The power of the Oracle Database Proxy authenticated connections

Posted in: Technical Track

We recently received this inquiry from a client:

“Can an Oracle database account support two passwords at once so we can roll out updated credentials to application servers gradually rather than having to change them all at the same time? Then once all of the application servers have been configured to use the new/second password we can change or remove the first one?

The short answer is no. Like most computer technologies, an Oracle database user has only one password that is valid at any given time. However, a very powerful and under-appreciated feature of the Oracle database could be used in this case: It is called proxy authentication.

 

How proxy authenication works

Introduced with Oracle Database 10g, the basic premise of proxy authentication is that a user with the required permission can connect to the Oracle database using their own credentials, but proxy into another user in the database.  To put it more plainly: connect as USER_A but using the password of USER_B !

The proxy permission is granted through the “CONNECT THROUGH” privilege.  Interestingly, it is granted through an ALTER USER command as really it’s an “authorization” and property of the user and not truly a privilege like the traditional privileges we’re used to:

SQL> connect / as sysdba
Connected.
SQL> alter user USER_A grant connect through USER_B;

User altered.

SQL>

 

Now USER_B who may not know the password for USER_A can connect as USER_A by specifying the proxy account in square brackets in the connection string:

SQL> connect USER_B[USER_A]/passw0rd
Connected.
SQL> show user
USER is "USER_A"
SQL>

 

The password specified was the one for USER_B, not USER_A.  Hence the credentials for USER_B were used but the end result is that the session is connected as USER_A!

Specifically when a proxy authenticated connection is made the USERENV namespace parameters are updated as follows:

  • The “SESSION_USER” becomes USER_A
  • The “SESSION_SCHEMA” also becomes USER_A
  • The “PROXY_USER” remains USER_B who initiated the connection and who’s credentials were used

Since the syscontext(‘USERENV’,’PROXY_USER’) remains unchanged, the connection is properly audited and information on who made the initial connection can still recorded in audit records.  However for all other purposes, USER_B has effectively connected to the database as USER_A without having to know USER_A’s password.

So back to the original question, a possible approach to their problem would be to create a second USER_B that has permission to proxy into their application user account APP_USER.  Then they could gradually roll out the credential change to use the new USER_B and proxy into APP_USER to all of their app servers.  Once all app servers have been updated it would then be safe to change the password on the base application account APP_USER.

 

A similar feature is the ability to change the current session’s schema. For example as USER_B issuing:

alter session set current_schema = USER_A;

 

This is a very quick and simple approach, but isn’t quite the same. Doing this only changes the “CURRENT_SCHEMA” which is the currently active default schema. Hence any queries issued without specifying the schema name will default to “CURRENT_SCHEMA”. But there are many cases when actually connecting to another user is required. For example, if the DBA needs to drop and re-create a database link then the “current_schema” approach will not suffice.  But the proxy authenticated connection alternative will work perfectly.

Another case where the “current_schema” approach may be an issue is if the application is user aware.  What I mean by this is that possibly the application has some logic such as “if user = USER_A then do suff“.  If you connect as USER_B and simply changes the current schema then the boolean logic of this condition will evaluate to FALSE.  However if you use a proxy authenticated connection user USER_A, the condition will evaluate to TRUE.

Previously if the DBA needed to connect to the database as a specific user (maybe to re-create a DB link for example) they might employ the old trick of temporarily changing the user’s password, quickly connecting, and then quickly changing it back using the extracted/saved password hash.  However there are numerous serious problems with this approach:

  1. The schema may be locked
  2. The password may be controlled by a PROFILE that may also need to be adjusted.
  3. Account intrusion detection tools may detect the connection.
  4. The connection may not be properly audited via Oracle or external auditing tools.
  5. The application may unsuccessfully try to connect while the password is temporarily changed causing an application failure!

Hence that approach should never be used. The proxy authenticated connection alternative doesn’t have any of those issues and is perfectly safe.

 

A simple example

Putting it all together into a small example to show how the userenv properties are affected:

SQL> alter user USER_A grant connect through USER_B;

User altered.

SQL> connect USER_B[USER_A]/passw0rd
Connected.
SQL> alter session set current_schema = SCOTT;

Session altered.

SQL> select sys_context('USERENV','SESSION_USER') as session_user,
  2  sys_context('USERENV','SESSION_SCHEMA') as session_schema,
  3  sys_context('USERENV','CURRENT_SCHEMA') as current_schema,
  4  sys_context('USERENV','PROXY_USER') as proxy_id,
  5  user
  6  from dual;

SESSION_USER   SESSION_SCHEMA CURRENT_SCHEMA PROXY_ID       USER
-------------- -------------- -------------- -------------- ------------
USER_A         SCOTT          SCOTT          USER_B         USER_A

SQL>

 

As can be seen above, for all intensive purposes the connection has been made to USER_A but using the credentials of USER_B.  USER_A’s password did not need to be known nor was the USER_A account affected or adjusted in any way.

FAQs

What if USER_A’s password is locked or expired?

The answer is that the connection will still report the same error as it would have if a direct connection to USER_A was made:

SQL> connect / as sysdba
Connected.
SQL> alter user USER_A account lock;

User altered.

SQL> connect USER_B[USER_A]/passw0rd
ERROR:
ORA-28000: the account is locked


Warning: You are no longer connected to ORACLE.
SQL>

Can this be used with other tools such as Data Pump?

(Importing as the actual user instead of a DBA user was necessary with Oracle 10g under specific circumstances such as importing JOBs and REFRESH GROUPS).  The answer is yes it works with Data Pump and other similar tools:

$ impdp dumpfile=temp.dmp nologfile=y include=JOB

Import: Release 11.2.0.4.0 - Production on Wed Oct 15 19:10:13 2014

Copyright (c) 1982, 2011, Oracle and/or its affiliates.  All rights reserved.

Username: USER_B[USER_A]/passw0rd

Connected to: Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition Release 11.2.0.4.0 - 64bit Production
With the Partitioning, OLAP, Data Mining and Real Application Testing options
Master table "USER_A"."SYS_IMPORT_FULL_01" successfully loaded/unloaded
Starting "USER_A"."SYS_IMPORT_FULL_01":  USER_B[USER_A]/******** dumpfile=temp.dmp nologfile=y include=JOB
Processing object type SCHEMA_EXPORT/JOB
Job "USER_A"."SYS_IMPORT_FULL_01" successfully completed at Wed Oct 15 19:10:22 2014 elapsed 0 00:00:01

$

Notice that the Data Pump master table is created in the USER_A schema even though we connected using the USER_B credentials.

Is proxy authentication supported by JDBC/JDBC thin driver?

Yes, it works through almost any OCI connection including JDBC connections.

What about Oracle Wallets?

The answer again is yes, they can support it too! See below for an example using an Oracle Wallet:

$ mkstore -wrl "/u01/app/oracle/wallet" -createCredential ORCL USER_A passw0rd
Oracle Secret Store Tool : Version 11.2.0.4.0 - Production
Copyright (c) 2004, 2013, Oracle and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

Enter wallet password:
Create credential oracle.security.client.connect_string1
$ mkstore -wrl "/u01/app/oracle/wallet" -listCredential
Oracle Secret Store Tool : Version 11.2.0.4.0 - Production
Copyright (c) 2004, 2013, Oracle and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

Enter wallet password:
List credential (index: connect_string username)
1: ORCL USER_A
$

$ sqlplus /@ORCL

SQL*Plus: Release 11.2.0.4.0 Production on Wed Oct 15 13:45:04 2014

Copyright (c) 1982, 2013, Oracle.  All rights reserved.


Connected to:
Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition Release 11.2.0.4.0 - 64bit Production
With the Partitioning, OLAP, Data Mining and Real Application Testing options

SQL> show user
USER is "USER_A"
SQL> exit
Disconnected from Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition Release 11.2.0.4.0 - 64bit Production
With the Partitioning, OLAP, Data Mining and Real Application Testing options

$ sqlplus [app_user]/@ORCL

SQL*Plus: Release 11.2.0.4.0 Production on Wed Oct 15 13:45:14 2014

Copyright (c) 1982, 2013, Oracle.  All rights reserved.


Connected to:
Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition Release 11.2.0.4.0 - 64bit Production
With the Partitioning, OLAP, Data Mining and Real Application Testing options

SQL> show user
USER is "APP_USER"
SQL> exit
Disconnected from Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition Release 11.2.0.4.0 - 64bit Production
With the Partitioning, OLAP, Data Mining and Real Application Testing options
$

 

Reporting and Revoking

Finally, how can we report on what proxy authentication authorizations we’ve granted as we need to clean them up (revoke them)?  Or perhaps we just need to report on or audit what’s out there?  Fortunately, it’s as simple as querying a catalog view to see what’s been set and we can remove/revoke through another simple ALTER USER command:

SQL> select * from PROXY_USERS;

PROXY        CLIENT       AUT FLAGS
------------ ------------ --- -----------------------------------
USER_B       USER_A       NO  PROXY MAY ACTIVATE ALL CLIENT ROLES

SQL> alter user USER_A revoke connect through USER_B;

User altered.

SQL> select * from PROXY_USERS;

no rows selected

SQL>

 

Conclusion

Since the introduction of the GRANT ANY OBJECT privilege with Oracle9i, the number of times that the DBA needs to actually connect as other users has been reduced.  However, there still are some distinct situations such as those mentioned in the examples above when the connection as another user may be absolutely necessary.

Thanks to the proxy authenticated connection capabilities introduced with Oracle Database 10g, connecting as another user when you don’t know the other account’s password has become a breeze.  And even if you do know the password, connecting through proxy authentication can still add value with the additional audit information.

Have any other situations where connecting as another user is absolutely necessary? Share them in the comments section below.

 

References

http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E25054_01/network.1111/e16543/authentication.htm
http://docs.oracle.com/cd/E11882_01/server.112/e26088/functions184.htm

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About the Author

Simon describes himself as a technology enthusiast who is passionate about collecting and sharing interesting database tips. If you want to see his eyes light up, let him teach you something new. Based out of Calgary, Alberta, Simon is known for his contributions to various online Oracle communities, and being very thorough in his work. A self-proclaimed stereotypical Canadian, Simon can be found watching hockey with his family in his spare time.

9 Comments. Leave new

Suresh Karthikeyan
October 29, 2014 2:44 am

Good one Simon!!

Reply

I have done a small test here, seems proxy authentication is working fine.

SQL> CREATE USER PROXYTEST IDENTIFIED BY **;

User created.

SQL> GRANT CREATE SESSION TO PROXYTEST;

Grant succeeded.

SQL> ALTER USER AVAIL GRANT CONNECT THROUGH PROXYTEST;

User altered.

SQL> CONNECT PROXYTEST[AVAIL]/***
Connected.
SQL> show user
USER is “AVAIL”

But When I tried to create the database link, found issues with permissions.

SQL> create database link testdblink connect to avail identified by *** using ‘test’;

Database link created.

SQL> select name,open_mode,log_mode from v$database@testdblink;

NAME OPEN_MODE LOG_MODE
——— ——————– ————
TEST READ WRITE ARCHIVELOG

SQL> create database link testdblink2 connect to proxytest identified by *** using ‘test’;

Database link created.

SQL> select name,open_mode,log_mode from v$database@testdblink2;
select name,open_mode,log_mode from v$database@testdblink
*
ERROR at line 1:
ORA-00942: table or view does not exist
ORA-02063: preceding line from TESTDBLINK

I aware that the proxytest user doesn’t have select_catalog_role as like avail schema, but it should inherit the same permissions while using proxy authentication correct?

Reply

The comment I made about using it to create database links was so that you could DROP/CREATE them in another user’s schema. Which is what you did here as you created it in the AVAIL schema.

However shouldn’t the DB_LINK in the AVAIL schema then also connect to AVAIL in the remote database?

Repeat your exercise but this time directly connect as AVAIL and you’ll see the exact same results. But if you change it to “CONNECT TO AVAIL” then it will work (assuming you provide the AVAIL password).

So in that example you will need to know the AVAIL password to be able to create the link.

Thanks,

Simon

Reply

Got it Simon, thanks for the update..

Reply

Hi Simon,
great summary, thank you!
Especially the FAQ is very useful.
Just for the “As a DBA do anything as user X” example: a simple “DO ANY DDL” function with definers rights injected into the target schema works quite fine. – Of course from an Auditing point of view it’s ugly. ;-)

Martin

Reply

Here’s another use case that I just came across: needed to log into DB Control but didn’t know the DB Control password.

No problem though. From sqlplus:

alter user sysman grant connect through simon;

Then from the DB Control login webpage just used “simon[sysman]” and voila!

Reply
shadab nivekar
January 30, 2018 8:19 am

Hi Simon,

Excellent post.
Is the proxy users intended only for middleware tier or can it be implemented to audit software developers ?.

Suppose database developers are connecting with the respective users, and are authenticated as proxy users. How to audit actions which are performed via tool like plsql, sql developer by these proxy users.

Or is it the proxy authentication are designed to work with middle tier only?.

Kindly shed some light on the same.

Regards,
Shadab

Reply

Hi Shadab, there’s no restriction or correlation to the middle tier.

And it’s fully audited: if you look in DBA_AUDIT_TRAIL or DBA_AUDIT_SESSION you’ll see both the SESSIONID and a PROXY_SESSIONID populated.

Reply

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