Attribute-based access control (ABAC), also known as policy-based access control, defines an access control paradigm whereby access rights are granted to users through the use of policies which combine attributes together.
The policies can use any type of attributes (user attributes, resource attributes, object, environment attributes etc.). This model supports Boolean logic, in which rules contain “IF, THEN” statements about who is making the request, the resource, and the action. For example: IF the requestor is a manager, THEN allow read/write access to sensitive data.
Unlike role-based access control (RBAC), which employs pre-defined roles that carry a specific set of privileges associated with them and to which subjects are assigned, the key difference with ABAC is the concept of policies that express a complex Boolean rule set that can evaluate many different attributes.
Attribute values can be set-valued or atomic-valued. Set-valued attributes contain more than one atomic value. Examples are role and project. Atomic-valued attributes contain only one atomic value. Examples are clearance and sensitivity. Attributes can be compared to static values or to one another, thus enabling relation-based access control.
Although the concept itself existed for many years, ABAC is considered a “next generation” authorization model because it provides dynamic, context-aware and risk-intelligent access control to resources allowing access control policies that include specific attributes from many different information systems to be defined to resolve an authorization and achieve an efficient regulatory compliance, allowing enterprises flexibility in their implementations based on their existing infrastructures.
Attribute-based access control is sometimes referred to as policy-based access control (PBAC) or claims-based access control (CBAC), which is a Microsoft-specific term. The key standards that implement ABAC are XACML and ALFA (XACML).