Permissions and Code Access Permission using VB.NET

In this article I will explain you about Permissions and Code Access Permission in VB.NET.
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Permissions-basically the rights to do something-are used in the VB.NET Framework to implement security mechanisms in managed code. As the smallest unit of the security system, permissions are the key concept upon which the whole security system is based.

Developers can and should always request the permissions that the code will need, even if they do not really need to make the request. This protects against unexpected situations and makes the maintenance of an application easier for both developers and administrators. Administrators too can assign permissions to an application through code access security. Regardless of your position- developer or administrator-you should never request or grant more permission than necessary. This protects the system from code segments accessing unknown resources and helps developers find bugs earlier. You can think of this as a type of defensive development.

Permissions are divided into three major groups: code access permissions, identity permissions, and role-based permissions. Code access permissions contain the set of permissions used to request the right to execute or access protected operations or devices. As they are of central interest to software developers and administrators, let's examine them first.

Code Access Permissions

Code access permissions are used to protect resources, devices, or operations from unauthorized users. They represent the right to access or execute something. Because code access permissions form a major part of the VB.NET security system, developers and administrators must understand how these permissions work.

Programmers who opt to use layering to simplify code may compromise security. One layer can misuse the authorization or access it obtains, which can lead to the compromise of another layer. In general, partially trusted code presents a security risk. It can be disguised and manipulated to perform actions on behalf of malicious code, even though the malicious code lacks permission to access the demanded resource. Consequently, malicious code can achieve greater security access than it should be allowed.

In VB.NET, code access security uses a stack-walking mechanism to defend the system against such attacks. The CLR protects managed code by running a stack walk on all calls. The stack walk checks that all code in the call stack of functions has permission to access the implicitly or explicitly demanded protected resource. Since any suspicious code, like all other code, resides somewhere in the call stack, it cannot exceed its own cumulative or intersected security permissions.

The stack walk mainly prevents an assembly with low authorization from calling a highly trusted component to perform an action on its behalf that it would not otherwise have permission to perform. Code access security uses a hidden code manager to examine the stack for special security markers indicating permissions granted to executing procedures. These markers may be allocated on the stack by the JIT compiler and are accessible only through the hidden code manager.

Figure 22.6 illustrates the stack walk that results when a method in Assembly 3 demands that its callers (Assembly 2 and Assembly 1) have Permission X.

Figure 22.6: Permission Stack Walk

The runtime's security system patrols the call stack to determine whether code is authorized to access a resource or perform an operation. It compares the granted permissions of each caller to the permission being demanded. If any caller in the call stack does not have the permission being demanded, a security exception is thrown and access is refused. Demanding permissions of all callers at runtime affects performance; however, it is essential to protect from attacks by partially trusted code.

What is the sense in examining the whole call stack to determine if the executing method should be granted the requested permission? Suppose you have a component that accesses your corporate employee database. This works well for your purposes, but what happens when another component connects to your database component and misuses it? You certainly do not want to explain to your supervisor how someone got confidential information through your component. Because the security system makes sure that every callee in the chain has the necessary permissions, this scenario, which presents a significant problem in other common security systems, should not happen within the .NET architecture.

With the handling of permission requests, the security system checks not only the actual context but also the whole environment in which a piece of code executes. This major step toward secure execution of code protects the operating system, your code, and the code that you access.

In general, it is desirable to have the CLR perform a stack walk whenever permissions are requested; yet, in certain situations you may want to bypass this stack walk. This gives other assemblies the opportunity to execute an operation they are not authorized to perform. Stopping stack walk-ups for an extra security check is possible by calling the Assert method of the CodeAccessPermission object. As you will see later, use of the Assert method also requires permissions.

Understanding the process by which the CLR grants or denies requests for code access permissions starts with the administrator's actions. The administrator creates code groups, which function as connectors between identities and code access permissions. After creating a group, the administrator assigns some code access permissions to that group. Whenever the CLR loads an assembly, it examines evidence in the assembly to determine its identity and assigns the assembly to a code group. A request is thus granted or denied by examining the code access permissions of the code group to which the assembly belongs.

You can increase permissions for an assembly by following these steps:

  • Use the Permission View tool (Permview.exe) to view the minimum permissions requested by the assembly. These are minimal permissions that the application needs in order to run.

  • Identify the assembly characteristics. This helps you determine default evidence and host security features.

  • Create a new code group with a unique code group name. (A unique name is required within a policy level.) Use the VB.NET Framework Configuration tool (Mscorcfg.msc) or the Code Access Security Policy tool (Caspol.exe) to create the code group.

  • Create a new permission set that includes all the permissions the assembly needs in order to run by using the VB.NET Framework Configuration tool or CASPOL. This should be a minimal set of permissions, specifying no more permissions than necessary.

  • Associate the new permission set with the new code group by using the VB.NET Framework Configuration tool or CASPOL.

The application can now run from any location and receive sufficient permissions to function. But this does not mean that less-trusted applications from the same location would receive extra permissions. Your system is still protected from malicious code.

Conclusion

Hope this article would have helped you in understanding Permissions and Code Access Permission in VB.NET.

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