Authentication in a single page application (SPA) involves several patterns with pros and cons. This article will list the main important concepts to know and have in mind when dealing with user authentication, especially in this common architecture:
X-Powered-Bythat says what kind of server you use in the response header. You may use Helmetjs if you are operating ExpressJS.
# List security breaches npm audit # Upgrade of minor and patch version following your version ranges in package.json yarn outdated yarn update # Interactive upgrade of minor and patch version following your version ranges in package.json yarn upgrade-interactive # List outdated dependencies including major version yarn upgrade-interactive --latest # Same with npm npm outdated npm update # Tool for upgrading to major versions (with potential breaking changes) npm install -g npm-check-updates ncu
There are 2 main authentication mechanisms (you will see later that we can combine them) to identify a client on a REST API:
A bearer token is a value that goes into the Authorization header of any HTTP requests. It is not automatically stored anywhere, it has no expiry date and no associated domain. It’s just a value:
GET https://www.example.com/api/users Authorization: Bearer my_bearer_token_value
To have a stateless application, we can use JWT for our token format. Basically, a JWT contains 3 parts:
JWT is a cryptographically secure means of exchanging information that make stateless authentication possible. The signature certifies that the payload has not been modified (i.e. that is not compromised) thanks to symmetric or asymmetric (RSA) signature. The header contains the format and public key address to verify the signature (for asymmetric).
Basically, the client application gets a JWT token once authenticated by a user/password authentication (or other means).
We have to manually store the JWT in the clients (memory, local/session cookie, local storage, etc…).
It is not recommended to store the JWT in the browser local storage:
Storing JWT in session cookie may be the solution, we will talk about that later.
To go further: https://auth0.com/docs/security/store-tokens
XSS attacks can be mitigated by escaping and controlling user-generated content but it will be very difficult to detect and mitigate a compromised web dependency served by a public CDN.
or from the server using an HTTP Response header:
Set-Cookie: my_cookie_name=my_cookie_value // HTTP Response Header
The web browser automatically sends cookies with every request to the cookie’s domain.
GET https://www.example.com/api/users Cookie: my_cookie_name=my_cookie_value
In most (stateful) use cases, a cookie is used to store a session ID. The session ID is managed by the server (creation and timeout). We talk about stateful as the server needs to manage a state on the server whereas a JWT token is stateless.
There are 2 kinds of cookies (source):
Server cookies can be configured with several options:
They are automatically stored in the web browser with an expiry date (optional) and associated domain.
Another example of CSRF: let’s assume that the user, while he is still logged in to facebook.com, visits a page on bad.com. Now, bad.com belongs to an attacker where he has coded the following on bad.com:
To mitigate XSS, the HttpOnly option must be set on the cookie.
To mitigate CSRF, the SameSite option must be set on the cookie. The SameSite option is not supported by all browsers so it will not prevent all CSRF attacks. Some other mitigation strategies (that can be combined) can be used:
Let’s summarize what we are looking for our authentication mechanism on our server API:
What about putting a JWT inside a cookie to get the best of both worlds?
The two cookie authentication approach has been described by Peter Locke in https://medium.com/lightrail/getting-token-authentication-right-in-a-stateless-single-page-application-57d0c6474e3
JWT can be updated on each request seamlessly by the server as the new one will be in the cookie response and automatically stored by the browser. This way, the expiration date of the JWT can be put back.
To limit CSRF, mutations should never be done using a GET query, use PUT or POST. Mutations with high-security concerns should ask user credentials again, for instance, the change email mutation should ask the user password to validate the change. The temporary cookie could also embed a random number that is read by JS and submit in a hidden form field as long with the form data. The server has to check if the random number in the cookie matches the value from the form data.
The authentication flow for our SPA is now the following:
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What is 2FA
Two-Factor Authentication (or 2FA as it often referred to) is an extra layer of security that is used to provide users an additional level of protection when securing access to an account.
Employing a 2FA mechanism is a vast improvement in security over the Singe-Factor Authentication method of simply employing a username and password. Using this method, accounts that have 2FA enabled, require the user to enter a one-time passcode that is generated by an external application. The 2FA passcode (usually a six-digit number) is required to be input into the passcode field before access is granted. The 2FA input is usually required directly after the username and password are entered by the client.
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An Gmail authentication error occurs when an account’s owner is unable to verify themselves; Gmail perceives it to be a threat to the account and its privacy, so it shows an authentication error. This can occur due to multiple reasons; entering the wrong password, using the wrong server port, and disabled IMAP on Gmail. You will find solutions to fix Gmail authentication problems in this Video. Additionally, you will find ways for Gmail 2-step verification bypass.
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Such a cool-sounding term, I had to find out its meaning and purpose. So here is the story.
Let’s take the story step-wise. You should have heard by now of 2-FA, two-factor authentication. The base idea is pretty simple. Apart from just the password, many of the websites might be sending you an OTP on the phone to grant access. That summarises the two factors. Your password is factor one, and possession of your phone number is factor 2. But just for curious people, I will share some knowledge.
In information security, we have three main pillars to verify someone’s identity.
Withdrawing money from ATM checks _possession _of ATM card and knowledge of the PIN. Encashing a cheque checks possession of the cheque book and inherence to the user’s signature. Attendance in my college lectures needs inherence to fingerprint and possession of the ID card. Writing proxy attendance in attendance sheet requires knowledge of friend’s roll number and _inherence _of the fake signature of your friend. You get the idea where it’s going.
Two-Factor authentication, as most of the examples above, is about combining the methods from 2 separate domains. It is different from Two-Step authentication, which can be just a password and a pin, both from the _knowledge _domain.
Many secure websites recommend, even enforce you, to use such two factors. More than often, the possession part is your phone number.
But waiting for OTP can be troublesome, especially in a place with poor networking. Many people may be stuck in places that do have good WiFi, internet connectivity but horrible cellular coverage. Like any place in the new CSE building of my college or even Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in rush hours.
Why so many worries, right? If we just wanted to prove the possession of something, can’t we show the possession of our phone? Something that we always have. And more than often is the device we are using to log in to the website. This is the idea behind Google Authenticator.
How does it work?
At the time of first account creation, if you choose the authenticator app option in the available list, they will provide you with a QR code, which is the main secret that will remain shared between your phone and the website. You should print this QR code and keep it hidden in your cupboard or somewhere you can be safe about. Why? We will come to that later.
This secret that is shared through QR is more than often 16+ length of a random string. So are you supposed to type in every time? That will not only make it tough but also make the string knowledge than possession.
Instead, what the app does for you is taking this secret key and the current time as inputs, it generates a new OTP for you which is a 6–8 digit number that you can type in. This OTP is regenerated in 30 seconds and older OTP expires.
A Cyber hacker has to guess the OTP in a small time window. Anything later than that and the OTP will expire. This will not only prevent the entry but also warn the user through email about his password being compromised.
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