17.3. Explanation of MAC

With all of these new terms in mind, consider how the MAC framework augments the security of the system as a whole. The various security policy modules provided by the MAC framework could be used to protect the network and file systems or to block users from accessing certain ports and sockets. Perhaps the best use of the policy modules is to load several security policy modules at a time in order to provide a MLS environment. This approach differs from a hardening policy, which typically hardens elements of a system which are used only for specific purposes. The downside to MLS is increased administrative overhead.

The overhead is minimal when compared to the lasting effect of a framework which provides the ability to pick and choose which policies are required for a specific configuration and which keeps performance overhead down. The reduction of support for unneeded policies can increase the overall performance of the system as well as offer flexibility of choice. A good implementation would consider the overall security requirements and effectively implement the various security policy modules offered by the framework.

A system utilizing MAC guarantees that a user will not be permitted to change security attributes at will. All user utilities, programs, and scripts must work within the constraints of the access rules provided by the selected security policy modules and total control of the MAC access rules are in the hands of the system administrator.

It is the duty of the system administrator to carefully select the correct security policy modules. For an environment that needs to limit access control over the network, the mac_portacl(4), mac_ifoff(4), and mac_biba(4) policy modules make good starting points. For an environment where strict confidentiality of file system objects is required, consider the mac_bsdextended(4) and mac_mls(4) policy modules.

Policy decisions could be made based on network configuration. If only certain users should be permitted access to ssh(1), the mac_portacl(4) policy module is a good choice. In the case of file systems, access to objects might be considered confidential to some users, but not to others. As an example, a large development team might be broken off into smaller projects where developers in project A might not be permitted to access objects written by developers in project B. Yet both projects might need to access objects created by developers in project C. Using the different security policy modules provided by the MAC framework, users could be divided into these groups and then given access to the appropriate objects.

Each security policy module has a unique way of dealing with the overall security of a system. Module selection should be based on a well thought out security policy which may require revision and reimplementation. Understanding the different security policy modules offered by the MAC framework will help administrators choose the best policies for their situations.


Implementing MAC is much like implementing a firewall, care must be taken to prevent being completely locked out of the system. The ability to revert back to a previous configuration should be considered and the implementation of MAC remotely should be done with extreme caution.

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