Posts Tagged signature

Python Script for AWS’ Route 53 API Authentication

[UPDATE – March 2014]

This blog post was about discovering the low level details about AWS API signature.  Additional signature methods are available today.

I would not recommend anyone to actually use the type of scripts explained below or to manually compute signatures.  You can rely on AWS SDK s to do that automatically for you (see an example here).

Nevertheless, enjoy the reading 🙂 !


In my last post entry – Setting Up a Private VPN Server on Amazon EC2 – I end up by providing tips to rely on a fixed DNS name every time you start your server.

For the impatient : the full script is available on GitHub.  For all the others, let’s understand the problem and the proposed solution.

Why automating DNS configuration ?

This is a common problem with public cloud machines : at every start, the machine receives a different public IP address and public DNS name.  There are two methods to keep a consistent name to access your machine :

  • bundle a Dynamic DNS client (such as inadyn) and access your machine through its DynDNS domain name.
  • create a DNS A (address) or CNAME record (an alias) to point to the public IP address of your machine

The latter solution is only valid if you have your own domain name.  It offers the maximum flexibility as you can configure the DNS as you need.

To automatize the task, your DNS provider must provide you with a programmatic way to change its configuration : an API. This is exactly what Amazon’s Route 53 DNS Service offers you.

To complete my previous article, I choose to add at the end of my script a command to dynamically associate the instance public IP name to my own domain name, such as  I choose to define an alias to the public DNS name setup by AWS, using a CNAME record.

How to programmatically configure your Route 53 DNS ?

AWS’ Route 53 API is RESTful, making it easy to manipulate it with command line, using “curl” command for example.  curl can be used to issue GET requests to read configuration data and POST requests to change DNS configuration.

Requests payload is defined in XML.  An example GET query would be

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<ListHostedZonesResponse xmlns="">
        <Comment>AWS Route53 Hosted subdomain</Comment>

To restrict access to  your DNS configuration, the API requires authentication.  Route 53 mandate the use of a proprietary HTTP header to authenticate requests.

Full details about Route 53 API is available on Amazon’s documentation.

The problem when using authentication and curl

AWS’ Route 53 authentication is described with great details and examples in the official documentation. Basically, it is based on a HMAC signature computed from the current date/time and your AWS Secret Key.

The HTTP header to be added to the request is as following

AWS3-HTTPS AWSAccessKeyId=MyAccessKey,Algorithm=ALGORITHM,Signature=Base64( Algorithm((ValueOfDateHeader), SigningKey) )

The Algorithm can be HMacSHA1 or HMacSHA256. The date is the current system time.  You can use your system time or you can ask AWS what is their system time.  The latter needs an additional HTTP call but this method will avoid time synchronisation issues between your machine and AWS. While curl is very versatile and can accommodate to many different situations, it can not compute an HMac signature to send as authentication header, a short python script is my solution.

The Python Solution

I choose to wrap the curl call into Python, let Python compute the signature, generate the appropriate HTTP header and then call curl, passing all remaining command line arguments to curl itself. The general idea is as following :

  • Compute the Signature
  • Call curl with correct parameters to inject the authentication HTTP header and all command line parameters we have received


The signature is generated with this code.  It receives two String as input (the text to sign and the key). I hard-coded the algorithm. The function returns the base64 encoded signature.

def getSignatureAsBase64(text, key):
    import hmac, hashlib, base64
    hm  =, "ascii"), bytes(text, "utf-8"), hashlib.sha256)
    return base64.b64encode(hm.digest()).decode('utf-8')

AWS’s date

Retrieving AWS’s date is similarly easy

def getAmazonDateTime():
    import urllib.request
    return httpHeaders['Date']

Formatting the header

And the header is formatted with

def getAmazonV3AuthHeader(accessKey, signature):
    # AWS3-HTTPS AWSAccessKeyId=MyAccessKey,Algorithm=ALGORITHM,Signature=Base64( Algorithm((ValueOfDateHeader), SigningKey) )
    return "AWS3-HTTPS AWSAccessKeyId=%s,Algorithm=HmacSHA256,Signature=%s" % (accessKey,signature)

Calling curl

Finally, we just have to call the curl command :

        import subprocess
        curlCmd = ["/usr/bin/curl",
                        "-v" if DEBUG else "",
                        "-s", "-S",
                        "X-Amzn-Authorization: %s" % AWS_AUTH,
                        "x-amz-date: %s" % AWS_DATE]
        curlCmd += args.curl_parameters
        curlCmd += [args.curl_url]
        logging.debug(" ".join(curlCmd))                

The full script is available under a BSD license on GitHub.  There is some additional plumbery to handle command line arguments, to load the AWS credentials etc … which is out of the scope of this article.


Using this script, you can easy use curl command to GET or POST REST requests to Route 53’s API.

I am using this script to create custom CNAME records whenever an EC2 instance is started, allowing me to reuse a well known, stable DNS public name to access my instance. A sample XML to define a CNAME is posted on GitHub together with the source code.

Enjoy !

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A Java library to use Belgium eID cards

Today, I used my Belgium Electronic ID smart card to digitally sign my Tax Declaration.  Nothing new here, it happens now since six years in a row (I just wonder how many countries have setup such an end-to-end digital system, including digital signature, to interact with various administrations).

As every year, I wonder what API and libraries are available to programmatically extract or sign data with the smart card : a bunch of low level PC/SC API calls, a couple of Java-through-JNI samples, but nothing really high level and easy to use.  Most of the examples returned by Google are quite old, not adapted to Java SE 6, not running in 64 bits mode and are not working on Mac OS X … sigh !

This year however was different, Google spotted eidlib, a Java SE 6 native library wrapping operations of the Belgium eID card.

This API is different from all the other I know : it uses the Java SE 6 javax.smartcard i/o framework to directly communicate with the card reader, exchanging APDU as required per the card protocol.

This is by far the easiest to use Java library for eID I found so far.  You just need to include the JAR file into your classpath, then write simple code like :

           BeID eID = new BeID(true); // We allow information to be fetched from test cards

           // We fetch the information
           System.out.println("InformationRetrieval -- ID information:");
           System.out.println("InformationRetrieval -- Address information:");
           System.out.println("InformationRetrieval -- Photo is saved to file:");

Et voilà … ready to include strong authentication and signature in your own applications.  I tested every example provided on the web site with NetBeans 6.9, using Java SE 6 64 bits on Snow Leopard.

This library was developed by Kristof Overdulve, at that time student at the University of Antwerp, for his Bachelor thesis.  Kuddo !


Bart pointed me to this eID Applet project.  If all you wanna do is include eID authentication or signature in your web application, then the eID applet is probably the way to go.

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