Computer Laboratory

Technical reports

Role-based access control policy administration

András Belokosztolszki

March 2004, 170 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted November 2003 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, King’s College.


The wide proliferation of the Internet has set new requirements for access control policy specification. Due to the demand for ad-hoc cooperation between organisations, applications are no longer isolated from each other; consequently, access control policies face a large, heterogeneous, and dynamic environment. Policies, while maintaining their main functionality, go through many minor adaptations, evolving as the environment changes.

In this thesis we investigate the long-term administration of role-based access control (RBAC) – in particular OASIS RBAC – policies.

With the aim of encapsulating persistent goals of policies we introduce extensions in the form of meta-policies. These meta-policies, whose expected lifetime is longer than the lifetime of individual policies, contain extra information and restrictions about policies. It is expected that successive policy versions are checked at policy specification time to ensure that they comply with the requirements and guidelines set by meta-policies.

In the first of the three classes of meta-policies we group together policy components by annotating them with context labels. Based on this grouping and an information flow relation on context labels, we limit the way in which policy components may be connected to other component groups. We use this to partition conceptually disparate portions of policies, and reference these coherent portions to specify policy restrictions and policy enforcement behaviour.

In our second class of meta-policies – compliance policies – we specify requirements on an abstract policy model. We then use this for static policy checking. As compliance tests are performed at policy specification time, compliance policies may include restrictions that either cannot be included in policies, or whose inclusion would result in degraded policy enforcement performance. We also indicate how to use compliance policies to provide information about organisational policies without disclosing sensitive information.

The final class of our meta-policies, called interface policies, is used to help set up and maintain cooperation among organisations by enabling them to use components from each other’s policies. Being based on compliance policies, they use an abstract policy component model, and can also specify requirements for both component exporters and importers. Using such interface policies we can reconcile compatibility issues between cooperating parties automatically.

Finally, building on our meta-policies, we consider policy evolution and self-administration, according to which we treat RBAC policies as distributed resources to which access is specified with the help of RBAC itself. This enables environments where policies are maintained by many administrators who have varying levels of competence, trust, and jurisdiction.

We have tested all of these concepts in Desert, our proof of concept implementation.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Belokosztolszki, Andr{\'a}s},
  title = 	 {{Role-based access control policy administration}},
  year = 	 2004,
  month = 	 mar,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-586}