In today's digital world, security is a critical aspect of any organization's operations. While some may perceive security as an enterprise-level feature, it is essential for businesses of all sizes to prioritize and implement robust security measures. One of the most common security measures is to implement Single Sign-On (SSO), a digital authentication method that uses a single set of credentials to access multiple applications.
Even though JWTs (JSON Web Tokens, pronounced “jots”) have been around since 2010, it’s worth examining their more recent rise to become the dominant standard for managing authentication requests for application access.
When JWTs were first introduced, it was immediately clear that they were already an improvement on using a single string to represent the user information needed for authentication. The single string credential method was simple, but not as secure. There was no way to provide additional data or internal checks about the validity of the string or its issuer. With JWTs, there are expanded capabilities with more parts; there is a header, JSON-encoded payloads (called “claims”, which hold data about the user and about the token itself, such as an expiration date), and a signature (either a private key or a private/public key combination).
Let’s look a bit more closely at what a JWT is, review a short history of JWT evolutions and adoption, then discuss how JWTs are used in authentik.
Building a new startup is, unsurprisingly, quite different from building and maintaining an open source project. With the arrival of funding and the requirement to build a business that could sustain itself now and scale as the company evolved, I had to confront some of the technical choices I made when building authentik – in particular, the choice to build authentik using Python and Django.
The primary reason behind choosing these languages was simple: I knew them well and could write code fast. In retrospect, we know now there was a tradeoff. I was able to code faster but the language itself would eventually impose speed limitations. Python isn’t the slowest language out there but when compared to Node.js and other compiled languages like Go, its speed can seem like a big problem. And Django on top of Python makes it even slower.
And yet, I stand by the decision and as the company has evolved, I think it was a good one. In this post, I’ll explain why this decision was a net positive, the benefits and costs of choosing these languages, and the lessons we learned along the way.
We all know standards matter, without them we wouldn't have the internet, we wouldn't have computers, and we wouldn't even have electricity. But standards are complex. They need to define edge cases, they need to be explicit but also allow room for implementations to advance and new features to be created. Today we'll dive into the OpenID Connect standard, why it can be challenging to implement and also what makes it, in some ways, easier than other standards.
“We made a mistake” – so said authentication provider Okta on March 25, 2022 – two months after an attack on one of Okta’s vendors (Sitel, a contact center) in January. During Okta’s initial investigation, the company didn’t warn its customers about the attack nor about its potential damage.
“At that time,” Okta admitted later, “We didn’t recognize that there was a risk to Okta and our customers.”
On March 22, three days before the admission, the group responsible for the attack – LAPSUS$ – shared screenshots online that evidenced the success of their attack. As users, customers, and onlookers reacted, Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon tweeted about the attack, claiming that the attack was “investigated and contained” but, more controversially, framing the attack as “an attempt.”