gRPC Client Authentication

A crash course in different auth methods

Introduction

Best practices for performing client authentication with gRPC is a question that comes up again and again, so I thought I’d dive into a few different methods for performing authentication, using the tools provided by the Go gRPC packages.

Today we’ll explore 3 methods of authentication:

  1. TLS Client certificate authentication
  2. Token Header authenticaiton
  3. HTTP Basic authentication

For the TL:DR; check the example repo.

Note: Go-gRPC interceptors are being redesigned, so if you implement this in your server today, you may want to keep in mind that it will change again in the future.

TLS Client Certificate Authentication

The first type of authentication uses TLS Certificate subjects to validate that the correct client is connecting. This, of course, relies on the issue certificate authority only issuing certificates with the correct subject to the correct service, but that is outside the scope of this repository.

On the client side, we create a certificate with the appropriate subject:

pk, err := rsa.GenerateKey(rand.Reader, 2048)
if err != nil {
    return nil, err
}

template := &x509.Certificate{
    SerialNumber: serialNumber,
    Subject: pkix.Name{
        Organization: []string{"Acme Co"},
        CommonName:   username, // Will be checked by the server
    },
    NotBefore:             time.Now(),
    NotAfter:              time.Now().Add(time.Hour),
    KeyUsage:              x509.KeyUsageKeyEncipherment | x509.KeyUsageDigitalSignature,
    ExtKeyUsage:           []x509.ExtKeyUsage{x509.ExtKeyUsageClientAuth},
    BasicConstraintsValid: true,
}

cert, err := x509.CreateCertificate(rand.Reader, template, parent.Leaf, pk.Public(), parent.PrivateKey)
if err != nil {
    return nil, err
}

tlsCert := tls.Certificate{
    Certificate: [][]byte{cert},
    PrivateKey:  pk,
}

We then use the certificate for transport security when dialing:

tlsConfig := &tls.Config{
    Certificates: []tls.Certificate{tlsCert},
}

conn, err := grpc.DialContext(ctx, net.JoinHostPort(addr, port),
    grpc.WithTransportCredentials(credentials.NewTLS(tlsConfig)),
)

On the server side, we use the grpc/peer package to find the subject of the client side certificate:

p, ok := peer.FromContext(ctx)
if !ok {
    return status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, "no peer found")
}

tlsAuth, ok := p.AuthInfo.(credentials.TLSInfo)
if !ok {
    return status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, "unexpected peer transport credentials")
}

if len(tlsAuth.State.VerifiedChains) == 0 || len(tlsAuth.State.VerifiedChains[0]) == 0 {
    return status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, "could not verify peer certificate")
}

// Check subject common name against configured username
if tlsAuth.State.VerifiedChains[0][0].Subject.CommonName != a.Username {
    return status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, "invalid subject common name")
}

return nil

This of course requires the server to verify incoming client certs, so remember to configure the appropriate tls.Config.ClientAuth value. In the example repo, we use tls.VerifyClientCertIfGiven to allow clients both with and without certificates.

Token based authentication

Secondly we’ve got token based authentication, which sends the authentication details in the request headers. On the client side this means implementing grpc/credentials.PerRPCCredentials. This example uses a static token, but you could implement some sort of automatic token renewal based on the existing token in GetRequestMetadata.

type tokenAuth struct {
	token string
}

// Return value is mapped to request headers.
func (t tokenAuth) GetRequestMetadata(ctx context.Context, in ...string) (map[string]string, error) {
	return map[string]string{
		"authorization": "Bearer " + t.token,
	}, nil
}

func (tokenAuth) RequireTransportSecurity() bool {
	return true
}

We then use the tokenAuth struct when dialling:

conn, err := grpc.DialContext(ctx, net.JoinHostPort(addr, port),
    grpc.WithTransportCredentials(credentials.NewClientTLSFromCert(insecure.CertPool, "")),
    grpc.WithPerRPCCredentials(tokenAuth{
        token: token,
    }),
)

On the server side, we simply check the header for the token value, but, of course, if you were using a real token you might want to parse it and perform some validation as well.

const prefix = "Bearer "
if !strings.HasPrefix(auth, prefix) {
	return ctx, status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, `missing "Bearer " prefix in "Authorization" header`)
}

if strings.TrimPrefix(auth, prefix) != a.Token {
	return ctx, status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, "invalid token")
}

HTTP Basic authentication

Much like the token based authentication, this uses PerRPCCredentials, with the only difference being the contents of the header:

type basicAuth struct {
	username string
	password string
}

func (b basicAuth) GetRequestMetadata(ctx context.Context, in ...string) (map[string]string, error) {
	auth := b.username + ":" + b.password
	enc := base64.StdEncoding.EncodeToString([]byte(auth))
	return map[string]string{
		"authorization": "Basic " + enc,
	}, nil
}

func (basicAuth) RequireTransportSecurity() bool {
	return true
}

And dialling:

conn, err := grpc.DialContext(ctx, net.JoinHostPort(addr, port),
	grpc.WithTransportCredentials(credentials.NewClientTLSFromCert(insecure.CertPool, "")),
	grpc.WithPerRPCCredentials(basicAuth{
		username: username,
		password: password,
	}),
)

The server has to parse the the header:

const prefix = "Basic "
if !strings.HasPrefix(auth, prefix) {
    return ctx, status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, `missing "Basic " prefix in "Authorization" header`)
}

c, err := base64.StdEncoding.DecodeString(auth[len(prefix):])
if err != nil {
    return ctx, status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, `invalid base64 in header`)
}

cs := string(c)
s := strings.IndexByte(cs, ':')
if s < 0 {
    return ctx, status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, `invalid basic auth format`)
}

user, password := cs[:s], cs[s+1:]
if user != a.Username || password != a.Password {
    return ctx, status.Error(codes.Unauthenticated, "invalid user or password")
}

Conclusion

We’ve seen 3 different methods of authenticating a gRPC client with a gRPC server. My personal preference is to use TLS client certificate authentication when possible, but this requires quite a bit of external setup. Check out my Certify library to make that kind of thing easier.

If you enjoyed this blog post, have any questions or input, don’t hesitate to contact me on @johanbrandhorst or under jbrandhorst on the Gophers Slack. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

1 comment

haoc7
Thursday, Aug 2, 2018

study!
Reply to haoc7

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