Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fine-grained Access Control for APIs

OAuth is the de facto standard for API security and it's all about access delegation.

The resource owner delegates a limited set of access rights to a third party. In OAuth terminology, this is the “scope”. A given access token has a scope associated with it and it governs the access token’s capabilities.

XACML (eXtensible Access Control Markup Language) is the de facto standard for fine-grained access control. OAuth scope can be represented in XACML policies.

Say, for example a user delegates access to his Facebook profile to a third party, under the scope “user_activities”. This provides access to the user's list of activities as the activities connection. To achieve fine-grained access control, this can be represented in a XACML policy.
                     <Match MatchId="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:1.0:function:string-equal">
                         <AttributeValue DataType="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#string">
                         <AttributeDesignator AttributeId="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:1.0:scope:scope-id" category="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:3.0:attribute-category:scope" DataType="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#string" MustBePresent="false">
    <Rule Effect="Permit" RuleId="permit_rule">
    <Rule Effect="Deny" RuleId="deny_rule">
The above policy will be picked when the scope associated with the access token is equal to user_activities. Authorization Server first needs to find all the scopes associated with the given access token and build the XAML request accordingly. Authorization Server first gets the following introspection request.

resource_id=GET https://graph.facebook.com/prabathsiriwardena/activities

Authorization Server now needs to find the scope and the client id associated with the given token and build the XACML request.
      <Attributes Category="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:3.0:attribute-category:oauth-client">
           <Attribute AttributeId="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:1.0:client:client-id">
    <Attributes Category="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:3.0:attribute-category:action">
         <Attribute AttributeId="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:1.0:action:action-id">
    <Attributes Category="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:3.0:attribute-category:scope">
       <Attribute AttributeId="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:1.0:scope:scope-id">
    <Attributes Category="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:3.0:attribute-category:resource">
        <Attribute AttributeId="urn:oasis:names:tc:xacml:1.0:resource:resource-id">
The above request will pick the policy we defined first and evaluate the rules. Each rule can define the criteria, whether to permit or deny.

  1. User / System accesses the API passing an access token.
  2. API Gateway intercepts the request - finds the access token and calls OAuth Authorization Server (Introspection endpoint) to validate it. 
  3. Authorization Server, finds the scopes and the client id associated with access token, builds a XACML request can call XACML PDP. 
  4. XACML PDP evaluates the XACML requests against its policy set and returns back a XACML response. 
  5.  OAuth Authorization Server sends back a Introspection Response which indicates the validity of the token. 
  6. API Gateway validates Introspection Response and then invokes the backend business API.

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