GCP - Understanding Domain-Wide Delegation

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This post is the introduction of https://www.hunters.security/en/blog/delefriend-a-newly-discovered-design-flaw-in-domain-wide-delegation-could-leave-google-workspace-vulnerable-for-takeover which can be accessed for more details.

Understanding Domain-Wide Delegation

Google Workspace's Domain-Wide delegation allows an identity object, either an external app from Google Workspace Marketplace or an internal GCP Service Account, to access data across the Workspace on behalf of users. This feature, which is crucial for apps interacting with Google APIs or services needing user impersonation, enhances efficiency and minimizes human error by automating tasks. Using OAuth 2.0, app developers and administrators can give these service accounts access to user data without individual user consent. Google Workspace allows the creation of two main types of global delegated object identities:

  • GWS Applications: Applications from the Workspace Marketplace can be set up as a delegated identity. Before being made available in the marketplace, each Workspace application undergoes a review by Google to minimize potential misuse. While this does not entirely eliminate the risk of abuse, it significantly increases the difficulty for such incidents to occur.

  • GCP Service Account: Learn more about GCP Service Accounts here.

Domain-Wide Delegation: Under the Hood

This is how a GCP Service Account can access Google APIs on behalf of other identities in Google Workspace:

  1. Identity creates a JWT: The Identity uses the service account's private key (part of the JSON key pair file) to sign a JWT. This JWT contains claims about the service account, the target user to impersonate, and the OAuth scopes of access to the REST API which is being requested.

  2. The Identity uses the JWT to request an access token: The application/user uses the JWT to request an access token from Google's OAuth 2.0 service. The request also includes the target user to impersonate (the user's Workspace email), and the scopes for which access is requested.

  3. Google's OAuth 2.0 service returns an access token: The access token represents the service account's authority to act on behalf of the user for the specified scopes. This token is typically short-lived and must be refreshed periodically (per the application's need). It's essential to understand that the OAuth scopes specified in the JWT token have validity and impact on the resultant access token. For instance, access tokens possessing multiple scopes will hold validity for numerous REST API applications.

  4. The Identity uses the access token to call Google APIs: Now with a relevant access token, the service can access the required REST API. The application uses this access token in the "Authorization" header of its HTTP requests destined for Google APIs. These APIs utilize the token to verify the impersonated identity and confirm it has the necessary authorization.

  5. Google APIs return the requested data: If the access token is valid and the service account has appropriate authorization, the Google APIs return the requested data. For example, in the following picture, we’ve leveraged the users.messages.list method to list all the Gmail message IDs associated with a target Workspace user.

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