Demands, Solutions, and Improvements for Linux Filesystem Security

Securing file resources under Linux is a team effort. No one library, application, or kernel feature can stand alone in providing robust security. Current Linux access control mechanisms work in concert to provide a certain level of security, but they depend upon the integrity of the machine itself to protect that data. Once the data leaves that machine, or if the machine itself is physically compromised, those access control mechanisms can no longer protect the data in the filesystem. At that point, data privacy must be enforced via encryption.

As Linux makes inroads in the desktop market, the need for transparent and effective data encryption increases. To be practically deployable, the encryption/decryption process must be secure, unobtrusive, consistent, flexible, reliable, and efficient. Most encryption mechanisms that run under Linux today fail in one or more of these categories. In this paper, we discuss solutions to many of these issues via the integration of encryption into the Linux filesystem. This will provide access control enforcement on data that is not necessarily under the control of the operating environment. We also explore how stackable filesystems, Extended Attributes, PAM, GnuPG web-of-trust, supporting libraries, and applications (such as GNOME/KDE) can all be orchestrated to provide robust encryption-based access control over filesystem content.

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