17.3 Explanation of MAC

With all of these new terms in mind, consider how the MAC framework augments the security of the system as a whole. The various security policy modules provided by the MAC framework could be used to protect the network and file systems, block users from accessing certain ports and sockets, and more. Perhaps the best use of the policy modules is to blend them together, by loading several security policy modules at a time for a multi-layered security environment. In a multi-layered security environment, multiple policy modules are in effect to keep security in check. This is different to a hardening policy, which typically hardens elements of a system that is used only for specific purposes. The only downside is administrative overhead in cases of multiple file system labels, setting network access control user by user, etc.

These downsides are minimal when compared to the lasting effect of the framework; for instance, the ability to pick and choose which policies are required for a specific configuration keeps performance overhead down. The reduction of support for unneeded policies can increase the overall performance of the system as well as offer flexibility of choice. A good implementation would consider the overall security requirements and effectively implement the various security policy modules offered by the framework.

Thus a system utilizing MAC features should at least guarantee that a user will not be permitted to change security attributes at will; all user utilities, programs and scripts must work within the constraints of the access rules provided by the selected security policy modules; and that total control of the MAC access rules are in the hands of the system administrator.

It is the sole duty of the system administrator to carefully select the correct security policy modules. Some environments may need to limit access control over the network; in these cases, the mac_portacl(4), mac_ifoff(4) and even mac_biba(4) policy modules might make good starting points. In other cases, strict confidentiality of file system objects might be required. Policy modules such as mac_bsdextended(4) and mac_mls(4) exist for this purpose.

Policy decisions could be made based on network configuration. Perhaps only certain users should be permitted access to facilities provided by ssh(1) to access the network or the Internet. The mac_portacl(4) would be the policy module of choice for these situations. But what should be done in the case of file systems? Should all access to certain directories be severed from other groups or specific users? Or should we limit user or utility access to specific files by setting certain objects as classified?

In the file system case, access to objects might be considered confidential to some users, but not to others. For an example, a large development team might be broken off into smaller groups of individuals. Developers in project A might not be permitted to access objects written by developers in project B. Yet they might need to access objects created by developers in project C; that is quite a situation indeed. Using the different security policy modules provided by the MAC framework; users could be divided into these groups and then given access to the appropriate areas without fear of information leakage.

Thus, each security policy module has a unique way of dealing with the overall security of a system. Module selection should be based on a well thought out security policy. In many cases, the overall policy may need to be revised and reimplemented on the system. Understanding the different security policy modules offered by the MAC framework will help administrators choose the best policies for their situations.

The default FreeBSD kernel does not include the option for the MAC framework; thus the following kernel option must be added before trying any of the examples or information in this chapter:

options	MAC

And the kernel will require a rebuild and a reinstall.

Caution: While the various manual pages for MAC policy modules state that they may be built into the kernel, it is possible to lock the system out of the network and more. Implementing MAC is much like implementing a firewall, care must be taken to prevent being completely locked out of the system. The ability to revert back to a previous configuration should be considered while the implementation of MAC remotely should be done with extreme caution.