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SharePoint 2010 : Securing a Web Application (part 1) - How Zones, Web Applications, and Security Work Together to Provide Secure Solutions

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This section introduces the security of a Web application and the planning issues that present themselves as part of this discussion. You will learn about three areas of security related to Web applications: zones, authentication providers, and Web application security policies.

1. Zones

In SharePoint 2010 nomenclature, a zone is essentially an inbound vector to the content in a database that is accessed through a Web application. Don’t think of zones as any more complicated than this. SharePoint 2010 has five default inbound zones.

  • Default

  • Intranet

  • Extranet

  • Internet

  • Custom

An authentication provider, an inbound URL (which can have alternate access mappings), and a Web application are associated with each zone, along with security settings that apply to anyone using the defined inbound vector to access content in SharePoint 2010.

When you create a new Web application, behind the scenes it is assigned to the Default zone with minimal security settings at this Web application layer. To change the security settings associated with the zone, you don’t go to the zone directly because there is no administrative interface for zone management. Instead, you manage zones through the other feature interfaces, and when it is appropriate, the zone and security management settings will appear to apply security at the Web application layer.

2. Authentication Providers

In SharePoint 2010, you can specify the underlying authentication provider for a particular Web application’s zone. This can be useful when using a Web application in a specific manner in which it makes sense to use an authentication provider other than Active Directory.

For example, if you want to expose a website in SharePoint to the Internet but quarantine the authentication of anyone using the site from Active Directory, you might decide to use forms-based authentication, which would allow users to create their own user name and password combination, stored in a SQL database, to support authentication only to that website.

The authentication providers that ship with SharePoint 2010 include

  • Windows

  • Forms

  • Web single sign-on

Windows Authentication treats the user identity supplied by Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) as the authenticated user in an ASP.NET application. IIS provides a number of authentication mechanisms to verify user identity, including anonymous authentication, Windows-integrated (NTLM) authentication, Windows-integrated (Kerberos) authentication, Basic (base64 encoded) authentication, Digest authentication, and authentication based on client certificates.

Forms authentication enables you to authenticate the user name and password of your users using a login form that you create. Unauthenticated requests are redirected to a login page, where the user provides credentials and submits the form. If the application authenticates the request, the system issues a ticket that contains a key for re-establishing the identity for subsequent requests.

In the Web single sign-on (SSO) design, users authenticate only once to Active Directory to access multiple applications. Typically, you deploy this design when you want to provide customer access to one or more ADFS-secured applications over the Internet. With the Web SSO design, an organization that typically hosts a secured application in a perimeter network can maintain a separate store of customer accounts in the perimeter network, which makes it easier to isolate customer accounts and employee accounts.

Authentication providers are assigned at the Web application layer and associated with a zone. Each web application you create is automatically placed in the Default zone and permissions are wide open on that zone.

3. How Zones, Web Applications, and Security Work Together to Provide Secure Solutions

In this section, you’ll see how zones, Web applications, and security options can be combined to provide a secure solution for a sample scenario: your company of 1000 SharePoint users is outsourcing the development work for your SharePoint 2010 farm to a Microsoft Certified Partner. Because of your company’s security policy requirements, which forbid contractors from creating new site collections using self-service site creation, you need to provide secure access to your SharePoint farm to the contract developers while allowing the SSSC right for your employees—but not for your contractors.

Assume that the URL location in which the contractors are working is http://portal, because they are building out a new intranet portal for your company based on requirements that are not relevant to our example.

First, you’ll need an existing Web application to work with. In this example, you have a new Web application called portal at http://portal. Now, assume that users in your organization connect to this portal through port 80 after having authenticated through Active Directory. The portal is published on your firewall and is available for SSL (443 Secure Sockets Layer) access as well for your users. But you also want to quarantine http://portal to prevent your consultants from using it, and instead create a different URL they can use to access the same content and customize it. In addition, you want to place additional security (restrictions) on what your users can do to http://portal after they have been authenticated.

The first step in accomplishing this scenario is to extend the portal Web application using a different URL. Open a browser and go to Central Administration, click the Application Management link, and then click the Manage Web Applications link. Then highlight the name of the portal Web application in the Web application list and click the Extend icon on the Ribbon (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Highlight the Web application you want to extend and then click the Extend icon.

When you click the Extend icon, you are presented with a page that is similar to the New Web Application page, except that you won’t be creating any databases. What you’re doing is creating another IIS website that is provisioned by SharePoint 2010 with different configurations but is connected to the same set of databases as that of the Web application that was highlighted when you clicked the Extend icon. Another way to think about this is that you’re creating a second inbound vector to those databases hosted by the original Web application.

Figure 2 shows the top part of a page that will configure the extended website. It can be a confusing page to work with if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing. For example, you might try to create a new website and then connect it to the Web application that you are trying to extend. You should understand that by the time you get to this page, you are already connected to the Web application that you want to extend, and you need to create a new website to make this happen.

Figure 2. Creating a new IIS website to extend http://portal

When you create the new website that will extend an existing Web application, you will have a chance to select the authentication provider. You are not required to select the same authentication provider that was selected for the default Web application. In fact, selecting a different authentication provider for a different inbound vector is one of the main reasons that you extend a Web application (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Selecting a different authentication provider for this extended Web application

Finally, at the bottom of this page, you’ll be able to select the default URL and zone for this extended IIS website. Note that the default zone does not display, because that one is already taken by the original Web application. Among the four choices illustrated in Figure 4, Custom seems to be the correct choice, and is the one that should be selected.

Figure 4. Viewing the remaining four zone choices plus the default public URL for this extended IIS website

You might think that there would be an interface to manage these extended Web applications, but there is not. You manage extended Web applications only when you are working with a Web application feature that needs to expose the IIS website that extended this Web application.


BEST PRACTICES Be sure to document any Web applications that have been extended and make note of the authentication provider, zone assignment, and URL.

The one place in SharePoint Central Administration where you can see your Web applications and their extended IIS websites is the Alternate Access Mappings page, shown in Figure 5. However, you still need your documentation, because there is nothing in this view that indicates which URLs are extension websites and which are the root, default Web applications.

Figure 5. Viewing the root Web application, http://portal, and its extended IIS website, http://contractorportal, on the Alternate Access Mappings page

So in this scenario, now that you’ve extended the http://portal Web application and assigned it to the custom zone, it’s time to secure that extended Web application. For purposes of this example, you’ll focus on two of the three configuration options: permission policy and user policy; there is a brief explanation of the anonymous policy option.

You want to restrict what the contractors can do through their URL/zone assignments. The way to configure this is to create the permission policy that you will then assign to the Contractors user group. To create the permission policy, click the Permission Policy icon on the page for the Web application (the same page where you clicked the Extend icon earlier in this example).

When you click the Permission Policy icon, you are presented with the Manage Permission Policy Levels page, where you click the Add Permission Policy Level link to create a new permission policy. The Add Permission Policy Level page shown in Figure 16-8 appears, and you need to understand the options presented on this page.

The first thing you need to do is to give the new permission policy a name that is descriptive of what the policy will enforce. Second, you’ll need to configure the site collection level permissions. Two types of permission are available, Administrator and Auditor. You can select both, either, or none of these options. Selecting the Administrator option gives the permission policy (and anyone assigned this policy) site collection administrator privileges in all of the site collections within this Web application, as long as the person uses the extended inbound vector that you are configuring. Site collection Auditor permission gives those individuals full read access to everything within the Web application, as long as they use the extended inbound vector that you are configuring to access the content. This is very useful for allowing auditors to review content without giving them modify capabilities and without having to visit each site collection within the Web application to assign audit level permissions.

Figure 6. Add Permission Policy Level page

Scroll down this page to see that you have the opportunity to grant or deny permissions. If your compliance requirements include explicit deny permissions, this is place to configure and enforce them. The permissions listed on this page cannot be split up—this is as granular as they come in SharePoint 2010.

The permissions are separated into three groups: List, Site, and Personal. You can create any matrix of permissions for each policy permission level that you need. Be sure to document what you create, because there is no default reporting available in SharePoint 2010 for these permission policy levels. You can review what you’ve done in the user interface (UI), but if you are creating a plethora of these policies, it’s important to document what you’ve done for faster reference. Also, be sure not to select both grant and deny permissions on the same or different permission policies that apply to the same groups. Doing so will negate the grant permissions.

In the sample scenario, you are going to deny self-service site creation (SSSC) permission to the Contract group because you don’t want them to create new site collections within this Web application. Assuming that you have configured SSSC for your company users, this will ensure that employees can create new site collections but contractors cannot (Figure 7).


You select the check boxes in the left column to grant selections and select check boxes in the right column to deny selections.

Figure 7. Denying the Contractor group SSSC permission

After saving this permission policy, Figure 8 illustrates that it will now be listed as an available permission policy to assign at the Web application layer.

Figure 8. The new Permission Policy appears in the available list of permission policies for the http://portal Web application.


Permission policy levels are unique to each Web application. When you create a new permission policy level, it is assigned to the Web application that you are focused on. There is no UI to copy permission policies between Web applications, so in the absence of custom code, you must re-create permission policies for each Web application.

At this point in the scenario, you’ve done nothing to secure the extended Web application because you have not assigned a user policy to the extended zone using the newly configured Deny SSSC To Contractor Group permission policy. To do this, you set your focus on the http://portal Web application, click the User Policy button, and then select Add Users. The Add Users page with a zone selection drop-down list appears (Figure 9), and you’ll use it to select the Custom zone. Note that only those zones that have existing websites will appear.

Figure 9. The Add Users page allows you to select the utilized zones where you want to apply the permission policy.

On the next page (Figure 10), you’ll associate the permission level that you just created with the Contractor’s Active Directory group, and this will complete the effort to apply a permission to a group of users who are instructed to use a different URL to access the portal content.

Figure 10. Assigning the Contractors group to the Deny SSSC permission policy level for the Custom zone

You might conclude that you are not yet finished, because there is nothing in the UI to enforce the instruction that contractors use their own URL to get the portal content—and you would be correct. To force contractors to use the contractor URL, you must create another permission policy level that denies all access to all content on the default zone for the URL http://portal and assign it to the Contractors group.

By doing this, when an individual who authenticates through Active Directory is identified as a member of the Contractors group, the only way that individual can access http://portal is to use the URL http://contractorportal, and her rights to SSSC will be denied.

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