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SELinux Example Policy

The SELinux community is working jointly on the development of UNIX application policies whose composition is called the SELinux example policy. The SELinux example policy does not define a secure system, but is intended as input to the development of a custom policy for each site's security goals, commonly called a security target. Unfortunately, customization is not simply composition of the policies for the applications of interest. The application policies themselves are somewhat specialized to the environment in which they were developed, and interactions between the policies of multiple applications may lead to vulnerabilities. In general, the composition of policies that are proven secure may not result in a secure system.

The task of customization is further complicated by the size of the example policy and the complexity of the extended TE model described in Section 2.1. The SELinux example policy for Linux 2.4.19 consists of over 50,000 policy statements (i.e., the processed macro statements in policy.conf). According to our analysis, this specification represents over 700 subject types and 100,000 permission assignments. We believe that size and complexity of the SELinux example policy make it impractical to expect that typical administrators can customize it to ensure protection of their trusted computing base (TCB) and to satisfy their site's security goals on this TCB. This may seem obvious to some and may seem insufficiently justified to others, but we will describe a more detailed argument on why we believe this in Section 2.3.

Despite this, we are convinced that the SELinux example policy is valuable to building secure systems, for these two reasons primarily: (1) it provides a flexible enough representation to capture the permissions necessary for UNIX applications to execute conveniently and (2) it provides a comprehensive definition of a reference monitor for UNIX. First, the SELinux example policy is developed per application in a manner that identifies a superset of the permissions required to run an application conveniently while possibly meeting a particular security target. What typically happens is that a proposal is made for an application policy, then this policy is tested by the community when they use the application. Since SELinux reports authorization failures (i.e., the lack of a permission requested), it is much easier to determine that insufficient permissions were assigned than whether a security vulnerability is created. Thus, a verified proposal for least privilege permissions for each application is represented by the SELinux policy. What we need is a better way to test whether our security goals are satisfied, such that conflicts can be identified and addressed.

Second, the SELinux example policy is a comprehensive representation of UNIX access control. The SELinux model aims to comprehensively control access to all classes (i.e., kernel data types) that may be operated upon by a user-level Linux process. There are 29 classes defined in the SELinux example policy. Each class has its own set of operations that are intended to capture all the relevant subtleties in accessing and modifying a class. Given the scope of the SELinux example policy at this granularity, the SELinux example policy provides as precise and comprehensive a repository of UNIX application access control information as exists today. We need to leverage this repository in the development and refinement of security goals, but provide such leverage through higher-level concepts that enable effective management.

next up previous
Next: SELinux Security Up: SELinux Security Goals Previous: SELinux Policy Model
Trent Jaeger