The 3 A s: Authentication, Authorization, Accounting in .NET

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The 3 A s: Authentication, Authorization, Accounting
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and authorization and their credentials is becoming an issue, the IETF steering group (IESG) has recently urged network and AAA procedure designer within the engineering teams to start decoupling the authentication and authorization procedures through using a variety of tools such as separating authentication and authorization credentials. We have yet to see any significant progress in this area, but feel that it is important to recite the more important results of the IRTF documentations in the following. A simplified architecture for systems implementing authorization mechanisms is shown in Figure 1.2. Upon receiving the request for a service or a resource, the service provider network first consults an authorization server that holds user profiles and can then make a determination on whether the user is authorized to use the service it has requested or not. The IETF authorization model reasonably assumes that authorization requests are only processed for authenticated users. In other words, we do not need to perform authorization in case we have not been able to successfully verify the end party s identity with certainty. Still, it would make sense that the same server performs both authentication and authorization, even though this server may fetch authentication credentials and user profile information from different databases. As we will see later on, since an accounting server also collects user s resource usage information, accounting is typically also performed by the same server, namely the AAA server: authentication, authorization, accounting server. The model also includes an entity that provides the actual service and is called the service equipment. The service can be something that the user considers as a service or something that provides some functionality within the network. Example of the first type of service is a music stream or a conference call, supported by an application server. In this case, the service equipment is the application server. Network functionality types of service are usually transparent to the user. For instance, a mobility agent is a service equipment that provides mobility services for the user s traffic. The model shown here assumes that service equipment is administered by the same service provider network as the one that the user is subscribed to. In a simple case, typically called single administrative domain case, the service equipment is also part of the home administrative domain and can directly interact with the home AAA server of the user. In more general cases, the service equipment and the service provider network may be different from user s home domain.
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Service provider network User AAA server
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Figure 1.2 Service authorization model
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1.2.3.1 Authorization Messaging Authorization of the user for service is accomplished on the basis of interaction between the user, the AAA server, and the service equipment. Three major scenarios are recognized for this interaction, each of which leads to a different sequence for the order in which the operations are performed:
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Agent sequence: This sequence is used for scenarios where the user contacts an entity in the AAA infrastructure first. The contact point is typically an edge entity that is also an AAA client. The user sends its service request, which can be seen as authorization request, towards the AAA server. The AAA server authorizes the user based on the information it has on the user or after consulting other entities such as a policy server or a resource manager, such as a bandwidth manager. After the authorization is successful, the AAA server sends the authorization possibly along with other configuration information to the service equipment. The service equipment prepares itself (e.g. sets up states and so on) for providing the service and possibly acknowledges to the AAA server that it has completed the configuration procedure. The AAA server replies to the user that authorization is complete and service is set up. Here, the AAA server acts as an agent for the user, and hence the sequence of events is called agent sequence. Pull sequence: In this scenario, the user sends the request directly to the service equipment. One example is, as we will see later on, when a user requests to use the services of a Mobile IP agent for support of her mobility. The service equipment forwards the request to domain s AAA server. Note that, in case, the user belongs to a different administrative domain, this AAA server is a local AAA server that must contact the user s home AAA server. The home AAA server evaluates the request and returns a response that eventually gets back to the service equipment. The service equipment accepts or rejects the service based on the AAA server response and notifies the user accordingly. Push sequence: This model is the one most similar to the movie theatre ticket. The user gets a ticket or certificate from the service provider AAA server. Anytime the user requests a service from the service equipment, the user presents the ticket to the service equipment as a way to show that it has been authorized by the AAA server to access that service.
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1.2.3.2 Policy Framework and Authorization When we were discussing the differences between authorization and authentication, we mentioned that after verifying the identity of a user requesting a service, the network needs to check the user profile and make an authorization decision based on that profile. In order to keep the authorization process consistent and scalable, the decision is often made with the help of a pre-set policy. Since many types of policies, such as security policy, group affiliation policy, and roaming policy exist, having a policy framework in place is important. The policy framework defines various architecture elements such as a policy repository, policy decision points (PDP), and so on. Policy repository typically includes the following information: (1) available services, (2) resources about which authorization decisions can be made, (3) policy rules to make authorization decisions, and (4) authorization event log for cases when authorization may be conditioned on the log of some previous events that must have happened.
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