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What is an Interactive Logon and Smartcard?

Saturday, April 5, 2008 in Technical Articles (Views: 5367)
Question: What is the box on a Windows user account that says "Smartcard Required for Interactive Logon" and why doesn't it always require a smartcard to log in to some places?

Real Question: What makes an interactive login?

Answer: Let's dive in to what an "Interactive Login" is.

In the Windows world, if you want access to a resource, you need to provide it some sort of credentials (even Anonomouys users in IIS are actual accounts). Once credentials are received and verified, the user is passed a security token, similar to a ticket from an amusement park. It says what access the user has to "the park" or "the network".

Note: Call me a bad analogy maker here, but did Disneyland get rid of their limited tickets, and just sell unlimited rides now?

Authentication can be brought from one of two places: A local SAM (Security Access Manager) database from either a computer which is not part of a domain (or one that is, but the account happens to be local), or the Active Directory database from a computer joined to a domain (or a domain controller). A Domain Controller does not have a SAM database until it is demoted.

Based on this, there are three types of logins:

Local Login: The SAM database

Domain Login: The Active Directory database

Smartcard: Dual factored authentication, using some type of physical identifier (like a smartcard) combined with something you know (such as a PIN number). This works just like if you went to the ATM machine. If you go to the ATM, it won't accept your card without a PIN, or likewise if you have a PIN but not your card, it won't be very forgiving either.

So back to the point:

Interactive Login can happen in one of two ways:

1. At a console, logging in with any of the above methods.

2. From a remote connection (like Terminal Services) using any of the above methods. This feature additionally is called "Remote Interactive Login".

Why would some places like websites not require or accept a smartcard for login?

Simply put, many websites are not enabled for smartcards. IIS does have a method in place that would do that, but forms based authentication for now, is still King.

If a user is set for Smartcard authentication, make sure your users don't forget their passwords unless everything you do completely supports Smartcards (and if it does, I salute you, you're light years ahead)...

I hope this clears up the definition of Smartcards and Interactive Logins...

 

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