Oct 292009

Using the NetTcpBinding on a WCF service is secure by default. Unless you override the default settings, you will enjoy Transport Security using Windows authentication and the EncrpytAndSign protection level. When you create a new WCF service library, Visual Studio creates a config file with the following identity block:

   24           <identity>

   25             <dns value=”localhost“/>

   26           </identity>


If you wipe this config file clean like me to write a much cleaner and shorter config file, this identity block is the first thing to go. Sadly, most people also add a binding configuration with <security mode=”None”/>. I have done this too in an Intranet environment. The samples and book examples out there don’t show how to write an actual production environment service that cares for different machines in the same domain. While the default settings work when testing on your local machine, they don?t work in a simple Intranet environment.

Most of the difficulty I experienced when starting to work with WCF was getting security to work with the TCP binding. Everything worked so easily during development, but everything broke down once deployed to the development server. It didn’t help that the only errors I saw were timeout exceptions. If I had known about the Service Trace Viewer, I could have easily determine the cause and Googled (Bing wasn’t around then) for a solution. Instead, I chose the easier (and much less secure) way out; rely on my firewall and turn security off.

As mentioned before, the NetTcpBinding is secure by default with transport security using Windows authentication. The problem most experience when moving the service to a different machine is caused by NT authentication failing. If you use svcutil to generate your client config file and your host doesn’t have the identity block mentioned above, svcutil will not add a key piece of information to the client config file. The missing element is, you guessed it, the identity block. Without it, you will likely get an exception and see a stack trace similar to this:

[System.ServiceModel.Security.SecurityNegotiationException: A call to SSPI failed, see inner exception.]

[System.Security.Authentication.AuthenticationException: A call to SSPI failed, see inner exception.]

[System.ComponentModel.Win32Exception: The target principal name is incorrect.]

If you add tracing to your client, you will see that without specifying an identity block WCF will make the call with a DNS identity set to the name of the host. Notice the blue arrows.


You can see that the EndpointReference does not have an <Identity> block. Without that identity block, WCF cannot create a valid ServicePrincipalName. You can find this in Reflector, following this path:

  • System.ServiceModel.Channels.WindowsStreamSecurityUpgradeProvider+WindowsStreamSecurityUpgradeInitiator.OnInitiateUpgrade() – This is where the SecurityNegociationException is being thrown.
  • System.ServiceModel.Channels.WindowsStreamSecurityUpgradeProvider+WindowsStreamSecurityUpgradeInitiator.InitiateUpgradePrepare() – This method populates an EndpointIdentity and ServicePrincipalName to be used immediately after for NT authentication.


When the identity is not specified, it falls back to trying to create an SPN from the host address. I have seen this work on a machine that has two DNS names, using the DNS name that does not match the NETBIOS or AD name for the machine. I’m not exactly sure why that works.

Having any of the following identity blocks in your client config file will cause WCF to take the first path that successfully creates an SPN needed to perform NT authentication in the AuthenticateAsClient method called from OnInitiateUpgrade():

  • <dns value=”serviceHostName”/>
  • <dns/>
  • <servicePrincipalName value=”domainhostServiceUserAccount”/>
  • <servicePrincipalName/>

Having these <Identity> settings in your client config file adds the appropriate <Identity> settings in the <EndpointReference> used when opening the channel.


Security seems more mysterious when going rogue and writing your own config files. If you go rogue, make sure you use the appropriate <Identity> blocks. With this mystery solved, <security mode=?None?/> is a thing of the past. Now we can keep our services secure in an Intranet environment.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.