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ITL Bulletin for August 2007
ITL Bulletin for August 2007
ITL Bulletin for August 2007
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Forwarded from: Elizabeth Lennon
ITL BULLETIN FOR AUGUST 2007
SECURE WEB SERVICES
Shirley Radack, Editor
Computer Security Division
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
U.S. Department of Commerce
Web services technologies help organizations use their computer systems
and networks more efficiently and serve their customers more
effectively. Web services provide a flexible way for organizations to
connect applications and services so that they can communicate with each
other and support each other over networks. This connectivity allows for
better communication with customers, improved sharing of resources and
data, and more efficient links of organizational processes across
different systems and operating environments. In applying Web services,
organizations can utilize different computer systems without changing
their existing technologies and software design approaches, and without
making major modifications to their legacy applications and databases.
Web services are implemented by means of a service-oriented architecture
(SOA) that allows for interoperability, connectivity, and resource
sharing. The SOA, which is based on open standards, is a collection of
software services that can communicate with each other by passing data
or by coordinating internal or external computer activities. This allows
for the development of applications that use services and that are
available as services for other applications to use. Examples of Web
service applications are a financial institution's business-to-business
service that allows transactions to be sent by third parties such as
customers and business partners, and a healthcare provider's application
that binds the healthcare provider networks with a hospital's Web
The many features that make Web services appealing also present security
challenges to the implementation of the Web services approach. The
improved accessibility of data, dynamic application-to-application
connections, and reduced need for human intervention in providing Web
services are capabilities that are not easily protected using
traditional security models and controls.
Guide to Secure Web Services
The Information Technology Laboratory of the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST) recently issued NIST Special Publication
(SP) 800-95, Guide to Secure Web Services: Recommendations of the
National Institute of Standards and Technology, written by Anoop Singhal
of NIST, Theodore Winograd of Booz Allen Hamilton, and Karen Scarfone of
NIST. This publication helps organizations understand Web services and
the challenges of integrating information security practices into SOA
design and development to assure secure Web services.
The guide explains current and emerging standards that have been
developed for Web services and provides background information on the
most common security threats to SOAs. The information presented can be
applied to many different hardware platforms, operating systems, and
applications. Other topics discussed in the guide include Web portals,
the human user's entry point into the SOA based on Web services; the
challenges associated with making legacy applications secure; and secure
implementation tools and technologies.
Important supplemental information is included in the appendices to the
guide: a discussion of attacks that have been initiated against Web
services and SOAs; an overview of Electronic Business eXtensible Markup
Language (ebXML), a Web services protocol suite developed by the United
Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business
(UN/CEFACT); a glossary of terms related to Web services; an acronym
list; and a list of in-print resources and online tools and resources
that will help the reader understand Web services and SOAs, security
concepts and methodologies, and the general relationship between them.
The secure Web services guide is available from NIST's Web page:
Standards are essential to the successful use of service-oriented
computing. The SOA can be implemented using open standards and standard
protocols such as SOAP, an eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based
protocol for exchanging structured information in a decentralized,
Voluntary standards organizations have been addressing the need for
standards that form the foundation for Web services, and for standards
and techniques that protect Web services. These organizations include
the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Organization for the
Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), the Internet
Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the Liberty Alliance.
Many of the standards and techniques that have been developed complement
or extend one another, but there are many problems to be solved, such as
service description, automatic service discovery, and quality of service
(QoS) methods. The standards developed for Web service security do not
provide all of the techniques that are needed to develop robust, secure,
and reliable Web services.
Organizations should apply risk management procedures, use secure
software development techniques, test their systems, and select
effective security controls to provide robustness and reliability.
Organizations should be concerned about providing protection for:
- Confidentiality and integrity of data that is transmitted via Web
services protocols in service-to-service transactions, including data
that traverses intermediary services;
- Functional integrity of the Web services requiring the establishment
of trust between services on a transaction-by-transaction basis; and
- Availability of systems when denial of service attacks exploit
vulnerabilities unique to Web service technologies and target core
services, such as the discovery service, on which other services rely.
Frequently used perimeter-based network security technologies, such as
firewalls, do not provide adequate protection for SOAs, which are
dynamic and can seldom be fully constrained to the physical boundaries
of a single network. In addition, SOAP is transmitted over HyperText
Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which is allowed without restriction through
Transport Layer Security (TLS), which is used to authenticate and
encrypt Web-based messages, is inadequate for protecting SOAP messages
because TLS is designed to operate between two endpoints. Also, TLS does
not provide protection for messages which are forwarded to other Web
services when these messages are not forwarded simultaneously by Web
In the Web service processing model, SOAP messages and XML documents
must be secured as they are forwarded along potentially long and complex
chains of consumer, provider, and intermediary services. However, Web
services processing makes those services subject to unique attacks, as
well as to variations on familiar attacks targeting Web servers.
Security Techniques for Web Services
Ensuring the security of Web services involves augmenting traditional
security mechanisms with security frameworks based on use of
authentication, authorization, confidentiality, and integrity
mechanisms. NIST SP 800-95 describes how to implement those security
mechanisms in Web services and how to make Web services and portal
applications robust against expected attacks. Available specifications
that address specific security issues include:
- Confidentiality of Web service messages. XML Encryption, a
specification that is available from the World Wide Web Consortium
(W3C), provides a mechanism to encrypt XML documents.
- Integrity of Web service messages. XML Signature, a specification
produced jointly by the W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF), allows for selectively signing XML data.
- Web service authentication and authorization. XML Signature, Security
Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and eXtensible Access Control Markup
Language (XACML), as proposed by the Organization for the Advancement
of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) group, provide mechanisms
for authentication and authorization in a Web services environment.
- Message integrity and confidentiality. Web Services (WS)-Security, a
specification produced by OASIS, defines a set of SOAP header
extensions for end-to-end SOAP messaging security and allows
communicating partners to exchange signed encrypted messages in a Web
- Authentication. Security for Universal Description, Discovery and
Integration (UDDI), developed by OASIS, enables Web services to be
easily located and subsequently invoked. Security for UDDI enables
publishers, inquirers, and subscribers to authenticate themselves and
authorize the information published in the directory.
See Appendix G of NIST SP 800-95 for references to these and other open
standards that have been developed for secure Web services.
While current standards deal with many security issues, there are still
many issues to be addressed: repudiation of transactions; secure
issuance of credentials; exploitation of covert channels; compromised
services; spread of malware, such as viruses and Trojan horses, via SOAP
messages; denial of service attacks; and incorrect service
implementations. The following provides additional information on some
of these challenges.
Discovery. In Web services discovery, participants identify and
compose Web Services Description Language (WSDL)-specific services based
on definitions in a UDDI registry. Discovery involves matching a set of
functional and other criteria with a set of resource descriptions. The
goal is to find appropriate Web service-related resources. Because of
the potentially large number of service candidates in the registry,
performance rankings for algorithms used to search, match, and compose
services can vary from case to case.
As the set of available Web services expands, advanced tools will be
needed to help identify services that match a customer's functional and
security requirements. It is important for service providers to describe
their service capabilities and for service requesters to describe their
requirements in an unambiguous and semantic way. Techniques that take
advantage of Semantic Web technologies can improve discovery
capabilities. An existing standard for Ontology Web Language for
Services (OWL-S) is an example, but more work needs to be done to
integrate such technologies into Web service registries. In OWL-S, the
service requester can describe the service requirements using terms from
a semantic model. Reasoning techniques are then used to find the
semantic similarity between the service description and the request to
find a set of matching services automatically. Both UDDI and OWL-S can
be used to specify the security properties of a Web service, but this
security support is not available for the discovery process. However,
W3C's Semantic Annotations for WSDL is a step in the direction of
merging Web services discovery technology with semantic Web technology.
Even with semantic Web services discovery, true automation will require
that the requester be able to determine explicitly the security
requirements of the provider in addition to its functionality.
End-to-End Quality of Service and Protection. Most Web services
deployed do not provide guarantees for Quality of Service (QoS) or
Quality of Protection (QoP) under the scenario of attacks. QoS is
important in defining the expected level of performance a particular Web
service will have. By prioritizing traffic, overall performance of the
system can be improved. Standards have been developed for WS-Reliability
and WS-ReliableMessaging to provide some level of QoS. Both standards
support guaranteed message delivery and message ordering. Other QoS
parameters, such as rate of failure or average latency, are usually
dealt with by lower-layer protocols. For Web services to truly support
QoS, existing QoS support must be extended so that the packets
corresponding to individual Web service messages can be routed
accordingly to achieve predictable performance.
Overlap between OASIS and W3C Standards. Similar and overlapping
Web services security standards that are being developed by different
standards bodies are a source of confusion to system developers. These
standards are often updated, resulting in interoperability problems and
a need for more formal specification and testing of standards.
Methodologies for Web Services Security. The main emphasis of Web
services security today is on basic infrastructure (e.g., protocols and
languages). As technology matures and Web services become widely
adopted, there will be a need for methodologies and recommended
practices for security to help developers identify assets to be
protected, analyze possible attacks, and decide protection levels and
Availability and Protection from Denial of Service Attacks.
Availability enables a Web services application to detect a denial of
service (DoS) attack, to continue operation as long as possible, and
then to gracefully recover and resume operations after the attack.
Techniques are needed to replicate data and services and ensure
continuity of operations in the event of a fault. Also needed are
management and monitoring solutions to provide service performance and
availability monitoring to meet certain service-level objectives.
NIST's Recommendations for Secure Web Services
NIST recommends the following actions to protect Web services.
Organizations should consider these actions as part of their risk
management processes to balance the economic and operational costs of
protective measures and achieve gains in mission capability by
protecting systems and data.
- Replicate Data and Services to Improve Availability. Since Web
services are susceptible to DoS attacks, it is important to replicate
data and applications in a robust manner. Replication and redundancy
can ensure access to critical data in the event of a fault. This
protective measure will also enable the system to react in a
coordinated way in dealing with disruptions.
- Use Logging of Transactions to Improve Non-Repudiation and
Accountability. Non-repudiation and accountability require logging
mechanisms involved in the entire Web service transaction. As of
mid-2007, there were few implemented logging standards that can be
used across an entire SOA. In particular, the level of logging
provided by various UDDI registries, identity providers, and
individual Web services varies greatly. Where the provided information
is not sufficient to maintain accountability and non-repudiation, it
may be necessary to introduce additional software or services into the
SOA to support these security requirements.
- Use Threat Modeling and Secure Software Design Techniques to Protect
from Attacks. Secure software design techniques facilitate the design
and implementation of Web services software without defects that can
be exploited. Threat modeling and risk analysis techniques should be
used to protect the Web services application from attacks. Used
effectively, threat modeling can find security strengths and
weaknesses, discover vulnerabilities, and provide feedback into the
security life cycle of the application. Software security testing
should include security-oriented code reviews and penetration testing.
When threat modeling and secure software design techniques are used,
Web services can be implemented to withstand a variety of attacks.
- Use Performance Analysis and Simulation Techniques for End-to-End
Quality of Service and Quality of Protection. Queuing networks and
simulation techniques are important tools in designing, developing,
and managing complex information systems. Similar techniques can be
used for quality-assured and highly available Web services. In
addition to the QoS of a single service, end-to-end QoS is critical
for most composite services. For example, enterprise systems with
several business partners must complete business processes in a timely
manner to meet real-time market conditions. The dynamic and
compositional nature of Web services makes end-to-end QoS management a
major challenge for service-oriented distributed systems.
- Digitally Sign UDDI Entries to Verify the Author of Registered
Entries. UDDI registries openly provide details about the purpose of
a Web service as well as how to access it. Web services use UDDI
registries to discover and dynamically bind to Web services at run
time. Should an attacker compromise a UDDI entry, it would be possible
for requesters to bind to a malicious provider. Therefore, it is
important to digitally sign UDDI entries so as to verify the publisher
of these entries.
- Enhance Existing Security Mechanisms and Infrastructure. Web services
rely on many existing Internet protocols and often coexist with other
network applications on an organization's network. Many Web service
security standards, tools, and techniques require that traditional
security mechanisms, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems
(IDSs), and secured operating systems, are in effect before
implementation or deployment of Web services applications.
NIST publications assist organizations in planning and implementing a
comprehensive approach to information security. Publications dealing
with some of the issues discussed in NIST SP 800-95 include:
NIST SP 800-21-1, Guideline for Implementing Cryptography in the Federal
Government, provides guidance to federal agencies on how to select
NIST SP 800-30, Risk Management Guide for Information Technology
Systems, provides guidance to organizations in identifying the risks to
their missions as a result of using information technology, in assessing
the risks, and in taking steps to reduce the risks to an acceptable
NIST SP 800-32, Introduction to Public Key Technology and the Federal
PKI Infrastructure, discusses PKI functions and their applications, and
the implementation of PKI techniques by federal agencies.
NIST SP 800-44, Guidelines on Securing Public Web Servers, helps
organizations develop, configure, and maintain secure Web servers.
NIST SP 800-92, Guide to Computer Security Log Management, provides
advice on developing, implementing, and maintaining effective log
management practices throughout an organization.
These publications and other security-related publications are available
from NIST's Web site:
Disclaimer Any mention of commercial products or reference to commercial
organizations is for information only; it does not imply recommendation
or endorsement by NIST, nor does it imply that the products mentioned
are necessarily the best available for the purpose.
Elizabeth B. Lennon
Information Technology Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8900
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8900
Telephone (301) 975-2832
Fax (301) 975-2378
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