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From Adam Kocoloski <>
Subject Re: Baking Cookie-Based Authentication into CouchDB
Date Wed, 27 May 2009 18:56:12 GMT
Hi Jason, the other thing that crossed my mind was whether a salted  
SHA1 is sufficient protection for the user password storage.   
IANAC(ryptographer), but I've had it drilled into my head that bcrypt  
was the way to go:

I found one Erlang bcrypt wrapper on GitHub which worked as advertised:

What do you think?  Best,


On May 27, 2009, at 12:29 PM, Jason Davies wrote:

> Just had a quick chat with Chris Anderson on IRC.  His thoughts were  
> as follows, my comments in square brackets:
> 1. Move the secret into the config file so that it can't be stolen.   
> [I originally put the secret into the design doc so that it could be  
> easily replicated around a cluster, but config file options will  
> need to be synchronised in a cluster anyway and the config file  
> seems like a better place for a secret.]
> 2. As all the passwords are salted on a per-user basis, it's not  
> really a problem if anyone can load the "users" view.  [[I feel  
> uncomfortable with leaking any kind of password information, however  
> hard it is to crack, but it's probably good enough for now and it's  
> useful for applications to be able to access a user directory of  
> some kind.]]
> 3. Future work would involve caching the user view rows in an ets  
> table for performance.
> So the main thing left to be done is moving the secret into a config  
> option, which shouldn't take too long.  This along with point #2  
> above would mean no need to restrict access to _design/_auth.
> --
> Jason Davies
> On 27 May 2009, at 14:04, Jason Davies wrote:
>> Hi Adam,
>> Thanks for that!
>> 1) You're right, _design/_auth isn't protected against unauthorised  
>> reads at the moment.  The "users" view would also need to be  
>> restricted, I guess restricting reads of _design/_auth to the  
>> "_admin" role or similar will have the side effect of also  
>> restricting access to any views it contains.  Is there anything  
>> else I need to do here?  Once we have reader lists, perhaps we  
>> could do away with having a special auth design doc and allow the  
>> name "_auth" to be configured in local.ini.
>> 2) Ah yes, I forgot to mention that part!  For simplicity roles are  
>> indeed also assigned from the same "users" view i.e. it should  
>> return {password_sha: ..., salt: ..., roles: [...]}.  It would be  
>> simple to use a separate "roles" view and I can see that having a  
>> separate view would probably be better in terms of separating  
>> concerns.
>> In the future I think it might be worth going a step further and  
>> making the authorisation part completely pluggable, so that  
>> "authorization_handler" can be specified in local.ini to specify a  
>> function that takes a username and returns a list of roles so that  
>> e.g. an LDAP handler could be used without needing to touch the  
>> cookie or any other authentication handlers.
>> --
>> Jason Davies
>> On 27 May 2009, at 13:29, Adam Kocoloski wrote:
>>> Hi Jason, I've been following these updates with interest.  Nice  
>>> work!  A few quick questions:
>>> 1) Is the _design/_auth document protected against unauthorized  
>>> reads?  I didn't see anything to that effect.
>>> 2) You didn't mention anything about authorization (e.g. the roles  
>>> list) in your blog post, but it looks like the code is still  
>>> assigning user roles based on the output of the users view.  What  
>>> are your thoughts on this?  Some people might say that it would be  
>>> better to assign the roles in a separate document or view.
>>> In a future optimization we might want to model this  
>>> authentication handler as a process so that it doesn't have to  
>>> open the userdb and _auth doc on every request.  Cheers,
>>> Adam
>>> On May 27, 2009, at 7:05 AM, Jason Davies wrote:
>>>> Hi again,
>>>> On 4 May 2009, at 23:31, Jason Davies wrote:
>>>>> On 29 Apr 2009, at 17:29, Jason Davies wrote:
>>>>>> I'm in the finishing stages of writing a cookie-based  
>>>>>> authentication handler for CouchDB in Erlang.  This is  
>>>>>> primarily going to be useful for CouchApps (apps running purely 

>>>>>> in CouchDB), but this also touches on a generic way to  
>>>>>> authenticate users via a CouchDB database, which could be  
>>>>>> adopted by the current default HTTP Basic auth handler.
>>>>>> I've put the code up here:
>>>>> [snip]
>>>>>> Still to do:
>>>>>> - Use some kind of challenge/response mechanism for logging in  
>>>>>> via AJAX.  At the moment the login handler just takes a  
>>>>>> plaintext username/password combination sent via POST.  I was  
>>>>>> thinking of using SRP (

>>>>>> ), however I believe this would require state to be stored on  
>>>>>> the server, and maybe isn't appropriate for this.
>>>>> I've now implemented SRP auth and it is working merrily.  I'm in  
>>>>> discussions with SRP's inventor, Tom Wu, about a potentially  
>>>>> simpler protocol as SRP implemented in JavaScript is probably  
>>>>> overkill for unencrypted HTTP (it is vulnerable to MITM  
>>>>> injection attacks of the JavaScript code itself, whereas SRP  
>>>>> would otherwise protect against active attacks).  It might be  
>>>>> worth supporting a simpler protocol sent over SSL too e.g.  
>>>>> plaintext credentials.
>>>>> Any suggestions for a more appropriate authentication protocol  
>>>>> would be much appreciated.
>>>> I've now ripped out the SRP code as it was a) too slow for  
>>>> modular exponentiation for n with greater than 256 bits and b)  
>>>> overkill due to the client code itself being sent over the wire  
>>>> thus losing SRP's resistance against active attacks.  A potential  
>>>> higher-performing replacement auth protocol is SCRAM but for now  
>>>> I've just implemented simple plain-text form-based auth, which  
>>>> works even for non-JavaScript clients.  For extra security simply  
>>>> add SSL.
>>>> I've now put the code into its own branch here:
>>>> A brief write-up here:

>>>>  along with some thoughts on SRP (which is truly awesome and I  
>>>> hope browsers all support TLS-SRP someday!).
>>>> A code review would be appreciated and then hopefully we can get  
>>>> this into trunk so that CouchApps can use cookie-based auth out- 
>>>> of-the-box.
>>>> Thanks,
>>>> --
>>>> Jason Davies

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