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Single Sign-on for Your Web Applications with Apache and Kerberos
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Setting Up the Web Server

First, you'll have to create a service principal for the Apache server. This service principal will be named HTTP/hostname@REALM. Our example will be for the host, in the AD domain. The service principal in this case will be HTTP/ (yes, HTTP needs to be capitalized, as this is the exact service principal that IE will request). This principal will be created in the Active Directory Users and Computers MMC snap-in and the keytab exported via the ktsetup program.

Because Windows usernames cannot contain slashes, you'll have to pick a username that will be mapped to the HTTP service principal. In this case, we will create a user named freebsdhttp. The password set for this account will become the service principal's key, so ensure that the password set for this account is a secure password.

Once the Windows user has been created, then you can map the user and export a keytab through the ktpass program. ktpass is not installed by default; it can be found inside of the support/tool subdirectory of the Windows 2000 Server installation CD. The ktpass command line we will use for our example is:

ktpass -out http.keytab -princ 
HTTP/ -pass * -mapuser 

Successfully mapped HTTP/ to freebsdhttp.
Type the password for HTTP/
Key created.
Output keytab to http.keytab:

Keytab version: 0x502
keysize 65 HTTP/ ptype 1 
(KRB5_NT_PRINCIPAL) vno 1 etype 0x1 (DES-CBC-CRC) keylength 
8 (0xf253024517c75f80)
Account has been set for DES-only encryption.

The keytab can now be copied from the Windows machine to the Apache server through some secure means, such as secure copy or using a floppy. We will place the keytab into the directory /usr/local/apache/etc, but it can be placed anywhere in the file system. Since the contents of this file are sensitive, it should be readable only by the user the web server runs as.

Compiling the Apache Module

Now we're ready to install mod_auth_gss_krb5. While the instructions on the SourceForge page show how to build the module statically inside of Apache at compile time, most administrators prefer the management flexibility of loadable Apache modules.

Let's step through how you can compile mod_auth_gss_krb5 as a shared module.

First, you'll need spnegohelp, which is the mini-SPNEGO library that Microsoft has released on its web site. This library is included with the module distribution in the spnegohelp directory. Note that there is a pre-processor define for __LITTLE_ENDIAN__ by default. Those running on processors with big- endian byte order, such as PowerPC or Sparc, will have to remove this pre- processor define from the makefile before building spnegohelp.

Now you're ready to compile the Apache module itself. Note that on the FreeBSD test machine, I had to remove all references to the log() function in mod_auth_gss_krb5.c. If these aren't removed, you will get unresolved references to _log in the server's error log when you load the module .

We'll use apxs, the Apache extension tool, to do the dirty work for us. Assuming that your Apache is installed into /usr/local/apache and MIT Kerberos has been installed into /usr/local, then the following command will compile and install the module into the appropriate location:

/usr/local/apache/bin/apxs -i -a -c -DEAPI_MM
-I/usr/local/include -L/usr/local/lib 
../../../spnegohelp/spnegohelp.a -L/usr/local/lib
-lgssapi_krb5 -ldes425 -lkrb5 -lk5crypto -lcom_err 

Now that apxs has compiled and installed the module, we can add the appropriate directives inside of our httpd.conf file to require authentication for certain directories. Inside of a <directory> section, insert the following directives:

 GssKrb5Keytab "/usr/local/apache/etc/httpd.keytab"
 Krb5Keytab "/usr/local/apache/etc/httpd.keytab"
 KrbAuthRealm W2K.WEDGIE.ORG
 Krb5SaveCredentials Off
 AuthType GSS
 GssAuth On
 AuthName "KRB5 Realm"
 require valid-user

The paths to the keytab and the realm name should be changed, of course. Now start the Apache server.

Configuring the Clients

Our next step is to configure the Windows client. Internet Explorer must be set up to recognize that our new Apache server is in the Intranet zone, and instructed to use domain authentication with it. Open up the Internet Options dialog inside of Internet Explorer. The Security tab contains the security zones that Internet Explorer recognizes. Click Intranet and click the Sites button. Click Advanced in the next dialog box, and a third dialog is presented where we can add sites that will be added to the Intranet zone. Click Add and type in the name of your Apache server, in this case "" Return to the Internet Options dialog, Security tab. Click the "Custom Level" button for the Intranet security zone. Ensure that "User authentication - Automatic logon only in intranet zone" is selected (at the bottom of the list). Click OK.

If you're using Internet Explorer 6 or above, one more setting must be tweaked. Inside of the Internet Options dialog box, Advanced tab, there is a setting named "Enable Integrated Windows Authentication" inside of the Security group. If this box is not checked, check the box, and restart the machine. More information on these browser settings can be found in the Microsoft MSDN library.

Now that everything is set up, it's time to see if everything works. Open IE and go to the protected URL on the Apache server. If the page displays, then congratulations! The full Kerberos username of the client will be inserted into the REMOTE_USER environment variable on the Apache server side, for example Administrator@W2K.WEDGIE.ORG. A simple PHP script or server-side include page can be used to verify that the REMOTE_USER is now set.


What could go wrong?

First, let's take a look at what could happen on the client side. Ensure that you're logged in to the Windows domain and have a valid Kerberos TGT. You can also check to see if IE successfully acquired a service ticket for your Apache server through kerbtray, included with the Windows Resource Kit.

Next, make sure that you aren't using a proxy to contact your Apache server. Unfortunately, the Negotiate authentication method does not work through web proxies. Ensure that if a proxy is set, that an exclusion is made for the Apache sever (assuming, of course, that the server is reachable directly).

If instead you're getting internal server errors from Apache, you should make sure that the GssKrb5Keytab and Krb5Keytab directives give the correct path to the keytab and that it is readable by the web server's user ID. If problems persist, then there is probably something going wrong with your Kerberos configuration.

If you're getting an error message such as :

[Wed Aug 27 01:05:21 2003] [notice] [client] 
gss_acquire_cred() failed: No principal in keytab matches 
desired name:

the GSSAPI libraries either can't read or find your keytab, or your hostname or realm are misconfigured. Make sure that your hostname is set correctly; both forward and reverse DNS should map to the correct hostname. Test it out by doing nslookup queries on the Apache server itself. If your hostname is configured correctly, then ensure that the AD server is configured as your default_realm in the /etc/krb5.conf file.


After performing these steps, you now have an Apache web server that can interoperate with Internet Explorer clients in a Windows domain. Clients who access the protected area of your Apache web server will transparently pass their domain credentials to your web server through the use of Kerberos, with no separate username or password prompts.

O'Reilly & Associates recently released (August 2003) Kerberos: The Definitive Guide.

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