New Big Data Appliance Security Features

The Oracle Big Data Appliance (BDA) is an engineered system for big data processing.  It greatly simplifies the deployment of an optimized Hadoop Cluster – whether that cluster is used for batch or real-time processing.  The vast majority of BDA customers are integrating the appliance with their Oracle Databases and they have certain expectations – especially around security.  Oracle Database customers have benefited from a rich set of security features:  encryption, redaction, data masking, database firewall, label based access control – and much, much more.  They want similar capabilities with their Hadoop cluster.   

Unfortunately, Hadoop wasn’t developed with security in mind.  By default, a Hadoop cluster is insecure – the antithesis of an Oracle Database.  Some critical security features have been implemented – but even those capabilities are arduous to setup and configure.  Oracle believes that a key element of an optimized appliance is that its data should be secure.  Therefore, by default the BDA delivers the “AAA of security”: authentication, authorization and auditing.

Security Starts at Authentication

A successful security strategy is predicated on strong authentication – for both users and software services.  Consider the default configuration for a newly installed Oracle Database; it’s been a long time since you had a legitimate chance at accessing the database using the credentials “system/manager” or “scott/tiger”.  The default Oracle Database policy is to lock accounts thereby restricting access; administrators must consciously grant access to users.

Default Authentication in Hadoop

By default, a Hadoop cluster fails the authentication test. For example, it is easy for a malicious user to masquerade as any other user on the system.  Consider the following scenario that illustrates how a user can access any data on a Hadoop cluster by masquerading as a more privileged user.  In our scenario, the Hadoop cluster contains sensitive salary information in the file /user/hrdata/salaries.txt.  When logged in as the hr user, you can see the following files.  Notice, we’re using the Hadoop command line utilities for accessing the data:

$ hadoop fs -ls /user/hrdata

Found 1 items
-rw-r--r--   1 oracle supergroup         70 2013-10-31 10:38 /user/hrdata/salaries.txt

$ hadoop fs -cat /user/hrdata/salaries.txt
Tom Brady,11000000
Tom Hanks,5000000
Bob Smith,250000

User DrEvil has access to the cluster – and can see that there is an interesting folder called “hrdata”. 

$ hadoop fs -ls /user
Found 1 items
drwx------   - hr supergroup          0 2013-10-31 10:38 /user/hrdata

However, DrEvil cannot view the contents of the folder due to lack of access privileges:

$ hadoop fs -ls /user/hrdata
ls: Permission denied: user=drevil, access=READ_EXECUTE, inode="/user/hrdata":oracle:supergroup:drwx------

Accessing this data will not be a problem for DrEvil. He knows that the hr user owns the data by looking at the folder’s ACLs. To overcome this challenge, he will simply masquerade as the hr user. On his local machine, he adds the hr user, assigns that user a password, and then accesses the data on the Hadoop cluster:

$ sudo useradd hr
$ sudo passwd
$ su hr
$ hadoop fs -cat /user/hrdata/salaries.txt
Tom Brady,11000000
Tom Hanks,5000000
Bob Smith,250000

Hadoop has not authenticated the user; it trusts that the identity that has been presented is indeed the hr user. Therefore, sensitive data has been easily compromised. Clearly, the default security policy is inappropriate and dangerous to many organizations storing critical data in HDFS.

Big Data Appliance Provides Secure Authentication

The BDA provides secure authentication to the Hadoop cluster by default – preventing the type of masquerading described above. It accomplishes this thru Kerberos integration.

Figure 1: Kerberos Integration

The Key Distribution Center (KDC) is a server that has two components: an authentication server and a ticket granting service. The authentication server validates the identity of the user and service. Once authenticated, a client must request a ticket from the ticket granting service – allowing it to access the BDA’s NameNode, JobTracker, etc.

At installation, you simply point the BDA to an external KDC or automatically install a highly available KDC on the BDA itself. Kerberos will then provide strong authentication for not just the end user – but also for important Hadoop services running on the appliance. You can now guarantee that users are who they claim to be – and rogue services (like fake data nodes) are not added to the system.

It is common for organizations to want to leverage existing LDAP servers for common user and group management. Kerberos integrates with LDAP servers – allowing the principals and encryption keys to be stored in the common repository. This simplifies the deployment and administration of the secure environment.

Authorize Access to Sensitive Data

Kerberos-based authentication ensures secure access to the system and the establishment of a trusted identity – a prerequisite for any authorization scheme. Once this identity is established, you need to authorize access to the data. HDFS will authorize access to files using ACLs with the authorization specification applied using classic Linux-style commands like chmod and chown (e.g. hadoop fs -chown oracle:oracle /user/hrdata changes the ownership of the /user/hrdata folder to oracle). Authorization is applied at the user or group level – utilizing group membership found in the Linux environment (i.e. /etc/group) or in the LDAP server.

For SQL-based data stores – like Hive and Impala – finer grained access control is required. Access to databases, tables, columns, etc. must be controlled. And, you want to leverage roles to facilitate administration.

Apache Sentry is a new project that delivers fine grained access control; both Cloudera and Oracle are the project’s founding members. Sentry satisfies the following three authorization requirements:

  • Secure Authorization:  the ability to control access to data and/or privileges on data for authenticated users.
  • Fine-Grained Authorization:  the ability to give users access to a subset of the data (e.g. column) in a database
  • Role-Based Authorization:  the ability to create/apply template-based privileges based on functional roles.
With Sentry, “all”, “select” or “insert” privileges are granted to an object. The descendants of that object automatically inherit that privilege. A collection of privileges across many objects may be aggregated into a role – and users/groups are then assigned that role. This leads to simplified administration of security across the system.

Sentry Object Hieararchy

Figure 2: Object Hierarchy – granting a privilege on the database object will be inherited by its tables and views.

Sentry is currently used by both Hive and Impala – but it is a framework that other data sources can leverage when offering fine-grained authorization. For example, one can expect Sentry to deliver authorization capabilities to Cloudera Search in the near future.

Audit Hadoop Cluster Activity

Auditing is a critical component to a secure system and is oftentimes required for SOX, PCI and other regulations. The BDA integrates with Oracle Audit Vault and Database Firewall – tracking different types of activity taking place on the cluster:

Figure 3: Monitored Hadoop services.

At the lowest level, every operation that accesses data in HDFS is captured. The HDFS audit log identifies the user who accessed the file, the time that file was accessed, the type of access (read, write, delete, list, etc.) and whether or not that file access was successful. The other auditing features include:

  • MapReduce:  correlate the MapReduce job that accessed the file
  • Oozie:  describes who ran what as part of a workflow
  • Hive:  captures changes were made to the Hive metadata

The audit data is captured in the Audit Vault Server – which integrates audit activity from a variety of sources, adding databases (Oracle, DB2, SQL Server) and operating systems to activity from the BDA.

Audit Vault Server

Figure 4: Consolidated audit data across the enterprise. 

Once the data is in the Audit Vault server, you can leverage a rich set of prebuilt and custom reports to monitor all the activity in the enterprise. In addition, alerts may be defined to trigger violations of audit policies.


Security cannot be considered an afterthought in big data deployments. Across most organizations, Hadoop is managing sensitive data that must be protected; it is not simply crunching publicly available information used for search applications. The BDA provides a strong security foundation – ensuring users are only allowed to view authorized data and that data access is audited in a consolidated framework.


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