Browsing Posts in ASP.NET

If you’ve developed any moderately complex web application, you’ve probably implemented some form of role-based security. For instance, only administrators can access the /Admin directory. Only ContentCreators can update web page content. Only RegisteredUsers can access the site. ASP.NET makes all of this relatively easy through the <authorization> section of the web.config file(s), programmatic security, and security trimming of site maps. Managing roles is even easier with ASP.NET 2.0 as we now have the role manager (represented by System.Web.Security.Roles) and various RoleProviders. If you’re using the SqlRoleProvider, you can test different configurations of your website by adding and removing your user from various roles and not caching role memberships in cookies. (If you cache your role memberships in cookies, you either have to wait for the cookie to expire or clear your browser cookies every time you change your role membership to ensure that you have the correct memberships.) It’s tedious, but it can be done. Even more tedious is testing role-based security for an intranet application if you’re using Windows groups via the WindowsTokenRoleProvider. Basically your Windows group memberships become your roles. Simple enough – add your user to the appropriate local or domain groups using the Local Users and Groups or Active Directory MMC snap-in and you’re good to go. Right? Not quite. Your group memberships in your user token don’t get updated until you log out and back in again. (I’m ignoring some advanced security APIs that allow you to invalidate your user token and re-acquire it.) Now this is really tedious and is likely going to result in you doing less testing under different role memberships than you really should. Is there a way that we can improve this? I’m glad you asked. Enter the ImpostorHttpModule.

The ImpostorHttpModule is an ASP.NET HttpModule that re-writes an authenticated user’s roles based on a XML file, ~/App_Data/Impostors.xml. To use the module, simply drop the assembly into ~/Bin/ and add the following section to your web.config file:

  <add name=”ImpostorHttpModule” type=”JamesKovacs.Web.HttpModules.ImpostorHttpModule, JamesKovacs.Web.HttpModules”/>

Then create a XML file called ~/App_Data/Impostors.xml, which looks like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″ ?>
  <impostor name=”DOMAIN\Jane” roles=”User, Manager, Administrator”/>
  <impostor name=”MACHINE\Bob” roles=”User”/>

The file format should be fairly self-explanatory. The name attribute is the log-in name of the user. It can be a local, domain, forms auth, or other user and is not case sensitive. The roles attribute is a comma-separated list of groups or roles to place the user in. The users can be authenticated by Windows, Forms, Passport, or any other authorization mechanism. The ImpostorHttpModule inserts itself after the authentication event and replaces the role membership of the incoming user with a GenericPrincipal if, and only if, the user is found in Impostors.xml. If the user is not found, their existing role memberships remain untouched. Impostors.xml file is located in ~/App_Data because by default, ASP.NET 2.0 doesn’t allow browser access to any files in this directory. It saves you from having to filter out and deny requests for this file yourself. ImpostorHttpModule monitors the Impostors.xml file for changes. So as soon as you update it with new user or role information, subsequent requests will acquire the new roles. You can see the new roles by browsing to ShowContexts.aspx, which was created by Dominick Baier. (You can download full source from his site here.) At the bottom, you’ll see your role memberships listed. Play around with Impostor.xml and see how your memberships change.

I should note that ImpostorHttpModule is only meant for development purposes. It will get very upset (e.g. blow chunks) with a bad Impostors.xml file. If you need a robust role management system, consider using Windows groups or the SqlRoleProvider. ImpostorHttpModule is meant as a quick-n-dirty testing tool. That said, you can download the ImpostorHttpModule with source code from here. In my next installment, I’ll show how to create a security-trimmed sitemap and test it with the ImpostorHttpModule. Also stay tuned for a detailed walkthrough of the source code where I’ll explain in painstaking detail how ImpostorHttpModule actually works.

EDIT: Updated ImpostorHttpModule to use a comma-separated list of roles to match <authorization> in Web.config and sitemaps.

Jean-Paul reappears on dnrTV to talk about Model-View-Presenter, which is a cool pattern for abstracting away your UI implementation technology. For example you can re-use the same Model and Presenter code with ASP.NET and WinForms. Additionally the view ends up being really dumb, which means that parsing, validation, and other logic traditionally in your ASPX code-behind or WinFom is now encapsulated in the presenter and can be identical between the two. This episode is well worth the watch.

Jean-Paul Boodhoo on Model-View-Presenter

Also worth watching is Jean-Paul’s earlier double-header on Test-Driven Development (TDD). You want to see how TDD is meant to be done, watch and learn!

Jean-Paul Boodhoo on Test-Driven Development Part 1 of 2

Jean-Paul Boodhoo on Test-Driven Development Part 2 of 2

Fellow plumber, Bil Simser, asks the question how the heck does someone debug SharePoint as a non-admin. Elementary, my dear Simser, elementary…

The fundamental problem that Bil is experiencing occurs with SharePoint, ASP.NET, or any app that runs under a different security context than your own. A normal user can only debug applications running under his/her own security context.* Administrators have the SeDebug privilege, which allows them to debug processes running under any security context. Granting your user the SeDebug privilege gives them tremendous power, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. (With SeDebug, you can open any process, including system processes with full permissions. If you can do that, you own the box. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out how, given only SeDebug, to elevate your normal user to be a member of the local administrators group.) I know of a few solutions to allow debugging of server processes:

  1. Develop server apps in an isolated virtual machine and use an admin account.
  2. Run as admin when debugging server apps, but run as a normal user while developing them. (This can be done using MakeMeAdmin and then running devenv.)
  3. Run the server app under your user account, though this may mean placing your username/password in clear text, which is non-ideal. (This is the strategy used by the Visual Web Developer Web Server – aka Cassini – that ships with VS 2005.)

* Note that although you don’t require any special privileges to debug a process running under your own security context, Visual Studio does enforce that you need to be a member of the Debugger Users group.

EDIT: Additional information added below related to Bil’s comment.

Bil is correct. If you run Visual Studio as a non-admin when developing server apps and you want to debug, you need to break stride and launch another copy of Visual Studio using MakeMeAdmin or runas. This is highly non-ideal. Is it a huge security risk to run Visual Studio under an admin account while the rest of your log-in session is running as a normal user? Somewhat, but it’s a lot better than running your entire log-in session as an admin.

Also remember one of the main reasons for developing apps as a non-admin – to ensure that you are running/debugging with credentials similar to what your end users will be using. (i.e. Your app isn’t writing to protected regions of the file system or registry to which normal users don’t have access.) With server apps, the story is a bit different. You want your server app to be running with different credentials – the credentials of the account that the application will be running under in production – NETWORK SERVICE or other service account. The safest solution is #1 above. Develop server apps as an admin in an isolated virtual machine. Second would be running only Visual Studio under elevated privileges using technique #2. Although technique #3 above works, you run the risk of developing your server code under unrealistic conditions – for instance, you’ll have a logged in user with a loaded HKCU hive. If you want to try option #3, you’ll have to configure your application pool and/or ASP.NET application to run as your current (non-admin) user. For the app pool identity, you can configure that using the IIS Manager MMC. For ASP.NET, you have to modify the following in machine.config:

    <processModel username="" password=""/>

Although you can store this in cleartext, I would recommend against it for obvious reasons. Take a look at aspnet_setreg.exe and the following KB article on how to store this information securely:

How to use the ASP.NET utility to encrypt credentials and session state connection strings

We’ve just released Episode 3: Powered by Infinite Improbability Drive. So that we can get you, our loyal listeners, the episodes more quickly, we’ll be hosting on both MSDN Canada Community Radio as well as on the Plumbers @ Work site. You can find the show notes here, photos here, and podcast here. It will be posted to MSDN Canada Community Radio shortly.

Show Notes

  • Introduction
  • Around the Horn with the Plumbers
  • Security March with Dan Sellers
  • Microsoft Blacklisted C++ Libraries
  • SHA-1 Discussion
  • Team Foundation Server (TFS) Release Candidate (RC) 1
  • Public Release of Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 Beta 2
  • Various Issues with IE 7.0 Beta 2
  • Development of IE versus Development of Firefox
  • The Browser as a User Experience (i.e. AJAX)
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS) in IE 7.0 and Outlook (AKA, The Ultimate Pull Application)
  • Information Overload (AKA, Organizing Information)
  • Upcoming Canadian Conferences: VSLive! and DevTeach
  • Half-Time
  • .NET Framework 2.0 Adoption
  • ASP.NET 2.0 Adoption
  • PetShop 4.0 Discussion and Highlights
  • .NET Nuke 4.0
  • Old Microsoft Reference Applications (AKA, “Different Strokes” or “ALF”)
  • Enterprise Library 2.0 Highlights
  • Windows “Live” Highlights (i.e. Domains, Favorites, and Messenger)
  • Other “Live” Projects (Office “Live” and Visual Studio “Live”)
  • Windows OneCare Beta
  • The Realities of a “Secure” Operating System
  • Windows Vista Favourite Features
  • Running as Standard User/Non-Admin on Windows Vista
  • Event Viewer in Windows Vista
  • Windows Calendar (WinCal) in Windows Vista
  • What’s Coming Up for the Plumbers
  • Upgrading to Community Server 2.0
  • John Still Doesn’t Have a Xbox 360

Show References

Rory Blyth and the Ewok
The SharePoint Show
Alberta .NET User Group
Calgary .NET User Group
Dan Sellers’ Blog
MSDN WebCasts
Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend (Michael Howard)
Bruce Schneier
SHA-1 Broken (Bruce Schneier)
Michael Howard’s Blog
Team Foundation Server (TFS) Release Candidate (RC) 1 (via Jeff Beehler)
Rob Caron’s Blog
Jeff Beehler’s Blog
Team Foundation Server (TFS) Go-Live License
TFS Blog
Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0 Beta 2
Scott Hanselman’s “Running Internet Explorer 7.0 Beta 2 without installing it.” Post
VSLive! Toronto
MSDN Article for Petshop Migration
.NET Nuke
Enterprise Library 2.0
Windows “Live”
Microsoft Gadgets
Windows “Live” Domains
Windows “Live” Favorites
Tuscany (AKA, Visual Studio “Live”)
Windows OneCare Beta
Windows OneCare Pricing Announcement
UntitledNet (Xbox 360 Locator Application)

You can post comments in the forums. As always, feedback is more than welcome.

If you’re ever troubleshooting an IIS-related problem, Microsoft offers a variety of free tools to help in your troubleshooting efforts. Previously you had to download the tools separately, but Microsoft just released the entire bundle as a single convenient download:



Also available for IA64 and AMD64.


Tools included in the bundle:


  • Authentication and Access Control Diagnostics 1.0
  • SSL Diagnostics 1.1
  • SMTP Diagnostics 1.0
  • Log Parser 2.2
  • Trace Diagnostics 1.0
  • WFetch 1.4
  • Debug Diagnostics 1.0
  • As usual, I’ve been reading voraciously about all things .NET and here’s a selection of articles and blog posts that every developer should read in their copious amounts of spare time over the holidays.

    Our first stop is security… Security for developers has long been near and dear to my heart. So it should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of Keith Brown‘s work. His articles on security for developers are very insightful and his book, The .NET Developer’s Guide to Windows Security, should be on every developer’s bookshelf. Keith recently published an article in MSDN Magazine entitled Encrypting Without Secrets, where he lays out a foundation for encrypting data (such as credit card numbers) without placing the decryption keys on an internet-accessible server. He uses a technique very similar to SSL where he uses public/private key cryptography (RSA in his example) to encrypt a dynamically generated symmetric key (AES aka Rijndael, pronounced rain-doll). You keep the private (decryption) key on a secure server in your back office and the public (encryption) key on your web server. Even if the web and/or database server are compromised, the attacker doesn’t have the decryption key to make use of the encrypted credit cards numbers he (or she) just harvested. Very cool stuff.

    Our next stop is SharePoint land… Bil Simser has a great blog post that discusses why you shouldn’t use your lightsabre to slice cheese. (Because it will melt the cheese, silly!) His point is that although SharePoint is a cool tool, you should use it for what it was designed for. Like any tool, it cannot be all things to all people. A good developer/architect knows his toolset and knows how to pick the right tool for the job. When all you’ve got in your toolbox is SharePoint, everything looks like a webpart. If this is you, learn a few more tools so you can pick the right one for the job.

    Last stop is the world of ASP.NET… There are a wide variety of ways to redirect a user to a new web page and ASP.NET 2.0 adds some new tricks. Ting-hao Yang enumerates the options, including pros and cons of each technique, in this blog post. A very worthwhile read for anyone doing ASP.NET development, either 1.X or 2.0.

    If you’re a developer like me, you can appreciate an aesthetically pleasing website, but couldn’t create one if your life depended on it. Oh sure, I can sling HTML, DHTML, CSS, and JavaScript with the best of them, but I’m an implementer, not a graphic artist. So what to do if you’re too cheap to hire a graphic artist (or too lazy to deal with cross-browser compatilibity)? Microsoft has released a series of pre-built templates with some nifty features for ASP.NET 2.0. A wide variety of ASP.NET 2.0 features are used in the templates, ranging from Master Pages to Profiles to Themes to new ASP.NET controls. So go check out the ASP.NET 2.0 Design Templates.

    Last week, I presented another talk on acquiring your MCAD/MCSD for the Calgary .NET User Group. This time around I covered ASP.NET in Tips & Tricks for 70-305/70-315: Developing Web Applications. Thanks to everyone who attended. You can grab the slidedeck from here.

    After months of preparation and much secrecy, Plumbers @ Work has been released into the wild by the .NET Plumbers. The regular podcast is part of MSDN Canada Radio and will be featuring John Bristowe, Dan Sellers, Bil Simser and myself. We’ll be talking about current and upcoming developments in .NET and Microsoft technologies. Our inaugaural episode will discuss hot topics like:

    • Introducing the podcast
    • VS 2005/SQL 2005/BizTalk 2006 - Here they come!
    • SharePoint vNow and vNext
    • Drinking from the .NET 2.0 firehose
    • Half-time show
    • Security – It’s a process not a technology
    • Developing as a non-admin
    • Microsoft hardware
    • A walk down memory lane with Microsoft Bob
    • Xbox 360 – Should I get one?

    Without further ado, I present to you:

    Plumbers @ Work – Episode 1 – Mostly Harmless

    You can catch the RSS feed here. You can leave us feedback and suggestions on the podcasts at .NET Plumbers.

    Many of the new features in ASP.NET 2.0 are meant to simply common tasks in web development. How many of us have dragged two labels, a pair of text boxes, a checkbox, and a submit button onto an .ascx and hooked everything up to create a Login control? Now the Login control and its helpful counterparts like LoginStatus, LoginView, etc. are part of the toolbox along with wizards to hook up with wherever you’re storing your user information. (And there was much rejoicing…)

    There are other new security features in ASP.NET 2.0 that simplify common tasks. Dan “Security Man” Sellers has been busily blogging about some of these cool new features. I would highly recommend:

    Security Trimming and Site Navigation: Need to filter your menu based on the permissions of the logged in user? ASP.NET 2.0 does this for you now. (N.B. You’ll still want to protect the pages using Forms Auth. Not showing unavailable options makes for a nice UI experience, but not a secure site does it make.)

    Challenge Questions and Password Reset: Forgotten your password? Let’s reset it and email it to you after you answer the challenge question. This is standard fare for many websites and is now available out of the box. Dan lets you in on the magic necessary to make it all work.

    ASP.NET 2.0 Provider Model: Dan points you to some great resources on learning the new provider model. As an architect, this is something I really need to spend some time wrapping my head around. At 120 pages worth of information, it should give me lots to read on the bus ride to/from the office.

    Dan has got more great stuff coming down the pipe. So be sure to tune in. Subscribed!