16.3. Understanding MAC Labels

A MAC label is a security attribute which may be applied to subjects and objects throughout the system. When setting a label, the administrator must understand its implications in order to prevent unexpected or undesired behavior of the system. The attributes available on an object depend on the loaded policy module, as policy modules interpret their attributes in different ways.

The security label on an object is used as a part of a security access control decision by a policy. With some policies, the label contains all of the information necessary to make a decision. In other policies, the labels may be processed as part of a larger rule set.

There are two types of label policies: single label and multi label. By default, the system will use single label. The administrator should be aware of the pros and cons of each in order to implement policies which meet the requirements of the system's security model.

A single label security policy only permits one label to be used for every subject or object. Since a single label policy enforces one set of access permissions across the entire system, it provides lower administration overhead, but decreases the flexibility of policies which support labeling. However, in many environments, a single label policy may be all that is required.

A single label policy is somewhat similar to DAC as root configures the policies so that users are placed in the appropriate categories and access levels. A notable difference is that many policy modules can also restrict root. Basic control over objects will then be released to the group, but root may revoke or modify the settings at any time.

When appropriate, a multi label policy can be set on a UFS file system by passing multilabel to tunefs(8). A multi label policy permits each subject or object to have its own independent MAC label. The decision to use a multi label or single label policy is only required for policies which implement the labeling feature, such as biba, lomac, and mls. Some policies, such as seeotheruids, portacl and partition, do not use labels at all.

Using a multi label policy on a partition and establishing a multi label security model can increase administrative overhead as everything in that file system has a label. This includes directories, files, and even device nodes.

The following command will set multilabel on the specified UFS file system. This may only be done in single-user mode and is not a requirement for the swap file system:

# tunefs -l enable /


Some users have experienced problems with setting the multilabel flag on the root partition. If this is the case, please review Section 16.8, “Troubleshooting the MAC Framework”.

Since the multi label policy is set on a per-file system basis, a multi label policy may not be needed if the file system layout is well designed. Consider an example security MAC model for a FreeBSD web server. This machine uses the single label, biba/high, for everything in the default file systems. If the web server needs to run at biba/low to prevent write up capabilities, it could be installed to a separate UFS /usr/local file system set at biba/low.

16.3.1. Label Configuration

Virtually all aspects of label policy module configuration will be performed using the base system utilities. These commands provide a simple interface for object or subject configuration or the manipulation and verification of the configuration.

All configuration may be done using setfmac, which is used to set MAC labels on system objects, and setpmac, which is used to set the labels on system subjects. For example, to set the biba MAC label to high on test:

# setfmac biba/high test

If the configuration is successful, the prompt will be returned without error. A common error is Permission denied which usually occurs when the label is being set or modified on a restricted object. Other conditions may produce different failures. For instance, the file may not be owned by the user attempting to relabel the object, the object may not exist, or the object may be read-only. A mandatory policy will not allow the process to relabel the file, maybe because of a property of the file, a property of the process, or a property of the proposed new label value. For example, if a user running at low integrity tries to change the label of a high integrity file, or a user running at low integrity tries to change the label of a low integrity file to a high integrity label, these operations will fail.

The system administrator may use setpmac to override the policy module's settings by assigning a different label to the invoked process:

# setfmac biba/high test
Permission denied
# setpmac biba/low setfmac biba/high test
# getfmac test
test: biba/high

For currently running processes, such as sendmail, getpmac is usually used instead. This command takes a process ID (PID) in place of a command name. If users attempt to manipulate a file not in their access, subject to the rules of the loaded policy modules, the Operation not permitted error will be displayed.

16.3.2. Predefined Labels

A few FreeBSD policy modules which support the labeling feature offer three predefined labels: low, equal, and high, where:

  • low is considered the lowest label setting an object or subject may have. Setting this on objects or subjects blocks their access to objects or subjects marked high.

  • equal sets the subject or object to be disabled or unaffected and should only be placed on objects considered to be exempt from the policy.

  • high grants an object or subject the highest setting available in the Biba and MLS policy modules.

Such policy modules include mac_biba(4), mac_mls(4) and mac_lomac(4). Each of the predefined labels establishes a different information flow directive. Refer to the manual page of the module to determine the traits of the generic label configurations.

16.3.3. Numeric Labels

The Biba and MLS policy modules support a numeric label which may be set to indicate the precise level of hierarchical control. This numeric level is used to partition or sort information into different groups of classification, only permitting access to that group or a higher group level. For example:


may be interpreted as Biba Policy Label/Grade 10:Compartments 2, 3 and 6: (grade 5 ...)

In this example, the first grade would be considered the effective grade with effective compartments, the second grade is the low grade, and the last one is the high grade. In most configurations, such fine-grained settings are not needed as they are considered to be advanced configurations.

System objects only have a current grade and compartment. System subjects reflect the range of available rights in the system, and network interfaces, where they are used for access control.

The grade and compartments in a subject and object pair are used to construct a relationship known as dominance, in which a subject dominates an object, the object dominates the subject, neither dominates the other, or both dominate each other. The both dominate case occurs when the two labels are equal. Due to the information flow nature of Biba, a user has rights to a set of compartments that might correspond to projects, but objects also have a set of compartments. Users may have to subset their rights using su or setpmac in order to access objects in a compartment from which they are not restricted.

16.3.4. User Labels

Users are required to have labels so that their files and processes properly interact with the security policy defined on the system. This is configured in /etc/login.conf using login classes. Every policy module that uses labels will implement the user class setting.

To set the user class default label which will be enforced by MAC, add a label entry. An example label entry containing every policy module is displayed below. Note that in a real configuration, the administrator would never enable every policy module. It is recommended that the rest of this chapter be reviewed before any configuration is implemented.

	:manpath=/usr/share/man /usr/local/man:\

While users can not modify the default value, they may change their label after they login, subject to the constraints of the policy. The example above tells the Biba policy that a process's minimum integrity is 5, its maximum is 15, and the default effective label is 10. The process will run at 10 until it chooses to change label, perhaps due to the user using setpmac, which will be constrained by Biba to the configured range.

After any change to login.conf, the login class capability database must be rebuilt using cap_mkdb.

Many sites have a large number of users requiring several different user classes. In depth planning is required as this can become difficult to manage.

16.3.5. Network Interface Labels

Labels may be set on network interfaces to help control the flow of data across the network. Policies using network interface labels function in the same way that policies function with respect to objects. Users at high settings in Biba, for example, will not be permitted to access network interfaces with a label of low.

When setting the MAC label on network interfaces, maclabel may be passed to ifconfig:

# ifconfig bge0 maclabel biba/equal

This example will set the MAC label of biba/equal on the bge0 interface. When using a setting similar to biba/high(low-high), the entire label should be quoted to prevent an error from being returned.

Each policy module which supports labeling has a tunable which may be used to disable the MAC label on network interfaces. Setting the label to equal will have a similar effect. Review the output of sysctl, the policy manual pages, and the information in the rest of this chapter for more information on those tunables.

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