AWS News Blog

New – Multi-Factor Authentication with WebAuthn for AWS SSO

Starting today, you can add WebAuthn as a new multi-factor authentication (MFA) to AWS Single Sign-On, in addition to currently supported one-time password (OTP) and Radius authenticators. By adding support for WebAuthn, a W3C specification developed in coordination with FIDO Alliance, you can now authenticate with a wide variety of interoperable authenticators provisioned by your system administrator or built into your laptops or smartphones. For example, you can now tap a hardware security key, touch a fingerprint sensor on your Mac, or use facial recognition on your mobile device or PC to authenticate into the AWS Management Console or AWS Command Line Interface (CLI).

With this addition, you can now self-register multiple MFA authenticators. Doing so allows you to authenticate on AWS with another device in case you lose or misplace your primary authenticator device. We make it easy for you to name your devices for long-term manageability.

WebAuthn two-factor authentication is available for identities stored in the AWS Single Sign-On internal identity store and those stored in Microsoft Active Directory, whether it is managed by AWS or not.

What are WebAuthn and FIDO2?

Before exploring how to configure two-factor authentication using your FIDO2-enabled devices, and to discover the user experience for web-based and CLI authentications, let’s recap how FIDO2, WebAuthn and other specifications fit together.

FIDO2 is made of two core specifications: Web Authentication (WebAuthn) and Client To Authenticator Protocol (CTAP).

Web Authentication (WebAuthn) is a W3C standard that provides strong authentication based upon public key cryptography. Unlike traditional code generator tokens or apps using TOTP protocol, it does not require sharing a secret between the server and the client. Instead, it relies on a public key pair and digital signature of unique challenges. The private key never leaves a secured device, the FIDO-enabled authenticator. When you try to authenticate to a website, this secured device interacts with your browser using the CTAP protocol.

WebAuthn is strong: Authentication is ideally backed by a secure element, which can safely store private keys and perform the cryptographic operations. It is scoped: A key pair is only useful for a specific origin, like browser cookies. A key pair registered at console.amazonaws.com cannot be used at console.not-the-real-amazon.com, mitigating the threat of phishing. Finally, it is attested: Authenticators can provide a certificate that helps servers verify that the public key did in fact come from an authenticator they trust, and not a fraudulent source.

To start to use FIDO2 authentication, you therefore need three elements: a website that supports WebAuthn, a browser that supports WebAuthn and CTAP protocols, and a FIDO authenticator. Starting today, the SSO Management Console and CLI now support WebAuthn. All modern web browsers are compatible (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari). FIDO authenticators are either devices you can use from one device or another (roaming authenticators), such as a YubiKey, or built-in hardware supported by Android, iOS, iPadOS, Windows, Chrome OS, and macOS (platform authenticators).

How Does FIDO2 Work?
When I first register my FIDO-enabled authenticator on AWS SSO, the authenticator creates a new set of public key credentials that can be used to sign a challenge generated by AWS SSO Console (the relaying party). The public part of these new credentials, along with the signed challenge, are stored by AWS SSO.

When I want to use WebAuthn as second factor authentication, the AWS SSO console sends a challenge to my authenticator. This challenge can then be signed with the previously generated private key credentials and sent back to the console. This way, AWS SSO console can use my public key to verify that I have the required credentials.

How Do I Enable MFA With a Secure Device in the AWS SSO Console?
You, the system administrator, can enable MFA for your AWS SSO workforce when the user profiles are stored in AWS SSO itself, or stored in your Active Directory, either self-managed or a AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory.

To let my workforce register their FIDO or U2F authenticator in self-service mode, I first navigate to Settings, click Configure under Multi-Factor Authentication. On the following screen, I make four changes. First, under Users should be prompted for MFA, I select Every time they sign in. Second, under Users can authenticate with these MFA types, I check Security Keys and built-in authenticators. Third, under If a user does not yet have a registered MFA device, I check Require them to register an MFA device at sign in. Finally, under Who can manage MFA devices, I check Users can add and manage their own MFA devices. I click on Save Changes to save and return.

Configure SSO 2

That’s it. Now your workforce is prompted to register their MFA device the next time they authenticate.

What Is the User Experience?
As an AWS console user, I authenticate on the AWS SSO portal page URL that I received from my System Administrator. I sign in using my user name and password, as usual. On the next screen, I am prompted to register my authenticator. I check Security Key as device type. To use a biometric factor such as fingerprints or face recognition, I would click Built-in authenticator.

Register MFA Device

The browser asks me to generate a key pair and to send my public key. I can do that just by touching a button on my device, or providing the registered biometric, e.g. TouchID or FaceID.Register a security keyThe browser does confirm and shows me a last screen where I have the possibility to give a friendly name to my device, so I can remember which one is which. Then I click Save and Done.Confirm device registrationFrom now on, every time I sign in, I am prompted to touch my security device or use biometric authentication on my smartphone or laptop. What happens behind the scene is the server sending a challenge to my browser. The browser sends the challenge to the security device. The security device uses my private key to sign the challenge and to return it to the server for verification. When the server validates the signature with my public key, I am granted access to the AWS Management Console.

Additional verification required

At any time, I can register additional devices and manage my registered devices. On the AWS SSO portal page, I click MFA devices on the top-right part of the screen.

MFA device management

I can see and manage the devices registered for my account, if any. I click Register device to register a new device.

How to Configure SSO for the AWS CLI?
Once my devices are configured, I can configure SSO on the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI).

I first configure CLI SSO with aws configure sso and I enter the SSO domain URL that I received from my system administrator. The CLI opens a browser where I can authenticate with my user name, password, and my second-factor authentication configured previously. The web console gives me a code that I enter back into the CLI prompt.aws configure sso

When I have access to multiple AWS Accounts, the CLI lists them and I choose the one I want to use. This is a one-time configuration.

Once this is done, I can use the aws CLI as usual, the SSO authentication happens automatically behind the scene. You are asked to re-authenticate from time to time, depending on the configuration set by your system administrator.

Available today
Just like AWS Single Sign-On, FIDO2 second-factor authentication is provided to you at no additional cost, and is available in all AWS Regions where AWS SSO is available.

As usual, we welcome your feedback. The team told me they are working on other features to offer you additional authentication options in the near future.

You can start to use FIDO2 as second factor authentication for AWS Single Sign-On today. Configure it now.

-- seb
Sébastien Stormacq

Sébastien Stormacq

Seb has been writing code since he first touched a Commodore 64 in the mid-eighties. He inspires builders to unlock the value of the AWS cloud, using his secret blend of passion, enthusiasm, customer advocacy, curiosity and creativity. His interests are software architecture, developer tools and mobile computing. If you want to sell him something, be sure it has an API. Follow him on Twitter @sebsto.