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Jeremy Jameson - Founder and Principal

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Be "In the Zone" to Avoid Entering Credentials

Note
This post originally appeared on my MSDN blog:

Since I no longer work for Microsoft, I have copied it here in case that blog ever goes away.

Since I tend to work on server products such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, I frequently see developers and other team members that I work with constantly entering their credentials when browsing to some Web page on a server. While this experience might be considered useful in some scenarios (e.g. testing the site as a different user), it is painful to watch people enter the same username and password that they are already specified when logging into their laptop, desktop, or VM.

Personally speaking, I loathe having to enter credentials to authenticate against any Web application, but especially one that is on the local intranet, or worse, one that is running locally on a VM that I happen to be using for development purposes.

It seems that many people are not aware of the fact that in order to provide a more secure out-of-the-box configuration, Internet Explorer will not automatically attempt to authenticate you to a site unless you explicitly tell it to do so. In other words, you tell IE, "go ahead and transparently authenticate me when I browse to http://foobar, because a) I trust http://foobar, b) I know that http://foobar supports integrated Windows authentication (i.e. Kerberos or NTLM), and c) I am just going to enter the same username and password that I am already logged in with, so entering these again would just be a waste of my time."

The default settings are set to authenticate automatically only to those servers in the "Local intranet zone" -- which, for Windows Server 2003, only contains sites like http://localhost and https://localhost. In other words, to provide the most secure out-of-the-box configuration, IE will not attempt to authenticate automatically to any arbitrary intranet URL (i.e. no dots) -- you need to explicitly tell IE that it is okay to do so. Fortunately, this is very easy to configure.

To add a Web site to the Local intranet zone and configure IE to automatically authenticate:

  1. In Internet Explorer, on the Tools menu, click Internet Options.
  2. On the Security tab, in the Select a zone to view or change security settings box, click Local intranet, and then click Sites.
  3. At this point, depending on whether you are using Windows Vista or Windows Server 2003, you may need to click the Advanced button to view the list of sites in this zone.
  4. Clear the Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone check box.
  5. In the Add this Web site to the zone box, type the URL for the Web site (e.g. http://foobar), and then click Add.
  6. Click Close to close the Local intranet dialog box.
  7. In the Security level for this zone section, click Default level (this will ensure that the default option to authenticate automatically only to URLs in the Local intranet zone is enabled ).
  8. Click OK to close the Internet Options dialog box.

So, the next time you see that generic login box pop up when browsing to a local or intranet site, rather than entering the same username and password that you are currently authenticated with, click Cancel and then follow the steps above instead.

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