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Access Control Model

Date: 03/04/2018




We need to define our approach to access-control/authorization.


Since our users' organizations differ a lot in terms of structures and policies, we need to have a very versatile access control mechanism in place. In the industry, the most used technique employed is role-based access control (RBAC). We base our mandatory access control (MAC) mechanism on RBAC, but use the notion of intent instead of role (an intent can be executed by exactly one role, thus effectively replacing the role concept).

Intent + Resource = Permission


An intent is what the user is trying to achieve, for example, "add a workflow to a subproject". By using intents rather than roles, we side-step the problem found in many projects, where over time developers create similar roles on-the-fly, as from their point of view the implications of re-using a role are not always clear. Conversely, intents are always specific to a use case (examples: "create project" or "list a project's subprojects" rather than "admin" or "user").

While roles could be used to bundle intent-execution rights (e.g. have one role that is allowed to execute all "view" intents), we think that those roles would have to be managed by organizations themselves (as it will depend on their structure). Since in most cases this would mean a 1:1 mapping from role to user group, we skip roles altogether.

User Groups#

Organizations group their users into user groups. For any given projects, each (resource-specific) intent has a list of user groups assigned to it; all users in the assigned groups are then allowed to execute the respective intent.

+-------+               +---------------------+                +---------------+| User: | is member of  | Group:              | is allowed to  | Intent:       || Alice +-------------->+ Project Maintainers +--------------->+ Add workflow  ||       |               |                     |                | to subproject |+-------+               +---------------------+                +---------------+

Implementation Pattern#

The goal is to enable us to follow a clear pattern for our access control needs:

  • HTTP controllers call the domain modules and the authorization module (perhaps using a middleware), but do not deal with intents or groups.
  • Domain modules may interact with the chain to fetch domain objects, and/or prepare closures to be authorized and executed later on. They deal with intents, but not with users or groups.
  • Finally, the authorization module ensures that the user executing the intent belongs to a group that is allowed to do that. In order to decide that, the module has to fetch resource-specific ACLs from the chain.

Modifying ACLs is done in the same way: each resource's ACL specifies the groups that may execute the "change this ACL" intent (to be renamed). This hints at the necessity to provide defaults for ACLs when creating resources.

Resource-specific Access Control Lists (ACLs)#

With each resource/stream on the chain, an ACL stream-item is stored that lists for each intent the groups allowed to execute that intent:

{  "acl": {    "view project": ["all users"],  },  ...}


With the proposed changes in place, our users will be able to impose their respective organizational structures onto TruBudget's resources in a way that should be flexible enough and straight-forward to integrate with their existing directory servers.