There are several authentication and authorization methods to protect the application out there. Some of them are:
- JSON Web Tokens (JWT) for authentication
- Session-based authentication
- OAuth2 and OpenID Connect
- Simple Web Token (SWT)
- Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML)
- JSON Web Signature (JWS)
Let us understand each of them in great detail.
1. JSON Web Token (JWT)
JSON Web Token (JWT) is an open standard for securely transmitting information between parties as a JSON object. It is commonly used for authorization purposes and can be used to pass information about a user’s identity, such as name and authorization status, from an authorization server to a resource server.
A JWT consists of three parts: a header, a payload, and a signature. The header and payload are base64-encoded JSON objects, while the signature is a digital signature over the header and payload, created using a secret key and a cryptographic algorithm.
The header and payload are combined with a period separator to form a single string, which is then signed using the secret key and algorithm. The signature, header, and payload are then combined to form the JWT.
JWT is lightweight, compact, and self-contained, making it easy to transmit over HTTP and suitable for use in a variety of applications, including web applications, mobile apps, and API authorization. Additionally, JWT supports a variety of cryptographic algorithms, making it secure and flexible for use in a variety of use cases.
2. Session-based authentication
Session-based authentication is a method of authenticating users by creating a unique session identifier (session ID) that is stored on the server and associated with a user’s profile. Whenever a user logs in, the server generates a session ID, which is then stored on the client-side as a cookie. Subsequent requests from the client to the server include the session ID as a cookie, which the server uses to look up the user’s profile and determine if the user is authenticated.
This method of authentication is stateful, meaning that the server must keep track of the state of each user’s session. The session ID is often accompanied by a timeout value, which determines how long a user can remain logged in without providing additional authentication.
Session-based authentication is simple and easy to implement, but can have security vulnerabilities if the session ID is not properly protected (for example, if it is stored as plain text or if it is not encrypted). Additionally, because the session ID is stored on the client-side, it can be susceptible to attacks such as session hijacking or fixation.
3. OAuth2 and OpenID Connect
OAuth2 and OpenID Connect are open standards for authorization.
OAuth2 is a protocol that allows a user to grant limited access to their resources on one site, to another site, without having to reveal their credentials. It is commonly used as a way for users to grant third-party applications access to their information without having to share their password. OAuth2 enables authorization flows for web and desktop applications, and mobile devices.
OpenID Connect is built on top of OAuth2 and provides an additional layer of authentication. It allows clients to verify the identity of an end-user based on the authentication performed by an authorization server, as well as to obtain basic profile information about the end-user in an interoperable and REST-like manner.
In summary, while OAuth2 focuses on authorization, OpenID Connect adds authentication on top of OAuth2.
4. Simple Web Token (SWT)
Simple Web Token (SWT) is a lightweight token format that is commonly used for authorization in cloud-based applications and services. Like JSON Web Tokens (JWT), SWT is a JSON-based format that can be used to encode claims between parties.
SWT is designed to be simple and lightweight, making it suitable for use in resource-constrained environments such as mobile devices and IoT devices. Unlike JWT, SWT is not signed, which means that it relies on transport-level security (e.g. SSL/TLS) to protect the token from tampering.
SWT is often used in combination with OAuth2 or other authorization frameworks, to provide a simple and secure method for exchanging information between parties. Despite its simplicity, the use of SWT requires careful consideration of security considerations, as the lack of a signature makes it susceptible to tampering and other security threats.
5. Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML)
Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is a standard for exchanging authentication and authorization data between parties, in particular, between an identity provider (IdP) and a service provider (SP). SAML is used to pass information about a user’s identity, such as name and authorization status, from the IdP to the SP.
In a SAML-based single sign-on (SSO) system, a user authenticates with the IdP and then the IdP generates a SAML assertion, which contains information about the user’s identity and authorization status. The SAML assertion is then passed to the SP, which uses the information to grant the user access to its resources.
SAML is widely used for enterprise-level SSO and can be used to federate identities across multiple organizations. SAML is also flexible and can support a variety of use cases, including Web SSO, Single Logout (SLO), and attribute exchange.
While SAML provides a secure method for exchanging authentication and authorization data, it can be more complex to implement than other standards such as OAuth2 or JWT. SAML also requires more configuration and coordination between the IdP and SP than other standards.
6. JSON Web Signature (JWS)
JSON Web Signature (JWS) is a specification for signing JSON data structures and representing the signature in a compact, URL-safe format. A JWS consists of three parts: a header, a payload, and a signature. The header and payload are JSON objects, while the signature is a digital signature over the header and payload, created using a secret key and a cryptographic algorithm.
The header and payload are base64-encoded and combined with a period separator, creating a single string. This string is then signed using the secret key and a chosen algorithm, producing a signature. The signature, along with the header and payload, are then combined to form the JWS.
JWS is commonly used in combination with JSON Web Tokens (JWT) to provide a secure and compact way of transmitting information between parties. JWS provides a mechanism for ensuring the authenticity and integrity of the information contained in a JWT, preventing tampering and ensuring that the data has not been altered in transit.
JWS supports a variety of cryptographic algorithms, including RSA, HMAC, and ECDSA, making it a flexible and secure solution for signing JSON data structures in a variety of use cases.