Step-up Authentication for Web Apps

With Step-up Authentication, applications that allow access to different types of resources can require users to authenticate with a stronger mechanism to access sensitive information or perform certain transactions.

For instance, a user may be allowed to access views with sensitive data or reset their password only after confirming their identity using multi-factor authentication (MFA).

When a user logs in you can get an ID Token which is a JSON Web Token (JWT) that contains information relevant to the user's session, in the form of claims.

The claim that is relevant to this scenario is amr. If it contains the value mfa then you know that the user has authenticated using MFA. Note the following:

  • amr must be present in the ID Token's payload (if you log in with username/password the claim will not be included in the payload)
  • amr must contain the value mfa (amr can contain claims other than mfa, so its existence is not a sufficient test, its contents must be examined for the value mfa)

If the token shows that the user has not authenticated with MFA, then you can trigger again authentication, and using a rule, trigger MFA. Once the user provides the second factor, a new ID Token, that contains the amr claim, is generated and sent to the app.

How to check the ID Token for MFA

In order to check if a user logged in with MFA follow these steps:

  1. Retrieve the ID Token
  2. Verify the token's signature. The signature is used to verify that the sender of the token is who it says it is and to ensure that the message wasn't changed along the way.
  3. Validate the standard claims: exp (when the token expires), iss (who issued the token), aud (who is the intended recipient of the token)
  4. Verify that the token contains the amr claim.
  • If amr is not in the payload or it does not contain the value mfa, the user did not log in with MFA
  • If amr is in the payload and it contains the value mfa, then the user logged in with MFA

For more information on the signature verification and claims validation, see ID Token.

Sample payloads

In the snippet below you can see how an ID Token's payload is if the user has authenticated with MFA, and how it is if they have not.


Let's say that you have a web app that authenticates users with username and password. When a user wants to access a specific screen with sensitive information, for example, one that displays salary data, you want the user to authenticate with another factor, for example Guardian push notifications.

Before you start

This tutorial assumes that you have already done the following:

1. Create the rule

First we will create a rule that will challenge the user to authenticate with MFA when the web app asks for it.

Go to Dashboard > Multi-factor Auth and modify the script as follows.

The CLIENTS_WITH_MFA variable holds the Client IDs of all the applications you want to use this rule. You can remove this (and the if statement that follows) if you don't need it.

The context.request.query.acr_values property exists only if the web app included it in the authentication request, using the request parameter acr_values= The web app will only include this parameter in the authentication request (as we will see in a while) if the user tries to access salary information and has not authenticated with MFA. In this case we ask for MFA using Push by setting the context.multifactor property to the appropriate value.

2. Configure your application

If the user tries to access the salary information screen, then the web app must check the ID Token claims for MFA. If the user has already authenticated with MFA, then the screen is displayed, otherwise the web app sends a new authentication request to Auth0. This time the request parameter acr_values is included so the rule we saw in the previous paragraph triggers MFA. Once the user authenticates, a new token is sent to the app.

Check the ID Token

The web app must validate the token as described in How to check the ID Token for MFA.

In this example, we do these validations, using the JSON Web Token Sample Code.

The code verifies the token's signature (jwt.verify), decodes the token, and checks whether the payload contains amr and if it does whether it contains the value mfa. The results are logged in the console.

Ask for MFA

If the output of the previous validations is that the user has not authenticated with MFA, then you must trigger authentication again. The request will include the acr_values= parameter, which as a result will trigger the rule we wrote at the first step.

Our web app uses the Authorization Code Flow to authenticate, so the request is as follows.

Once the user authenticates with Guardian, the web app receives in the response the authorization code which must be exchanged for the new ID Token, using the Token endpoint. For more details, and sample requests, see our tutorial, Add Login Using the Authorization Code Flow: Request Tokens.

That's it, you are done!

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