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Jans Lock Overview#

At a high level, Jans Lock enables domains to enforce security policies based on real time OAuth data.

The PDP can make a blazingly fast decision if it has in RAM all the necessary data, policies, and keys. But how can we keep all that rapidly changing OAuth token data in RAM? This is especially challenging if we have a distributed network of APIs, with each microservice deploying the PDP as a encapsulated "sidecar". Lazy loading of token data by the PDP via OAuth introspection or database access is not performant enough for real-time transactional authorization.

Like a messaging client, a Lock Client gets update messages from Auth Server for each OAuth token update event. A message contains the reference id of the token, which enables the Lock Client to retrieve the token data from the database, and push it into the PDP's memory or cache. You could say that Lock aggressively initializes the PDP with token data. A Lock Client can also push policies and keys into a PDP (if necessary).

Definitions: Authz Components#

Centralized policy management is a best practice for authorization for distributed networks. If security policies are buried in the code of numerous applications, they are hard to inventory and harder to update. For decades, application security architects have conceptualized distributed authorization in line with RFC 2409 and XACML, which describe several common components:

Abbr. Term Description
PDP Policy Decision Point Service which evaluates access requests against authorization policies before issuing access decisions
PEP Policy Enforcement Point Service, website or API which queries the PDP for authorization
PAP Policy Administration Point User interface where admins manage authorization policies
PIP Policy Information Point The "data" about people, clients and resources
PRP Policy Retrieval Point Repository where policies are stored

Lock Design Goal#

In the old days of "WAM" (web access management), each web server would query a centralized PDP over the network. This is ok for course grain authorization. But for fine grain authorization, it is too slow--each decision requires a round trip HTTP request/response. A more performant design is to move the PDP to the edge of the network. Policy definition and administration is still a centralized activity. Once a policy is defined, it can be executed anywhere on the network. Although multiple PDP instances exist, they must provide the same access control decisions given the same inputs.

Another critical optimization was to move the PIP to the edge, so the PDP has all the data it needs to make a decision. This aligns with a principle that each microservice has all logic and data encapsulated into a single deployment unit.

1990s WAM v. 2020s Cloud Native

Choose your PDP or use OPA#

Lock has a plugin architecture to support different PDP solutions. Janssen provides a default PDP: OPA, a CNCF governed project. OPA is a popular PDP, whose adoption grew significantly in response to the need for granular policies for Kubernetes access control. If you have a different PDP, you can write a Lock PDP Plugin.

Get Started#

The Jans Lock solution pushes OAuth token data from Auth Server to a PDP, enabling authorization based on real time information from the OAuth infrastructure. In order to use Lock, admins will have to do a few things:

The Auth Server token stream contains only the reference ids of new, updated, or revoked tokens. Lock retrieves the data (i.e. token value) for a given token reference id from the database service. This design minimizes the traffic on the message queue and leverages cloud database topologies. Lock Clients can optionally retrieve policies from Github or public keys from one or more JWKS endpoints.

Lock Data Flow Communication Overview

This architecture results in the best of three worlds. First, authorization is
blazing fast, because OAuth access and transaction tokens are in OPA's memory-- no introspection is needed. Second, admins can use their PDP to express complex policies based on any combination of data present in the token or context. Third, domains can publish central data for local decision making, for example information about how the end user authenticated.

The Auth Server Lock token stream is highly confidential. Lock must present a valid OAuth access token to Auth Server in order subscribe to the token stream. Domains should only use Lock for trusted first party services with a private network. Each Lock Client instance uses OAuth dynamic client registration with a software statement to enable asymmetric client authentication and DPoP access tokens.

The diagram below illustrates a Jans Lock topology where the OPA PDP is used to control course grain authorization in an API gateway, fine grain authorization in First Party API code, and the issuance of access token scopes.

North-South API Gateway Authz with Lock

This authorization model is also useful for East-West service mesh authorization because it avoids the "hairpin" inefficiency of routing all traffic through and API gateway (which is better for North-South web ingress). TLS is required to protect the bearer token. MTLS is better if the extra effort for additional transport security is justified.

East-West Service Mesh Authz with Lock


Last update: 2023-12-13
Created: 2022-07-21