Configuring Authentication and Single Sign-On

When logging in, each user passes through two phases: Authentication and Authorization. The authentication phase employs mechanisms to ensure the users are who they say they are. The authorization phase then checks if that user is allowed access.

“Authentication is the mechanism of associating an incoming request with a set of identifying credentials, such as the user the request came from, or the token that it was signed with (Tom Christie).”

The openATTIC authentication is based on the Django REST framework authentication methods.

Currently openATTIC supports the following authentication methods of the Django REST framework:

  • BasicAuthentication
  • TokenAuthentication
  • SessionAuthentication

Read more about the Django REST framework authentication methods here: Django REST framework - Authentication


openATTIC supports three authentication providers:

  1. Its internal database. If a user is known to the database and they entered their password correctly, authentication is passed.
  2. Using Pluggable Authentication Modules to delegate authentication of username and password to the Linux operating system. If PAM accepts the credentials, a database user without any permissions is created and authentication is passed.
  3. Using Kerberos tickets via mod_auth_kerb. Apache will verify the Kerberos ticket and tell openATTIC the username the ticket is valid for, if any. openATTIC will then create a database user without any permissions and pass authentication.


Once users have been authenticated, the authorization phase makes sure that users are only granted access to the openATTIC GUI if they posess the necessary permissions.

Authorization is always checked against the openATTIC user database. In order to pass authorization, a user account must be marked active and a staff member.

Users created by the PAM and Kerberos authentication backends will automatically be marked active, but will not be staff members. Otherwise, every user in your domain would automatically gain access to openATTIC, which is usually not desired.

However, usually there is a distinct group of users which are designated openATTIC administrators and therefore should be allowed to access all openATTIC systems, without needing to be configured on every single one.

In order to achieve that, openATTIC allows the name of a system group to be configured. During the authorization phase, if a user is active but not a staff member, openATTIC will then check if the user is a member of the configured user group, and if so, make them a staff member automatically.

Joining openATTIC to a Windows Active Directory Domain Using oaconfig

It is possible to configure openATTIC to join an Microsoft Windows Active Directory Domain for authentication and authorization purposes.


The automatic Domain join using oaconfig currently works on Debian/Ubuntu Linux only.

The oaconfig tool performs the required steps for joining an Active Directory (AD) domain.

This process requires the following packages and their dependencies to be installed: openattic-auth-kerberos, openattic-module-samba.

You need to provide your Windows domain name and administrator username and password:

# oaconfig domainjoin username YOURDOMAIN
User:            username
Realm:           YOURDOMAIN.COM
Workgroup:       YOURDOMAIN
Machine Account: HOSTNAME$
Updating krb5.conf...
Probing Kerberos...
Password for [email protected]: ********
Configuring Samba...
method return sender=:1.248 -> dest=:1.251 reply_serial=2
Removing old keytab...
Joining Domain...
Enter username's password: ********
Using short domain name -- YOURDOMAIN
Joined 'HOSTNAME' to realm ''
Processing principals to add...
Logging in as HOSTNAME$ (this may fail a couple of times)...
kinit: Preauthentication failed while getting initial credentials
kinit: Preauthentication failed while getting initial credentials
Configuring openATTIC...
[ ok ] Stopping: openATTIC systemd.
[ ok ] Starting: openATTIC systemd.
[ ok ] Reloading web server config: apache2.
Configuring libnss...
Restarting Samba and Winbind...
Initialized config from /etc/openattic/cli.conf
Could not connect to the server: [Errno 111] Connection refused
Initialized config from /etc/openattic/cli.conf
method return sender=:1.252 -> dest=:1.253 reply_serial=2
[ ok ] Stopping Samba daemons: nmbd smbd.
[ ok ] Starting Samba daemons: nmbd smbd.
[ ok ] Stopping the Winbind daemon: winbind.
[ ok ] Starting the Winbind daemon: winbind.
To see if it worked, let's try 'getent passwd "username"':
username:*:20422:10513:Lastname, Firstname:/home/YOURDOMAIN/username:/bin/true

Configuring Domain Authentication and Single Sign-On

To configure authentication via a domain and to use Single Sign-On via Kerberos, a few steps are required.

  1. Configuring openATTIC

    As part of the domain join process, the oaconfig script creates a file named /etc/openattic/domain.ini which contains all the relevant settings in Python’s ConfigParser format.

    The [domain] section contains the kerberos realm and Windows workgroup name.

    The [pam] section allows you to enable password-based domain account authentication, and allows you to change the name of the PAM service to be queried using the service parameter. Note that by default, the PAM backend changes user names to upper case before passing them on to PAM – change the is_kerberos parameter to no if this is not desired.

    Likewise, the [kerberos] section allows you to enable ticket-based domain account authentication.

    In order to make use of the domain group membership check, add a section named [authz] and set the group parameter to the name of your group in lower case, like so:

    group = yourgroup

    To verify the group name, you can try the following on the shell:

    $ getent group yourgroup
  2. Configuring Apache

    Please take a look at the openATTIC configuration file (/etc/apache2/conf.d/openattic on Debian/Ubuntu). At the bottom, this file contains a configuration section for Kerberos. Uncomment the section, and adapt the settings to your domain.

    In order to activate the new configuration, run:

    apt-get install libapache2-mod-auth-kerb
    a2enmod auth_kerb
    a2enmod authnz_ldap
    service apache2 restart
  3. Logging in with Internet Explorer should work already. Mozilla Firefox requires you to configure the name of the domain in about:config under network.negotiate-auth.trusted-uris.

Troubleshooting Authentication Issues

Kerberos and LDAP are complex technologies, so it’s likely that some errors occur.

Before proceeding, please double-check that NTP is installed and configured and make sure that hostname --fqdn returns a fully qualified domain name as outlined in the installation instructions.

Below is a list of common error messages and their usual meanings.

  • Client not found in Kerberos database while getting initial credentials

    Possible reason: The KDC doesn’t know the service (i.e., your domain join failed).

  • Preauthentication failed while getting initial credentials

    Possible reason: Wrong password or /etc/krb5.keytab is outdated (the latter should not happen because oaconfig domainjoin ensures that it is up to date).

  • Generic preauthentication failure while getting initial credentials

    Possible reason: /etc/krb5.keytab is outdated. Update it using the following commands:

    net ads keytab flush
    net ads keytab create
    net ads keytab add HTTP
  • gss_acquire_cred() failed: Unspecified GSS failure. Minor code may provide more information (, )

    Possible reason: Apache is not allowed to read /etc/krb5.keytab, or wrong KrbServiceName in /etc/apache2/conf.d/openattic.