Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Security Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Adrian Bridgwater, Jacob Olcott

Related Topics: Java, Microservices Journal, .NET, Security

Java: Article

Externalizing Fine-Grained Authorization from Applications

An Entitlements Server allows enterprises to externalize fine-grained authorization from an application’s logic

The recent spike in insider threats, coupled with a rise in compliance considerations, has forced organizations to ensure only authorized users access sensitive application functionality and data. Historically, user entitlements or authorization logic has been embedded inside an application. For example, if the user of an application meets specific conditions, such as a specific role, access to that application function will be granted at runtime. But if the definition of specific authorization conditions changes over time, then the application developer needs to modify the application's source code, test, and re-deploy the application.

Suppose a homegrown portal application must present a sensitive piece of customer information such as a Social Security Number (SSN) when a service representative views a customer's profile. It is determined that in order to ensure compliance with various privacy regulations, only directors and senior managers may be able to view a customer's SSN. A decision has to be dynamically made whenever the application must show an SSN as to whether the current user may view the actual data or some default value (e.g., "XXX-XX-XXXX"). The decision must take into account the user's job title. A dozen parts of the application that can display a customer's SSN mean a dozen places for this business logic to be applied.

Now assume that the policy needs to be changed after the application has been in production for some time. The business has determined that senior managers in California may not view an SSN. This is an exceptional situation that requires another piece of information to be considered as part of the entitlement decision. But what if we take the example even further? Suppose that only directors above a certain salary grade can view SSNs. Now the entitlement logic has been split into multiple decisions based on runtime attributes. So the business logic must be adapted.

You can see that authorization or entitlement policies evolve very differently from application requirements. Having the entitlement logic "hard wired" into the business logic means changing code each time there is a policy change. A lot of organizations also outsource their application development, which means often times they don't own the code that handles the business logic directly. This can lead to further inefficiencies and delays in deploying changes in policies. If we keep the entitlement policies outside of the application, they can be changed without modifying the application.

In this article, we explore a new approach designed to externalize user entitlements from applications through the use of a dedicated access control solution for the application tier. Externalized entitlements mean separating fine-grained authorization logic from business logic. One benefit of this is transparency; the entitlements are now understandable and measurable beyond the context of the application. This is important so that a company may review their entitlement policies for completeness and accuracy against corporate standards.

Roles and Entitlements
Authentication is about validating a user's identity through the use of credentials such as a password, a security card, or a digital certificate. Authorization (or "access control") is the ability to provide an authenticated user access to specific operations of an application.

Authorization is based on the concept of a "role." A role defines what a user is entitled to do. For example, a user in a "broker" role is entitled to transact goods on behalf of others. A role can have qualifying attributes (e.g., seniority, ranking) and can support constraints (e.g., a broker may only start transactions under specific circumstances). Based on his/her role, a user is granted access to specific resources necessary to fill that role.

There are two main kinds of roles: Applications Roles and External Roles. An Applications Role is a collection of users, groups, and other Application Roles; it can be assigned to an enterprise user, group, or External Role in an identity store, or another Application Role in the policy store (see Figure 1). An External Role is the same as an Enterprise Role or Enterprise Group; it's typically implemented as an LDAP group in the identity store.

Application Roles can be many-to-many mapped to External Roles. For example, the external group "employee" (stored in an LDAP-based identity store) can be mapped to the Application Role "customer_support_member" defined in one application and to the Application Role "IT_member" defined in another application.

An Entitlement groups related resources, possibly of different types, needed to perform a business function. In effect, an Entitlement is a reusable collection of access rights that can be granted to multiple principals (users or applications such as web services).

Role-Based and Attribute-Based Access Control
Role-Based Access Control or RBAC, originally defined by NIST [1], formalizes a reference model for controlling access to resources where permissions are not directly associated to users but are defined in roles. The RBAC standard specifies a core set (administrative and system functions) and additional functionality including role hierarchies, constraints, and separation of duty (i.e., "defining a role" and "assigning a role" are separated).

Enterprise RBAC extends RBAC principles to enterprise roles. In addition, Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC), a natural evolution of RBAC, uses attributes (e.g., social security number or IP address) to define access control rules and access requests (XACML [2] is an example of an ABAC framework). An ABAC policy specifies one or more claims that need to be satisfied before a user is granted access, for example, the user must be a certain age.

Fine-Grained Authorization Model
In a typical XACML-based authorization model, the administrator first defines policies at the Policy Administration Point (PAP), essentially a console allowing policy definition, selection, and attachment. Then attempted access to a protected resource (for example a web service request) is intercepted by a Policy Enforcement Point (PEP), which parses the request and leverages a Policy Decision Point (PDP) to determine whether the request should be granted or denied. The PEP / PDP combination relies on a Policy Information Point (PIP), generally a user directory, to fetch information relevant to the requester for the policy evaluation and policy decision process.

All the access control information required to make the application secure is separate from the application logic and is persisted as modifiable metadata (mostly XML files) packaged with the application.

Fine-Grained Authorization Solutions
A centralized access control solution offers the reuse of authentication and authorization services as well as easier reporting for compliance and regulatory requirements, allowing administrators to control multiple applications through a higher level of granularity.

Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) application servers provide container security including authorization based on roles. Developers can isolate security code from their business logic and delegate security to the application server infrastructure. However, application server authorization doesn't scale well to the fine-grained access control needs of multiple enterprise applications. A dedicated fine-grained authorization engine is required to complement the functionality provided by the application server.

Introducing Entitlements Server Technology
As previously noted, entitlements are a corollary of roles: being in a specific role entitles you to specific resources. Entitlements are tied to the application as they drive runtime permissions.

Entitlements management enables organizations to define granular access controls for their users based on the attributes of the user, the resource, and the context of the request.

An Entitlements Server is a standalone fine-grained authorization application that allows an organization to protect its resources by defining and managing policies that control access to, and usage of, these resources. Access privileges are defined in a policy by specifying who can do what to which resource, when it can be done, and how. The policy can enforce controls on all types of resources including software components (e.g., URLs, servlets, JavaServer Pages [JSPs], or EJBs used to construct an application), and business objects (e.g., representations of user accounts, personal profiles and contracts such as bank accounts in a banking application, patient records in a health care application, or anything used to define a business relationship).

An Entitlements Server supports the creation of role policies and access control policies. Role policies are used to define constraints regarding which users are assigned roles. Access control policies define access to the software components and business objects mentioned earlier.

An Entitlements Server typically performs the following functionality:

  • Separates security decision making from application logic.
  • Distributes policies from the PAP to the PDPs.
  • Caches policies and authorization decisions for performance.
  • Updates security policies at runtime.
  • Offers a flexible architecture that supports both embedded and remote PDPs (for centralized or distributed policy decisions).
  • Audits all access decisions and management operations.
  • Supports the XACML request / response protocol for authorization inquiries by a client application.
  • Integrates with existing security and identity management systems by leveraging enterprise data in relational databases and LDAP directories.

An Entitlements Server comprises centralized policy management with centralized or distributed policy decision-making. The architecture of an Entitlements Server is based on the interaction model of entities presented in the XACML specifications.

Entitlements Server Components
A typical Entitlements Server implements the XACML-based authorization model described earlier, including a PAP, which makes rules and policies available to the PDP in order for that entity to reach a grant or deny decision for a request to access the protected resource. The PAP generally includes an administration console, management application programming interfaces (APIs) dealing with resource and role catalogs, authorization and role- mapping policies, as well as management command-line utilities.

When the Entitlements Server is deployed, a PDP receives a request for authorization, evaluates the request based on applicable policies, reaches a decision and returns the decision to the PEP, the entity thatfirst made the authorization call. The PDP can also retrieve additional subject, resource, action, and environment attributes from a Policy Information Point to add contextual information to the request.

The PEP is a software component that intercepts the request to the protected application, passes it to the PDP and enforces the security decision returned from the PDP (the PDP may also return information with the decision [referred to as an "obligation"] that allows that decision to be enforced within a particular context). The PEP component can be the protected application itself or a "security module."

The Entitlements Server may offer two types of security modules. One type acts purely as a PDP by receiving requests and reaching decisions. The other type combines the PDP and PEP functionality. Security modules can accommodate various operating environments such as Java and Microsoft .NET applications.

The Attribute Authorities component illustrated in Figure 1 is in effect the PIP. Attribute retrievers are available for LDAP and relational database data sources.

Advanced Entitlements Servers implement the PEP Decision API, a part of the OpenAZ framework [3]. The OpenAZ package provides access from a PEP to a remote or embedded PDP.

Entitlements Server Policies
An Entitlements Server may support the creation of authorization policies and mapping policies. An Authorization Policy is created to return a decision ("grant" or "deny") as a result of a request for access to a protected target resource. The decision is based on the profile of the requesting principal (e.g., a user). An Authorization Policy is applicable to a request for access if the parameters in the request match those specified in the policy.

Consider this policy syntax:

GRANT the Support_Manager_East role MODIFY access to the Incidents servlet if the request is made from an IP address of 100.100.20.20

This Authorization Policy grants any user that is a member of the Support_Manager_East role access to the Incidents servlet for the purpose of modifying it. The policy is also constrained by a condition: the request must be made from IP address 100.100.20.20. Thus, if the parameters in the request match the parameters in the policy, and the request is made from IP address 100.100.20.20, the request is granted, otherwise the policy is ignored.

A Role Mapping Policy allows you to dynamically assign (grant) role membership to a user or dynamically deny (revoke) role membership from a user. A Role Mapping Policy defines which users or External Roles are mapped to an Authorization Policy. Role Mapping Policies are written to define which subjects (user and external roles) are assigned to the applicable role. They may also include conditions, i.e., constraints that must be evaluated to true for the policy to be included in the authorization decision.

Consider the following policy syntax:

GRANT the Employee group Application Role Support_Manager_East if the request is made from an IP address of 100.100.20.20

This policy grants the Application Role Support_Manager_East to any user that is a member of the group Employee. The policy is constrained by a condition: the request must be made from IP address 100.100.20.20. Thus, if the parameters in the request match the parameters in the Role Mapping Policy, and the request is made from IP address 100.100.20.20, the Application Role is granted otherwise the Role Mapping Policy is ignored.

Conclusion
An Entitlements Server allows enterprises to externalize fine-grained authorization from an application's logic, thus allowing developers to focus on business logic and leave fine-grained authorization decisions to security administrators.

References

  1. NIST: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Computer Security Division (CSD) provides standards to protect information systems against threats to the confidentiality and integrity of corporate information.
  2. XACML: The Access Control Markup Language (XACML) describes a policy language (general access control requirements) and an access control decision request / response language. The RBAC Profile of XACML specification defines a profile for the use of XACML in expressing policies that use role-based access control (RBAC). In this case, RBAC "roles" are expressed as XACML Subject Attributes. For example, a specific XACML Permission PolicySet contains the permissions associated with the RBAC Manager role.
  3. OpenAZ: The Open Authorization API (OpenAZ) provides a standard interface between an application and a general authorization service. It also provides an effective way to enable authorization providers to plug in client-side authorization functionality.
  4. Oracle Entitlements Server: Oracle Entitlements Server (OES) is a fine-grained authorization management solution that externalizes and centralizes administration of enterprise entitlements, simplifies authorization policies, and enforces security decisions in distributed, heterogeneous applications.

More Stories By Marc Chanliau

Marc Chanliau has been in the software industry for more than 20 years and is currently a director of product management at Oracle where he is responsible for Identity Management solutions and innovations. He is heavily involved in security and XML standards groups including serving as the first chair person of the OASIS Security Services Technical Committee (SSTC), which culminated in the adoption of SAML as an official OASIS standard, participating on the WS-Security Technical Committee, helping to define the Liberty Alliance 2.0 specifications, and participating in the Java Specification Request (JSR) committee.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Akana, formerly SOA Software, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Akana’s comprehensive suite of API Management, API Security, Integrated SOA Governance, and Cloud Integration solutions helps businesses accelerate digital transformation by securely extending their reach across multiple channels – mobile, cloud and Internet of Things. Akana enables enterprises to share data as APIs, connect and integrate applications, drive part...
VoxImplant has announced full WebRTC support in the newest versions of its Android SDK and iOS SDK. The updated SDKs, which enable audio and video calls on mobile devices, are now compatible with the WebRTC standard to allow any mobile app to communicate with WebRTC-enabled browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and, when available, Microsoft Spartan. The WebRTC-updated SDKs represent VoxImplant's continued leadership in simplifying the development of real-time communications (RTC) services for app developers. VoxImplant (built by Zingaya, the real-time communication servi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and sim...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SafeLogic has been named “Bag Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. SafeLogic provides security products for applications in mobile and server/appliance environments. SafeLogic’s flagship product CryptoComply is a FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic engine designed to secure data on servers, workstations, appliances, mobile devices, and in the Cloud.
SYS-CON Events announced today that StorPool Storage will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. StorPool is distributed storage software that allows service providers, enterprises and other cloud builders to run data storage on standard x86 servers, instead of using expensive and inefficient storage arrays (SAN).
The IoT Bootcamp is coming to Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo on June 9-10 at the Javits Center in New York. Instructor. Registration is now available at http://iotbootcamp.sys-con.com/ Instructor Janakiram MSV previously taught the famously successful Multi-Cloud Bootcamp at Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in November in Santa Clara. Now he is expanding the focus to Janakiram is the founder and CTO of Get Cloud Ready Consulting, a niche Cloud Migration and Cloud Operations firm that recently got acquired by Aditi Technologies. He is a Microsoft Regional Director for Hyderabad, India, and one of the f...
SYS-CON Events announced today that kintone has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. kintone promotes cloud-based workgroup productivity, transparency and profitability with a seamless collaboration space, build your own business application (BYOA) platform, and workflow automation system.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Site24x7, the cloud infrastructure monitoring service, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Site24x7 is a cloud infrastructure monitoring service that helps monitor the uptime and performance of websites, online applications, servers, mobile websites and custom APIs. The monitoring is done from 50+ locations across the world and from various wireless carriers, thus providing a global perspective of the end-user experience. Site24x7 supports monitoring H...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Intelligent Systems Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Established in 1994, Intelligent Systems Services Inc. is located near Washington, DC, with representatives and partners nationwide. ISS’s well-established track record is based on the continuous pursuit of excellence in designing, implementing and supporting nationwide clients’ mission-critical systems. ISS has completed many successful projects in Healthcare, Commercial, Manufacturing, ...
WebRTC is an up-and-coming standard that enables real-time voice and video to be directly embedded into browsers making the browser a primary user interface for communications and collaboration. WebRTC runs in a number of browsers today and is currently supported in over a billion installed browsers globally, across a range of platform OS and devices. Today, organizations that choose to deploy WebRTC applications and use a host machine that supports audio through USB or Bluetooth can use Plantronics products to connect and transit or receive the audio associated with the WebRTC session.
The best mobile applications are augmented by dedicated servers, the Internet and Cloud services. Mobile developers should focus on one thing: writing the next socially disruptive viral app. Thanks to the cloud, they can focus on the overall solution, not the underlying plumbing. From iOS to Android and Windows, developers can leverage cloud services to create a common cross-platform backend to persist user settings, app data, broadcast notifications, run jobs, etc. This session provides a high level technical overview of many cloud services available to mobile app developers, includi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Tufin, the market-leading provider of Security Policy Orchestration Solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As the market leader of Security Policy Orchestration, Tufin automates and accelerates network configuration changes while maintaining security and compliance. Tufin's award-winning Orchestration Suite™ gives IT organizations the power and agility to enforce security policy across complex, multi-vendor enterprise networks. With more than 1...
As enterprises move to all-IP networks and cloud-based applications, communications service providers (CSPs) – facing increased competition from over-the-top providers delivering content via the Internet and independently of CSPs – must be able to offer seamless cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions that can scale for small, midsize, and large enterprises, as well as public sector organizations, in order to keep and grow market share. The latest version of Oracle Communications Unified Communications Suite gives CSPs the capability to do just that. In addition, its integration ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudian, Inc., the leading provider of hybrid cloud storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudian, Inc., is a Foster City, California - based software company specializing in cloud storage software. The main product is Cloudian, an Amazon S3-compliant cloud object storage platform, the bedrock of cloud computing systems, that enables cloud service providers and enterprises to build reliable, affordable and scalable cloud storage solu...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
BroadSoft on Tuesday announced that it is a recipient of the 2014 Frost & Sullivan Market Leadership Award in the Hosted/Cloud Internet Protocol (IP) Telephony market for Latin America. According to Frost & Sullivan market research, the Latin America (LATAM) hosted/cloud Internet Protocol (IP) telephony market, including integrated unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) applications, is currently experiencing a rapid growth trajectory and is expected to exhibit a tenfold rise in annual revenues in the 2013-2020 period. With more than 600 cloud deployments internationally, BroadSoft w...