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Essential System Administration, 3rd Edition by Æleen Frisch

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Role-Based Access Control

So far, we have considered stronger user authentication and better file protection schemes. The topic we turn to next is a complement to both of these. Role-based access control (RBAC) is a technique for controlling the actions that are permitted to individual users, irrespective of the target of those actions and independent of the permissions on a specific target.

For example, suppose you want to delegate the single task of assigning and resetting user account passwords to user chavez. On traditional Unix systems, there are three approaches to granting priv ileges:

  • Tell chavez the root password. This will give her the ability to perform the task, but it will also allow here to do many other things as well. Adding her to a system group that can perform administrative functions usually has the same drawback.

  • Give chavez write access to the appropriate user account database file (perhaps via an ACL to extend this access only to her). Unfortunately, doing so will give her access to many other account attributes, which again is more than you want her to have.

  • Give her superuser access to just the passwd command via the sudo facility. Once again, however, this is more privilege than she needs: she’ll now have the ability to also change the user’s shell and GECOS information on many systems.

RBAC can be a means for allowing a user to perform an activity that must traditionally be handled by the superuser. The scheme is based on the concept of roles: a definable ...

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