Flexible Authentication

Last modified 25 Oct 2021 16:44 +02:00
Since 4.1
This functionality is available since version 4.1.

Authentication used to be quite simple back in 20th century. Username and password was all that was needed. But the world is a different place now. There are single sign-on (SSO) systems, multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms, authentication sequences, social login, identity federations and many more forms of authentication. Simple username and password is just not enough anymore.

MidPoint 4.1 introduced a concept of flexible authentication. MidPoint authentication mechanisms can be configured in a flexible way. The usual password-based authentication is still the default authentication mechanism. But many authentication mechanisms can be configured and combined in a flexible way. There are several authentication modules that are integral part of midPoint. Those modules can be combined into sequences, associated with user interface or the REST service and so on. There are many options to choose from.

Multi-Factor Authentication And Similar Mechanisms

MidPoint has a flexible authentication system. However, midPoint is still an identity management and governance system. MidPoint is not an authentication server, it is not an access management system and it is not identity provider. Therefore the flexible authentication of midPoint is designed to handle the client-side authentication use-cases. Such as:

  • MidPoint being a client (a.k.a. service provider) of access management systems, single sign-on systems or identity federations that are using standard protocols (SAML or OpenID Connect).

  • MidPoint using traditional password-based authentication, validating passwords using its own identity repository.

  • MidPoint using traditional password-based authentication, validating passwords using a directory server (LDAP or Active Directory)

  • MidPoint using SAML or OpenID Connect as a primary authentication mechanism, but having an emergency option for administrator log-in using a simple password-based authentication.

Direct support for multi-factor authentication (MFA), adaptive or risk-based authentication or any similar mechanism is not the goal of flexible authentication feature. There are many access management systems, single sign-on mechanisms and sophisticated authentication servers that can do that much better that midPoint ever could. MidPoint is an identity management and governance system. We see no point in reinventing the authentication wheel. Therefore the primary goal of flexible authentication feature in midPoint is to allow straightforward and reliable integration with existing authentication providers. Of course, midPoint is the right tool to manage multi-factor authentication credentials. MidPoint is designed to distribute passwords, PINs, asymmetric key pairs, public keys, certificates, shared secrets, seeds and any other authentication credentials. But it is not a responsibility of midPoint to validate them. Other systems should do that.

This is also a reason that midPoint authentication modules are directly "pluggable". Our approach is to support standard digital identity protocols such as SAML or OpenID Connect. Therefore need to a ZOO of third-party authentication modules is greatly reduced. Making the modules non-pluggable means that our authentication system can be simpler, more straightforward and seamlessly integrated with the ordinary midPoint infrastructure.

Therefore following approach is recommended to use multi-factor authentication (MFA) with midPoint:

  1. Set up an access management (AM) system, single sign-on (SSO) server or identity provider (IdP) that support multi-factor authentication mechanism. Enable a standard protocol on the server (e.g. SAML).

  2. Set up midPoint to be a client (service provider) of that authentication server.

  3. (Optional) Set up midPoint to manage authentication credentials that the authentication server is using. Currently midPoint can only manage the passwords. But there are plans to extend that functionality in the future.


Please see Flexible Authentication Configuration for configuration details.

Implementation Notes

Flexible authentication mechanism was implemented by using a custom code that is very roughly based on Spring Security concepts. We have started with Spring Security in midPoint 3.x and the plan was to reuse it also for flexible authentication. However, we have found that Spring Security is too simplistic and too rigid for our needs. It was very hard to reconfigure authentication without system restart (and even rebuild), it was difficult to implement authentication sequences and so on. Therefore we have ended up with a hybrid of some Spring Security components and concepts with our own code. It is quite likely that the last remains of Spring Security will disappear entirely in future midPoint versions.

Which also means that the unofficial way to use Spring Security modules with midPoint is unlikely to work with midPoint 4.1 and later.