6.6. MAC Policy Architecture

Security policies are either linked directly into the kernel, or compiled into loadable kernel modules that may be loaded at boot, or dynamically using the module loading system calls at runtime. Policy modules interact with the system through a set of declared entry points, providing access to a stream of system events and permitting the policy to influence access control decisions. Each policy contains a number of elements:

6.6.1. Policy Declaration

Modules may be declared using the MAC_POLICY_SET() macro, which names the policy, provides a reference to the MAC entry point vector, provides load-time flags determining how the policy framework should handle the policy, and optionally requests the allocation of label state by the framework.

static struct mac_policy_ops mac_policy_ops =
        .mpo_destroy = mac_policy_destroy,
        .mpo_init = mac_policy_init,
        .mpo_init_bpfdesc_label = mac_policy_init_bpfdesc_label,
        .mpo_init_cred_label = mac_policy_init_label,
/* ... */
        .mpo_check_vnode_setutimes = mac_policy_check_vnode_setutimes,
        .mpo_check_vnode_stat = mac_policy_check_vnode_stat,
        .mpo_check_vnode_write = mac_policy_check_vnode_write,

The MAC policy entry point vector, mac_policy_ops in this example, associates functions defined in the module with specific entry points. A complete listing of available entry points and their prototypes may be found in the MAC entry point reference section. Of specific interest during module registration are the .mpo_destroy and .mpo_init entry points. .mpo_init will be invoked once a policy is successfully registered with the module framework but prior to any other entry points becoming active. This permits the policy to perform any policy-specific allocation and initialization, such as initialization of any data or locks. .mpo_destroy will be invoked when a policy module is unloaded to permit releasing of any allocated memory and destruction of locks. Currently, these two entry points are invoked with the MAC policy list mutex held to prevent any other entry points from being invoked: this will be changed, but in the mean time, policies should be careful about what kernel primitives they invoke so as to avoid lock ordering or sleeping problems.

The policy declaration's module name field exists so that the module may be uniquely identified for the purposes of module dependencies. An appropriate string should be selected. The full string name of the policy is displayed to the user via the kernel log during load and unload events, and also exported when providing status information to userland processes.

6.6.2. Policy Flags

The policy declaration flags field permits the module to provide the framework with information about its capabilities at the time the module is loaded. Currently, three flags are defined:


This flag indicates that the policy module may be unloaded. If this flag is not provided, then the policy framework will reject requests to unload the module. This flag might be used by modules that allocate label state and are unable to free that state at runtime.


This flag indicates that the policy module must be loaded and initialized early in the boot process. If the flag is specified, attempts to register the module following boot will be rejected. The flag may be used by policies that require pervasive labeling of all system objects, and cannot handle objects that have not been properly initialized by the policy.


This flag indicates that the policy module requires labeling of Mbufs, and that memory should always be allocated for the storage of Mbuf labels. By default, the MAC Framework will not allocate label storage for Mbufs unless at least one loaded policy has this flag set. This measurably improves network performance when policies do not require Mbuf labeling. A kernel option, MAC_ALWAYS_LABEL_MBUF, exists to force the MAC Framework to allocate Mbuf label storage regardless of the setting of this flag, and may be useful in some environments.


Policies using the MPC_LOADTIME_FLAG_LABELMBUFS without the MPC_LOADTIME_FLAG_NOTLATE flag set must be able to correctly handle NULL Mbuf label pointers passed into entry points. This is necessary as in-flight Mbufs without label storage may persist after a policy enabling Mbuf labeling has been loaded. If a policy is loaded before the network subsystem is active (i.e., the policy is not being loaded late), then all Mbufs are guaranteed to have label storage.

6.6.3. Policy Entry Points

Four classes of entry points are offered to policies registered with the framework: entry points associated with the registration and management of policies, entry points denoting initialization, creation, destruction, and other life cycle events for kernel objects, events associated with access control decisions that the policy module may influence, and calls associated with the management of labels on objects. In addition, a mac_syscall() entry point is provided so that policies may extend the kernel interface without registering new system calls.

Policy module writers should be aware of the kernel locking strategy, as well as what object locks are available during which entry points. Writers should attempt to avoid deadlock scenarios by avoiding grabbing non-leaf locks inside of entry points, and also follow the locking protocol for object access and modification. In particular, writers should be aware that while necessary locks to access objects and their labels are generally held, sufficient locks to modify an object or its label may not be present for all entry points. Locking information for arguments is documented in the MAC framework entry point document.

Policy entry points will pass a reference to the object label along with the object itself. This permits labeled policies to be unaware of the internals of the object yet still make decisions based on the label. The exception to this is the process credential, which is assumed to be understood by policies as a first class security object in the kernel.

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