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Manual Chapter: Creating Login Pages for Secure Application Access
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Creating Login Pages for Secure Application Access

About login pages

Most web applications use login pages as a way to secure the application and authenticate application users. A login page specifies the login URL in a web application that users must pass through to get to the authenticated URLs at the heart of the application.

Authenticated URLs are URLs that become accessible to users only after they successfully log in to the login URL. A logout URL is a URL that, if accessed, forces users to return to the login URL before re-accessing authenticated URLs. System administrators use these special URLs to prevent forceful browsing by causing users to pass through the login URL before viewing the restricted authenticated URLs. In addition to specifying the login URL, login pages in the security policy can also enforce access validation by defining access permissions for users.

In Application Security Manager™ (ASM), security policies use login pages for several features:

  • Login enforcement for secure application access
  • Session awareness
  • Brute force attack prevention
  • Integration with database security

Login enforcement specifies the authenticated URLs and logout URLs for the application. Session awareness provides tracking information of user sessions so that you can investigate suspicious activity and the attacker. Brute force protection prevents hackers from staging multiple attempts to guess user names and passwords so that they can log on to the application. Database security integration can use login pages to provide event notification and user data to a third-party database monitoring system.

About creating login pages

Your web application might contain URLs that should be accessed only through other URLs. For example, in an online banking application, account holders should be able to access their account information only by logging on through a login screen first. You can create login pages manually, or have the system create them automatically.

Application Security Manager™ (ASM) adds login pages for you automatically if you use certain options. The options are Detect Login Pages and Learn from Responses in the Learning and Blocking Settings. If you create the security policy automatically using the Enhanced or Comprehensive policy types, the system sets these options by default. If you are using other policy types (Fundamental or Custom), you can explicitly set these options. These options cause ASM to detect login pages in the web application and add them to the security policy when sufficient legitimate traffic has accessed the application.

You can also create login pages manually by specifying the login URLs used by the application.

Creating login pages automatically

Login pages specify a login URL that presents a site that users must pass through to gain access to the web application. Your existing security policy can detect and create login pages automatically if you use certain options.
Note: If you are creating a security policy automatically, and selected Enhanced or Comprehensive as the policy type, the default options are already set to create login pages automatically. If you are using the Fundamental or Custom policy types, the steps here explain the options to configure ASM™ to automatically detect and create login pages for your application.
  1. On the Main tab, click Security > Application Security > Policy Building > Learning and Blocking Settings .
    The Learning and Blocking Settings screen opens.
  2. Ensure that the Learning Mode is set to Automatic.
    The system examines the traffic to the web application, and after processing sufficient legitimate traffic, the system builds the security policy automatically by adding and enforcing elements with minimal manual intervention. A few learning suggestions require your review before they are added.
  3. In the Policy Building Settings area, expand Sessions and Logins and ensure that Detect login pages is selected.
    This setting must be selected if you want to automatically detect login pages.
  4. In the Policy Building Process area, expand Options and ensure that Learn from responses is selected.
  5. Click Save to save your settings.
  6. In the editing context area, click Apply Policy to put the changes into effect.
The security policy looks for login pages by examining traffic to the web application. When a login page is found, the Policy Builder suggests adding the login form to the security policy. Because the suggestion is learned from responses and responses are considered trusted, if the Learning Mode is Automatic, the login page is typically added to the policy right away.

If the Learning Mode is Manual, the login page is added to the learning suggestions on the Traffic Learning screen where you can add it to the policy. The login pages in the security policy are included in the Login Pages List.

You can use the login pages for login enforcement, brute force protection, or session awareness.

Creating login pages manually

Before you can create a login page manually, you need to be familiar with the login URL or URLs the application the security policy is protecting.
In your security policy, you can create a login page manually to specify a login URL that presents a site that users must pass through to gain access to the web application. The login URL commonly leads to the login page of the web application.
Note: You can also have the system create login pages automatically by selecting Detect login pages on the Learning and Blocking Settings screen.
  1. On the Main tab, click Security > Application Security > Sessions and Logins .
    The Login Pages List screen opens.
  2. In the Current edited policy list near the top of the screen, verify that the edited security policy is the one you want to work on.
  3. Click Create.
    The New Login Page screen opens.
  4. For the Login URL setting, specify a URL that users must pass through to get to the application.
    1. From the list, select the type of URL: Explicit or Wildcard.
    2. Select either HTTP or HTTPS based on the type of traffic the web application accepts.
    3. Type an explicit URL or wildcard expression in the field.
      When you click in the field, the system lists URLs that it has seen, and you can select a URL from the list. Or, you can type explicit URLs in the format /login, and wildcard URLs without the slash, such as *.php.
      Wildcard syntax is based on shell-style wildcard characters. This table lists the wildcard characters that you can use so that the entity name can match multiple objects.
      Wildcard Character Matches
      * All characters
      ? Any single character.
      [abcde] Exactly one of the characters listed.
      [!abcde] Any character not listed.
      [a-e] Exactly one character in the range.
      [!a-e} Any character not in the range.
      Note that wildcards do not match regular expressions.
  5. From the Authentication Type list, select the method the web server uses to authenticate the login URL's credentials with a web user.
    Option Description
    None The web server does not authenticate users trying to access the web application through the login URL. This is the default setting.
    HTML Form The web application uses a form to collect and authenticate user credentials. If using this option, you also need to type the user name and password parameters written in the code of the HTML form.
    HTTP Basic Authentication The user name and password are transmitted in Base64 and stored on the server in plain text.
    HTTP Digest Authentication The web server performs the authentication; user names and passwords are not transmitted over the network, nor are they stored in plain text.
    NTLM Microsoft LAN Manager authentication (also called Integrated Windows Authentication) does not transmit credentials in plain text, but requires a continuous TCP connection between the server and client.
  6. In the Access Validation area, define at least one validation criteria for the login page response.
    If you define more than one validation criteria, the response must meet all the criteria before the system allows the user to access the application login URL.
    Note: The system checks the access validation criteria on the response of the login URL only if the response has one of the following content-types: text/html, text/xml, application/sgml, application/xml, application/html, application/xhtml, application/x-asp, or application/x-aspx.
  7. Click Create to add the login page to the security policy.
    The new login page is added to the login pages list.
  8. Add as many login pages as needed for your web application.
  9. In the editing context area, click Apply Policy to put the changes into effect.
The security policy now has one or more login pages associated with it. They are included in the Login Pages List.
You can use the login pages you created for login enforcement, brute force protection, or session awareness.

Login page access validation criteria

Following are descriptions of the access validation criteria for the response to the login URL. You configure one or more of these validations when defining a login page manually. A login attempt is only successful if all of the specified validation criteria are satisfied.

Access validation Define in login page as
A string that should appear in the response A string that must appear in the response for the system to allow the user to access the authenticated URL; for example, Successful Login.
A string that should NOT appear in the response A string that indicates a failed login attempt and prohibits user access to the authenticated URL; for example, Authentication failed.
Expected HTTP response status code An HTTP response code that the server must return to the user to allow access to the authenticated URL; for example, 200.
Expected validation header name and value (for example, Location header) A header name and value that the response to the login URL must match to permit user access to the authenticated URL.
Expected validation domain cookie name A defined domain cookie name that the response to the login URL must match to permit user access to the authenticated URL.
Expected parameter name (added to URI links in the response) A parameter that must exist in the login URL’s HTML body to allow access to the authenticated URL.

Enforcing login pages

Login enforcement settings prevent forceful browsing attacks where attackers gain access to restricted parts of the web application by supplying a URL directly. You can use login enforcement to force users to pass through one URL (known as the login URL) before being allowed to display a different URL (known as the target URL) where they can access restricted pages and resources.

Login enforcement indicates how the security policy implements login pages including an optional expiration time, a list of URLs that require authentication to get to, and a list of URLs used to log out of the application. You can also use authenticated URLs to enforce idle time-outs on applications that are missing this functionality.

  1. On the Main tab, click Security > Application Security > Sessions and Logins > Login Enforcement .
    The Login Enforcement screen opens.
  2. If you want the login URL to be valid for a limited time, set Expiration Time to Enabled, and type a value, in seconds (1-99999) that indicates how long the session will last.
    If enabled, the login session ends after the number of seconds has passed.
  3. For the Authenticated URLs setting, specify the target URLs that users can access only by way of the login URL:
    1. In the Authenticated URLs (Wildcards supported) field, type the target URL name in the format /private.php (wildcards are allowed).
    2. Click Add to add the URL to the list of authenticated URLs.
    3. Repeat to add as many authenticated URLs as needed.
  4. Optionally, use the Logout URLs setting to specify the URLs used to log out of the web application:
    1. In the Logout URLs (Explicit only) field, type the URL in the format /logout.html (explicit URLs only).
    2. Click Add.
    3. Repeat to add as many logout URLs as needed.
      The system adds the logout URLs to the list on the Login Enforcement screen, and also to the list of URLs associated with the security policy.
  5. Click Save to save your settings.
  6. To put the security policy changes into effect immediately, click Apply Policy.
If you specify authenticated URLs and a user tries to access them, bypassing the login URL (specified in a Login Page), the system issues the Login URL bypassed violation. If a user session is idle and exceeds the expiration time, the system issues the Login URL expired violation, logs the user out, and as a result, the user can no longer reach the authenticated URLs. For both login violations, if the enforcement mode is blocking, the system now sends the Login Page Response to the client (see Application Security > Policy > Response Pages ).
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