting the credentials once received, and managing different sets of privileges across these domains (e.g., a user could be a manager within one system, a power user in another system, and a normal user in a third).

Finally, the heterogeneous nature of most enterprise systems creates some unique challenges for SSO security architectures. Each application within the enterprise could be comprised of different technologies, operate on different platforms, access disparate data sources, and except slightly different authentication credentials for the same principal (user). In spite of these overwhelming obstacles, JAAS combined with LDAP provides a solid framework for designing and implementing a robust SSO enterprise security framework.



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