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How does Ockam work?

Ockam is a stack of protocols to build secure-by-design apps that can trust data-in-motion. We provide a collection of programming libraries, command line tools, deployable components, and cloud services that make it simple for you to use these protocols within your apps.
To understand how these protocols work together, let’s create an encrypted portal to a micro-service in another cloud. In that process, we’ll discuss questions that naturally arise: How is end-to-end trust established? How does it work even though the service is not exposed to the Internet?

Sign up, Install and Enroll

The first step is to Sign up for Ockam. After you've signed up, run the following commands to install Ockam Command and enroll your identity with Ockam Orchestrator.
curl --proto '=https' --tlsv1.2 -sSfL https://install.command.ockam.io | bash
source "$HOME/.ockam/env"
ockam enroll
The enroll command creates a new vault and generates a cryptographic identity with private keys stored in that vault. It then guides you to sign in to Ockam Orchestrator. The commands below can be run in a production setup with two machines in two different networks or in a dev environment on a single machine. If you’re doing this on two machines, install and enroll on both machines.
If this is your first time signing in, the Orchestrator creates a new dedicated project for you. A project offers two services: a membership authority and a relay service.
The enroll command then asks this project’s membership authority to sign and issue a credential that attests that your identifier is a member of this project. Since your account in Orchestrator is the creator and hence first administrator on this new project, the membership authority issues this credential. The enroll command stores the credential for later use and exits.

Create an Outlet and a Relay

ockam tcp-outlet create --to 5432
ockam relay create postgres
In Bank Corp’s AWS VPC, on the machine where postgres is running, create a tcp portal outlet.
When this outlet receives messages from corresponding inlets, it unwraps all routing information and sends raw tcp connections and segments to the postgres server on localhost port 5432. Response segments from the tcp server are wrapped in routing information and sent to corresponding inlets.
Next, create a relay in your project at address: postgres.
This command first creates an outgoing tcp connection from inside Bank Corp. to your project. It then creates a secure channel to your project over this tcp connection. This succeeds because Bank Corp’s network allows outgoing tcp connections to the Internet, and your Orchestrator project’s secure channel listener allows channels with project members.
Over this secure channel, the command then asks the relay service to create a relay at address: postgres. The relay is created because the access control on the relay service allows authenticated project administrators to create relays at any address. When this relay receives messages, it routes them to the outlet node through the previously created secure channel and underlying tcp connection.
The default access control on the outlet and the relay only allow messages from project members who have authenticated through a secure channel by presenting a credential from the project membership authority that attests their identifier is a member of the project.

Create an Inlet

ockam tcp-inlet create --from 15432 --to postgres
In Analysis Corp.’s Azure VNet, on the machine that has the postgres client, create a tcp portal inlet.
The inlet first creates a tcp listener on localhost port 15432. It then creates an outgoing tcp connection from inside Analysis Corp. to your project. Next, it creates a secure channel to your project over this tcp connection. Finally, it creates an end-to-end secure channel to the outlet node in Bank Corp. through the relay in your project at address: postgres.
Over this end-to-end secure channel the inlet creates a portal with the outlet.
All secure channels are mutually authenticated and all messages are checked for authorization. The default access control on the inlet only allows messages from project members who have authenticated through a secure channel by presenting a credential from the project membership authority that attests their identifier is a member of the project.

Connect

psql --host localhost --port 15432
In Analysis Corp.’s Azure VNet, connect with the virtually adjacent postgres on localhost:15432.
When a tcp connection is created with this inlet at localhost:15432, it wraps tcp segments in routing messages and sends them through the portal. Messages are encrypted inside Analysis Corp. and decrypted only when they are inside Bank Corp. The outlet in Bank Corp. unwraps routing information and sends raw tcp segments to the tcp server.
The outlet sends response segments from the tcp server back through the portal. Response messages are encrypted inside Bank Corp. and decrypted only when they are inside Analysis Corp. The inlet unwraps all routing information and sends raw tcp response segments to the tcp client.

Recap

We ran a few simple commands to securely connect with a micro-service in another cloud. The postgres server in Bank Corp. became virtually adjacent to the postgres client in Analysis Corp.
In this example, we used a postgres server and client. However, the same commands work for any tcp server and client, such as an http server serving an api built with express or django. We have to adjust some port numbers, but other than that, the tcp server and client remain unchanged. Ockam runs as a companion next to the server and its clients.
Sensitive business data in the postgres database is only accessible to Bank Corp. and Analysis Corp. All data is encrypted with strong forward secrecy as it moves through the Internet. The communication channel is mutually authenticated and authorized. Keys and credentials are automatically rotated. Access to connect with postgres can be easily revoked.
Analysis Corp. does not get unfettered access to Bank Corp.’s network. It gets access only to run queries on the postgres server. Bank Corp. does not get unfettered access to Analysis Corp.’s network. It gets access only to respond to queries over a tcp connection. Bank Corp. cannot initiate connections.
All access controls are secure-by-default. Only project members, with valid credentials, can connect with each other. More granular attribute-based authorization policies can be easily defined to control which inlets can connect with which outlets and vice-versa.
NAT’s are traversed using a relay and outgoing tcp connections. Bank Corp. or Analysis Corp. don’t expose any listening endpoints on the Internet. Their networks are completely closed and protected from any attacks from the Internet. Ockam’s routing protocol enables multiple ways of traversing NAT’s with various tradeoffs, the relay approach is highly secure and always works.
The above example gave us peek at how Ockam’s stack of protocols work together to ensure security, privacy, and trust in data. In this case we deployed Ockam as a companion next to a server and its clients. This approach can support a very large variety of use cases. Our programming libraries take this further and empower your to build trust in ways that are tailored to your business.