Lesson 1: A Simple Two-Factor Implementation with a Soft Token

1. Goal

The goal of this lesson is to introduce you to two-factor authentication and take you through a full implementation with Spring Security.

2. Lesson Notes

The relevant module you need to import when you're starting with this lesson is: m14-lesson1

If you want to skip and see the complete implementation, feel free to jump ahead and import: m14-lesson2

2.1. Intro to 2FA

If you’ve been paying even marginal attention to the security landscape in recent years, you certainly noticed that most systems nowadays are following the principle:

Something you know and something you have

That is - simply put - the underlying principle behind 2FA.

Simply put – Two Factor Authentication (2FA) - is an effective way to significantly improve the security of a system.

Given the increasing security risks and the real risk of credentials being compromised (one way or another) - 2FA is almost fully adopted online and simply required for new systems.

With 2FA enabled, if credentials do get compromised – the attacker will still not be able to break into the system.

A typical and common example is withdrawing money from an ATM. You need something you know - your PIN number, and something you posses - your credit card.

So, what does the user have:

  • Phone
  • Hardware token
  • Fingerprint

If we're going to use the phone, how will the user obtain the token they need?

One way is with the help of a mobile app - such as Google Authenticator. When you first set up 2FA on an account – you’ll be able to scan a QR code with this app.

Another way is SMS - they‘ll basically receive an SMS message with the token - that‘s generally a six digit number, in the message.

Finally, a quick clarifying note before moving on to the implementation. 2FA is a new concept in the course and is unrelated to most other topics we discussed until this point (for example, it's unrelated to OAuth2). It can and should of course be used in conjunction with these other security concerns.

2.2. 2FA Impl - Extract the Tenant

Remember that, when the filter (UsernamePasswordAuthenticationFilter) is performing the authentication process, Spring Security allows us to set extra details on the auth request that gets passed into the auth manager.

We’re going to make good use of this extension point and we’re going to include a new piece of information - the tenant - extracted from the request.

This is controlled by an authenticationDetailsSource - so that’s what we’re going to define to define first:

public class CustomWebAuthenticationDetailsSource 
  implements AuthenticationDetailsSource<HttpServletRequest, WebAuthenticationDetails> {
    public WebAuthenticationDetails buildDetails(HttpServletRequest context) {
        return new CustomWebAuthenticationDetails(context);

And the actual details:

public class CustomWebAuthenticationDetails extends WebAuthenticationDetails {
    private final String verificationCode;
    public CustomWebAuthenticationDetails(HttpServletRequest request) {
        verificationCode = request.getParameter("code");
    public String getVerificationCode() {
        return verificationCode;

Now of course we need to make sure that’s all wired in correctly in our security config:

private CustomWebAuthenticationDetailsSource authenticationDetailsSource;

And that’s it - we’re now going to have access to this verification code later on in the authentication flow.

2.3. 2FA Impl - Use the Tenant

OK, now with this new piece of information available to us in the authentication flow, let’s actually use it.

We’re naturally going to define a new authentication provider to do that:

public class CustomAuthenticationProvider implements AuthenticationProvider {
    private UserRepository userRepository;
    public Authentication authenticate(Authentication auth) throws AuthenticationException {
        String username = auth.getName();
        String password = auth.getCredentials().toString();
        String verificationCode = 
          ((CustomWebAuthenticationDetails) auth.getDetails()).getVerificationCode();
        User user = userRepository.findByEmail(username);
        if ((user == null) || !user.getPassword().equals(password)) {
            throw new BadCredentialsException("Invalid username or password");
        return new UsernamePasswordAuthenticationToken(
          user, password, Arrays.asList(new SimpleGrantedAuthority("ROLE_USER")));
    public boolean supports(Class<?> authentication) {
        return authentication.equals(UsernamePasswordAuthenticationToken.class);

Notice that we’re not yet doing anything with the verification code. For now, we’re simply dealing with the username and the password.

We’ll get to the code after we have a look at the actual soft token support - and for that, we’re going to use the Google Authenticator mobile app.

2.4. 2FA Impl - the Mobile App

So let’s integrate our project with the mobile application.

But first, let's clear up what the application does. Google Authenticator is a simple application that generates a one-time password based on TOTP algorithm (Time-based One-time Password).

To be clear - notice that the one-time passwords are re-generated every few seconds by the app.

This one-time password is our verification token.

At a very high level, our system - our web application - will:

  • generate a secret key
  • provide the secret key to the user (via a QR-code)
  • verify tokens entered by the user using this secret key

OK, so let's start the integration by first defining the Maven dependency:


Then we’re going to add these extra fields in our User entity to store them:

public class User {
    private String secret;
    public User() {
        this.secret = Base32.random();

So we are storing this secret code along with the rest of the user info.

Now, back to our authentication provider - let’s add in the new logic that’s going to check the code:

Totp totp = new Totp(user.getSecret());
try {
    if (!totp.verify(verificationCode)) {
        throw new BadCredentialsException("Invalid verfication code");
} catch (Exception e) {
    throw new BadCredentialsException("Invalid verfication code");

And there we go - the library makes this logic quite trivial to write.

2.5. The Front-End Changes

As mentioned in the video, note that we also need to introduce some front end changes as well - since 2FA does affect the UX of the application - both the registration as well as the authentication process.

Remember that everything is fully implemented in the code corresponding to Lesson 2 of this Module.

If you're following along with the video and making the changes on the Lesson 1 code however, the front end artifacts that are going to be relevant are:

  • RegistrationController - registerUser
  • qrcode.html
  • loginPage.html

Also remember that these new pages need to be made accessible in the security configuration.

2.6. Live 2FA

OK, time to fire up and test this implementation.

We're first going to register a new user to show the initial part of the process - scanning the QR code into the soft token application.

We're then going to authenticate.

We’re going to get promoted for the token.

We’re going to generate the token via our phone (this part will be off-screen).

And we’re going to provide that token value.

And we are logged in.

2.7. Upgrade Notes

As we've already mentioned in the previous lessons, in Spring Boot 2 it is required to encode the passwords. It means that every time the user's credentials get persisted, the password has to be encoded:

public void configureGlobal(AuthenticationManagerBuilder auth) throws Exception { 

In the lessons, the BCryptPasswordEncoder implementation is used in order to encode the passwords. The PasswordEncoder interface declares as well the matches(CharSequence rawPassword, String encodedPassword) method that allows us to check whether two encoded passwords match:

passwordEncoder.matches(user.getPassword(), password)

Namely this approach should be used in order to compare encoded versions of the passwords since the simple string-like comparison will always return false.

3. Resources

- multifactor authentication (MFA)

- Time-based One-time Password Algorithm

LSS - A Simple Two-Factor Implementation with a Soft Token - transcript.pdf
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