Introduction to JSON Web Tokens

How to use tokens

Hector Hurtado Ruesga A few weeks ago some colleagues from a development team told us about their worries on the JSON Web tokens JWT generation they were doing as part of a new tool integration they were working on.

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They had heard about several security issues regarding the use of JWT tokens so they asked us for help in order to validate if the tokens they were issuing were correct and met some basic security requirements. It is worth noting that by default JWT are not encrypted, and that the string we see is simply a base64url encoded serialization that can be easily decoded to see the plain JSON content that the token carries.

He's a LAMP stack expert. With technologies like AngularJS and BackboneJS, we are no longer spending much time building markup, instead we are building APIs that our front-end applications consume. Our back-end is more about business logic and data, while presentation logic is moved exclusively to the front-end or mobile applications.

As with many other technologiesJWT depends heavily on a good configuration when issuing the tokens and in a correct use and proper validation of the consumed tokens. JWT is an open standard which defines a compact and self-contained method to encapsulate and share assertions about an entity between peers in a secure manner by using JSON objects.

ID token: Issued by an Identity Manager, on behalf of a client application, after authenticating the user.

  • Security token - Wikipedia
  • When someone connects with an app using Facebook Login and approves the request for permissions, the app obtains an access token that provides temporary, secure access to Facebook APIs.

It allows the client application to get user information from the token in a safe way without the need of managing user credentials. Access token: Issued by an authorization server, on behalf of a client application, it allows the client application to access a protected resource on behalf of a user.

This kind of token is used as an authentication and authorization mechanism by the client application towards the server holding the resource.

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JWT allow for interchange of data between peers in a more performant way than other standards SAML due to its smaller size and ease of parsing. This is what makes them how to use tokens for the following use cases: Session data interchange between client and server: JWT are sometimes used to transmit GUI state and session information between the server and its clients.

Usually they are unsecured tokens without a signature.

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Federated authentication: It eliminates the need for applications to manage their user credentials, by delegating the process of user authentication to an identity provider. The provider generates a token, that is verifiable by the application, and that contains the data needed about the user.

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  4. Access Tokens In this article Access tokens are used in token-based authentication to allow an application to access an API.
  5. Token Based Authentication Made Easy - Auth0
  6. JSON Web Token Introduction -

Access authorization: The token what is bin options the information needed by an API server to decide if the operation requested by the token holder can be carried out. Each use case has different recipients client application and API servicebut in the case that you maintain control over both the application and the API service you can use a single token to address both authentication and authorization.


Next we are going to enumerate the best practices when working with JWT, focusing only in generation and validation processes. Issuing a token Always sign the token Except in very few cases when used in the client side, for carrying GUI state data and session information a token must not be issued without a signature.

Secure Your APIs with Tokens

The Signature is a basic protection that allows token consumers to trust it and to ensure that it has not been tampered with. On the other side asymmetric signing algorithms simplify the key custody, because the latter is only necessary on how to use tokens server side issuing the token.

Subscribe to more awesome content! Contact Us Token Based Authentication A token is a piece of data that has no meaning or use on its own, but combined with the correct tokenization system, becomes a vital player in securing your application. Token based authentication works by ensuring that each request to a server is accompanied by a signed token which the server verifies for authenticity and only then responds to the request. JWT has gained mass popularity due to its compact size which allows tokens to be easily transmitted via query strings, header attributes and within the body of a POST request. Interested in getting up-to-speed with JWTs as soon as possible?

Set expiration date and unique identifier A JWT, once signed, is valid forever if no expiration date was given how to use tokens exp. For Access tokens, anybody capturing the token will have access to the granted operations forever.

Access Tokens

Assigning identifiers claim jti to tokens allows for their revocation; in the case the token is compromised it is very helpful to have the choice of revoking the token. Set the issuer and audience In order to ease the management of the tokens to the recipients it is mandatory to identify the issuer iss claim and all possible recipients audience claim, aud ; with this information it will be easy for them to locate the signature key and to ensure that the token was issued for them.

It is also a best practice for recipients to validate these claims.

Therefore, a JWT typically looks like the following. Payload The second part of the token is the payload, which contains the claims. Claims are statements about an entity typically, the user and additional data. There are three types of claims: registered, public, and private claims. Registered claims : These are a set of predefined claims which are not mandatory but recommended, to provide a set of useful, interoperable claims.

If you need to include sensitive information inside a token, then encrypted JWT must be used. So the second validation we have to do, after validating the token format, is to check that it has a signature.

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This option must always be active to avoid the case where an attacker could intercept the token, remove the signature, modify the data and resend it. The best protection is to always validate that the alg claim contains a value from a set of expected values, the smaller the set the better.

Validate header claims You must never trust the received claims, especially if we are going to use them for searches in backends.

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For example kid claim key identifier can be used to perform the signing key lookup, so we must sanitize its value to avoid SQL injection attacks. Always validate issuer and audience Before accepting a JWT we must verify that the token was issued by the expected entity iss claim and that it was issued for us aud claim ; this will how to use tokens the risk of an attacker using a token, intended for another recipient, to gain access to our resources. Index stored keys by issuer and algorithm When looking up the signing key we must check that the signing algorithm is valid for the issuer.

An attacker could intercept a token using an RS algorithm, modify it and create a signature using the public key of the issuer which could be easily found by using a HS algorithm.