Microsoft Windows Security

  • 3/15/2012

The AuthZ API

The AuthZ Windows API provides authorization functions and implement the same security model as the security reference monitor, but it implements the model totally in user mode in the %SystemRoot%\System32\Authz.dll library. This gives applications that want to protect their own private objects, such as database tables, the ability to leverage the Windows security model without incurring the cost of user mode to kernel mode transitions that they would make if they relied on the security reference monitor.

The AuthZ API uses standard security descriptor data structures, SIDs, and privileges. Instead of using tokens to represent clients, AuthZ uses AUTHZ_CLIENT_CONTEXT. AuthZ includes user-mode equivalents of all access-check and Windows security functions—for example, AuthzAccessCheck is the AuthZ version of the AccessCheck Windows API that uses the SeAccessCheck security reference monitor function.

Another advantage available to applications that use AuthZ is that they can direct AuthZ to cache the results of security checks to improve subsequent checks that use the same client context and security descriptor. AuthZ is fully documented in the Windows SDK.

The discretionary access control security mechanisms described previously have been part of the Windows NT family since the beginning, and they work well enough in a static, controlled environment. This type of access checking, using a security ID (SID) and security group membership, is known as identity-based access control (IBAC), and it requires that the security system knows the identity of every possible accessor when the DACL is placed in an object’s security descriptor.

Windows includes support for Claims Based Access Control (CBAC), where access is granted not based upon the accessor’s identity or group membership, but upon arbitrary attributes assigned to the accessor and stored in the accessor’s access token. Attributes are supplied by an attribute provider, such as AppLocker. The CBAC mechanism provides many benefits, including the ability to create a DACL for a user whose identity is not yet known or dynamically-calculated user attributes. The CBAC ACE (also known as a conditional ACE) is stored in a *-callback ACE structure, which is essentially private to AuthZ and is ignored by the system SeAccessCheck API. The kernel-mode routine SeSrpAccessCheck does not understand conditional ACEs, so only applications calling the AuthZ APIs can make use of CBAC. The only system component that makes use of CBAC is AppLocker, for setting attributes such as path, or publisher. Third-party applications can make use of CBAC by taking advantage of the CBAC AuthZ APIs.

Using CBAC security checks allows powerful management policies, such as the following:

  • Run only applications approved by the corporate IT department.

  • Allow only approved applications to access your Microsoft Outlook contacts or calendar.

  • Allow only people on a particular building’s floor to access printers on that floor.

  • Allow access to an intranet website only to full-time employees (as opposed to contractors).

Attributes can be referenced in what is known as a conditional ACE, where the presence, absence, or value of one or more attributes is checked. An attribute name can contain any alphanumeric Unicode characters, as well as “:/._”. The value of an attribute can be one of the following: 64-bit integer, Unicode string, byte string, or array.

Conditional ACEs

The format of SDDL (Security Descriptor Definition Language) strings has been expanded to support ACEs with conditional expressions. The new format of an SDDL string is this: AceType;AceFlags;Rights;ObjectGuid;InheritObjectGuid;AccountSid;(ConditionalExpression).

The AceType for a conditional ACE is either XA (for SDDL_CALLBACK_ACCESS_ALLOWED) or XD (for SDDL_CALLBACK_ACCESS_DENIED). Note that ACEs with conditional expressions are used for claims-type authorization (specifically, the AuthZ APIs and AppLocker) and are not recognized by the object manager or file systems.

A conditional expression can include any of the elements shown in Table 6-7.

Table 6-7 Acceptable Elements for a Conditional Expression

Expression Element



Tests whether the specified attribute has a nonzero value.

exists AttributeName

Tests whether the specified attribute exists in the client context.

AttributeName Operator Value

Returns the result of the specified operation. The following operators are defined for use in conditional expressions to test the values of attributes. All of these are binary operators (as opposed to unary) and are used in the form AttributeName Operator Value. Operators: Contains any_of , ==, !=, <, <=, >, >=


Tests whether either of the specified conditional expressions is true.

ConditionalExpression && ConditionalExpression

Tests whether both of the specified conditional expressions are true.


The inverse of a conditional expression.


Tests whether the SID_AND_ATTRIBUTES array of the client context contains all of the security identifiers (SIDs) in the comma-separated list specified by SidArray.

A conditional ACE can contain any number of conditions, and it is either ignored if the resultant evaluation of the condition is false or applied if the result is true. A conditional ACE can be added to an object using the AddConditionalAce API and checked using the AuthzAccessCheck API.

A conditional ACE could specify that access to certain data records within a program should be granted only to a user who meets the following criteria:

  • Holds the Role attribute, with a value of Architect, Program Manager, or Development Lead, and the Division attribute with a value of Windows

  • Whose ManagementChain attribute contains the value John Smith

  • Whose CommissionType attribute is Officer and whose PayGrade attribute is greater than 6 (that is, the rank of General Officer in the US military)

Windows does not include tools to view or edit conditional ACEs.