Header-based single sign-on for on-premises apps with Azure AD App Proxy (Preview)

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) Application Proxy natively supports single sign-on access to applications that use headers for authentication. You can configure header values required by your application in Azure AD. The header values will be sent down to the application via Application Proxy. Some benefits to using native support for header-based authentication with Application Proxy include:

  • Simplify providing remote access to your on-premises apps - App Proxy allows you to simplify your existing remote access architecture. You can replace VPN access to these apps. You can also remove dependencies on on-premises identity solutions for authentication. Your users won't notice anything different when they sign in to use your corporate applications. They can still work from anywhere on any device.

  • No additional software or changes to your apps - You can use your existing Application Proxy connectors and it doesn't require any additional software to be installed.

  • Wide list of attributes and transformations available - All header values available are based on standard claims that are issued by Azure AD. All attributes and transformations available for configuring claims for SAML or OIDC applications are also available to be used as header values.

Pre-requisites

Before you get started with single sign-on for header-based authentication apps, make sure your environment is ready with the following settings and configurations:

Supported capabilities

The following table lists common capabilities required for header-based authentication applications that are supported with Application Proxy.

Requirement Description
Federated SSO In pre-authenticated mode, all applications are protected with Azure AD authentication and enable users to have single sign-on.
Remote access Application Proxy enables remote access to the app. Users can access the application from the internet on any browser using the External URL. Application Proxy is not intended for corporate access use.
Header-based integration Application Proxy does the SSO integration with Azure AD and then passes identity or other application data as HTTP headers to the application.
Application authorization Common policies can be specified based on the application being accessed, the user’s group membership and other policies. In Azure AD, policies are implemented using conditional access. Application authorization policies only apply to the initial authentication request.
Step-up authentication Policies can be defined to force added authentication, for example, to gain access to sensitive resources.
Fine grained authorization Provides access control at the URL level. Added policies can be enforced based on the URL being accessed. The internal URL configured for the app, defines the scope of app that the policy is applied to. The policy configured for the most granular path is enforced.

Note

This article features connecting header-based authentication applications to Azure AD using Application Proxy and is the recommended pattern. As an alternative, there is also an integration pattern that uses PingAccess with Azure AD to enable header-based authentication. For more details, see Header-based authentication for single sign-on with Application Proxy and PingAccess.

How it works

How header-based single sign-on works with Application Proxy.

  1. The Admin customizes the attribute mappings required by the application in the Azure AD portal.
  2. When a user accesses the app, Application Proxy ensures the user is authenticated by Azure AD
  3. The Application Proxy cloud service is aware of the attributes required. So the service fetches the corresponding claims from the ID token received during authentication. The service then translates the values into the required HTTP headers as part of the request to the Connector.
  4. The request is then passed along to the Connector, which is then passed to the backend application.
  5. The application receives the headers and can use these headers as needed.

Publish the application with Application Proxy

  1. Publish your application according to the instructions described in Publish applications with Application Proxy.

    • The Internal URL value determines the scope of the application. If you configure Internal URL value at the root path of the application, then all sub paths underneath the root will receive the same header configuration and other application configuration.
    • Create a new application to set a different header configuration or user assignment for a more granular path than the application you configured. In the new application, configure the internal URL with the specific path you require and then configure the specific headers needed for this URL. Application Proxy will always match your configuration settings to the most granular path set for an application.
  2. Select Azure Active Directory as the pre-authentication method.

  3. Assign a test user by navigating to Users and groups and assigning the appropriate users and groups.

  4. Open a browser and navigate to the External URL from the Application Proxy settings.

  5. Verify that you can connect to the application. Even though you can connect, you can't access the app yet since the headers aren't configured.

Configure single sign-on

Before you get started with single sign-on for header-based applications, you should have already installed an Application Proxy connector and the connector can access the target applications. If not, follow the steps in Tutorial: Azure AD Application Proxy then come back here.

  1. After your application appears in the list of enterprise applications, select it, and select Single sign-on.
  2. Set the single sign-on mode to Header-based.
  3. In Basic Configuration, Azure Active Directory, will be selected as the default.
  4. Select the edit pencil, in Headers to configure headers to send to the application.
  5. Select Add new header. Provide a Name for the header and select either Attribute or Transformation and select from the drop-down which header your application needs.
  6. Select Save.

Test your app

When you've completed all these steps, your app should be running and available. To test the app:

  1. Open a new browser or private browser window to make sure previously cached headers are cleared. Then navigate to the External URL from the Application Proxy settings.
  2. Sign in with the test account that you assigned to the app. If you can load and sign into the application using SSO, then you're good!

Considerations

  • Application Proxy is used to provide remote access to apps on-premises or on private cloud. Application Proxy is not recommended to handle traffic originating internally from the corporate network.
  • Access to header-based authentication applications should be restricted to only traffic from the connector or other permitted header-based authentication solution. This is commonly done through restricting network access to the application using a firewall or IP restriction on the application server.

Next steps