Pilot service for Yubikey two-factor authentication

November 10, 2015

A test Cosign service using Yubikey two-factor authentication

Filed under: Pilot service for Yubikey two-factor authentication — idurkacz @ 7:08 pm
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The previous posts regarding Cosign and Yubikey two-factor authentication are intended to record the investigations and thought processes which have taken place to date during the course of this project. As such, they might seem rather theoretical – but they’re a record for us and, with luck, they might also be of use to other people thinking of implementing the same thing.

However: in practice, where are we with this project right now?

At present:

  1. We have a working test Cosign server, customized with the standard Informatics look-and-feel, which is configured to implement two-factor authentication; the two factors being Kerberos username/password, and Yubikey OTP.
  2. We have a working test Cosign client website configured to authenticate against the two-factor server.
  3. Almost all of the configuration for both server and client has been tidily included in the corresponding LCFG profiles, and almost all of the necessary s/w has been packaged to our usual standards. (In that respect, some work remains to be done: for example the building and installation of the ‘universal Cosign PAM factor adaptor’ needs to be integrated into our ‘normal’ Cosign packages.)
  4. Two test users (currently, we have only two test Yubikeys available) have been verifying the service, with good results. We find that the two-factor authentication (including Kerberos SPNEGO) works intuitively, and we are able successfully to configure different sections of the client website to require differing levels of authentication: some single-factor; others two-factor; etc. (all this being arranged via appropriate CosignRequireFactor entries in Apache <Directory …> stanzas.)

In summary: the test service seems to provide what we want.


  1. The configuration for the Yubico PAM module is exactly the same as described in the previous post Towards two-factor Yubikey authentication with OpenSSH, namely:
    auth	required	/lib64/security/pam_yubico.so	id=<secret> key=<secret> authfile=/etc/yubikey_mappings debug 
  2. There is no specific ‘per-user’ treatment in the PAM configuration (as there is, for example, in the corresponding test ssh configuration described in the previous post mentioned above): anybody attempting to authenticate via a Yubikey is doing so because they want access to web content explicitly mediated via Yubikey authentication: such authentication either succeeds, or it doesn’t.

What we plan to do next:

  1. The current test client website is purely a proof of concept. We now plan to set up a test website to provide access to the School database (via ‘Theon’), in order to demonstrate two-factor access to ‘real’ data.
  2. We are purchasing more Yubikeys so that all members of the Computing staff – as well as any other interested parties – can participate in the trial.
  3. Currently, we associate Yubikey ID’s with School usernames via a map file – namely /etc/yubikey_mappings. That works, but isn’t particularly scaleable. We would like to investigate the use of LDAP to hold those mappings: the Yubico PAM modules supports that.
  4. Currently, we use the Yubico ‘Cloud’ service as the back-end authenticator. For any real service we will need to perform Yubikey authentication in-house – so that needs investigation. Failover and/or replication of any such service needs thought.
  5. Some further work is necessary to tweak the HTML and Javascript supporting the two-factor Cosign service.
  6. Amendments to building and packaging are necessary to incorporate the Universal PAM factor adaptor into LCFG.
  7. And other issues will undoubtedly arise in the course of the further testing to come …

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