Wanted: Cyber-glue for authentication Answer:
executives in any
type of business
sooner or later
meet up with the
system-administration hurdles involved in updating all user
As you read this, it is some new employee’s first day of work
in some organization. Although HR has done all its paperwork,no network login has yet been created for the person, nor does the individual yet have an e-mail account. But these tasks are trivial. These needs will be resolved easily by thetime the new employee returns from lunch. Other access items remain, however. In the afternoon, the employee will need to get into the corporate Intranet and CRM system, whiletonight the same employee will need a Unix login and access to the dial-up server to access the corporate network from home.
Visit a week later, and we find that he can do his job as efficiently as any of his other colleagues. But there’s one moreglitch: Three months down the road, a colleague from another office will look for the newcomer’s phone number. The numberwill not be found in the telephone list, a directory maintained by a secretary who was on a two-week vacation when the employee started work.
No single point of contact to make these changes all at once?
No. For each of these applications, a different person had to
take a different action.
What’s more, some of the user data is
stored in a relational database, some of it in a flat file, and still
more of it in a proprietary application. Yet another three
months later, and this employee will decide to leave the
company. How much of his data will stay in the corporate records? How much should be removed?
And so it goes. In any medium-sized enterprise, creating and
removing users in different applications can be a full-time job
for one or more people, as today’s norm is one of networks
running multiple operating systems and messaging platforms,
each with its own directories of user and resource information.
Authentication is a problem that every IT manager needs to address. Enter LDAP, the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, which is used to access directory servers. The directory is a special kind of database that holds information ina tree structure. Proponents call it the premier method for standards-based network directory access.
describes a directory-access system that behaves as the
common meeting point that glues together users, services,
LDAP is used for portals, intranet, and extranet applications, using an LDAP-based directory in which to store user information. LDAP works because it is a flexible environment that can and should be adapted to a company’s information structure. LDAP is more than just a database to which users can authenticate; it is a central repository where managers can store certificates and user information such as physical location and telephone numbers all in one place. As the way auser control is managed,
LDAP can be fashioned into a
central repository for not only employees, but also the
company’s contractors, clients, and suppliers.
But the use of LDAP, like any piece of the information-technology puzzle, takes careful business analysisas well as technology know-how. Setting up LDAP is only part of the challenge. Most important, security planners need to analyze their specific needs:
Making a checklist-Where do you need authentication? Who is currently responsible for maintaining the differentdirectories? Who should be responsible? Which users get which kinds of access to which applications?Designing the directory tree-Mapping a directory schemato your enterprise needs will be the most difficult phase of an LDAP integration. Be sure to build in enough time. At the same time, note that designing an LDAP schema isn’t an exact science. There is no perfect mathematical solution.
Ample information about implementing LDAP is now available on the Internet, as our accompanying resource kit indicates. Most other programs, such as ERP packages, have some sortof LDAP integration. What’s more, there are numerous Web browsers, e-mail packages, and other applications that have signed on to the LDAP standard. If your application hasn’t, askyour vendor to implement it.
What about LDAP in an Open Source construct? OpenLDAP is gaining importance day by day. From what I have seen, OpenSource LDAP v3 can help IT departments centralize and solve authentication issues. Case in point: Consider its use in an ISP setup, a challenging scenario on a number of fronts. There are bound to be lots of users. Remember the 35K-user
entry limit? You can’t store 300,000 users in an /etc/passwd. Users need a home page, dial-in access , pop3, Web mail andWeb access through a proxy. Right there are at least five different places where they must be authenticated. In a perfectarchitecture, you will find an OpenLDAP server where all users are stored.
LDAP RESOURCE KIT (faq, how tos)
www.umich.eduwww.linuxdoc.orgwww.umldap.comwww.openldap.org -OpenLDAP’s project team manages the software development process, augmented from time to time with outstanding contributors. The goal is to develop a commercial-grade, fully featured and Open Source LDAP suite of applicationsand development tools.
OpenSource tools integrate with OpenLDAP.
OpenLDAP with familiar tools such as Apache, pam, squid, or
Samba, for example, should not cause any problems.
uploading and pop3 access, pam does well authenticating against the LDAP tree. Dial-in access can use radius mapped against an LDAP. Web mail can be accessed using the Apache Auth_ldap module. The proxy authentication process uses LDAP Authentication for Squid.
Once you solve the authentication problem you will have to start wondering what SSO means. And no, it is not Singapore Symphony Orchestra or Solar System Online. Stay tuned.
-Kris Buytaert is a Belgium-based consultant for IPNG (IP Net Generation), which is in the business of performing architecture design, Web development, and network security.
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