Tokenless Authorization with X.509 Client SSL Certificate

bp keystone-tokenless-authz-with-x509-ssl-client-cert

Support tokenless authorization with X.509 client SSL certificate to improve security and simplify deployment.

See X.509 for more information on X.509 certificates.

Problem Description

In a typical enterprise deployment, SSL client certificate authentication is required for services talking to Keystone for things such as token validation and resource lookup. For example, we configure a client certificate for the auth_token middleware running at the service to establish the SSL client certificate authentication session with Keystone when validating a user token. In this case, there’s no need for the service to take the extra unnecessary step to obtain a service token in order to authorize the token validation call. We can effectively identify the service by its X.509 SSL client certificate. With the X.509 SSL client certificate attributes, coupled with the scope information conveyed in the request headers, we can directly create the authorization credential by looking up the necessary identity data without having to issue a token. The authorization credential is successfully created if all of the following conditions are true:

  1. A SSL client certificate authentication session is successfully established between the service and Keystone. This implies the client certificate is valid.
  2. The certificate meets our filter requirements. i.e. the certificate issuer matches one of the issuers that we trust.
  3. The attributes from the client certificate map to an existing Keystone user.
  4. The Keystone user account is enabled.
  5. Scope information is conveyed in the request header (i.e. X-Project-Id)
  6. User has one or more roles for the given scope.

The benefits of tokenless authorization with X.509 SSL client certificate are:

  • Security - no need to expose the service user password in the conf files. Also, this has the effect of non-bearer token as SSL client must possess the corresponding private key.
  • Simplicity - no need for password. The same certificate can be used for both authentication and secured communication.
  • Flexibility - this mechanism is not limited to X.509 certificate auth. It can be expended to support other external auth mechanisms via different mappings. For example, if Kerberos is to be used and the Apache front end populates the WSGI request environment in the exactly same manner, all we have to do is to create a new identity provider and its corresponding mapping. No code changes are necessary.

Proposed Change

This is accomplished by implementing a middleware filter which builds the authorization credential based on the certificate attributes and scope information from the request headers. Authorization credential is a Python dictionary which represents the credential used in Oslo policy enforcement.

Since we are using Apache mod_ssl to handle the SSL requests, Apache will convey the client certificate information in the WSGI request environment. For example:


See for more details.

This middleware shall use the mapping functionality, implemented for Federation, to formulate the Keystone identity from the SSL environment variables. Each issuer (i.e. certification authority) would constitute an identity provider (IdP). There would be exactly one mapping per IdP. The IdP ID would be the SHA256 hash of the issuer DN.

In addition, this middleware shall accept the following configurable option, defined in [auth] configration section in keystone.conf, to further filter the certificates that are allowed to participate in tokenless authorization:

trusted_issuers = [<list of trust issuer DNs>]

If trusted_issuers is absent, no certificates will be allowed in tokenless authorization.

Furthermore, this middleware shall expect the following request headers to convey the scope information:


Absence of the scope headers is equivalent to an unscoped token. Notice that only one scope can be specified for a given request. For example, if both project and domain scope are specified, that would constitute an error.


Use the existing mechanism, which is to use the service token for authorization.

Data Model Impact




Security Impact

This mechanism has the effect of non-bearer token as the SSL client must possess the corresponding private key for its SSL certificate.

Notifications Impact


Other End User Impact

In order to use this functionality, service must have a valid X.509 client SSL certificate. However, certificate management is outside the scope of this spec.

Performance Impact


Other Deployer Impact

This feature only works in conjunction with Apache mod_ssl or mod_nss as standalone eventlet-based Keystone does not parse or convey X.509 client SSL certificate attributes in the request environment. Therefore, Keystone must be running in Apache mod_wsgi.

Notice that if the deployment terminates SSL in a load balancer, then the load balancer must be configured to forward the SSL client certificate.

In order for Apache mod_ssl to convey the SSL client certificate information in the request environment, the SSLOptions directive must contains +StdEnvVars and the SSLUserName directive must be set to a valid SSL requirement environment attribute.

For example:

SSLOptions +StdEnvVars


SSLUserName directive must not be used with +FakeBasicAuth option. For more details, please refer to Apache mod_ssl Also, notice the environment variable AUTH_MECHANISM, this is used to determine which mapping to use in case we support other protocols in the future.

Developer Impact




Primary assignee:
guang-yee (gyee)
Other contributors:

Work Items

  1. Implement new middleware to create auth context from X.509 certificate attributes for tokenless authorization.
  2. Update auth_token middleware to make service token optional.


This feature only works in conjunction with Apache mod_ssl or mod_nss. Therefore, Keystone must be running in Apache mod_wsgi.


There will be unit tests. For integration tests, we may need both X.509 certificate management capability (i.e. Barbican + DogTag) and Apache enabled in Jenkins.

Documentation Impact

  1. Update Keystone configuration doc on how to use the new middleware.
  2. Update Keystone middleware configuration doc on how to use SSL client certificate instead of service token.