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Workflow Management Systems, their Security and Access Control Mechanisms (Computer Project)

This paper gives an overview of workflow management systems (WfMSs) and their security requirements with focus on access mechanisms. It is a descriptive paper in which we examine the state of the art of workflow systems, describe what security risks affect WfMSs in particular, and how these can be diminiuished.

WfMSs manage, illustrate and support business processes. They contribute to the performance, automation and optimization of processes, which is important in the global economy today. The security of process flows is important, since the sensitive business data need to be protected to inhibit illegal activities, such as blackmailing, imitation and fraud and to provide for good customer service.

This paper focuses on access mechanisms, because they are basic security mechanisms used by WfMSs assuring that only authorized users are provided access to data and resources. Also because of the unsecurity of the Internet, which is commonly used as infrastructure of Workflow systems, additional security mechanisms, such as PKIs, digital signatures and SSL have to be used to provide secure workflows.

Depending on the particular requirements in workflow systems, different extensional access control (AC) mechanisms have been developed to maintain security. But when it comes to commercially used WfMSs, the availability of the system is of utmost importance. It is the prerequisite for the system to be employed by companies. The problem is that there is always a trade-off between availability of the system and security. Because this trade off is generally solved in favor of availability, a major part of the developed AC mechanisms are not used in commercially used WfMS.

After the first part of this paper which is rather theoretical, we examine a commercial WfMS, namely IBM’s MQ Workflow , and its security mechanisms. We show vulnerabilities of the system that could be abused by attackers. Afterwards, we show which security mechanisms, in particular, AC mechanisms are provided to secure against threats. We conclude with a summary, which highlights the difference between security concepts developed in the research area and those really implemented by the commercially used WfMS.
Source: Linköping University
Author: Chehrazi, Golriz

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