Creating an oauth2 custom lamda authorizer for use with Amazons (AWS) API Gateway using Hydra


This article explains how to create an oauth2 custom authorizer for amazon’s AWS API Gateway.

I wanted to use the oauth2 client credentials grant, also known as 2-legged oauth 2 workflow, see: This kind of workflow is useful for machine to machine communication, where the client machine is also the resource owner.

     +---------+                                  +---------------+
     |         |                                  |               |
     |         |>--(A)- Client Authentication --->| Authorization |
     | Client  |                                  |     Server    |
     |         |<--(B)---- Access Token ---------<|               |
     |         |                                  |               |
     +---------+                                  +---------------+

                     Figure 6: Client Credentials Flow


If you struggle to workout which grant type use, this diagram can be useful:

enter image description here

To implement oauth in api gateway we need to carry out the following tasks, which are covered in detail later on:

  1. Setup an oauth server
  2. Create a custom authorizer
  3. Configure the API gateway

Setup and configure an oauth server

The first task was to evaluate what software I could use to act as an authorization and resource server. In order that the custom lambda authorizer could validate a token, I needed an implementation to expose a token validation endpoint as well as the normal token creation endpoint.

Below is a list of candidates I looked at

Software Language Description
Hydra Go Opensource. Good documentation. Responsive maintainer(s), PR merged same day. API for token validation
PHP OAuth 2.0 Server PHP Opensource. Good documentation. Unsure if it can validate tokens via an api?
Spring Security OAuth Java Opensource. Good documentation. API for token validation

I also took a quick look at some other implementations, see: In this article I choose to use hydra mainly because i’m familiar with Go, it supported token verification using an api and looked really straight forward to setup and configure

Setting up hydra

I ran hydra using the published docker image:

docker run -d --name hydra \
    -p 4444:4444 \
    -e SYSTEM_SECRET='3bu>TMTNQzMvUtFrtrpJEMsErKo?gVuW' \
    -e FORCE_ROOT_CLIENT_CREDENTIALS='8c97eaed-f270-4b2f-9930-03f85160612a:MxGdwYBLZw7qFkUKCFQUeNyvher@jpC]' \
    -e HTTPS_TLS_CERT_PATH=/server.crt \
    -e HTTPS_TLS_KEY_PATH=/key.pem \
    -v $(pwd)/server.crt:/server.crt \
    -v $(pwd)/key.pem:/key.pem oryam/hydra

This sets up hydra to use ssl and seeds the root credentials, which is used later on perform administrative tasks with hydra

Self-sign ssl certificate

The api gateway lamda authentication function will need to communicate with the hydra. I choose to secure this communication using SSL/TLS. If you don’t have an SSL certificate for your hydra instance, you could buy one or you can create your own self-signed certificate (for internal usage or test purposes). I choose to go down the self-signed root.

  1. Create a private key: openssl genrsa 2048 &gt; key.pem
  2. Create a signing request: openssl req -new -key key.pem -out cert.csr
    Example answers:
    Country Name (2 letter code) [AU]:GB
    State or Province Name (full name) [Some-State]:London
    Locality Name (eg, city) []:London
    Organization Name (eg, company) [Internet Widgits Pty Ltd]:My Company Limited
    Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) []:
    Common Name (e.g. server FQDN or YOUR name) []:oauth.mycompany.local
    Email Address []:
  3. Sign the request: openssl x509 -req -days 3650 -in cert.csr -signkey key.pem -out server.crt

You can now use key.pem and server.crt to run the docker container as above.

Configuring hydra

  1. Create a system token
  2. Create a client(s)
  3. Assign policies to a client (optional)
  4. Test creating a client token
  5. Test validating a client token
  6. Test validating a client token against a policy
  7. Health check endpoint
Create a system token

System token is used to perform administrative interactions with hydra, such as creating clients, validating tokens etc. In the -u (username:password) this is the system client id and secret set in the FORCE_ROOT_CLIENT_CREDENTIALS environment variable


curl -k -X POST \ 
    -d grant_type=client_credentials \
    -d scope='hydra hydra.clients' \


  "access_token": "fIyy-W3j2cmNSP40GK9HmQ9wlmhzFpdcxia64JHN3po.ww3Ob46pPaj1tz_XfXG80BAnLy5XbwuLqSjmwnqh6Ks",
  "expires_in": 3599,
  "scope": "hydra hydra.clients",
  "token_type": "bearer"
Create a client

Create client, this is a user of your api


curl -k -X POST \
    -H 'Authorization: bearer fIyy-W3j2cmNSP40GK9HmQ9wlmhzFpdcxia64JHN3po.ww3Ob46pPaj1tz_XfXG80BAnLy5XbwuLqSjmwnqh6Ks' \
    -d '{"id":"3094A219-52B1-4900-91F7-514C4392D8C3","client_name":"Client1","grant_types":["client_credentials"],"response_types":["code"],"public":false}' \

Note: In the request authorization header we use the access_token we obtained from the previous step. We also specify the client will access the system using the client_credentials grant.


  "id": "3094A219-52B1-4900-91F7-514C4392D8C3",
  "client_name": "Client1",
  "client_secret": "(SDk!*ximQS*",
  "redirect_uris": null,
  "grant_types": [
  "response_types": [
  "scope": "",
  "owner": "",
  "policy_uri": "",
  "tos_uri": "",
  "client_uri": "",
  "logo_uri": "",
  "contacts": null,
  "public": false

Note: The client_secret has been generated. client_id and client_secret are used by the client to (create tokens)[]

Create a policy

In our example we are creating two types of clients, read only and write clients. The curl command below defines the read policy and associates it with subjects, which in the context of hydra, are a comma separated list of client ids.


curl -k -X POST -H \
    'Authorization: bearer fIyy-W3j2cmNSP40GK9HmQ9wlmhzFpdcxia64JHN3po.ww3Ob46pPaj1tz_XfXG80BAnLy5XbwuLqSjmwnqh6Ks' \
    -d '{"description":"Api readonly policy.","subjects":["3094A219-52B1-4900-91F7-514C4392D8C3"],"actions":["read"],"effect":"allow","resources":["resources:orders:<.*>"]}'  \

Note: In the above request we specify which resources the policy applies to. In our example we are specifying that the orders resource is having a policy applied. The “ is a wild card identifier which applies the policy to orders and any sub resources.


  "id": "03c59a92-1fa6-4df9-ad1e-e5d551bc2c71",
  "description": "Api readonly policy.",
  "subjects": [
  "effect": "allow",
  "resources": [
  "actions": [
  "conditions": {}
Create a client token

This call is issued by the client application


curl -k -X POST \
    -d grant_type=client_credentials \
    -u '3094A219-52B1-4900-91F7-514C4392D8C3:(SDk!*ximQS*' \


  "access_token": "1z4Bb_r8lgmUKaD1FyOgP0tBJ_UIafhX2-QyIvUgLN8.NHdZ3zm4Ly6mepP7flGJQMN6-YfKox3OyPPZiiMg-mk",
  "expires_in": 3599,
  "scope": "",
  "token_type": "bearer"

Test validating a client token

This is the call that the lambda function will need to make to validate a client token


curl -k -X POST \
    -H 'Authorization: bearer fIyy-W3j2cmNSP40GK9HmQ9wlmhzFpdcxia64JHN3po.ww3Ob46pPaj1tz_XfXG80BAnLy5XbwuLqSjmwnqh6Ks' \
    -d 'token=1z4Bb_r8lgmUKaD1FyOgP0tBJ_UIafhX2-QyIvUgLN8.NHdZ3zm4Ly6mepP7flGJQMN6-YfKox3OyPPZiiMg-mk' \



Test validating a client token against a policy

This call could be used by the lambda function as an alternative, perhaps mapping the http verb to the policy, i.e GET=read or POST=write


curl -X POST -k \
    -H 'Authorization: bearer fIyy-W3j2cmNSP40GK9HmQ9wlmhzFpdcxia64JHN3po.ww3Ob46pPaj1tz_XfXG80BAnLy5XbwuLqSjmwnqh6Ks' \
    -d '{"token":"1z4Bb_r8lgmUKaD1FyOgP0tBJ_UIafhX2-QyIvUgLN8.NHdZ3zm4Ly6mepP7flGJQMN6-YfKox3OyPPZiiMg-mk","subject":"Client1","action":"read","resource":"resources:orders:123"}'  https://oauth.mycompany.local/warden/token/allowed

Response – Allowed


Health check endpoint

This call is useful for a loadbalancer ALB or ELB to determine if a node is active or not.


curl -k https://oauth.mycompany.local/health -i

Note that there is no content with this response, which is why I included the -i curl parameter to show the response code

HTTP/1.1 204 No Content
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2016 10:04:59 GMT

Create a custom authorizer

Next up we examine how to create the lambda function to call our hydra server. The code for this authorizer can be found on github: I used the serverless framework to help me build and deploy the authorizer and test endpoint

Note: This is the first node application i’ve written, so apologies if it’s not very idiomatic.


    handler: functions/handler.hello
      - http:
          path: hello
          authorizer: auth
          method: get
              - sg-575c752a
              - subnet-35561a7c
              - subnet-4e44d315
              - subnet-454bd668


I wrote a simple javascript library to interact with hydra which we instantiate here to use later on when validating an incoming token.

var HydraClient = require('./hydra');
var client = new HydraClient();

Below is the function to create the policy document to return to the api gateway when a client presents a valid token

const generatePolicy = (principalId, effect, resource) => {
    const authResponse = {};
    authResponse.principalId = principalId;
    if (effect && resource) {
        const policyDocument = {};
        policyDocument.Version = '2012-10-17';
        policyDocument.Statement = [];
        const statementOne = {};
        statementOne.Action = 'execute-api:Invoke';
        statementOne.Effect = effect;
        statementOne.Resource = resource;
        policyDocument.Statement[0] = statementOne;
        authResponse.policyDocument = policyDocument;
    return authResponse;

Below is the actual authorization method that is called by the api gateway. It validates the incoming request and returns either:

  • Error: Invalid token
  • Unathorized
  • Success: policy document
module.exports.auth = (event, context) => {
        'access_token': event.authorizationToken
    }, function (result) {
        if (result == null) {
            console.log(event.authorizationToken + ': did not get a result back from token validation');
  'Error: Invalid token');
        } else if (! {
            console.log(event.authorizationToken + ': token no longer active');
        } else {
            console.log(event.authorizationToken + ': token is active will allow.');
            console.log('principle: ' + result.client_id + ' methodArm: ' + event.methodArn);
            var policy = generatePolicy('user|' + result.client_id, 'allow', event.methodArn);
            console.log('policy: ' + JSON.stringify(policy));

hydra client
The function below calls hydra to make sure the token is valid and that the TTL has not expired

function validateToken(systemToken, clientToken, callback) {
    var tokenParsed = clientToken.access_token.replace('bearer ', '');
    console.log('Validating client token:' + tokenParsed);

    var request = require('request');
            url: constants.base_auth_url + '/oauth2/introspect',
            agentOptions: {
                ca: constants.self_signed_cert
            headers: {
                'Authorization' : 'bearer ' + systemToken.access_token
            form: {
                token: tokenParsed
        function (error, response, body) {
            if (!error && response.statusCode >= 200 && response.statusCode < 300) {
                var result = JSON.parse(body);
            else {

##Configuring the API gateway and testing the application
Because we used serverless in this example there is really nothing to be done here. The serverless.yml configures the authorizer:

authorizer: auth for the endpoint /hello

To test the application:

  1. Deploy the serverless application `serverless deploy’
  2. Create a token
  3. In postman make a call to ‘/hello’ passing in your token in the Authorization header

Useful references


Alex Bilbie – OAuth 2 and API Security
Covers different grant types and what they’re each appropriate for, as well as discuss some potential API security strategies for one of Adam’s personal projects.

Thought machine – API Gateway and lambda
Interesting discussion on lambda architectures

Interview with Mike Roberts discussing serverless architectures

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