When designing a REST API or service are there any established best practices for dealing with security (Authentication, Authorization, Identity Management) ?
When building a SOAP API you have WS-Security as a guide and much literature exists on the topic. I have found less information about securing REST endpoints.
While I understand REST intentionally does not have specifications analogous to WS-* I am hoping best practices or recommended patterns have emerged.
Any discussion or links to relevant documents would be very much appreciated. If it matters, we would be using WCF with POX/JSON serialized messages for our REST API's/Services built using v3.5 of the .NET Framework.
As tweakt said, Amazon S3 is a good model to work with. Their request signatures do have some features (such as incorporating a timestamp) that help guard against both accidental and malicious request replaying.
The nice thing about HTTP Basic is that virtually all HTTP libraries support it. You will, of course, need to require SSL in this case because sending plaintext passwords over the net is almost universally a bad thing. Basic is preferable to Digest when using SSL because even if the caller already knows that credentials are required, Digest requires an extra roundtrip to exchange the nonce value. With Basic, the callers simply sends the credentials the first time.
Once the identity of the client is established, authorization is really just an implementation problem. However, you could delegate the authorization to some other component with an existing authorization model. Again the nice thing about Basic here is your server ends up with a plaintext copy of the client's password that you can simply pass on to another component within your infrastructure as needed.
There are no standards for REST other than HTTP. There are established REST services out there. I suggest you take a peek at them and get a feel for how they work.
For example, we borrowed a lot of ideas from Amazon's S3 REST service when developing our own. But we opted not to use the more advanced security model based on request signatures. The simpler approach is HTTP Basic auth over SSL. You have to decide what works best in your situation.
Also, I highly recommend the book RESTful Web Services from O'reilly. It explains the core concepts and does provide some best practices. You can generally take the model they provide and map it to your own application.
I'm kind of surprised SSL with client certificates hasn't been mentioned yet. Granted, this approach is only really useful if you can count on the community of users being identified by certificates. But a number of governments/companies do issue them to their users. The user doesn't have to worry about creating yet another username/password combination, and the identity is established on each and every connection so communication with the server can be entirely stateless, no user sessions required. (Not to imply that any/all of the other solutions mentioned require sessions)
One of the best posts I've ever come across regarding Security as it relates to REST is over at 1 RainDrop. The MySpace API's use OAuth also for security and you have full access to their custom channels in the RestChess code, which I did a lot of exploration with. This was demo'd at Mix and you can find the posting here.
Thanks for the excellent advice. We ended up using a custom HTTP header to pass an identity token from the client to the service, in preparation for integrating our RESTful API with the the upcoming Zermatt Identity framework from Microsoft. I have described the problem here and our solution here. I also took tweakt's advice and bought RESTful Web Services - a very good book if you're building a RESTful API of any kind.
I searched a lot about restful ws security and we also ended up with using token via cookie from client to server to authenticate the requests . I used spring security for authorization of requests in service because I had to authenticate and authorized each request based on specified security policies that has already been in DB.
Everyone in these answers has overlooked true access control / authorization.
If for instance your REST APIs / web services are about POSTing / GETing medical records, you may want to define access control policie about who can access the data and under which circumstances. For instance:
doctors can GET the medical record of a patient they have a care relationship with
no one can POST medical data outside practice hours (e.g. 9 to 5)
end-users can GET medical records they own or medical records of patients for whom they are the guardian
nurses can UPDATE the medical record of a patient that belongs to the same unit as the nurse.
In order to define and implement those fine-grained authorizations, you will need to use an attribute-based access control language called XACML, the eXtensible Access Control Markup Language.
The other standards here are for the following:
OAuth: id. federation and delegation of authorization e.g. letting a service act on my behalf on another service (Facebook can post to my Twitter)
SAML: identity federation / web SSO. SAML is very much about who the user is.
WS-Security / WS-* standards: these focus on the communication between SOAP services. They are specific to the application-level messaging format (SOAP) and they deal with aspects of messaging e.g. reliability, security, confidentiality, integrity, atomicity, eventing... None cover access control and all are specific to SOAP.
XACML is technology-agnostic. It can be applied to java apps, .NET, Python, Ruby... web services, REST APIs, and more.