Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Java Authors: Liz McMillan, Tim Hinds, Elizabeth White, AppDynamics Blog, Ruxit Blog

Related Topics: Java, Microservices Journal

Java: Article

Access Control in Multi-Tenant Applications

Defining "Who sees what" and "who does what" are the two important aspects of access control in any software application

Defining "Who sees what" and "who does what" are the two important aspects of access control in any software application.

"Security" is a much larger subject, but this article focuses on just the access control aspects of security in a software application.

The Older Paradigm: Roles and Page-Level Access Controls
When you build a custom application for a specific customer, the access control policies of the organization are often defined upfront as part of the requirements phase. Depending on the vertical, domain and the specific organizational structure of the business, first the roles are defined. And then each role is given access to a set of screens, forms, pages and reports. What role A sees might be different from what role B sees. What role A can do could be different from what role B is allowed to do. Of course, certain areas in the application can be accessed by multiple roles. While building software products (used by several customers), the roles are often generalized and predefined. The various access control policies of the product are often hard coded in to the roles. The customer will be able to assign one or more roles to their users.

The New Paradigm: Privilege-Based Access Controls
In the new paradigm, before doing any action (including showing something on the screen - which is the View action), you check / demand for the privilege to view that information or do a certain action. It could be standard actions such as view, edit and delete or special privileges such as "Access to History Data" or "Access to information or content created by people other than myself. In the new paradigm, a user / roles privileges are resolved during run time - not hard coded at design time. This allows the product developer to complete the development just by demanding the necessary privileges at each step, without having to worry about the users and roles in the system.

Mapping Privileges to Roles
By enumerating the various privileges (entity wise or form wise standard privileges as well as special privileges) in an administration screen, we can allow the end customer to map the privileges to any specific role, during run time. This takes care of dynamic changes in organizational policy. This also allows the end customer to create completely new roles (not originally envisaged by the product designer) dynamically during actual usage and map a set of privileges to these new roles using an admin screen.
For example in a HR product, the product might have default roles such as "Employee" and "Manager" whereas a customer may create a new role called "Team Leader" or "Mentor."

Subsequently, users can be assigned with one or more roles (including new custom roles). So when a user is using the system, the application can resolve who the user is, what his or her role is, what the privileges of the role are - all during run time. So before a particular action, the application can simply check whether the required privilege is available for the user and proceed. While this may seem little challenging from the software design/development front, it will bring in lot of flexibility for the customers.

Relationship-Based Privileges
Many a time, mapping privileges to roles and assigning roles to users is also not adequate. Let's illustrate this with an example:

[email protected] has logged in to a performance management product. She has been assigned the role of a "Manager" and a set of Privileges have been assigned to this role. For example she can add certain new skills in the skills master, which another user with an "Employee" role cannot do.

But the real challenge however is in defining what she can and cannot see and what she can and cannot do with respect to the performance appraisal ratings of various employees.

Out of the 300 people in the organization, userX, is a "Primary Manager" for 4 employees, "Co-Manager for 5 employees", "Mentor" for 5 employees, "Department Head for 40 employees", and "Peer" for 15 employees. She is not related to the rest of the employees in the organization (in the context of performance management).

The privileges of what each of these "Relationships" can and cannot do is different. For example, a Mentor can view performance ratings but cannot edit them. A Primary Manager can edit ratings, but cannot approve them. And a Department head can approve/disapprove ratings, but cannot edit them.

How can we allow userX to login in once, view all the employees related to her in a single grid, but restrict her access depending on the relationship between her and the employee on whom she is performing the action?

  • Step 1: Define relationships in a master: This could be added / edited by the end customer.
  • Step 2: Map each privilege to a set of relationships who are to be given this privilege.
  • Step 3: Resolve the relationship between the user and the employee during run time and accordingly deduce whether the user has or does not have the privilege to do an action.

Static Data Scope
Apart from defining what a role can or cannot do / see, we often also want to restrict the boundaries of the data that the user has access to. For example, "Can edit employee profile information - but - only for people in his division / department", "Can see salary details - but only for employees reporting to her or to her down the line reports". Another example is to say that the Sales manager can access leads / customers only from his territory.

These datascopes should not be hard coded in the product, but should be configurable by an end customer. For each role and privilege mapping, the data scope can also be mapped.

The meanings of these datascopes are defined as "Meta data" which are nothing but Filter conditions. These filter conditions should be dynamically applied on the data set being accessed during run time, depending on the role-privilege-data scope resolved for the user context.

Dynamic Data Scope
This is an extended form of data scope, where the variable being defined for the data scope is itself defined dynamically.

For example, an "HR Administrator" role assigned to "User A" should administer for employees in "Location, P, Q and R" and "HR Administrator" role assigned to "User B" should administer for employees in "Location S, T and V" - where the location itself is user defined by the end customer in a Location Master.

Or Finance Manager should be able see the books of Divisions "A, B, C and D" where the Divisions itself is user defined by the end customer in a Division master.

Multi-Tenant Access Control
When the roles, relationships, privileges, static and dynamic data scopes are user definable by the end customer, and when the sample application serves multiple customers / tenants (from a single instance of the application), then we need to store all these access control configurations - tenant wise. So during run time, we should not only resolve the data scopes-privileges-roles-users, but also apply the tenant context and look up the appropriate tenant specific access control settings, before deciding to allow or disallow a particular action in the application.

Privilege mapping should be possible at the field Level, entity Level, form Level and page Level, so that the end customer / tenant has absolute control and flexibility in defining and modifying "Who sees what" and "Who can do what" in the system.

Tying in Subscription/ License Control with Access Control
Different tenants/ customers/ user groups should be given access or denied access to different modules and features in the product. This depends on the package that they have bought (in a SaaS product) or based on the Organizational Policy (in a Private/ Internal SaaS product).

These modules and features have to be first defined as Meta data and the corresponding page level access controls have to be mapped to them. This will allow the product to hide or show certain menu items and links to users depending on the tenant context and the packages enabled for that tenant/ user group.

Usage-Based Quota and Access Control
Many a times tenants are allowed to use the product for a specific no. of users or for a specified quota of usage (For example can do XXX no. of market surveys). These transactions and events have to be metered in the product, and once the defined quota is exceeded, the access control system should deny access to any user belonging to that tenant / user group.

Summary
The Access Control Paradigm of a Multi-tenant Application/ SaaS Product, should enlarge its frame of reference to include extensive customizability and configurability to suit different customers and organizations while still maintaining a single instance and code base.

The engineering stack of a Multi - tenant SaaS product, should have a robust and flexible Access Control layer, so that all the dynamic and run time capabilities are handled at the framework level. The developer then can focus on building the business functions, follow the guidelines provided by the underlying framework and demand a privilege before doing any significant action.

More Stories By Sathiya Rajendhran

Ramkumar is the Founder and Director of Mango DVM, a venture capital funded company in the digital music space, currently going through a third round of funding. He is also the Director of Product Management at Asteor Software Inc, where he was instrumental in incubating and bringing to market two new software products (Techcello & Synergita). He is also the Director of RSR Innovations, a consultancy firm specializing on Strategic Marketing, Innovation and Leadership Development.

Before becoming an entrepreneur, Ramkumar had spent over two decades in various corporates; in functions such as Automation Engineering, Project management, Product management, Marketing and General management.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vicom Computer Services, Inc., a provider of technology and service solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. They are located at booth #427. Vicom Computer Services, Inc. is a progressive leader in the technology industry for over 30 years. Headquartered in the NY Metropolitan area. Vicom provides products and services based on today’s requirements around Unified Networks, Cloud Computing strategies, Virtualization around Software defined Data Ce...
Enterprise IoT is an exciting and chaotic space with a lot of potential to transform how the enterprise resources are managed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Hari Srinivasan, Sr Product Manager at Cisco, will describe the challenges in enabling mass adoption of IoT, and share perspectives and insights on architectures/standards/protocols that are necessary to build a healthy ecosystem and lay the foundation to for a wide variety of exciting IoT use cases in the years to come.
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud, a provider of enterprise resource planning software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. B2cloud develops the software you need. They have the ideal tools to help you work with your clients. B2Cloud’s main solutions include AGIS – ERP, CLOHC, AGIS – Invoice, and IZUM
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immediate and actionable interpretation of events as they happen. Another aspect concerns how to deliver ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MangoApps provides private all-in-one social intranets allowing workers to securely collaborate from anywhere in the world and from any device. Social, mobile, and easy to use. MangoApps has been named a "Market Leader" by Ovum Research and a "Cool Vendor" by Gartner...
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark and Intel Edison. You will also get an overview of cloud technologies s...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
As we approach the next @ThingsExpo, to be held June 9-11 at the Javits Center in New York, my thoughts naturally turn to the Internet of Things. The IoT is a leviathan—in the best possible sense of the term—that will sweep up most everything in the ocean of data and technology being created today and tomorrow. But rather than try to grasp all of its possible uses, for today I'm looking at “just” the Industrial Internet part. I just read a long paper co-authored by Tim Berners-Lee about the possibility of describing a “web science,” that is, discipline that combines the study involved ...
Chuck Piluso will present a study of cloud adoption trends and the power and flexibility of IBM Power and Pureflex cloud solutions. Speaker Bio: Prior to Data Storage Corporation (DSC), Mr. Piluso founded North American Telecommunication Corporation, a facilities-based Competitive Local Exchange Carrier licensed by the Public Service Commission in 10 states, serving as the company's chairman and president from 1997 to 2000. Between 1990 and 1997, Mr. Piluso served as chairman & founder of International Telecommunications Corporation, a facilities-based international carrier licensed by t...
There are lots of challenges in IoT around secure, scalable and business friendly infrastructure for enterprises. For large corporations, IoT implementations are one of the top priorities of the decade. All industries are seeing a competitive need to sustain by investing in IoT initiatives. The value addition comes from improved customer service, innovative product and additional revenue streams. The data from these IP-connected devices can be leveraged for a variety of business applications as well as responsive action controls. The various architectural building blocks of an IoT ...
The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
Recent technology advances in miniaturization has positioned the wearables as the pinnacle of technology convergence with the human body. We inquire if wearables are mere standard miniaturized devices extended with the connectivity and present our views on considerations like design, applications, performance, efficiency, interoperability, usage scenarios, human device interaction and consequent trade-offs enabling wearables to impart optimal value.
In this session we look at creating interactive communications via the web by adding messaging, file transfer, and group communication (group chat and audio/video conferencing) into the web experience. We will also discuss potential applications of this technology in areas including B2B, B2C, P2P, and gaming. Peter is Technical Director at Acision. He graduated from The University of Edinburgh in 2000 with a BSc (Hons) in Computer Science. After graduation Peter worked on a PSTN switch developing signalling stacks for SS7, ISDN and similar protocols and creating advanced routing and serv...
The Internet of Things Maturity Model (IoTMM) is a qualitative method to gauge the growth and increasing impact of IoT capabilities in an IT environment from both a business and technology perspective. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan will first scan the IoT landscape and investigate the major challenges and barriers. The key areas of consideration are identified to get started with IoT journey. He will then pinpoint the need of a tool for effective IoT adoption and implementation, which leads to IoTMM in which five maturity levels are defined: Advanced, Dynamic, Optimized, Primitive,...