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Secure Web Services with WS-Security
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One important thing to take away from this chapter s discussion is that you must specifically secure SOAP messages in both directions: request and response. Even if you secure the request message that is sent from the client to the Web service, the Web service response will be unsecured, unsigned, and unencrypted unless you specifically implement these measures in the SOAP response messages. It can be quite startling to realize that the most highly secured request message may result in a completely unsecured response message if the Web service provider has not taken equivalent steps. This chapter has shown you how to implement several types of security measures in SOAP messages. However, I did not address two key related points: How does a client know the level of security that a Web service requires How does a Web service provide selective access to its methods and resources, based on the authorization level for the authenticated user In the absence of the Web service telling you what its security policy is, you will be forced to play a guessing game of trying out different kinds of security and hoping they work. Clearly, the Web service needs to inform its clients as to what level of security it requires in SOAP request messages. This responsibility is governed by the WS-Policy and WS-Policy Assertions specifications, which are the subject of the next chapter. Regarding authorization, it is clear that a Web service needs to be able to provide selective access to its resources based on a client s privilege level. The service cannot simply allow any authenticated user full access to its resources. Just because certain users are authenticated does not mean that they are fully authorized to use all of the available resources. Security policy and authorization are related topics because both have to do with restricting access to a Web service to only those clients that meet strict usage requirements. 7 provides detailed discussions on both of these important topics. For more information on security and encryption in general, and on WS-Security in particular, consult the list of excellent references in Appendix A.
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You can find the WS-Security specification at http://www-106.ibm.com/ developerworks/webservices/library/ws-secure/.
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Prevent Replay Attacks Using Timestamps, Digital Signatures, and Message Correlation
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I will close out this chapter with a look at a different kind of security issue called replay attacks. These are a type of denial-of-service (DoS) attack that is specific to Web services. A replay attack occurs when a client makes multiple Web service calls to the same service without waiting for a response from one or more previous requests. If enough of these calls are made, then it is possible to overwhelm the Web service s hosting server, and to then cause the service to become unresponsive or to go offline. Replay attacks are at best a nuisance, and at worst can cause critical system breakdowns. The WS-Security specification mentions replay attacks and briefly describes a strategy for dealing with them. The key to preventing a replay attack is for a Web service to monitor the status of incoming messages and to verify their uniqueness. The Web service needs to verify that an incoming SOAP request message is unique, and has not already been sent, before the service starts processing the message.
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NOTE You can eliminate replay attacks by unauthorized clients by using an
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encrypted communication channel such as Secure Sockets Layer. However, SSL provides no protection if the authorized client decides to conduct a replay attack. Other protective measures are required. The strategies that are outlined in this section assume that you want to prevent replay attacks by verifying request messages for uniqueness, and by verifying that the request messages have not been tampered with.
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Standard Web service calls are stateless, and SOAP messages are inherently stateless, one-way communications. SOAP messages must therefore include extra information that tracks their uniqueness, and thereby helps the service to verify whether a request message has already been received. There are three main ways to track this information and to enable message verification and protection against replay attacks: Message timestamps (including Created and Expires) UsernameToken nonce values Message correlation (including sequence numbers) Let s consider each of these in turn, and see how they can be used to secure SOAP messages, and Web services, against replay attacks.
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