Security Anti-Pattern: Path based access control

For those of you who missed my other Security Anti-Pattern post, an anti-pattern is a commonly reinvented bad solution to a problem. There are many of these in security but one that seems to be occurring quite often these days is path based access control, an access control system that use file paths to refer to objects. To the uninitiated this may seem like a good idea at first, hopefully this blog entry will eradicate such beliefs. Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

Top-down vs. Bottom-up Policy Development

I’ll be the first to say I’m not a policy developer. The process of actually writing policy is not at all interesting to me, fortunately for me there are people like Chris PeBenito, Russell Coker, et al that seem to enjoy this. I am interested, however, in how policies are developed.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this subject: top-down policy development and bottom-up. Top-down policy development is very similar to status quo encapsulation, which I talked about in a previous post, in that it basically means you take a running system and look at it top-down, in its entirety, and develop a policy based on that perspective. Bottom-up policy development, which is historically what SELinux has done, is the opposite; you create policies for individual applications running on a system until the sum of those policies meets the security goals of the system. I’ll try to talk about the advantages and issues with each of these.

Security Anti-Pattern: Status Quo Encapsulation

First a clarification: in my last post I said that least privilege is the ultimate goal of most MAC advocates but that isn’t entirely true, I accidentally ignored a large portion of MAC advocates (mostly those that predate me!). There are several different models which are commonly implemented and thought to be correct. In the government industry that model is Multi Level Security (MLS) and is in no way least privilege, but that is another topic altogether. In the civilian sector status quo encapsulation is a popular model to implement, which is what I’ll be talking about today.

The Myth of Least Privilege (or why we love equivalence classes)

Just about any Mandatory Access Control (MAC) advocate will tell you that their ultimate security goal is least privilege. Least privilege has become a metaphorical holy grail in the security industry. Least privilege, in its unadulterated form is giving each user, process and so on the exact access it needs and no more.

Welcome to Brindle on Security

I’ll start this blog by introducing myself. My name is Joshua Brindle and I’ve been working on security software and such for a while. About 4 years ago I started Hardened Gentoo which exposed both myself and many users to modern security systems available for Linux. This project has, in many ways, led me up to where I am today in my career and otherwise. Today I work at Tresys Technology on research and development on security systems.