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I want to know whether a solution I'm considering for a web app is particularly secure / in line with best practices etc.

Scenario - a web application, it's a stock management app for small retailers. There is an element of sales/customer management so data security (GDPR here in the UK) definitely applies.

To help secure the app, we've implemented an IP-address-based allow-list. Even the login page itself is protected, outside the IP allow-list you get nothing on any URL except an "access denied" redirect.

Once authorised by IP, you log in, and from there every single page, API call (even menu option) is tightly controlled by an access-based authentication system.

The trouble is, a couple of the retail customers don't have / won't pay for static IPs and they keep changing (maybe weekly).

At the moment, this is resolved via support call (they phone me) but the retailer must spend at least a short time without the stock system.

I'd like to try to allow them "administrative self-service" e.g. a page whereby (with enough authentication) a senior store manager could add the in-store PC to the allow-list.

The authentication I'm thinking of is:

  • The redirect will tell you if your IP lies outside the allow-list (so you can tell the difference between 'my IP changed' and 'my authenticated user just isn't allowed to have this page')
  • to add your current IP to the allow list you will have to provide:
    • Username and password for a privileged user
    • 2FA code (i.e. google authenticator) from a device that's previously been setup and tied to the same user credentials.

Would anyone please be prepared to comment on the potential weaknesses of this concept?

I'm already thinking it opens the app to malicious users from within (they could self-auth their home PCs), but then we have already permitted that to store owners who want to do stock checks or VAT reports from home...

It retains the strong "nobody outside the allow-list gets anything" mechanism (which we like) - but the page itself must be exempt from the allow-list otherwise it's inaccessible. I worry about DDOS or credential stuffing attacks against that single page.

I'd be interested to hear whether this sets any alarm bells ringing, is a "good" idea, or any alternative mechanism? (I thought about client certificates but these retailers tend to be admins on their own self-setup PCs, they could just copy them).

I've kept the post deliberately tech-stack-agnostic just to keep my question purely to the concept/mechanism itself.

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  • This makes no sense. First, why do you want to control access by IP when you have already determined that the IP is not a reliably stable authentication factor and people need to access the system from home? What do you want to use the IP restriction for? What problem are you trying to solve by restricting IPs?
    – schroeder
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:37
  • I'd rely on the 2FA you already have in place, and maybe add geo-ip blocks to block countries that don't have your customers if that can be defined cleanly.
    – schroeder
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:40

1 Answer 1

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You seem to have it backwards. Instead of going through all kinds of different authentication methods, you should first figure out the requirements, ideally together with your customers. Then you can choose an appropriate method. You need to find out:

  • How your customers are going to access the system. You said they have an in-store PC and shouldn't be able to use their home PC, but at the same time you said you do allow them to access the system from home. Since it can't be both, that's something you need to make a decision on.
  • How big the technical expertise and willingness to do extra work are on the part of your customers. For example, client certificates can be a very secure authentication method, especially when they're kept on a smartcard, but if your customers cannot or don't want to figure out how to use them in the browser, this approach will fail.
  • You need to ask yourself the same thing. For example, using a client certificates means running a public-key infrastructure, which is not trivial.
  • What risks you and your customers are willing to accept, and who is responsible for managing which risks. You said you're worried about inside attackers within the stores, but that's something you have to discuss beforehand with your customers.

Additionally, you mentioned possible legal aspects, but I cannot comment on that.

There really isn't a “best” authentication method. Passwords can be perfectly valid if the main goals are simplicity and flexibility, but of course there's the risk of weak passwords, password sharing and database leaks. 2FA can be an improvement, but it's also less convenient for your customers. Client certificates are another option, but as I've already said, this is going to involve quite a lot of extra work and requires some technical expertise.

As to IP-based authentication, this doesn't seem to work here.

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