The Java EE 5 Tutorial

Security Implementation Mechanisms

The characteristics of an application should be considered when deciding the layer and type of security to be provided for applications. The following sections discuss the characteristics of the common mechanisms that can be used to secure Java EE applications. Each of these mechanisms can be used individually or with others to provide protection layers based on the specific needs of your implementation.

Java SE Security Implementation Mechanisms

Java SE provides support for a variety of security features and mechanisms, including:

Java SE also provides a set of tools for managing keystores, certificates, and policy files; generating and verifying JAR signatures; and obtaining, listing, and managing Kerberos tickets.

For more information on Java SE security, visit its web page at

Java EE Security Implementation Mechanisms

Java EE security services are provided by the component container and can be implemented using declarative or programmatic techniques (container security is discussed more in Securing Containers). Java EE security services provide a robust and easily configured security mechanism for authenticating users and authorizing access to application functions and associated data at many different layers. Java EE security services are separate from the security mechanisms of the operating system.

Application-Layer Security

In Java EE, component containers are responsible for providing application-layer security. Application-layer security provides security services for a specific application type tailored to the needs of the application. At the application layer, application firewalls can be employed to enhance application protection by protecting the communication stream and all associated application resources from attacks.

Java EE security is easy to implement and configure, and can offer fine-grained access control to application functions and data. However, as is inherent to security applied at the application layer, security properties are not transferable to applications running in other environments and only protect data while it is residing in the application environment. In the context of a traditional application, this is not necessarily a problem, but when applied to a web services application, where data often travels across several intermediaries, you would need to use the Java EE security mechanisms along with transport-layer security and message-layer security for a complete security solution.

The advantages of using application-layer security include the following:

The disadvantages of using application-layer security include the following:

For more information on providing security at the application layer, read Securing Containers.

Transport-Layer Security

Transport-layer security is provided by the transport mechanisms used to transmit information over the wire between clients and providers, thus transport-layer security relies on secure HTTP transport (HTTPS) using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Transport security is a point-to-point security mechanism that can be used for authentication, message integrity, and confidentiality. When running over an SSL-protected session, the server and client can authenticate one another and negotiate an encryption algorithm and cryptographic keys before the application protocol transmits or receives its first byte of data. Security is “live” from the time it leaves the consumer until it arrives at the provider, or vice versa, even across intermediaries. The problem is that it is not protected once it gets to its destination. One solution is to encrypt the message before sending.

Transport-layer security is performed in a series of phases, which are listed here:

Digital certificates are necessary when running secure HTTP transport (HTTPS) using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). The HTTPS service of most web servers will not run unless a digital certificate has been installed. Digital certificates have already been created for the Application Server. If you are using a different server, use the procedure outlined in Working with Digital Certificates to set up a digital certificate that can be used by your web or application server to enable SSL.

The advantages of using transport-layer security include the following:

The disadvantages of using transport-layer security include the following:

For more information on transport-layer security, read Establishing a Secure Connection Using SSL.

Message-Layer Security

In message-layer security, security information is contained within the SOAP message and/or SOAP message attachment, which allows security information to travel along with the message or attachment. For example, a portion of the message may be signed by a sender and encrypted for a particular receiver. When the message is sent from the initial sender, it may pass through intermediate nodes before reaching its intended receiver. In this scenario, the encrypted portions continue to be opaque to any intermediate nodes and can only be decrypted by the intended receiver. For this reason, message-layer security is also sometimes referred to as end-to-end security.

The advantages of message-layer security include the following:

The disadvantage of using message-layer security is that it is relatively complex and adds some overhead to processing.

The Application Server supports message security. It uses Web Services Security (WSS) to secure messages. Because this message security is specific to the Application Server and not a part of the Java EE platform, this tutorial does not discuss using WSS to secure messages. See the Sun Java System Application Server 9.1 Administration Guide and Sun Java System Application Server 9.1 Developer’s Guide for more information.