Welcome!

Cloud Security Authors: Allwyn Sequeira, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Peter Silva, AppNeta Blog

Related Topics: Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud, Cloud Security

Java IoT: 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
Why do your mobile transformations need to happen today? Mobile is the strategy that enterprise transformation centers on to drive customer engagement. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Woods, Director, Mobile Product & Strategy – Adobe Marketing Cloud, covered key IoT and mobile trends that are forcing mobile transformation, key components of a solid mobile strategy and explored how brands are effectively driving mobile change throughout the enterprise.
Apache Hadoop is emerging as a distributed platform for handling large and fast incoming streams of data. Predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, and Internet-of-Things analysis are examples where Hadoop provides the scalable storage, processing, and analytics platform to gain meaningful insights from granular data that is typically only valuable from a large-scale, aggregate view. One architecture useful for capturing and analyzing streaming data is the Lambda Architecture, represent...
SYS-CON Events announced today that delaPlex will exhibit at SYS-CON's @CloudExpo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. delaPlex pioneered Software Development as a Service (SDaaS), which provides scalable resources to build, test, and deploy software. It’s a fast and more reliable way to develop a new product or expand your in-house team.
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
The Internet of Things will challenge the status quo of how IT and development organizations operate. Or will it? Certainly the fog layer of IoT requires special insights about data ontology, security and transactional integrity. But the developmental challenges are the same: People, Process and Platform and how we integrate our thinking to solve complicated problems. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Craig Sproule, CEO of Metavine, demonstrated how to move beyond today's coding paradigm and sh...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IoT Now has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6–8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IoT Now explores the evolving opportunities and challenges facing CSPs, and it passes on some lessons learned from those who have taken the first steps in next-gen IoT services.
SYS-CON Events announced today that WineSOFT will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Based in Seoul and Irvine, WineSOFT is an innovative software house focusing on internet infrastructure solutions. The venture started as a bootstrap start-up in 2010 by focusing on making the internet faster and more powerful. WineSOFT’s knowledge is based on the expertise of TCP/IP, VPN, SSL, peer-to-peer, mob...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningf...
The Internet of Things can drive efficiency for airlines and airports. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Sudip Majumder, senior director of development at Oracle, discussed the technical details of the connected airline baggage and related social media solutions. These IoT applications will enhance travelers' journey experience and drive efficiency for the airlines and the airports.
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
With billions of sensors deployed worldwide, the amount of machine-generated data will soon exceed what our networks can handle. But consumers and businesses will expect seamless experiences and real-time responsiveness. What does this mean for IoT devices and the infrastructure that supports them? More of the data will need to be handled at - or closer to - the devices themselves.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dataloop.IO, an innovator in cloud IT-monitoring whose products help organizations save time and money, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Dataloop.IO is an emerging software company on the cutting edge of major IT-infrastructure trends including cloud computing and microservices. The company, founded in the UK but now based in San Fran...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outlyer, a monitoring service for DevOps and operations teams, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Outlyer is a monitoring service for DevOps and Operations teams running Cloud, SaaS, Microservices and IoT deployments. Designed for today's dynamic environments that need beyond cloud-scale monitoring, we make monitoring effortless so you...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settle...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud computing technologies. Ge...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.