Flexibility in identifying and authenticating users – Part Two

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LiveCycle Rights Management ES provides four fundamental types of authentication to the end-user: anonymous authentication, username/password authentication, Kerberos SSO authentication, and Smart card/Certificate authentication. These enable out-of-the-box deployment into a variety of authentication infrastructure, along with allowing for substantial mechanisms for customization and integration. As promised in part one, today’s topic is a deep dive on smartcard/certificate authentication and the benefits to customers.


Smart card / Certificate authentication

The fourth type of authentication that LiveCycle Rights Management ES supports is smart card, or certificate-based authentication. For some customers, this form of authentication is often more secure than the other forms of authentication supported. To understand how it works in LiveCycle Rights Management ES and the benefits it provides, however, requires some background and context.

A smart card, in its most well-known form, is a credit card-sized ‘intelligent card’ that carries user’s credentials in the form of Digital Certificates. Many variants today also possess processing capabilities like the ability to compute Digital Signatures. A smart card is a something-you-have type of authentication, as compared to Username/Password which is something-you-know.

A Digital Certificate, often just referred to as Certificate, is a digital document that at a minimum includes a Distinguished Name (DN) and an associated Public Key. The DN uniquely identifies a user’s identity, and the public key can be used to prove that identity. The Certificate is signed by a trusted third party known as Certificate Authority (CA). The CA vouches for the authenticity of the certificate holder. This Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) assumes the use of Public Key Cryptography, which is the most common method on the Internet for authenticating end parties or encrypting messages. PKI overcomes the significant flaws in the traditional cryptography or the symmetric cryptography, and at the same time provides added security by having strict requirements for key lengths and industry standard cryptographic algorithms (set forth by Public Key Cryptography Standards or PKCS, and governed by RSA Laboratories).

At the time of authentication, LiveCycle Rights Management ES validates the chosen Certificate’s signature against its cache of known and trusted CA certificates. The server verifies the Certificate, validates the Digital Signature, and finally maps this Certificate to a unique user through the rules an administrator creates when configuring LiveCycle. LiveCycle Rights Management ES also provides for flexibility and easier enterprise integration by providing server-based “SPIs,” which can be used to develop custom certificate authentication providers.

Many enterprises and governments today employ smart card based authentication, not only for its enhanced security but also for its ease of deployment and use for end users. For example the United States Department of Defense issues Common Access Cards (CAC cards) which can be used for secure user identification. These CAC cards can be used within LiveCycle Rights Management ES to authenticate users who are opening protected documents. A user would insert his card into a smart card reader on his machine to identify himself. These readers are available in a variety of form factors and can be connected to a computer using USB or PC card interface – and are integrated into many laptops today, such as the Dell Latitude line of business laptops.

To give you a better idea of how easy it is for an end user to authenticate to LiveCycle Rights Management ES using a smart card, click on the following demo:

Guest Contributor: Chaitanya Atreya

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Posted on 08-18-2008