Background - Authentication


User authenticity is the property granting that the user who wishes to access the system is whom he declared to be.
Verifying the user identity is often the first step for granting other security properties, like authorization (what the user can do) and access control (what resources the user can access).

The webinos framework aims to grant authentication property in a user-friendly fashion, hiding to the user and to the application developer, most of the more complicated aspects of the authentication mechanisms.


What's in scope

Authentication topic involves:

What's out of scope

Anonymous authentication methods (e.g. group signature, direct anonymous attestation, Idemix) and identity based encryption methods are deferred to phase 2.

Review of State of the Art


OpenID is a user centric, decentralized authentication protocol using web technologies allowing single sign on. An OpenID provider can do the authentication of a user for some service and the service does not have to store identity or credential information.

OpenID uses standard HTTP (S) requests and responses. Protocol extensions exist for example for attribute exchange. The identifier used is either a HTTP (S) URI or an XRI (Extensible Resource Identifier)


It allows a resource owner to grant a client access without giving away its credentials for the resource. OAuth uses web technology (HTTP (S)) to give fine grained access.
The client requests authorization from the resource owner. The authorization request can be made directly to the resource owner, or preferably indirectly via an intermediary such as an authorization server.
The client receives an authorization grant and requests an access token by authenticating with the authorization server using its client credentials and presenting the authorization grant. If the client credentials and the authorization grant are valid, the authentication server issues an access token.
The client requests the protected resource from the resource server and authenticates by presenting the access token.
If the access token is valid, the resource server provides access to the resource.

WebID - Web Identification and Discovery

WebID is an early draft by W3C which intends to define how to perform user authentication on the Web using X.509 certificates, TLS and URIs. The user agent (UA) is associated to the user by a URI. Both endpoints use TLS to exchange their X.509 certificates for authentication. At the moment, it is not clear if WebID will evolve to a standard, but if so, it would be quite interesting for webinos as WebID relies on widely used technologies.

Liberty Alliance / Kantara

Liberty alliance is a consortium for developing a distributed identity management system. It includes an Identity Federation Framework (ID-FF), an Identity Web Service Framework (ID-WSF) and Identity Services Interface Specifications (ID-SIS). ID-FF enables identity federation and management and it is designed to work with heterogeneous platforms and with all types of network devices; ID-WSF provides a framework for creating, discovering, and consuming interoperable identity services; ID-SIS are a collection of specifications for interoperable services to be build on top of ID-WSF.
The work of the Liberty Alliance is transitioning to the Kantara Initiative.

The Alliance adopts and extends industry standards, rather than attempt to develop similar specifications.
ID-FF Liberty architecture needs an Identity Provider (IdP) and uses HTTP protocol to exchange messages between IdP and Service Provider to authenticate the User Agent.
ID-WSF is a foundational layer that utilizes the ID-FF and provides services. The Discovery Service determines where the needed resources are located (e.g. user attributes). The Interaction Service allows an IdP to interact with the owner of the resource that it is exposing. The Data Services supports the storage and update of specific data attributes regarding a user.
ID-SIS provides specifications for interoperable services (e.g. Geo-location Service, Personal Profile Service Specification, Employee Profile Service Specification, Contact Book Service Specification).

Shibboleth / SAML

It's an open source implementation of SAML 2.0 specifications. It provides an authentication and authorization infrastructure to allow federated web single sign on and attribute exchange. A user authenticates with his organizational credentials. The organization (or identity provider) passes the minimal identity information necessary to the service manager to enable an authorization decision.

SAML 2.0 is an XML-based open standard for exchanging authentication and authorization data between an identity provider and a service provider. Its specifications recommend SSL 3.0 or TLS 1.0 for transport-level security; XML Signature and XML Encryption for message-level security. SAML 2.0 permits direct use of XML Encryption in various places, including an <EncryptedID> element that can replace the usual <NameID> element.
SAML 2.0 allows for arbitrary mappings between any two formats by using the <NameIDPolicy> element to describe the properties of the identifier to be returned.


Kerberos is a mutual client/server authentication system designed to establish sessions and support the secure transfer of data. Kerberos can be used as a single sign on mechanism.

It requires a trusted third party and uses tickets and ticket granting tickets to allow it to scale to multiple services without repeated user authentication. Kerberos does not require the use of asymmetric cryptography and uses time stamps for validity periods.

Identity mechanism of XMPP

XMPP is an XML based protocol for near-real-time messaging, presence and request-response services using for confidential and integral message exchange TLS.

The XMPP identifier (e.g. node@domain/resource) has as mandatory field only the domain identifier and is used to address an endpoint. To authenticate an endpoint SASL is used enabling a server to offer multiple authentication methods from which a client can choose.

Identity Metasystem

"The Identity Metasystem is an interoperable architecture for digital identity that enables people to have and employ a collection of digital identities based on multiple underlying technologies, implementations, and providers."

Three different parties participate in the Metasystem:

Five key areas compose the Identity Metasystem:

Firefox account manager

The Account Manager allows users to create new accounts with optional randomly generated passwords, and log into and out of them with a click.

The Account Manager specification proposes two changes to Web sites:
  1. The browser needs to know how to register, sign in, and sign out. A static JSON document describes what methods the site supports and how they should be executed.
  2. The browser needs a way to check which user (if any) is currently signed in. To do this the site has to set an HTTP header or to supply a URL the browser will ping.

Recommendations from state of the art

SAML 2.0 standard could be useful to exchange authentication data outside the personal zone, to log into external services. It can also be used to login to the personal zone (to be more precise to login to the personal zone hub) and to synchronize authentication data among the personal zone hub and the personal zone proxies.
An account manager similar to the Firefox one could be hosted on the personal zone hub (with a copy into the personal zone proxies) to implement a more user-friendly authentication mechanism.



Open standard for authenticating users, Home page,


Open protocol to allow secure API authorization, Home page,


Liberty Alliance - consortium for developing a distributed identity management system, Home page,


Initiative to help ensure secure, identity-based, online interactions, Home page,


Security Assertion Markup Language standard suite v2.0, Home page,


Standards based, open source software package for web single sign-on, Home page,


The Kerberos Network Authentication Protocol, home page,


Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, Request for Comment 3920,


Simple Authentication and Security Layer, Request for Comment 4422,


Information Card wikipage,


Firefox Account Manager, Mozilla Hacks article "Account Manager coming to Firefox",


WebID - Web Identification and Discovery, W3C Editor's Draft,