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Part I. Understanding Veil2 And Relational Security  Home  Chapter 2. How Is Relational Security Different?

A Relational Security System is one in which access to each piece of data and functionality is limited according to the user's relationships to that data or functionality. Access is managed by privileges assigned in contexts which limit the extent to which that privilege applies.

Users acquire their privileges in various ways: all users may get a basic set of privileges; some users may be members of teams or departments and their roles in those things may give them implied privilege assignments; and some users may be granted specific roles explicitly. Even with explicit role assignments, those assignments may occur in different contexts giving the user access to greater or smaller subsets of data: you might be a given the manager role for a project, or for a department, or for a division, or company-wide. The same privileges would apply in each case, but their scope would apply to larger or smaller sets of data.

Scopes may be created from almost any definable subset of your data. Mostly they are based on the relationships of your users with their data, though they need not be. Typically, scopes are defined in terms of users and their relationships to specific artifacts described by your database. For example, a person's relationship to the company they work for, or their membership of a department or project team.

Having scopes associated with each assigned privilege means that the granularity of access controls can be as coarse or as fine as the data demands, and it means that there is rarely the need for more complex access checks than "do I have privilege X in scope Y?".

Instead of having privileges which imply conditional rule checks, such as the privilege to maintain-a-project-if-the-user-is-a-member-of-the-project-team, privileges can effectively contain their conditionality through their scope.

The description above is rather abstract. To help make it more concrete, here are some examples of how a relational security system can work.

Imagine that you provide a Software As A Service solution to multiple corporate clients.

Data for each client would be stored with a corp id identifying the corporate client that it belongs to. Users associated with one client would only have access to data for that individual client. That is, their access to data would depend on their relationship with the specific client. If they are an employee of Corp X, they would have access to only Corp X data.

As a refinement, data within each client could be further segregated into data for subdivisions within the corporation's own organizational hierarchy. Users associated with a single division might see data only for that division, while users at the corporate level would see data for all divisions. No special application-level code is needed to do this: it is just a matter of assigning privileges in different contexts: those of the corporation (corp context), or those of the subdivision (which we'll call org context).

We can take it even further and have data that is protected at the level of individual projects (project context). If you are a team member of a project, you would automatically get to access that project's data.

In all of these cases, your access to data is determined by your relationships with that data:

  • if you are an employee of a specific corporation, you will have access to data (only) for that corporation.

  • if you are an employee of a specific subdivision, your access can be limited to data specific to that subdivision.

  • if you are a member of a project team, you can have access to data for that project.

You can also be granted access to data, more directly through the assignment of roles. But those roles will be limited to specific contexts. You could be assigned the project manager role in the context of a single project, or in the context of a subdivision, and this would give you rights either to a single project, or to all projects for that subdivision.

This is all demonstrated in the Veil2 demo.

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Part I. Understanding Veil2 And Relational Security  Home  Chapter 2. How Is Relational Security Different?