Tuesday, July 2, 2013

HowTo secure enable anonymous access of SharePoint external facing website

SharePoint can be used to provision public facing websites, accessible for the anonymous audience. Naturally it is then required that the contents (publishing pages, images, stylesheets) on the SharePoint website are anonymous accessible. In SharePoint 2007 the only option was to completely open up the SharePoint site collection, including all of its contents. Starting with SharePoint 2010 you have more fine-grained options. You can still open up the entire SharePoint context, which is the easy approach. Or you can decide to explicitly determine which of the content in the SharePoint site collection is anonymous accessible.

Enable Anonymous Access on site-collection level

As said, this is the easy, and as result also the most common applied approach. Basically you have to set one switch (ok, it takes some more, you can find the steps outlined here), and you're good to go.
What you must realize is that with this approach, basically all your content is anonymous accessible. Not only the publishing pages, but all SharePoint lists and libraries in the site collection are open for data retrieval from outside your domain. The data can be retrieved via the "old" Lists.asmx service (e.g. using CodePlex SPServices.js within jQuery context; or by invoking Lists.asmx from a .NET console application), or via ListData.svc. Whether this is a concrete problem depends: if the lists and libraries do not contain any sensitive data, what's the harm? But if they do, then you do not want that data to be retrievable outside your control.
Noteworthy: This is the applied approach when you host your public facing website in SharePoint Online / Office 365.

Enable Anonymous Access explicitly only for the required SharePoint artefacts

As can be seen from the picture, you also have the option to enable anonymous access on 'Lists and Libraries' level. If you select that option, default still all your SharePoint content is prohibited for anonymous access. You have to explicitly enable per List / Library if their contents must be anonymous accessible. In practice this means that for public facing websites, you must enable Anonymous Access on the Pages library in each Publishing Site in the site collection. But also on the Style Library, so that .css and .js resources are accessible. If you display images stored in a PictureLibrary on website pages, then you must also enable that library. Same for documents. In case you need to display on a page data from a List that is deliberate not enabled, you can still do. But you will have to wrap the data retrieval in an ElevatedPrivilege context; and thus requires custom code.
So this approach implies much more work as simple enable on 'Total website'. And also you'll have an extra maintenance responsibility: when the website is augmented with another Publishing Site, you have to [remember to] enable the Pages library in that site also explicitly for Anonymous Access.
Sounds like a drag? Well, the [very] good side is that you are in explicit control of which content you allow for anonymous access. And the default mode is Not Accessible, which is a security best practice.

Lock _vti_bin usage

There is a third option. Go the easy route of enabling Anonymous Access for total website; and avoid uncontrolled data retrieval via the SharePoint webservices by disable on DNS level the usage of '_vti_bin'. This approach has however some drawbacks. You cannot use SharePoint Designer anymore to open the site. And you can no longer use the SharePoint REST services in anonymous context. In the current time of Rich HTML5 Apps, it is becoming de-facto reference architecture to connect the front-end to your data and logic via REST services. So this poses a real limitation. Which in my book should not be taken too lightly.

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