Published: Monday, Dec 21, 2009 Last modified: Monday, May 27, 2024

What’s the P in W3C DAP stand for?

Policy people! There has been some discussion which misses some of the benefits of policies.

So WHY have policy? What’s the point? Security should be done intrinsically with user consent darn it! Just like the file dialog! Good point, though not every security UI can be done so eloquently.

Let me first “come clean” and confess I work on a browser plugin called WebVM. At a browser plugin level, I can’t easily alter the browser UI. I can’t realistically create the equivalent of the file chooser. I can however execute policy with a simple GTK dialog prompt or rather deny/permit rule outcomes.

I’d rather not prompt the user to make security decisions. I’d rather execute defined policy via WebVM. Though sometimes you have to prompt the user.

Existing Geolocation implementations do simplify matters, which is good. But what happens if you move devices. You don’t want to answer the same Allow or Deny questions again and again. You want your security decisions saved, your policy preferences to be interoperable.

Even if Geolocation was simplified further as an example, you would still want a policy to act as a simple toggle. Lets pretend the Android power control lets me toggle the ability to share my location or not. (Currently it just enables/disables the GPS.)

GPS on

<rule effect="permit">
		<resource-match attr="device-cap" match="location.position"/>

And if I want to stop sharing my location because I am thinking of walking into a gift shop and I don’t want my girlfriend to know, I just click the GPS icon. It’s off, no application can know my exact whereabouts and this could simply look like policy fragment.

GPS off

<rule effect="deny">
		<resource-match attr="device-cap" match="location.position"/>

The same principle applies to camera, sensor, network, bluetooth and whatever API they dream of next. Policies help user save their control preferences, even in the simplest (most coarse grained) cases.

Sometimes it’s just not that simple

A simple dialog “prompt-oneshot” policy like that used on the Apple Iphone is OK, but what happens if you require something a little more fine grained? Like a “prompt session” to stop the prompting or a “prompt blanket” to stop prompting and persistently store that preference.

For example you may need to go “incognito” temporarily whilst using an application, i.e. disallow access to your current location for a session and stop prompting. A policy standard gives users that consistent ability. The browser might have that option (or not), however there could be an external tool to help manage this standard policy file. The policy file allows the user to express (and save) complex security decisions even if the browser UI doesn’t even support it. This is important on mobiles where you need effective control over device APIs.

Network providers require control

So you run an expensive mobile network and you don’t want rogue Web applications going nuts on some experimental new network, messaging or billing APIs. Operators want to initialise these policies by signing off on their use, in order to protect their investment.

In order to cut costs in managing the whole network, and make it “compatible” or “interoperable” with another networks, mobile operators look for a common policy standard to initiate their devices with.

Therefore a policy standard is very important for the Web on mobiles, since it meets carriers’ conservative requirements.

Or maybe you are a large Enterprise. You want to exercise corporate policy to stop all your salesman from accessing Facebook all day. Again you need to meet their requirements with a policy standard to allow those Enterprises to set up their policies.

Security industry

Once we have a policy standard, we could perhaps delegate security decisions to third parties like or your security product vendors like Trend Micro etc.

Security is hard work, so allowing a platform for others to provide a service can help scale the use of new APIs. The services don’t have to be white/black lists (virus definitions), they could be innovative security UIs, allowing you to disable location between 8pm and 8am.

The benefits of policies

Admittedly I have simplified the security to API feature level, instead of the more fine grained API level security that I am not keen on discussing without details. Hopefully you’ll at least the acknowledge the need for a programmable security API as we’ve initially proposed to the W3C.