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UBNS requires a mechanism for (1) authentication of users over the network and (2) allowing server processes to change the user on whose behalf they execute. Implementing the cryptographic mechanisms for user authentication as part of the application is complex and error prone, and as we showed, requires a substantial amount of code. Moving the authentication and cryptographic mechanisms outside the application makes the application independent of these mechanism, and application programmers are usually not skilled in this area. Moreover, the OS mechanisms for change of process ownership are also dangerous as such privileges are among the strongest in a computer system, since changing a user typically allows the privileges of any user to be appropriated.

And hence, programmers typically defer such considerations, ignoring them during initial design. But UBNS affects the very structure of programs and when its consideration is delayed, it becomes increasingly expensive to retrofit. Thus many applications will not be structured as UBNS and the design will not satisfy the property of least privilege.

NetAuth is a simple mechanism to invoke network authentication and process change-of-ownership, thus encouraging the design of UBNS. It builds on the work of Kerberos, SSH, and Plan9 but seeks to do so with the style of mandatory access controls and to provide better information assurance. It

While the authentication mechanism and APIs described here can be used with any authorization model, we have also built an authorization model (to be described elsewhere) which has a highly analyzable configuration in which strong properties can be understood independently of the application code.

NetAuth integrates public key and a fast re-authentication mechanism to achieve high performance authentications with the strongest possible properties. Further increases in performance are enabled by the re-use of processes for the same user, saving system overhead. This simplifies the structure of such applications, and makes it much easier to build UBNS. Such an easy-to-use mechanism will encourage programmers to integrate security from the start, and thus construct more secure applications.

Not only do these mechanisms enable the construction of more secure services but also provide significant advantages for system administration. These mechanisms enable strong controls to be imposed on services without resorting to application specific configuration and without analyzing application code.

Manigandan Radhakrishnan 2008-05-13