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Table of Contents

Security Models for DSpace Servers

This page discusses how security concepts apply to a network
service like DSpace and what you need to consider when setting up
your site.

About Security

What do we mean by "Security"?

For our discussion, information security involves the following concepts:

  • Confidentiality
    This means keeping information confidential, i.e. so it is only seen by authorized people. For example, it includes not allowing your password to be seen as you enter it when logging in. Confidentiality is usually implemented by encryption.
  • Authentication
    Authentication is the process of proving your identity to the system, e.g. logging in as an EPerson in a DSpace session. It is performed by the Stackable Authentication modules.
  • Authorization
    This means granting permissions - authorizing access - to resources. It relies on authentication to provide your identity; it has to know who you are to tell what you should be allowed to do.
  • Encryption
    A system of encoding that lets two parties (e.g. your Web browser and the DSpace server) exchange data without it being readable to anyone else. In the context of Web applications, encryption usually implies the HTTPS (HTTP over SSL) protocol.

Why do we need security if DSpace is open?

Even if all of the digital materials stored in your DSpace archive
are available for open access by the world, you still need some
security. At the very least, you probably don't want everyone visiting
the site to be able to add to, modify, and delete the contents of the archive.


Even if your archive is relatively open,
you still need to consider the security of the login process for your EPeople,
as described in the
next section.

Practical Security Solutions

Threat Model

Security people have a term, threat model, which describes the threats and risks
of compromise (disclosure of confidential information) you expect
to encounter.
In the case of a network service like a Web server, the threats you should
realistically expect include:


Note that I'm not mentioning the many other types of threats
because the solutions are not discussed here –
e.g. denial-of-service attacks, SQL injection, etc.

Addressing the Threat Models

Packet Sniffing

When do we have to worry about the contents of packets on the network
being seen by a third party? Typically, only when the user is entering
a password, such as on the login page and the administrative page
where the password is changed.


Note that it isn't strictly necessary to load the form page
with HTTPS; the form itself can be transmitted
unencrypted since it doesn't contain a password at that time, only when
the form is filled in and POSTed to the server. However, the form tag
typically has an action attribute containing a relative URL,
so on submission, it gets sent to whatever host and port were on the
page that got loaded. Thus the page has to be loaded with HTTPS.

If you change the UI code so the password forms always use HTTPS URLs,
then it is not necessary to use the redirect technique above.

Session Stealing

DSpace establishes a login session, which identifies your EPerson,
by handing your browser a cookie.
The cookie is not marked secure so it gets transmitted on non-encrypted
connections, so it is subject to being observed and "stolen".
So, the threat model
is that an attacker could steal your cookie and get your level of access
to DSpace, which is significant if you're an Administrator.


If you are that concerned about session stealing, it's probably worth
requiring encryption on all transactions on your web server.
We expect this to be an unusual case.

Implementing Security

This really comes down to answering the question "where do I need to
enforce HTTPS on Web transactions".