RBAC 2 3

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This document covers using the improvements made in AppArmor 2.3 for RBAC style access control.

AppArmor 2.3 is shipped in the following distros

  • openSUSE 11
  • openSUSE 11.1
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise (Server, Desktop) 11
  • Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex)

Further documentation concerning using AppArmor for RBAC style access control can be found at

Overview of RBAC in AppArmor 2.3

AppArmor 2.3 introduced several improvements that affect authoring RBAC style policy.

  • Admin profiles can allow mount/umount as long as they contain capability sys_admin.
  • Role based profiles can have descriptive names, instead of using an executable file, or alias name.
  • Named transitions can be used instead of hard links to confine a single executable with different profiles dependent on the situation.
  • Better separation of users sharing a role profile through owner conditional rules.
  • The cx and named profiles transitions can be used to work around the limitations of the hat profile.
    In particular a named transition for the login shell can be used to transition to a role profile, which can use change_hat thus allowing access to PAM based applications.

remaining limitations

  • AppArmor can only control mounts at an all or nothing level they can not control where mounts occur, or what is being mounted.
  • AppArmor has only very course networking controls.
  • AppArmor ipc control is very limited, so much so that some ipc mechanism are not currently controlled.

Setting up restricted admin profiles

Instead of giving admin users the root uid (uid == 0), and setting up a hard link to attach a profile, it is recommended that pam_cap.so and pam_apparmor.so are used together, where pam_cap is used to raise a user's capabilities and pam_apparmor is used to set an initial profile on the user.

This has several advantages over the previous technique

  • The uid of the user does not need to be modified in the password database
  • The uid of admin users is not shared so that log messages can be disambiguated
  • It is possible to separate admin file access using owner rules.

There are also some disadvantages that must be considered

  • Some applications expect a uid == 0 for root privileges


update other techniques - basic confined shell - knightshell - sudo profile, - named transitions


AppArmor 2.3 removes, or provides workarounds for many of the limitations that pam_apparmor had in 2.1. In particular

  • the new transition modes (cx, named transitions) allow for the hat profile to be left for a generic profile. This removes the need to use hard link aliases as means of applying profiles to applications that shouldn't have a global profile (eg. bash).
    Also the use of the new transitions to leave the hat profiles, allows breaking the limitation of the confined user calling back into the PAM stack through su or sudo.

In 2.3 pam_apparmor which uses change_hat retains the following limitations

  • PAM aware services must be confined to take advantage of pam_apparmor.
  • Policy transitions must be specified in profiles using hats. This means the subpolicy can't directly call any PAM services because hat profiles can not contain hats of their own. Once a user is logged in he can not use su, sudo or any other service that calls into the PAM stack from the confining hat profile. To get around this limitation a transition to another profile or the unconfined state can be done through either px, or ux.
  • Users are limited to a single login profile per service (determined by profile's hats) so that having a user belong to multiple roles is not straight forward. Multiple roles can be achieved with the techniques described in the Multiple roles section.
  • The assignment of roles to users is done in policy. This means for an admin to be able assign a particular role to a given user, the admin must have authority to change and reload policy. It is not possible to allow a restricted admin to do any role management, as the admin could change his own confinement.
  • When searching for a hat by group, only the primary group is checked, not supplementary groups

Mapping the user to a profile

The basic configuration to map users to roles remains the same as in AppArmor 2.1, however the new abilities of 2.3 allow for improvements in the actual policy. As in AppArmor 2.1 the login application must be confined and the mapping of users to policy is done through hats. Even the hat profile is structured the same as what is recommended for AppArmor 2.1 (a transition stub) except a named transition is used instead of setting up an alias (hard linked shell) and changing the users default shell to the alias.

Reworking the /bin/su example profile from AppArmor 2.1 using AppArmor 2.3 we get

 /bin/su {
   #include <abstractions/authentication>
   #include <abstractions/base>
   #include <abstractions/nameservice>   
capability chown, capability setgid, capability setuid,
owner /etc/environment r, owner /home/*/.Xauthority rw, owner /home/*/.Xauthority-c w, owner /home/*/.Xauthority-l w, /{root,home/*}/.xauth* rw, owner /proc/sys/kernel/ngroups_max r, /usr/bin/xauth rix, owner /var/run/utmp rwk,
# tom is a confined user. The hat contains only the permissions necessary, # to transition the tom's login shell. All other permissions have been # moved into the confined_user profile ^tom { #include <abstractions/authentication> #include <abstractions/nameservice>
capability dac_override, capability setgid, capability setuid,
/etc/default/su r, /etc/environment r, /home/*/.xauth* w,
/bin/bash px -> confined_user, }
#don't confine members of wheel who are not specifically confined ^wheel { #include <abstractions/authentication> #include <abstractions/nameservice>
/etc/default/su r, /etc/environment r, /home/*/.xauth* w,
/bin/bash Ux, } }

Structure of the role profile

The role profile (in this case confined_user) in AppArmor 2.3 is largely the same as that in 2.1, except its name is not required to map to an executable. This allows the role profile to have a descriptive name and be applied many different executables (different login shells).

The confined user profile, has been made more generic than the AppArmor 2.1 profile, by leveraging owner conditional rules. The owner conditional link has an added benefit of enforcing Openwall style hard link restrictions.

 profile confined_user {
   #include <abstractions/base>
   #include <abstractions/bash>
   #include <abstractions/consoles>
   #include <abstractions/nameservice>  
deny capability sys_ptrace,
#allow users to read, write, lock and link to their own files anywhere owner /** rwkl, /proc/** r,
/bin/** mrix, /usr/bin/** mrix, owner @{HOME}/bin/** mrix, }

If desired the basic role profile can have its permissions broken out further by using children profiles.

Sharing profile mappings between multiple PAM services

PAM allows setting up multiple different authentication services and setting up separate profiles for each service if they are to have the same user to profile mappings is cumbersome. Fortunately PAM modules tend to require the same permission sets within the hat profiles making it possible to make universal hat profiles that are shared via includes between the profile for the services.

To do this the hats are placed into an include file that is shared by each service

Selectively confining PAM services

- confine login services to get confined users, maybe don't confine some services directly

- unconfined user to confined user through service profile

- transitions from confined user to pam service

 - should calling the confined service be part of the users profile (generally no)
   it should transition to a special profile (pam services need elevated privs)
   - can use global profile or named transitions

Assigning a user to multiple roles

Users are limited to a single login profile per service (determined by profile's hats) so that having a user belong to multiple roles is not straight forward. Multiple roles can be achieved with either of the following techniques. The first technique is preferred and should generally be used instead of the hard link hack technique.

Providing the user with multiple user names

A user is given multiple accounts with different user names. Depending on the amount of permission separation between roles, the accounts can be assigned the same uid or different uids. If the role should still have access to the user's files then the same uid and home directory should be used. If the role should be limited in access to the user's files then it is better to use a different uid and home directory.

For example, the user tom has a confined user account, and an admin account that is allowed access to his regular files. The user jane has a confined user account, and an admin account that is not allowed access to her regular files.

The /etc/passwd file would look like


The profile mapping users to confined roles

 /bin/su {
^tom { ...
/bin/bash px -> confined_user, }
^tom_admin { ...
/bin/bash px -> admin_user, } ^jane { ...
/bin/bash px -> confined_user, }
^jane_admin { ...
/bin/bash px -> admin_user, } }

Notice that the admin_user profile is used by both tom and jane even though jane_admin is not allowed regular access to jane's files. This can be achieved by through the use of owner rules since jane_admin has a different uid than jane. This profile sharing may not be appropriate in some cases, in which case a custom profile should be used.

This is the recommended way to achieve multiple roles per user as it doesn't reintroduce the limitations of the hard link hack. It is recognized that adding multiple users per role has its limitations and AppArmor 2.4 extends pam_apparmor to address this. The pam_apparmor from AppArmor 2.4 has backwards compatible with AppArmor 2.3 and may be used in place of pam_apparmor in 2.3, as long as certain new features are not used. For full details please see the AppArmor 2.4 documentation.

Use hard links to create multiple login binaries

It is possible to use the bash alias hack to create alternative roles. It still retains all the limitations of the hard link to login shell and also requires users to remember custom command names, so it is not the recommended way to achieve multiple roles. (It could also use a different PATH; for example, the first entry could be /usr/local/admin_role/.)

To provide multiple roles a hard link (alias) is created per role type to each program used to change roles (su, sudo, ..), and a different profile containing the needed transitions is provided per alias. The user then uses the alias to change role.

For example, for su an admin version created with the name of su_admin (ln /bin/su /bin/su_admin) is created. When a user wants to change their role, they use /bin/su_admin instead of /bin/su. The /bin/su_admin profile contains the correct mapping of user name to role profile.

 /bin/su_admin {
^tom { ...
/bin/bash px -> admin_user, } }

The original binary (/bin/su in this case) may have its own profile with its own mappings or may even run unconfined.

If multiple admin types are to be used (ie. log admin, full admin, ..) separate aliases and profiles are needed for each.

Special care must be taken when making hard links to setuid binaries, like sudo.

Setting up transitions within the confined users profile

Generally it is recommended that a separate profile be setup for any application that raises privilege, which is the case for login services. If a confined user is to use these services the confining profile should use a px, or named transition to execute the service. This prevents the raised privileges required by the service from leaking into the confined users profile.

It is not recommended that hat mappings for a user be put in the confined users profile, as hats do not provide sufficient separation of privilege in this use case.