Policy Security Roadmap

Policy Security Roadmap

Policy in OpenStack has long been the forefront of operator concerns and pain. The implementation is complicated to understand, inconsistent across projects, and exposes security issues across OpenStack.

The purpose of this document is to describe the steps necessary to close security flaws within the current Role Based Access Control (RBAC) implementation used by OpenStack. Roadmaps to improve delegation usecases and policy will be covered in a separate document.

Problem Description

Identity and access management systems are responsible for allowing and denying access to resources of the service based on identities. One way to achieve this is by using Role Based Access Control (RBAC). RBAC is a security model that allows access to resources through roles, which can be assigned to users or identities.

OpenStack services base many of their operations within the context of a project. For our purposes, projects can be thought of as logical containers of resources. For example, an instance is owned by a project, meaning the instance should be accessible from within that project but not outside of it. This helps OpenStack model multiple organizations within a single deployment while maintaining a level of separation or multi-tenancy. A side-effect is that this introduces an additional level of complexity to OpenStack’s access control model. Not only does the entire system need to be aware of identities, roles, and assignment, but it also needs to properly account for scope of specific operations.

As a result, OpenStack relies on a derivative of the RBAC model unofficially referenced as scoped-RBAC.

The scoped-RBAC model builds upon all assumptions of traditional RBAC, but adds the concept of scope to the implementation. This would be the ideal model for OpenStack if all operations within OpenStack aligned nicely within projects. However, this is not the case. To highlight this more effectively, let’s use some examples.

Example One

Let’s assume we would like to create an instance. We’ve already established that instances should be contained within projects, so it makes sense to apply the scope of the project we want to own the instance in to the request for creating the instance (e.g. Bob wants to create an instance in the Staging project, so first he gets a token scoped to the Staging project to send with his compute API request for an instance).

This example clearly shows how scoped-RBAC works well with resource operations that map properly to project scope.

Example Two

Let’s look at an example of the opposite case. Let’s assume we would like to live migrate an instance from one compute host to another so that we can perform some maintenance. That host could be responsible for instances that are owned by different projects. Which project should you scope to such that you can live migrate instances off a host for maintenance without violating multi-tenant separation of concerns?

This is an example of an operation that doesn’t fit well within the construct of a project. Instead, live migration is more of a system-wide operation that is independent of a specific project.


Some operations within OpenStack work nicely with the concept of project scope, while others do not. Further reading and context on this can be found in bug 968696, which highlights the issues of scoped-RBAC for system-wide OpenStack operations and resources.

One of the more problematic side-effects of the existing implementation that operators have to deal with is choosing the lesser of two evils when violating the principal of least privilege. The principal of least privilege states that a user should have only the permissions necessary to carry out their duties and nothing more. The current gap between system-scoped and project-scoped operations or resources forces operators to either grant too many permissions for the user or not give the user enough permissions to effectively do their job. It’s apparent that granting too many permissions violates the principal of least privilege, but it’s arguably true for the inverse, since too much restriction doesn’t let the user effectively do their job.

Road Map

This road map attempts to describe the steps necessary to mitigate the issues outlined above by painting a picture of what the long term vision of policy in OpenStack should be. Each of the following sections denotes a piece of work in a sequence that results in a desired end state.

Reclassifying Operation & Scope

Based on the example operations in the previous section, a good starting place might be reassessing each operation and what the ideal scope should be. The majority of this work could be considered preparation for consuming proper scope from an identity system. Ideally, the responsibility of the service in this case should be to compare the operation being done on a resource to a scope provided by the identity system (e.g. does the instance being modified in this request belong to the project the token is scoped to).

Work Items

The following work items are needed to satisfy this item:

  • Split the role check from the scope check in each service.

  • Isolate the logic for scope checks into consistent patterns or in a consumable library.

  • Assess each operation and associate which scope, or scopes, are appropriate.

Communicating Difference in Scope

The next step, which could be worked in parallel to the previous step, is communicating proper scope. In the current system, only two scopes are really represented within OpenStack. The first is unscoped, which can be thought of as a valid authentication with an empty set of operations. The second is project-scoped, which is a valid authentication of a user with a role on a specific project. These scopes are the most commonly used scopes within OpenStack. However, the identity system supports two additional scopes. One is called domain-scoped, which is a valid authentication of a user with a role on a domain. The other is called system-scope, which is a valid authentication of a user with a role on the deployment system and meant to be used to access system specific resources.

Consuming Libraries

Now that we have a way to assign roles on the system and scope tokens to that context, we need to ensure the consuming libraries handle these changes properly. Most OpenStack projects consuming tokens from keystone to enforce policies do so through the use of oslo.context. The token response is used to build a context dictionary using oslo.context. The project uses attributes of the context dictionary to make assertions about authorization scope. We need to ensure oslo.context properly handles this new scope.

Once those changes are made, the keystone team should be in a great place to help other projects consume these changes. This might consist of helping other projects separate their scope check from the role check or classifying different scopes required for operations.

Work Items

  • Add support to oslo.context and oslo.policy for consuming system-scoped tokens and relaying that information in generated contexts for projects to consume.


The end results should consist of an easy-to-use mechanism for granting system roles, a clear interface for denoting scope to services, and a straight forward policy pattern that projects can use to evaluate scope.


The following are references to past or present specifications:

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