Understanding the Policy Enforcement Point pattern:
- End-user requests access to an application / service.
- Request is routed through a Policy Enforcement Point.
- Policy Enforcement Point transfers the request details to a Policy Decision Point for evaluation and authorisation decision.
- The Policy Decision Point refers to a Policy Store and possibly a Policy Information Point.
- Policy is administered through a ‘central’ Policy Administration Point (not shown in Figure 1).
- The Policy Enforcement Point enforces the decisions of the Policy Decision Point.
This concept draws heavily on XACML – eXtensible Access Control Markup Language
Figure 1 – Policy Enforcement Point scenario
Policy Enforcement Point and XACML
XACML defines a number of concepts:
- Policy Administration Point (PAP) – Point which manages policies.
- Policy Decision Point (PDP) – Point which evaluates and issues authorisation decisions.
- Policy Enforcement Point (PEP) – Point which intercepts user’s access request to a resource and enforces PDP’s decision.
- Policy Information Point (PIP) – Point which can provide external information to a PDP, such as LDAP attribute information.
Benefits of the Pattern
- The Policy Enforcement Point is a single point of access.
- Policy is decoupled from applications / services. Policy can be managed independently of applications and services, which can therefore concentrate on providing business value.
- Auditing at the PDP and PEP is simpler than auditing across many disparate applications / services.
- Implementation of change is simplified – policies can be administered and deployed to defined architectural functions (i.e. PAP and PDP)
- As an unauthorised request never gets to the application / service (it is intercepted by the PEP) it is much harder to compromise the application. The same is not true if the PEP and PDP are essentially implemented in the application’s security model.
- The PEP, PDP, PAP and PIP can be implemented using hardened, accredited components.
- Context Aware Computing is increasingly important. Context Based Authorisation will be simplified by using decoupled policy management and enforcement.
A good principle to consider is: authorisation requests for applications and services will be handled using a dedicated PEP and PDPs.
Further Reading on Information Security
- CISSP (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional Official Study Guide
- Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
- Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World
- Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms and Source Code in C
- Handbook of Applied Cryptography