Mandatory Access Control Data Protection Business Security

Mandatory Access Control Data Protection Business Security
Published in : 09 Jan 2024

Mandatory Access Control Data Protection Business Security

The media frequently cover the issue of data protection, and it is a very topical subject. For businesses, access control is part of the essential security strategy so that customer data and sensitive company information are not accessible to unauthorized persons and cannot be accessed. Subject to malicious use. Therefore, users have restricted access rights, which are automatically checked when seeking access.

Implement and manage these access controls; there are different models, including Mandatory Access Control. This model is also used in sectors such as the military and government authorities, sectors where it is essential to protect data against misuse. Below, we explain to you how this regulated access control works and, at the same time, present its strengths and weaknesses.

What is Mandatory Access Control?

To protect a system's data or settings from unauthorized access or malicious modification, companies typically grant users restricted access to the files they need to perform their duties. However, defining and assigning these access rights remains a complex task for small and medium-sized businesses. A company is generally divided into different departments: financial, sales, and human resources.

The staff of each of these departments need specific access rights, allowing them to carry out the tasks entrusted to them. Some employees also need expanded access rights to perform particular responsibilities or functions.

Different security strategies have been designed to implement and control these additional access rights, including Mandatory Access Control (MAC). Thanks to such a strategy, users benefit from restricted access to only the necessary resources. The term "mandatory" implies that access control is based on clearly defined rules that must be respected.

The organization of access rights in the MAC

Access rights are administered centrally. Generally, the person who assumes this function is familiar with the distribution of tasks within the company or organization. It allows everyone to fully exercise their functions without being restricted in their work due to missing rights. In a company, it is generally the system administrator who assumes this task. Implementation and permanent updating are typically done using the operating system or a security kernel. If a user attempts to access the data, the system validates or rejects their access. The advantage of this automatic application is that it effectively excludes malicious access.

The validation of different access rights is defined based on the following factors:


  1. Users and processes
  2. Objects (the resources accessed)
  3. Rules and properties: categorizations, labels, passwords


Mandatory access control is based on a hierarchical approach: each element constituting a file system is assigned a security level which depends on the degree of confidentiality of the data. Among the security levels, we typically have the mentions “confidential” or “top secret”. This type of security is also attributed to users and devices.

If a user seeks to access a resource, the system automatically checks whether access is authorized or not. Furthermore, all information and all users are assigned a category. The system also automatically checks this suitability during an access attempt. To be able to access the data, the user must meet two criteria: security level and category.

Forms of Mandatory Access Control

There are two forms of Mandatory Access Control:

Multi-level security systems

This model is the simple and original form of MAC, composed of a vertical series of protection and security levels. Information only circulates within these domains. A security level is also assigned to users. They can thus access their level and lower levels.

Multilateral security systems

These systems are more complex and allow access based on segments that constitute a whole. These segments, in turn, have security levels and passwords. The result is a horizontal security system that contains vertical security levels.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of MAC?

Mandatory Access Control is one of the most secure access controls because it is almost impossible to violate. Unlike RBAC, the MAC system does not allow users to make changes. The control and allocation of access rights are done entirely automatically by the system. As a result, Mandatory Access Control offers a high level of confidentiality. The system is also characterized by excellent integrity. Without prior authorization, it is impossible to modify the data, which is perfectly safe from malicious use.

However, implementing mandatory access control requires detailed planning up front, and its administration after implementation requires significant monitoring. Each assignment of rights to objects or users requires permanent verification and updating.

The same goes for routine maintenance tasks, including adding new data and new users and considering changes in categorization or classification. Generally, the allocation of these rights rests with a single person. This guarantees a high level of security but often represents significant work for the administrator.

Where is the MAC used?

Mandatory Access Control's high level of confidentiality and integrity has imposed its use in sectors using sensitive data, particularly in security-exposed environments. This is the case, for example, in the army, government authorities, the political industry, foreign trade, the health sector, and the intelligence service. It is also not uncommon for ordinary businesses to resort to MAC. For example, the Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) operating system is built on implementing mandatory access control in the Linux kernel.