Access Control Data Model

The User Requirements are: 

  • A fully functional simple database for a small shipping company.
  • Access to certain data will be restricted to members only.
  • Initially, this will be access control for users and members, collection of members/users’ details, and collection of ships’ data.
access control data model

Table of Contents

Access Control Data Models: Ensuring Secure and Authorized Access

In today’s interconnected world, where information is readily accessible and shared across various platforms and devices, maintaining the security and privacy of data has become paramount. Access control is a fundamental aspect of data security, ensuring that only authorized individuals or entities can access specific resources. Access control data models play a crucial role in defining and implementing access control mechanisms in various systems and applications. This article explores access control data models in detail, examining their purpose, components, and different types commonly used in practice.

What is Access Control?

Access control refers to the process of granting or denying access to resources based on predefined rules or policies. These resources can include physical assets, such as buildings or equipment, as well as digital resources, such as files, databases, or network services. Access control mechanisms ensure that only authenticated and authorized users or entities can interact with the protected resources, while unauthorized access attempts are thwarted.

The primary objectives of access control are:

Confidentiality: Preventing unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information.
Integrity: Ensuring the accuracy and consistency of data and preventing unauthorized modification.
Availability: Ensuring that resources are accessible to authorized users when needed.
Accountability: Tracking and documenting user activities for auditing and accountability purposes.

Access Control Data Models

Access control data models provide a structured framework for defining and implementing access control policies. These models specify the components, relationships, and rules that govern access to resources within a system or application. Several access control data models have been developed over the years, each with its own approach and focus. Let’s examine some of the commonly used models:

  1. Discretionary Access Control (DAC)
    In a discretionary access control model, access to resources is based on the discretion of the resource owner. The owner has the authority to determine who can access their resources and what level of access they have. Access control lists (ACLs) are commonly used to implement DAC. An ACL is a list associated with each resource, specifying the users or groups and their corresponding access permissions. DAC models provide flexibility but can be challenging to manage in large-scale environments.
  2. Mandatory Access Control (MAC)
    In a mandatory access control model, access decisions are based on system-defined rules and policies rather than the discretion of individual resource owners. The system enforces a set of predefined security labels or clearances assigned to both subjects (users or processes) and objects (resources). The labels are used to determine whether a subject can access an object based on the rules defined by the system. MAC models provide stronger security but can be complex to configure and administer.
  3. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)
    Role-based access control models organize users into roles and define access permissions based on these roles. A role represents a particular job function or responsibility within an organization. Users are assigned to roles, and the roles are associated with specific access rights. RBAC simplifies access control management by allowing administrators to define and manage access based on roles rather than individual users. It provides scalability and ease of administration but may not be suitable for fine-grained access control requirements.
  4. Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC)
    Attribute-based access control models make access decisions based on a set of attributes associated with subjects, objects, and the environment. Attributes can include user attributes (e.g., role, department), resource attributes (e.g., sensitivity, classification), and environmental attributes (e.g., time, location). ABAC policies define rules that evaluate attribute values to determine access decisions dynamically. ABAC provides fine-grained access control capabilities, enabling more precise control over resource access.
  5. Rule-Based Access Control (RBAC)
    Rule-based access control models utilize a set of rules to determine access decisions. These rules typically specify conditions and actions that govern access. The conditions can be based on attributes of the user, resource, environment, or any combination thereof. When a request for access is made, the system evaluates the rules and executes the corresponding actions to grant or deny access. RBAC models are highly flexible and customizable, allowing organizations to define complex access control policies based on specific requirements.
  6. Attribute-Based Based Access Control with Policy Enforcement Point (ABAC with PEP)
    This model extends the attribute-based access control (ABAC) model by introducing a Policy Enforcement Point (PEP). The PEP acts as an intermediary between the subject and the resource, enforcing access control policies based on the attributes and rules defined in the ABAC model. The PEP evaluates the attributes associated with the subject, object, and environment and applies the policies to make access decisions. This model provides a centralized and consistent enforcement mechanism for access control.

Components of Access Control Data Models

Access control data models typically consist of several components that work together to define and enforce access control policies. These components include:

  1. Subjects: Subjects represent the entities seeking access to resources. They can be individual users, processes, or system components.
  2. Objects: Objects are the resources being protected, such as files, databases, network services, or physical assets.
  3. Access Rights/Permissions: Access rights define the actions or operations that subjects are allowed to perform on objects. Examples of access rights include read, write, execute, create, delete, and modify.
  4. Policies: Policies are the rules or guidelines that determine access decisions. They specify the conditions under which access is granted or denied based on attributes, roles, or other factors.
  5. Rules/ACLs: Rules or Access Control Lists (ACLs) are used to associate subjects with objects and define the specific access permissions for each subject-object relationship.
  6. Attributes: Attributes provide additional information about subjects, objects, or the environment that is used in access control decisions. Examples of attributes include user roles, departments, clearance levels, resource sensitivity, and time of access.
  7. Enforcement Mechanism: The enforcement mechanism ensures that access control policies are implemented and access decisions are enforced. It can be implemented through various mechanisms such as access control software, firewalls, gatekeepers, or security modules.

Types of Access Control

Access control can be implemented at various levels, depending on the scope and context of the system or application. Some common types of access control include:

  1. Physical Access Control: Physical access control focuses on securing physical assets, such as buildings, rooms, or equipment. It involves mechanisms like locks, keys, access cards, biometric authentication, and surveillance systems to restrict entry and ensure that only authorized individuals can access the physical premises.
  2. Network Access Control: Network access control is concerned with securing network resources and controlling access to network services. It involves mechanisms like firewalls, routers, virtual private networks (VPNs), and authentication protocols to protect the network infrastructure from unauthorized access.
  3. File and Data Access Control: File and data access control focuses on protecting files, databases, and other data resources. It involves mechanisms like file permissions, encryption, data classification, and database access controls to ensure that only authorized users can access, modify, or delete specific files or data records.
  4. Application-level Access Control: Application-level access control is implemented within software applications to control access to application features, functionalities, and data. It involves mechanisms like user roles, access control lists, and authorization frameworks integrated into the application code.

Challenges and Considerations

While access control data models provide a structured approach to enforcing access control, there are several challenges and considerations that organizations need to address:

  1. Complexity: Designing and implementing access control data models can be complex, especially in large-scale environments with numerous users and resources. Organizations need to carefully analyze their requirements and choose the most appropriate data model that aligns with their security needs and operational capabilities.
  2. Scalability: As organizations grow and evolve, the number of users, resources, and access control policies increases. Access control data models should be able to scale effectively to accommodate the expanding environment without sacrificing performance or security.
  3. Administration and Management: Managing access control policies and configurations can be a challenging task. Organizations need robust administration tools and processes to efficiently assign roles, update permissions, and handle user access requests. Regular audits and reviews are essential to ensure that access control remains aligned with the evolving needs of the organization.
  4. Interoperability: In complex environments with multiple systems and applications, interoperability between different access control data models can be a challenge. Organizations should consider standards and protocols that promote interoperability and seamless integration across different platforms.
  5. Dynamic Access Control: In certain scenarios, access control needs to be dynamic, considering real-time attributes such as location, time, and contextual information. Data models that support dynamic access control, such as Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) or Rule-Based Access Control (RBAC), can be beneficial in such cases.
  6. Auditing and Compliance: Access control data models should support auditing capabilities to track and monitor user activities, access requests, and access control decisions. This information is crucial for compliance requirements, incident investigations, and identifying potential security breaches.


Access control data models play a vital role in ensuring secure and authorized access to resources in various systems and applications. By defining the components, relationships, and rules that govern access, these models provide a structured approach to enforcing access control policies. From discretionary access control (DAC) and mandatory access control (MAC) to role-based access control (RBAC) and attribute-based access control (ABAC), organizations have a range of models to choose from based on their specific requirements.

Implementing an effective access control data model requires careful consideration of factors such as complexity, scalability, administration, interoperability, and dynamic access control. Regular audits and compliance monitoring help ensure that access control remains aligned with security policies and regulatory requirements.

As technology continues to advance, access control data models will continue to evolve to address emerging challenges, such as cloud computing, mobile devices, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Organizations must stay abreast of these developments and continuously evaluate and update their access control strategies to protect their valuable resources from unauthorized access and potential security threats.