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Secure Coding: Principles and Practices by Kenneth R. van Wyk, Mark G. Graff

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3.5. Case Studies

This section includes several case studies, including a relic from the mid-1980s implementing role-based access control, a couple of classic wrapper programs, a secure mail delivery system, and the 802.11 wireless LAN security design. We've carefully selected these examples—from real experiences—to give you insight into how others have approached difficult design problems.

3.5.1. Case 1: Access Control Executive

The Access Control Executive (ACE) was a software system that Mark codesigned and coengineered in the mid-1980s. It provided key security services to many famous museums in Europe (and many other tightly secured locations). We include it as a case study as an example of a well-thought-out mental model.

We called the software the Access Control Executive because it ran as a background process and controlled access to all system resources. The ACE was consulted before any utility was successfully initiated; before any file was (through an application) opened, written, or closed; and before any vault (let's say) was opened. It gave a ruling on whether the action was to be permitted, denied, or modified, and this ruling was communicated back to the caller in real time.[6]

[6] The first software we know of with this capability was the TOPS-20 "Policy" program, offered by Digital Equipment Corporation (in open source!) in the early 1980s.

By design, each application program had to ask the ACE for permission to do anything risky. Yet none of them was burdened ...

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