Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Richard Hale, Elizabeth White, William Schmarzo, Liz McMillan, Moshe Kranc

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Agile Computing

Cloud Security: Blog Feed Post

HTML5 WebSocket Security is Strong

Part 1 in a two-part blog post that discusses HTML5 WebSocket and security

This is a two-part blog post that discusses HTML5 WebSocket and security. In this, the first post, I will talk about the security benefits that come from being HTTP-compatible and the WebSocket standard itself. In the second post (coming soon) I will highlight some of the extra security capabilities that Kaazing WebSocket Gateway offers, things that real-world WebSocket applications will want to be fully secure.

A WebSocket connection starts its life as an HTTP handshake, which then upgrades in-place to speak the WebSocket wire protocol. As such, many existing HTTP security mechanisms also apply to a WebSocket connection — one of the reasons why the WebSocket standard deliberately chose the strategy of being HTTP compatible.

Unified HTTP and WebSocket Security

Thanks to the HTTP/WebSocket unified security model, the following is a list of some standard HTTP security methods that can be applied to a WebSocket connection. Remember this is not something you get for free: each WebSocket gateway/server needs to implement any of these they consider important. (Kaazing’s Gateway supports all of them, and more.)

  • Same encryption as HTTPS using TLS/SSL

    The way you do encryption with WebSocket is the same as you do for HTTP. With HTTPS, the client and server first establish a secure envelope (connection) and only then begin the HTTP protocol. In exactly the same way, WebSocket Secure (WSS) first establishes a secure envelope, then begins the HTTP handshake, and then the upgrade to the WebSocket wire protocol.Right up until the upgrade to the WebSocket protocol takes place, there is no difference between HTTPS and WSS, they are identical. The benefit of this is that if you know how to configure HTTPS for encrypted communication, then you also know how to configure WSS for encrypted WebSocket communication.

  • Origin-based security

    Just like HTTP, a WebSocket endpoint is defined by a URL which means origin-based security can be applied (as you would for HTTP). WebSocket always uses the origin security model, as defined by RFC 6454. If your WebSocket gateway/server can be configured for origin-based access control then you can do cross-origin WebSocket connections in a secure way.Cross-origin communication has traditionally been a bane of Web development because it opens the door to malicious cross-scripting attacks. But thanks to the standard origin security model it can now be done securely. This is another good example of an HTTP security capability that can also apply to WebSocket due to being HTTP-compatible.Be sure to pick a WebSocket gateway/server which supports origin-based security because it lets you partition your application over different hosts or even domains, giving you architectural flexibility. (Or perhaps you want a WebSocket-based service that other sites can access securely, such as for mashup applications, for example).Just like existing HTTP Ajax/Comet applications, without cross-origin support you are constrained to either having your WebSocket connection forced to connect to the same origin only or you have to endure security risks when making cross-origin connections.

  • Cookie-based interaction pattern

    It is common for applications to store session information in cookies. When connecting to a server it can validate the payload of the cookie and let users proceed without continually forcing them to enter their credentials.If you already use cookies for existing Web applications there’s no reason a WebSocket gateway/server can’t read the same cookies for session management.

Incidentally, given that Kaazing was a major contributor to the original WebSocket wire protocol specification, many of these security benefits derive from Kaazing’s submissions to the standard.

Native WebSocket Security

Here are some non-HTTP-related security features defined by the WebSocket standard itself.

  • Subprotocol validation

    The WebSocket protocol was designed as a transport layer for higher-level protocols (just like TCP, but for the Web). For example, you can transport existing protocols like XMPP, AMQP, Stomp, etc over the Web, through firewalls and proxies, using the standard ports 80/443.The Sec-WebSocket-Protocol header specifies what subprotocol (the application-level protocol layered over the WebSocket protocol) is negotiated between the client and the WebSocket gateway/server.A WebSocket connection can navigate through HTTP communication ports advertising the shape of the protocol that is going to be spoken on top of WebSocket. Therefore a gateway/server, or intermediaries, can properly assess that the traffic flowing is compliant or put security policies in place.This protocol-level inspection allows security policies to go deeper than typical HTTP packet-level inspection. The kind of deep packet inspection usually reserved for LANs and WANs now applies equally well over the Web with WebSocket.This is one of the advantages of using WebSocket as a transport layer for higher-level protocols rather than sending proprietary messages directly over the WebSocket connection.

  • Client-to-Server Masking

    Each WebSocket frame — think of a frame as a message — is automatically masked to prevent old or badly-implemented intermediaries from accidentally or deliberately causing issues based on bytes in the payload. Unlike HTTP, code on the client cannot successfully predict the precise bytes used to represent the payload of messages sent to the WebSocket gateway/server.Each frame contains the masking key so WebSocket-aware intermediaries can unmask the messages for protocol or packet inspection, or to enforce security policies, etc.

Don’t Forget Fallback

When thinking about WebSocket and security, another important consideration is fallback. Many WebSocket gateways/servers have fallback for cases when a WebSocket connection cannot be established. This is a practical concern since you have to deal with old browsers, intermediaries that interfere, etc. A WebSocket application can expect to have many users relying on fallback methods in the real world.

Therefore it is important that any security features you use for WebSocket also apply to the fallback when a WebSocket connection cannot be established. Moreover it should be completely transparent to your developers. They don’t want to have to write different code for those cases where fallback kicks in.

For example, many WebSocket providers will fall back to Comet or Ajax when a WebSocket connection cannot be made. But what happens if you utilize cross-origin policies? (And you should.) Will they be honored by the this fallback method…?

Another popular fallback strategy when a WebSocket connection isn’t possible is to use Flash Sockets. But what happens, for example, if you are using cookie-based or HTTP authentication? (And you should!) Will the Flash connectivity seamlessly and transparently respond to such a challenge…? Or are your application developers going to have to code around this scenario?

Since this article is about security, it should be pointed out that using Flash Sockets as a fallback is a potential security risk. They grant the right for application code served by the source origin to open a raw TCP connection cross-origin to the HTTP port of the target origin. This makes it possible for malicious sites to dynamically load some Flash which has the ability to attack the HTTP port directly. WebSocket and HTTP preserve the security model of the Web, Flash doesn’t.

Summary

A WebSocket application can be made secure because various standards provide for that possibility. And since WebSocket is HTTP-compatible it benefits from many of the same security techniques that can be applied to HTTP. It is up to each WebSocket gateway/server to implement some or all of these standard security protections.

Just like you would pick a web server or application server with the security features you need, you need to pick a WebSocket gateway/server with the security features you need. Any WebSocket vendor that only has a few or none of them is not serious about security.

If you are building a real-world or enterprise WebSocket-based application then think about your security needs early. It’s not something you want to “bolt on” later because that will mean having to change your architecture or write a lot of extra code. An enterprise WebSocket gateway/server will have security built into the architecture that you can simply configure when you’re ready.

Because when you don’t take security seriously, your customers won’t take you seriously.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Kaazing Blog

Kaazing is helping define the future of the event-driven enterprise by accelerating the Web for the Internet of Things.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
"delaPlex is a software development company. We do team-based outsourcing development," explained Mark Rivers, COO and Co-founder of delaPlex Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
We all know the latest numbers: Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from last year, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. We're rapidly approaching a data production of 40 zettabytes a day – more than we can every physically store, and exabytes and yottabytes are just around the corner. For many that’s a good sign, as data has been proven to equal money – IF it’s ingested, integrated, and analyzed fast enough. Without real-ti...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
I wanted to gather all of my Internet of Things (IOT) blogs into a single blog (that I could later use with my University of San Francisco (USF) Big Data “MBA” course). However as I started to pull these blogs together, I realized that my IOT discussion lacked a vision; it lacked an end point towards which an organization could drive their IOT envisioning, proof of value, app dev, data engineering and data science efforts. And I think that the IOT end point is really quite simple…
A critical component of any IoT project is what to do with all the data being generated. This data needs to be captured, processed, structured, and stored in a way to facilitate different kinds of queries. Traditional data warehouse and analytical systems are mature technologies that can be used to handle certain kinds of queries, but they are not always well suited to many problems, particularly when there is a need for real-time insights.
Big Data, cloud, analytics, contextual information, wearable tech, sensors, mobility, and WebRTC: together, these advances have created a perfect storm of technologies that are disrupting and transforming classic communications models and ecosystems. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Erik Perotti, Senior Manager of New Ventures on Plantronics’ Innovation team, provided an overview of this technological shift, including associated business and consumer communications impacts, and opportunities it ...
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
Extracting business value from Internet of Things (IoT) data doesn’t happen overnight. There are several requirements that must be satisfied, including IoT device enablement, data analysis, real-time detection of complex events and automated orchestration of actions. Unfortunately, too many companies fall short in achieving their business goals by implementing incomplete solutions or not focusing on tangible use cases. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products...
Is your aging software platform suffering from technical debt while the market changes and demands new solutions at a faster clip? It’s a bold move, but you might consider walking away from your core platform and starting fresh. ReadyTalk did exactly that. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, will discuss why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and over a decade of audio conferencing product development to start an innovati...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet a...
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
The best-practices for building IoT applications with Go Code that attendees can use to build their own IoT applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Indraneel Mitra, Senior Solutions Architect & Technology Evangelist at Cognizant, provided valuable information and resources for both novice and experienced developers on how to get started with IoT and Golang in a day. He also provided information on how to use Intel Arduino Kit, Go Robotics API and AWS IoT stack to build an application tha...
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings in the last year, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their back-end AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT – especially in the connected home and office. Amazon is extending its reach by building on its dominant Cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strategy, recently announced Replenishment Services, the Echo/Alexa voice recognition control platform, the 6-7 strategic...
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? You need to discover patterns that are repeatable in vast quantities of data, understand their meaning, and implement scalable monitoring across multiple data streams in order to monetize the discoveries and insights. Motif discovery and deep learning platforms are emerging to visualize sensor data, to search for patterns and to build application that can monitor real time streams efficiently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, ...
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, Nasdaq: VZ) and Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) have entered into a definitive agreement under which Verizon will acquire Yahoo's operating business for approximately $4.83 billion in cash, subject to customary closing adjustments. Yahoo informs, connects and entertains a global audience of more than 1 billion monthly active users** -- including 600 million monthly active mobile users*** through its search, communications and digital content products. Yahoo also co...