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shibboleth: Shibboleth Auth Request module for NGINX

Installation

CentOS/RHEL 6, 7, 8 or Amazon Linux 2

yum -y install https://extras.getpagespeed.com/release-latest.rpm
yum -y install nginx-module-shibboleth

Enable the module by adding the following at the top of /etc/nginx/nginx.conf:

load_module modules/ngx_http_shibboleth_module.so;

This document describes nginx-module-shibboleth v2.0.1 released on Apr 06 2017.


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This module allows Nginx to work with Shibboleth, by way of Shibboleth's FastCGI authorizer. This module requires specific configuration in order to work correctly, as well as Shibboleth's FastCGI authorizer application available on the system. It aims to be similar to parts of Apache's mod_shib, though Shibboleth authorisation and authentication settings are configured via shibboleth2.xml rather than in the web server configuration.

With this module configured against a location block, incoming requests are authorized within Nginx based upon the result of a subrequest to Shibboleth's FastCGI authorizer. In this process, this module can be used to copy user attributes from a successful authorizer response into Nginx's original request as headers or environment parameters for use by any backend application. If authorization is not successful, the authorizer response status and headers are returned to the client, denying access or redirecting the user's browser accordingly (such as to a WAYF page, if so configured).

This module works at access phase and therefore may be combined with other access modules (such as access, auth_basic) via the satisfy directive. This module can be also compiled alongside ngx_http_auth_request_module, though use of both of these modules in the same location block is untested and not advised.

Read more about the Behaviour below and consult Configuration for important notes on avoiding spoofing if using headers for attributes.

For further information on why this is a dedicated module, see http://forum.nginx.org/read.php?2,238523,238523#msg-238523

Directives

The following directives are added into your Nginx configuration files. The contexts mentioned below show where they may be added.

  • shib_request \<uri> Context: http, server, location

    Default: off

    Switches the Shibboleth auth request module on and sets URI which will be asked for authorization. The configured URI should refer to a Nginx location block that points to your Shibboleth FastCGI authorizer.

    The HTTP status and headers of the response resulting from the sub-request to the configured URI will be returned to the user, in accordance with the FastCGI Authorizer specification. The one (potentially significant) caveat is that due to the way Nginx operates at present with regards to subrequests (what an Authorizer effectively requires), the request body will not be forwarded to the authorizer, and similarly, the response body from the authorizer will not be returned to the client.

    Configured URIs are not restricted to using a FastCGI backend to generate a response, however. This may be useful during testing or otherwise, as you can use Nginx's built in return and rewrite directives to produce a suitable response. Additionally, this module may be used with any FastCGI authorizer, although operation may be affected by the above caveat.

    Warning

    The shib_request directive no longer requires the shib_authorizer flag. This must be removed for Nginx to start. No other changes are required.

  • shib_request_set \<variable> \<value>

    Context: http, server, location
    Default: none

    Set the variable to the specified value after the auth request has completed. The value may contain variables from the auth request's response. For instance, $upstream_http_*, $upstream_status, and any other variables mentioned in the nginx_http_upstream_module documentation.

    This directive can be used to introduce Shibboleth attributes into the environment of the backend application, such as $_SERVER for a FastCGI PHP application and is the recommended method of doing so. See the Configuration documentation for an example.

  • shib_request_use_headers on Context: http, server, location

    Default: off

    Note

    Added in v2.0.0.

    Copy attributes from the Shibboleth authorizer response into the main request as headers, making them available to upstream servers and applications. Use this option only if your upstream/application does not support server parameters via shib_request_set.

    With this setting enabled, Authorizer response headers beginning with Variable-\* are extracted, stripping the Variable- substring from the header name, and copied into the main request before it is sent to the backend. For example, an authorizer response header such as Variable-Commonname: John Smith would result in Commonname: John Smith being added to the main request, and thus sent to the backend.

    Beware of spoofing - you must ensure that your backend application is protected from injection of headers. Consult the Configuration example on how to achieve this.

Configuration

For full details about configuring the Nginx/Shibboleth environment, see the documentation at https://github.com/nginx-shib/nginx-http-shibboleth/blob/master/CONFIG.rst.

An example consists of the following:

# FastCGI authorizer for Shibboleth Auth Request module
location = /shibauthorizer {
    internal;
    include fastcgi_params;
    fastcgi_pass unix:/opt/shibboleth/shibauthorizer.sock;
}

# Using the ``shib_request_set`` directive, we can introduce attributes as
# environment variables for the backend application. In this example, we
# set ``fastcgi_param`` but this could be any type of Nginx backend that
# supports parameters (by using the appropriate *_param option)
#
# The ``shib_fastcgi_params`` is an optional set of default parameters,
# available in the ``includes/`` directory in this repository.
#
# Choose this type of configuration unless your backend application
# doesn't support server parameters or specifically requires headers.
location /secure-environment-vars {
    shib_request /shibauthorizer;
    include shib_fastcgi_params;
    shib_request_set $shib_commonname $upstream_http_variable_commonname;
    shib_request_set $shib_email $upstream_http_variable_email;
    fastcgi_param COMMONNAME $shib_commonname;
    fastcgi_param EMAIL $shib_email;
    fastcgi_pass unix:/path/to/backend.socket;
}

# A secured location. All incoming requests query the Shibboleth FastCGI authorizer.
# Watch out for performance issues and spoofing!
#
# Choose this type of configuration for ``proxy_pass`` applications
# or backends that don't support server parameters. 
location /secure {
    shib_request /shibauthorizer;
    shib_request_use_headers on;

    # Attributes from Shibboleth are introduced as headers by the FastCGI
    # authorizer so we must prevent spoofing. The
    # ``shib_clear_headers`` is a set of default header directives,
    # available in the `includes/` directory in this repository.
    include shib_clear_headers;

    # Add *all* attributes that your application uses, including all
    #variations.
    more_clear_input_headers 'displayName' 'mail' 'persistent-id';

    # This backend application will receive Shibboleth variables as request
    # headers (from Shibboleth's FastCGI authorizer)
    proxy_pass http://localhost:8080;
}

Note that we use the headers-more-nginx-module to clear potentially dangerous input headers and avoid the potential for spoofing. The latter example with environment variables isn't susceptible to header spoofing, as long as the backend reads data from the environment parameters only.

A default configuration is available to clear the basic headers from the Shibboleth authorizer, but you must ensure you write your own clear directives for all attributes your application uses. Bear in mind that some applications will try to read a Shibboleth attribute from the environment and then fall back to headers, so review your application's code even if you are not using shib_request_use_headers.

With use of shib_request_set, a default params file is available which you can use as an nginx include to ensure all core Shibboleth variables get passed from the FastCGI authorizer to the application. Numerous default attributes are included so remove the ones that aren't required by your application and add Federation or IDP attributes that you need. This default params file can be re-used for upstreams that aren't FastCGI by simply changing the fastcgi_param directives to uwsgi_param, scgi_param or so forth.

Gotchas

  • Subrequests, such as the Shibboleth auth request, aren't processed through header filters. This means that built-in directives like add_header will not work if configured as part of the a /shibauthorizer block. If you need to manipulate subrequest headers, use more_set_headers from the module headers-more.

    See http://forum.nginx.org/read.php?29,257271,257272#msg-257272.

Behaviour

This module follows the FastCGI Authorizer spec where possible, but has some notable deviations - with good reason. The behaviour is thus:

  • An authorizer subrequest is comprised of all aspects of the original request, excepting the request body as Nginx does not support buffering of request bodies. As the Shibboleth FastCGI authorizer does not consider the request body, this is not an issue.

  • If an authorizer subrequest returns a 200 status, access is allowed.

    If shib_request_use_headers is enabled, and response headers beginning with Variable-\* are extracted, stripping the Variable- substring from the header name, and copied into the main request. Other authorizer response headers not prefixed with Variable- and the response body are ignored. The FastCGI spec calls for Variable-* name-value pairs to be included in the FastCGI environment, but we make them headers so as they may be used with any backend (such as proxy_pass) and not just restrict ourselves to FastCGI applications. By passing the Variable-* data as headers instead, we end up following the behaviour of ShibUseHeaders On in mod_shib for Apache, which passes these user attributes as headers.

    In order to pass attributes as environment variables (the equivalent to ShibUseEnvironment On in mod_shib), attributes must be manually extracted using shib_request_set directives for each attribute. This cannot (currently) be done en masse for all attributes as each backend may accept parameters in a different way (fastcgi_param, uwsgi_param etc). Pull requests are welcome to automate this behaviour.

  • If the authorizer subrequest returns any other status (including redirects or errors), the authorizer response's status and headers are returned to the client.

    This means that on 401 Unauthorized or 403 Forbidden, access will be denied and headers (such as WWW-Authenticate) from the authorizer will be passed to client. All other authorizer responses (such as 3xx redirects) are passed back to the client, including status and headers, allowing redirections such as those to WAYF pages and the Shibboleth responder (Shibboleth.sso) to work correctly.

    The FastCGI Authorizer spec calls for the response body to be returned to the client, but as Nginx does not currently support buffering subrequest responses (NGX_HTTP_SUBREQUEST_IN_MEMORY), the authorizer response body is effectively ignored. A workaround is to have Nginx serve an error_page of its own, like so:

    location /secure {
       shib_request /shibauthorizer;
       error_page 403 /shibboleth-forbidden.html;
       ...
    }
    

    This serves the given error page if the Shibboleth authorizer denies the user access to this location. Without error_page specified, Nginx will serve its generic error pages.

    Note that this does not apply to the Shibboleth responder (typically hosted at Shibboleth.sso) as it is a FastCGI responder and Nginx is fully compatible with this as no subrequests are used.

    For more details, see http://forum.nginx.org/read.php?2,238444,238453.

Whilst this module is geared specifically for Shibboleth's FastCGI authorizer, it will likely work with other authorizers, bearing in mind the deviations from the spec above.

Tests

Tests are automatically run on Travis CI whenever new commits are made to the repository or when new pull requests are opened. If something breaks, you'll be informed by Travis and the results will be reported on GitHub.

Tests are written using a combination of a simple Bash script in .travis.yml for compilation of different versions of Nginx with our module, and also the Test::Nginx Perl test scaffolding for integration testing with this module. Consult the previous link for information on how to extend the tests, and also refer to the underlying Test::Base documentation on aspects like the blocks() function.

Integration tests are run automatically with Travis CI but also be run manually (requires Perl & CPAN to be installed):

cd nginx-http-shibboleth
cpanm --notest --local-lib=$HOME/perl5 Test::Nginx
# nginx must be present in PATH and built with debugging symbols
PERL5LIB=$HOME/perl5/lib/perl5 prove

Versioning

This module uses Semantic Versioning and all releases are tagged on GitHub, which allows package downloads of individual tags.

GitHub

You may find additional configuration tips and documentation for this module in the GitHub repository for nginx-module-shibboleth.