How to use tokens. Always sign the token

Hector Hurtado Ruesga A few weeks ago some colleagues from a development team told us about their worries on the JSON Web tokens JWT generation they were doing as part of a new tool integration they were working on.

When should you use JSON Web Tokens?

They had heard about several security issues regarding the use of JWT tokens so they asked us for help in order to validate if the tokens they were issuing were how to use tokens and met some basic security requirements. It is worth noting that by default Demo advisors are not encrypted, and that the string we see is simply a base64url encoded serialization that can be easily decoded to see the plain JSON content that the token carries.

As with many other technologiesJWT depends heavily on a good configuration when issuing the tokens and in a correct use and proper validation of the consumed tokens. JWT is an open standard which defines a compact and self-contained method to encapsulate and share assertions about an entity between peers in a secure manner by using JSON objects. ID token: Issued by an Identity Manager, on behalf of a client application, after authenticating the user.

Secure and Flexible Token Management

It allows the client application to get user information from the token in a safe way without the need of managing user credentials. Access token: Issued by an authorization server, on behalf of a client application, it allows the client application to access a protected resource on behalf of a user.

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This kind of token is used as an authentication and authorization mechanism by the client application towards the server holding the resource. JWT allow for interchange of data between peers in a more performant way than other standards SAML due to its smaller size and ease of parsing.

Why Use Tokens?

This is what makes them ideal for the following use cases: Session data interchange between client and server: JWT are sometimes used to transmit GUI state and session information between the server and its clients. Usually they are unsecured tokens without a signature. Federated authentication: It eliminates the need for applications to manage their user credentials, by delegating the process of user authentication to an identity provider.

The provider generates a token, that is verifiable by the application, and that contains the data needed about the user. Access authorization: The token contains the information needed by an API server to decide if the operation requested by the token holder can be carried out.

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Each use case has different recipients client application and API servicebut in the case that you maintain control over both the application and the API service you can use a single token to address both authentication and how to use tokens. Next we are going to enumerate the best practices when working with JWT, focusing only in generation and validation processes. Issuing a token Always sign the token Except in very few cases when used in the client side, for carrying GUI state data and session information a token must not be issued without a signature.

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The Signature is a basic protection that allows token consumers to trust it and to ensure that it has not been tampered with. On the other side asymmetric signing algorithms simplify the key custody, because the latter is only necessary on how to use tokens server side issuing the token.

Use strong cryptography

Set expiration date and unique identifier A JWT, once signed, is valid forever if no expiration date was given claim exp. For Access tokens, anybody capturing the token will have access to the granted operations forever.

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Assigning identifiers claim jti to tokens allows for their revocation; in the case the token is compromised it is very helpful to have the choice of revoking the token.

Set the issuer and audience In order to ease the management of the tokens to the recipients it is mandatory to identify the issuer iss claim and all possible recipients audience claim, aud ; with this information it will be easy for them how to use tokens locate the signature key and to ensure that the token was issued for them. It is also a best practice for recipients to validate these claims.

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If you need to include sensitive information inside a token, then encrypted JWT must be used. So the second validation we have to do, after validating the token format, is to check that it has a signature. This option must always be active to avoid the case where an attacker could intercept the token, remove the signature, modify the data and resend it.

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The best protection is to always validate that the alg claim contains a value from a set of expected values, the smaller the set the better. Validate header claims You must never trust the received claims, especially if we are going to use them for searches in backends.

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For example kid claim key identifier can be used to perform the signing binary options signal program lookup, so we must sanitize its value to avoid SQL injection attacks.

Always validate issuer and audience Before accepting a JWT we must verify that the token was issued by the expected entity iss claim and that it was issued for us aud claim ; this will reduce the risk of an attacker using a token, intended for another recipient, to gain access to our resources.

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Index stored keys by issuer and algorithm When looking up the signing key we must check that the signing algorithm is valid for the issuer. An attacker could intercept a token using an RS algorithm, modify it and create a signature using the public key of the issuer which could be easily found by using a HS algorithm.