DWiki Authentication

DWiki has optional support for authenticating users, which is a prerequisite for restricting access to pages and for allowing people to comment. User authentication is done by cookies, which means that people wanting to be authenticated have to accept cookies from the DWiki's web server.

Whether authentication is on is controlled by the authfile setting in the ConfigurationFile; if it is set, it specifies a password file for the DWiki. Once enabled, a login box will appear at the bottom of pages where people can enter their login and password into a form and submit it to the wiki. If the password is correct, DWiki will send back a login cookie and the session is now authenticated (provided that the user's browser then sends the cookie back to DWiki with future requests).

An authenticated person has a login name and may optionally be in some groups. When checking permissions, logins and groups are treated the same (so you should not create groups that have the same name as users; this is either pointless or dangerous, depending on how many people are in the group). What groups a login is part of is specified in the password file.

To be precise, an authenticated request is any request that has a valid associated login name. Normally this happens because the user's browser sent back a valid DWiki login cookie, but a DWiki may have a default login, set in the ConfigurationFile. If the default login is set and exists in the password file, everything is authenticated; either as a 'real' (passworded) login or as the default login.

Because DWiki is hard-coded to require authentication before people can write comments, setting a default user is the only way to let the world (potentially) comment on your DWiki.

Using Authentication

Authentication is used by the {{Restricted}} and {{CanComment}} DWikiText macros. Without arguments they restrict the page to authenticated people or allow comments by authenticated people (respectively). With arguments, they restrict things more tightly. There are two sorts of arguments:

If only negative arguments are given, anyone not mentioned passes; if both positive and negative arguments are given, you must pass the positive arguments and not fail the negative arguments.

Directories can create default permissions for everything under them by having a special file called __access with either or both of Restricted and CanComment macros. __access files are checked backwards from the page being looked at, and the first one that contains a Restricted or a CanComment (depending on what is at issue) wins. __access files can have other content, although ChrisSiebenmann doesn't expect people to look at them very often.

Note: this means that subdirectories can give back permissions that were denied by a higher-level directory. This is deliberate.

Authentication limits

DWiki authentication protects only file contents. It does not protect directory contents and it thus doesn't protect a page's (file) name. Moral: don't put sensitive information into page names.

Password security

Note: DWiki doesn't specially encrypt login / password information while it's being sent to the web server. Unless the entire connection is running over SSL, people can theoretically snoop the password in clear text.

DWiki doesn't store someone's clear text password (even in its password file); instead it stores a hash of the password, using a format that guarantees that if two different people use the same password they will get different hashes. (Barring the hash function itself being broken.)

As always, people should be strongly discouraged from using important passwords (eg, their Unix account passwords) for any web service, a DWiki included. Using one's Unix login name as one's DWiki login name is harmless and even convenient.

The cookie

The cookie DWiki uses has the login name in clear text, and is authenticated with an added hash value. If you want the gory details, see authcookie.py and htmlauth.py in the DWiki source code. With a proper global-authseed secret in the ConfigurationFile, it is believed to be secure from all brute-force attacks.

The cookie is normally quite long-lived. It becomes invalid if the user's password or the DWiki global authseed change.

The cookie is not restricted to coming from a single IP address or anything like that.

Format of the password file

The password file has a simple format. Blank lines and comment lines (lines that have a '#' character as their first non-whitespace) are ignored. Otherwise, lines have the format:

<login>	<password-hash>		[<group> ....]

There can be any amount of whitespace between elements; groups are optional.

The easy way to add logins or change passwords is with the dpasswd.py program in the DWiki source. Adding or changing groups, or deleting logins, you get to do by editing the file directly.

DWiki has no support for creating logins or changing passwords over the web. This is deliberate.

How you manage this process in general is up to you; in non-paranoid environments ChrisSiebenmann uses a group-writeable password file owned by an appropriate (Unix) group.

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Last modified: Sun Jun 19 00:45:57 2005
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