Chapter 6. Distributed Systems

You know you have a distributed system when the crash of a computer you've never heard of stops you from getting any work done.

— Leslie Lamport

Introduction

We've seen in the last few chapters how people can authenticate themselves to systems (and systems can authenticate themselves to each other) using security protocols; how access controls can be used to manage which principals can perform what operations in a system; and some of the mechanics of how crypto can be used to underpin access control in distributed systems. But there's much more to building a secure distributed system than just implementing access controls, protocols and crypto. When systems become large, the scale-up problems are not linear; there is often a qualitative change in complexity, and some things that are trivial to deal with in a network of only a few machines and principals (such as naming) suddenly become a big deal.

Over the last 40 years, computer science researchers have built many distributed systems and studied issues such as concurrency, failure recovery and naming. The theory is supplemented by a growing body of experience from industry, commerce and government. These issues are central to the design of effective secure systems but are often handled rather badly. I've already described attacks on security protocols that can be seen as concurrency failures. If we replicate data to make a system fault-tolerant then we may increase the risk of a compromise of confidentiality. ...

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