Blogging after the pub is a mixed blessing. A time when I want to write about things! But! A time when I should be sleeping.
Last week I wrote nearly 2000 boring words about keyboards and stayed up till nearly 4am. A stupid amount of effort for something no-one should ever have to care about.
Feh! what about something to expand the mind rather than dull it?
Years and years ago I read practically everything on http://erights.org - the website for the E programming language - which is a great exposition of how capabilities are the way to handle access control.
One of the great E papers is Capability Myths Demolished. It's extremely readable, has brilliant diagrams, and really, it's the whole point of this blog post.
Go and read it: http://srl.cs.jhu.edu/pubs/SRL2003-02.
One of the key terms it introduces is "ambient authority". This is what you have when you are able to find a thing and do something to it, without being given a capability to do so.
In POSIX terms, file descriptors are capabilities, and file names are
ambient authority. A capability-style POSIX would, amongst other
things, eliminate the current root directory and the current working
directory, and limit applications to
openat() with relative paths.
From the programming point of view (rather than the larger systems point of view) eliminating ambient authority is basically eliminating global variables.
From the hipster web devops point of view, the "12 factor application" idea of storing configuration in the environment is basically a technique for reducing ambient authority.
Another useful idea in the Capability Myths Demolished paper is capability attenuation: if you don't entirely trust someone, don't give them the true capabilty, give them a capability on a proxy. The proxy can then restrict or revoke access to the true object, according to whatever rules you want.
(userv proxies POSIX file descriptors rather than passing them as-is, to avoid transmitting unwanted capabilities - it always gives you a pipe, not a socket, nor a device, etc.)
It is too late and my mind is too dull now to do justice to these ideas, so go and read their paper instead of my witterings.