Configuring a Web Application for Security

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The sample web application that was illustrated in the previous section has one important limitation: It can be accessed by anonymous users that can access important data. If your application just presents information, in most cases anonymous access is a good idea. But if instead your application has the purpose of managing data or restricted information, you want to force users to login with their own credentials, such as username and password. ASP.NET provides a convenient and easy way for configuring web applications to require login credentials (by storing user information inside a SQL Server database) but also roles and registration; another interesting new feature is that in the past you had to implement your own login page while in Visual Studio 2010; this is generated for you when creating the project. To start configuring security for your Web application, click the ASP.NET Configuration button in Solution Explorer (the one with the icon representing a hammer). This runs the ASP.NET Web Site Administration Tool, a web application executed in your web browser. Such tool allows configuring different parts in the web application, but for the current example just click the Security tab. When you click this tab, you can access different security options, including setting users and roles. There is also a guided procedure that you can utilize to configure the application security; thus click the Use the Security Setup Wizard to Configure Security Step by Step hyperlink. There are seven steps to complete, but the first one is just a welcome message, so you can click Next. Starting from the second step, execute the following tasks:
Specify the access method by selecting between From the Internet and From a Local Area Network. The first option is more restrictive and requires users to register with their credentials, such as username and password. This is particularly useful when you do not know who will access the website and you want a user to log in with credentials. Moreover, if a website is available on the Internet it can be reached by non-Windows environments and therefore Windows authentication is not appropriate. Instead the local intranet option should be used only when the web application runs only inside of your company, because it relies on Windows and domain authentication only, although this simplifies your work because you will not have to configure users. For the current example, where user administration is also covered, select the Internet security and then click Next.

Simply click Next at step 3, because we do not need to change storage information (such as the database provider);

Click the Enable Roles for This Website check box and then click Next. This is important because securing the web application requires at least one role. Typically a website includes at least an administration role, so in the New Role Name textbox, type Administrator and then click Add Role. The new role will be added to the roles list, so click Next.

Sign up for a new account by providing required information. This is important because the web application requires at least one user that later will be associated to the role. When ready, click Create User. You will be told that adding the new user was successful, so click Next.

Specify access rules to the web application by allowing or denying access permissions to specific roles or users. The default rule is that all registered users and roles can access the application, but you can delete the existing rule and create new rules granting permissions to selected users/roles. For example you can select a folder of the application, by first expanding the root folder on the left and then selecting the permission (Allow or Deny) for the users or roles in the Rules Applies To item. When set this, click Next.

In the last step simply click Finish.

SQL Server Database

When you configure users or when users register to claim access to the Web application, the user information is stored inside a default SQL Server database that Visual Studio generates for you. If you want to use a SQL Server database different from the default one, use the Aspnet_regsql.exe command-line tool that creates the appropriate tables.

With a few steps you quickly configured your application for requesting registration and login. The last step before running the application is associating the main user to the Administrator role. To accomplish this, click Manage Users and then Edit User. When the user administration page appears, click the check box for Administrator. Finally, click Save. Now close the configuration tool, run the application, and try to open the Orders page. As you see, you cannot view the requested page until you do not log in with the previously created user’s credentials. When you log in you can browse the application. The really cool thing is that the Login page generated for you by Visual Studio 2010 is bound to the SQL Server database where user information is stored, so you do not need to write code to check if a user has permissions to access. This is performed for you behind the scenes by the application that takes advantage of auto-generated elements.

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