For many Higher Education Institutions in Switzerland, the integration of their identity and access management solution with Microsoft products is an important requirement. This also applies before / when adopting the SWITCH edu-ID. To this end, SWITCH has developed the necessary building blocks to demonstrate that such an integration is possible. This enables users to benefit from cloud offerings such as Office 365 or Microsoft Azure services with their usual login credentials.
The four demo use cases that were established are:
- A user from a cloud-only institution (without on-premises Active Directory) authenticates to Microsoft SaaS services, namely Office365
- A user from a hybrid institution (with on-premises Active Directory) authenticates to Microsoft SaaS services, namely Office365
- A user from a hybrid institution authenticates to a “modern” web app via SWITCHaai
- A user from a hybrid institution authenticates via Kerberos to a local application via his SWITCH edu-ID
Demo case 3 is straightforward, because SWITCH edu-ID is just a particular SWITCHaai Identity Provider (IdP) running the same software (Shibboleth) as most of the other institutional Identity Providers in SWITCHaai. Its consists of simply using the SAML 2.0 protocole which has been supported already for a long time by all SWITCHaai Identity Providers.
For the other demo cases, we had to integrate SWITCH edu-ID with Microsoft’s underlying cloud identity management system, the Azure Active Directory. In the following sections, we describe, how this can be done.
To authenticate against Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory using a third-party Identity Provider like Shibboleth, Microsoft requires two non-standard -(SWITCHaai) attributes (or claims):
- userPrincipalName (UPN)
The first thing to do as a prerequisite is hence, to extend the current SWITCH edu-ID LDAP directory with an additional LDAP scheme containing these two attributes.
In order to provide these attributes, the SWITCH edu-ID Identity Provider configuration was extended with an attribute filter policy, releasing the attributes, and a fitting attribute resolver, loading the attributes from the underlying LDAP.
The second step is to exchange metadata between Microsoft Online and SWITCH edu-ID. Microsoft Online provides its metadata on a public URL, SWITCH edu-ID provides signed metadata as part of the SWITCHaai federation.
Then, Microsoft’s Online Services had to be configured for the Federated Authentication, forwarding all authentication requests for the covered domain(s) to the SWITCH edu-ID IdP.
The last necessary step was to provision the users in Azure Active Directory. This is necessary, because Azure Active Directory cannot provision a user on-the-fly based on a SAML assertion, and needs to assign a usage location and license to every user beforehand. Since this constitutes a transfer of personal information to Microsoft, it is recommended to let all users consent to this first.
In the case of hybrid institution, the users are synchronised from the institution’s on-premise AD to the Azure Active Directory via AAD Connect. In this case, the users’ ImmutableID attribute stored in the edu-ID LDAP directory needs to correspond to the ImmutableID used by AAD Connect. A mechanism for synchronising the ImmutableID and the userPrincipalName between the on-premise AD and the edu-ID will be made available soon.
In the case of the cloud-only institution, for each provisioned Azure AD user, an appropriate ImmutableID must be generated, stored in the edu-ID LDAP directory and synchronised with the Azure Active Directory.
Microsoft’s implementation lacks some features that are considered best-practice in Higher Education Identity Federations.
• The Microsoft Online metadata is unsigned, which is unusual in Higher Education Identity Federations, but they are provided over a https connection.
• A metadata aggregate cannot be consumed and automatic hourly reload of metadata is unsupported. Therefore, metadata changes from the federation have to be manually fed to Microsoft.
• Microsoft does also not support encrypted SAML assertions, forcing any Shibboleth Identity Provider interacting with it to disable encryption.
The authentication to Microsoft services via the SWITCH edu-ID is generally feasible, enabling organizations to keep a single identity and not needing to create a second set of credentials for Microsoft Office365 and other solutions. However, the security level, we are normally used to and is considered a best-practice in Higher Education Federations, had to be lowered a little bit.
Also, Microsoft’s requirements for interoperation do seem to differ from the Higher Education Interoperation Profiles and seem to change frequently without notice. Therefore, do not be surprised, if some information in the referenced documentation or in this article has become obsolete or outdated at the time you read it.
The steps defined here have been developed after consulting different sources. These were: