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Title: The formalisation and transformation of access control policies
Author: Slaymaker, Mark Arthur
ISNI:       0000 0004 2710 1303
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2011
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Increasing amounts of data are being collected and stored relating to every aspect of an individual's life, ranging from shopping habits to medical conditions. This data is increasingly being shared for a variety of reasons, from providing vast quantities of data to validate the latest medical hypothesis, to supporting companies in targeting advertising and promotions to individuals that fit a certain profile. In such cases, the data being used often comes from multiple sources --- with each of the contributing parties owning, and being legally responsible for, their own data. Within such models of collaboration, access control becomes important to each of the individual data owners. Although they wish to share data and benefit from information that others have provided, they do not wish to give away the entirety of their own data. Rather, they wish to use access control policies that give them control over which aspects of the data can be seen by particular individuals and groups. Each data owner will have access control policies that are carefully crafted and understood --- defined in terms of the access control representation that they use, which may be very different from the model of access control utilised by other data owners or by the technology facilitating the data sharing. Achieving interoperability in such circumstances would typically require the rewriting of the policies into a uniform or standard representation --- which may give rise to the need to embrace a new access control representation and/or the utilisation of a manual, error-prone, translation. In this thesis we propose an alternative approach, which embraces heterogeneity, and establishes a framework for automatic transformations of access control policies. This has the benefit of allowing data owners to continue to use their access control paradigm of choice. Of course, it is important that the data owners have some confidence in the fact that the new, transformed, access control policy representation accurately reflects their intentions. To this end, the use of tools for formal modelling and analysis allows us to reason about the translation, and demonstrate that the policies expressed in both representations are equivalent under access control requests; that is, for any given request both access control mechanisms will give an equivalent access decision. For the general case, we might propose a standard intermediate access control representation with transformations to and from each access control policy language of interest. However, for the purpose of this thesis, we have chosen to model the translation between role-based access control (RBAC) and the XML-based policy language, XACML, as a proof of concept of our approach. In addition to the formal models of the access control mechanisms and the translation, we provide, by way of a case study, an example of an implementation which performs the translation. The contributions of this thesis are as follows. First, we propose an approach to resolving issues of authorisation heterogeneity within distributed contexts, with the requirements being derived from nearly eight years of work in developing secure, distributed systems. Our second contribution is the formal description of two popular approaches to access control: RBAC and XACML. Our third contribution is the development of an Alloy model of our transformation process. Finally, we have developed an application that validates our approach, and supports the transformation process by allowing policy writers to state, with confidence, that two different representations of the same policy are equivalent.
Supervisor: Simpson, Andrew C. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Computer security ; Computing ; Software Engineering ; Formal Methods ; Access Control Modelling ; Transformation