Improve the performance of your services with Secure conversation

Secure Conversation is a feature designed to improve the performance of an application that needs to interchange more than one messages with a service.

When SC is enabled, the token negotiation and authentication happens once compared to other tokens where that negotiation is done for each request to the service.

In the first negotiation, the client sends a "RequestSecurityToken" message to the service in order to ask for a session token. That message is part of the WS-Trust specification and it is protected (encrypted and signed) with a security token that will be the base token for the session token.

After that, the service creates a new token called Secure context token (SCT), which contains a reference to the original token and a symmetric key to perform cryptographic operations like encrypt or sign messages. (Message confidentiality and integrity).

WSE and WCF, both implement this feature and the service itself is responsible to emit the SCT. Therefore, the service is also a "Security token service" or STS.

The service returns the SCT to the client application and keeps the state of the original token using different strategies (Cookies, in-memory stores, etc). This article  in the MSDN describes very well what are the different approaches that a STS can use to maintain the state of a session.

The most import benefits of using a SCT to protect the communication between a client and service are:


1. The service execution is three or four times faster than the same execution with other tokens.

2. It is valid for a short time but it can be automatically renewed. As consequence, the  client application does not need to keep the original token.

   This is really important when the original token contains some sensitive information such an user name or password. (Username Token).


Secure conversation in WSE


Activating SC in WSE is really easy, it is just a flag in the policy configuration. All the policies for the turn-key scenarios support two attributes, "establishSecurityContext" to turn on the SC feature and renewExpiredSecurityContext to automatically renew the SCT when it expires (This attribute is helpful when storing the original token in the client is not a feasible solution).


The sample below shows how to activate SC for a "MutualCertificate" turn-key scenario:


<mutualCertificate10Security establishSecurityContext="true" renewExpiredSecurityContext="true">


    <x509 storeLocation="LocalMachine" storeName="My" findValue="CN=WSE2QuickStartServer" findType="FindBySubjectDistinguishedName" />



    <request signatureOptions="IncludeAddressing, IncludeTimestamp, IncludeSoapBody" encryptBody="true" />

    <response signatureOptions="IncludeAddressing, IncludeTimestamp, IncludeSoapBody" encryptBody="true" />

    <fault signatureOptions="IncludeAddressing, IncludeTimestamp, IncludeSoapBody" encryptBody="false" />




WSE supports two modes to mantain the state of the original security token for a particular session.

  • Cookie mode, where the state is stored in a temporary cookie. This mode was designed to support web farm scenarios.
  • In-Memory cache in the STS




    <statefulSecurityContextToken enabled="false" />




The default value for this setting is "true", which enables the Cookie mode. The state for a kerberos token can not be maintained in a cookie and therefore it is the only turn-key scenario that doesn't support stateful SCT.


The code below shows how to reuse a SCT from a client application.


HelloWorldServiceWse serviceProxy = new HelloWorldServiceWse();

UsernameToken usernameToken = new UsernameToken("user", "password");




SecureConversationCorrelationState correlationState = serviceProxy.ResponseSoapContext.SessionState.Get<SecureConversationCorrelationState>("");

if (correlationState != null)


    SecurityContextToken sct = correlationState.Token as SecurityContextToken;

    if (sct != null)


        serviceProxy = new HelloWorldServiceWse();


        // Set the ClientPolicy onto the proxy







Secure conversation in WCF


WCF turn on SC by default for all binding that support WS-Security (WsHttpBinding, NetTcpBinding, netMsmqBinding).

The Custom binding also offers the possibility to enable SC depending on the value of the attribute "authenticationMode" (The value for this attribute must be "SecureConversation"). In addition, you can configure a binding that will be used to establish a communication with the STS by means of the element "secureConversationBootstrap".

WCF is completely different from WSE since it hides the SCT from the client application and automatically maintains a copy of this token at channel level (A channel is related to a contract). That is, it will reuse the SCT as long as the client application uses the same instance of the client channel.

When the channel is closed in a normal fashion, a message is sent to the service to release the SCT.  If the channel closes abruptly, the SCT will eventually be released on the service after after a period of in-actively.


The configuration below shows two equivalent bindings that use the SC feature:




    <binding name="ServiceBinding">

      <security mode="Message">

        <message clientCredentialType="Certificate" establishSecurityContext="true"/>





    <binding name="ServiceBinding">

      <security authenticationMode="SecureConversation"

            requireSecurityContextCancellation ="false">

         <secureConversationBootstrap authenticationMode="MutualCertificate">








The "requireSecurityContextCancellation" attribute specifies if the client application must send a "shutdown" message to the service after closing the client channel.


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