Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Jeev Trika, Yakov Fain

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
The essence of data analysis involves setting up data pipelines that consist of several operations that are chained together – starting from data collection, data quality checks, data integration, data analysis and data visualization (including the setting up of interaction paths in that visualization). In our opinion, the challenges stem from the technology diversity at each stage of the data pipeline as well as the lack of process around the analysis.
The IoT is changing the way enterprises conduct business. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, discuss how businesses can gain an edge over competitors by empowering consumers to take control through IoT. We'll cite examples such as a Washington, D.C.-based sports club that leveraged IoT and the cloud to develop a comprehensive booking system. He'll also highlight how IoT can revitalize and restore outdated business models, making them profitable...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, wh...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit y...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device. For more information, please visit https://www.mangoapps.com/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that ContentMX, the marketing technology and services company with a singular mission to increase engagement and drive more conversations for enterprise, channel and SMB technology marketers, has been named “Sponsor & Exhibitor Lounge Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. “CloudExpo is a great opportunity to start a conversation with new prospects, but what happens after the...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Designing IoT applications is complex, but deploying them in a scalable fashion is even more complex. A scalable, API first IaaS cloud is a good start, but in order to understand the various components specific to deploying IoT applications, one needs to understand the architecture of these applications and figure out how to scale these components independently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nara Rajagopalan is CEO of Accelerite, will discuss the fundamental architecture of IoT applications, ...
In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects). Bruce Swann has more than 15 years of experience working with digital marketing disciplines like web analytics, social med...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu, a leading provider of cloud hosting solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to foc...
Customer experience has become a competitive differentiator for companies, and it’s imperative that brands seamlessly connect the customer journey across all platforms. With the continued explosion of IoT, join us for a look at how to build a winning digital foundation in the connected era – today and in the future. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Nguyen, Group Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how to successfully leverage mobile, rapidly deploy content, capture real-time d...
IoT generates lots of temporal data. But how do you unlock its value? How do you coordinate the diverse moving parts that must come together when developing your IoT product? What are the key challenges addressed by Data as a Service? How does cloud computing underlie and connect the notions of Digital and DevOps What is the impact of the API economy? What is the business imperative for Cognitive Computing? Get all these questions and hundreds more like them answered at the 18th Cloud Expo...
As cloud and storage projections continue to rise, the number of organizations moving to the cloud is escalating and it is clear cloud storage is here to stay. However, is it secure? Data is the lifeblood for government entities, countries, cloud service providers and enterprises alike and losing or exposing that data can have disastrous results. There are new concepts for data storage on the horizon that will deliver secure solutions for storing and moving sensitive data around the world. ...
What a difference a year makes. Organizations aren’t just talking about IoT possibilities, it is now baked into their core business strategy. With IoT, billions of devices generating data from different companies on different networks around the globe need to interact. From efficiency to better customer insights to completely new business models, IoT will turn traditional business models upside down. In the new customer-centric age, the key to success is delivering critical services and apps wit...
SYS-CON Events announced today that 24Notion has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York, New York. 24Notion is full-service global creative digital marketing, technology and lifestyle agency that combines strategic ideas with customized tactical execution. With a broad understand of the art of traditional marketing, new media, communications and social influence, 24Notion uniquely understands how to con...
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, will discuss the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to fo...
SYS-CON Events announced today TechTarget has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TechTarget is the Web’s leading destination for serious technology buyers researching and making enterprise technology decisions. Its extensive global networ...
Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) will feature the upcoming 18th Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in a New York news documentary about the "New IT for the Future." The documentary will cover how big companies are transmitting or adopting the new IT for the future and will be filmed on the expo floor between June 7-June 9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. KBS has long been a leader in the development of the broadcasting culture of Korea. As the key public service broadcaster of Korea...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York and Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty ...
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will discuss the vast to...