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Lori MacVittie

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No Shirt, No Shoes, No HTTP Service

Using Anonymous Human Authentication to prevent illegitimate access to sites, services, and applications.

SOA & WOA Magazine

In the “real world” there are generally accepted standards set for access to a business and its services. One of the most common standards is “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Folks not meeting this criteria are typically not allowed past the doors of a business.

image But on the web, access to services is implicit in the fact that the business is offering the service. If the HTTP service is accessible, it’s implicitly allowing connections and providing service without any standard criteria for access. This results in access by more than just customers and potential customers. Bots, spiders, and miscreants are afforded the same access to business services as more desirable visitors. This can unfortunately lead to compromise, theft, and corruption of data via myriad injection and attack methods – many of them automated. While gating access to services that comes from offering a service is likely not the best solution (although it is a solution), there has to be a way to at least mitigate the automated abuse of open access to services by miscreants that leverage scripting to attack sites.

Right now the ability to connect and browse a business’ services via HTTP is unfettered. We don’t want to change that. History has taught us that gating – requiring a login – will deter miscreants, yes, but it will also drive away a goodly portion of legitimate visitors. Requiring authentication simply to access a site is neither desirable from a business or visitor perspective. Certainly authentication via identification is required for the use of forums or leaving comments, but not for accessing, say, “about.html.”

The problem is that visitors can be “turned off” by comment spam and by the potential fear of infection from user-generated content. The latest study “State of Internet Security” from WebSense indicates that 95% of all user-generated content is tainted. Even more frightening is the conclusion that “61 percent of the top 100 sites either hosted malicious content or contained a masked redirect” and “77 percent of Web sites with malicious code are legitimate sites that have been compromised.”

What we need is the digital equivalent of a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy for the web. If you aren’t human – or an authorized spider/bot – you aren’t allowed to access the site. Period. But we need to do it in such a way as to not require credentials. Not only do we not want to manage the additional data that would be generated from requiring authentication just for access (which increases our risk as well) but visitors do not expect nor will they likely put up with creating yet another account just to find out more about your business and services.

We need anonymous human authentication. AHA!

More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.