33. X.509 Authentication

33.1 Overview

The most common use of X.509 certificate authentication is in verifying the identity of a server when using SSL, most commonly when using HTTPS from a browser. The browser will automatically check that the certificate presented by a server has been issued (ie digitally signed) by one of a list of trusted certificate authorities which it maintains.

You can also use SSL with "mutual authentication"; the server will then request a valid certificate from the client as part of the SSL handshake. The server will authenticate the client by checking that its certificate is signed by an acceptable authority. If a valid certificate has been provided, it can be obtained through the servlet API in an application. Spring Security X.509 module extracts the certificate using a filter. It maps the certificate to an application user and loads that user’s set of granted authorities for use with the standard Spring Security infrastructure.

You should be familiar with using certificates and setting up client authentication for your servlet container before attempting to use it with Spring Security. Most of the work is in creating and installing suitable certificates and keys. For example, if you’re using Tomcat then read the instructions here http://tomcat.apache.org/tomcat-6.0-doc/ssl-howto.html. It’s important that you get this working before trying it out with Spring Security

33.2 Adding X.509 Authentication to Your Web Application

Enabling X.509 client authentication is very straightforward. Just add the <x509/> element to your http security namespace configuration.

	<x509 subject-principal-regex="CN=(.*?)," user-service-ref="userService"/>;

The element has two optional attributes:

  • subject-principal-regex. The regular expression used to extract a username from the certificate’s subject name. The default value is shown above. This is the username which will be passed to the UserDetailsService to load the authorities for the user.
  • user-service-ref. This is the bean Id of the UserDetailsService to be used with X.509. It isn’t needed if there is only one defined in your application context.

The subject-principal-regex should contain a single group. For example the default expression "CN=(.*?)," matches the common name field. So if the subject name in the certificate is "CN=Jimi Hendrix, OU=…​", this will give a user name of "Jimi Hendrix". The matches are case insensitive. So "emailAddress=(.?)," will match "EMAILADDRESS=[email protected],CN=…​" giving a user name "[email protected]". If the client presents a certificate and a valid username is successfully extracted, then there should be a valid Authentication object in the security context. If no certificate is found, or no corresponding user could be found then the security context will remain empty. This means that you can easily use X.509 authentication with other options such as a form-based login.

33.3 Setting up SSL in Tomcat

There are some pre-generated certificates in the samples/certificate directory in the Spring Security project. You can use these to enable SSL for testing if you don’t want to generate your own. The file server.jks contains the server certificate, private key and the issuing certificate authority certificate. There are also some client certificate files for the users from the sample applications. You can install these in your browser to enable SSL client authentication.

To run tomcat with SSL support, drop the server.jks file into the tomcat conf directory and add the following connector to the server.xml file

<Connector port="8443" protocol="HTTP/1.1" SSLEnabled="true" scheme="https" secure="true"
			clientAuth="true" sslProtocol="TLS"
			keystoreType="JKS" keystorePass="password"
			truststoreType="JKS" truststorePass="password"

clientAuth can also be set to want if you still want SSL connections to succeed even if the client doesn’t provide a certificate. Clients which don’t present a certificate won’t be able to access any objects secured by Spring Security unless you use a non-X.509 authentication mechanism, such as form authentication.