Macaroon access tokens for OAuth: Part 2 – transactional auth

In part 1, I showed how Macaroon access tokens in ForgeRock Access Management 7.0 can be used as a lightweight and easy-to-deploy alternative to proof of possession (PoP) schemes for securing tokens in browser-based apps. The same techniques can be adapted to secure tokens in microservice architectures and IoT applications, and I hope to expand on some of the patterns they enable in future blog posts. But in this post, I want to look at third-party caveats and their application to transactional authorization.

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Can you ever (safely) include credentials in a URL?

URLs are a cornerstone of the web, and are the basic means by which content and resources are shared and disseminated. People copy and paste URLs into Slack or WhatsApp to share interesting links. Google crawls the web, discovering and indexing such links. But what happens when the page you want to link is not public and requires credentials in order to view or interact with it? Suddenly a URL is no longer sufficient, unless the recipient happens to already have credentials. Sometimes they do, and everything is fine, but often they do not. If we really do want to give them access, the problem becomes how to securely pass along some credentials with the URL so that they can access the page we have linked.

A commonly desired approach to this problem is to encode the credentials into the URL itself. While convenient, this solution is fraught with dangers and frequently results in credentials being exposed in insecure contexts. In this article, we’ll look at various ways to accomplish this, the ways that things can go wrong, and conclude with a set of guidelines for cases where this can be made secure, and actually improve security overall.

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