Use of the
eduPersonPrincipleName attribute should be reconsidered and possibly be phased out and replaced with the
subject-id attribute from the OASIS SAML 2.0 SubjectID Attributes Profile.
This is a globally unique identifier that looks like an email address but does not have to be. (It can be a valid email address, if you want, but noone recieving the value as an eduPersonPrincipalName attribute should try to send email there.)
Many applications expect an identifier that's suitable to being shown in the interface once logged-in. I.e., there's an expectation that an identifier is (among other things):
- not very long (as persistent NameIDs are),
- not very ugly (again persistent NameIDs),
- and can ideally be recognized by the subject to be her own / represent herself.
Most applications also seem to expect that such identifiers never change, which combined with the other requirements (globally unique, not overly long, not ugly, known/recognizable to the subject) makes this impossible to fulfill at most academic institutions. I.e., you can't win and no one attribute can solve all the requirements people throw at it.
Practically speaking there are only two reasonable ways to generate eduPersonPrincipalName values:
- from the login name (from whatever local attribute, e.g. uid, cn, sAMAccountName, etc.) by appending the scope of the IDP (e.g.
- by re-using the email address as eduPersonPrincipalName attribute.
The first variant (login name + scope) has the disadvantage of exposing part of the login credentials – though the login name/userid shouldn't generally be considered secret as there usually are many ways to discover it. At least it's guaranteed to exist and can be assumed to be well-known to the subject (as it has to be entered for authentication purposes), at least in its "unscoped" form.
The second variant (re-using email address values) has the problem that this only works if you're issuing email addresses in your domain (IDP scope) for all subjects who should also have an eduPersonPrincipalName (which is all your population, basically). This is required because SAML Service Providers check the scope (domain part) of eduPersonPrincipalName attibute values against the published (i.e., allowed) scopes of IDPs (column "scope") in order to protect themselfs from IDP impersonation (i.e., one IDP asserting vales from from another IDP). So if your IDM system hands over external email addresses to your SAML IDP (e.g.
@gmail.com, etc.) you cannot re-use email addresses as eduPersonPrincipalName attributes (at least not for that part of the population that only has external email addresses).
Of course all variants here have the issue that email addresses (and sometimes even login names) are occasionally desired to change, e.g. when people change their names after marriage/divorce/religious convertion and wish for their email address (and/or login name) to reflect those changes. And sometimes the "old" (used before the change) email address/identifier might even be re-assigned to another person (the worst case), maybe after a dormancy period of a few years. So applications relying on eduPersonPrincipalName (or any identifier that doesn't prohibit reassignment itself) will need to be prepared to handle such changes.
For application integrators the potential alternatives to relying on eduPersonPrincipalName in the Higher Education and Research sector basically are:
subject-idattribute from the OASIS SAML 2.0 SubjectID Attributes Profile. This is the likely future replacement for most uses of eduPersonPrincipalName.
- Email address itself, and not email-address-dressed-up-as-eduPersonPrincipalName (as discussed above): The commercial world ("cloud" vendors, Internet Monopolists) has long settled on email as the identifier, as evidenced by all the "Log in with your email address" prompts all over the web. (Though those services usually have nothing to do with sending you email, or even with your email account. You'll usually also have to register an account locally and set Yet Another password for that.). Obviously email addresses as identifiers suffer from all the problems eduPersonPrincipalName does, plus additional ones, not least the possibility of sending email to that "identifier", including spam. Also, sending email address when only an identifier is needed will fail most "data minimisation" tests, and may therefore not be sufficient under GDPR/DSGVO. Sending email adress in an mail attribute also doesn't work for all applications that require an eduPersonPrincipalName attribute, of course.
On the plus side, it's universally deployed, everyone has one (or can easily get one) and people usually know (and recognize, when shown) their own email address as belonging to them. Also, you don't have to explain what it is to anyone. (In contrast to eduPersonPrincipalWHAT?!).
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