Two-Person Control Administration: Preventing Administration Faults through Duplication

Potter, Shaya; Bellovin, Steven Michael; Nieh, Jason

Modern computing systems are complex and difficult to administer, making them more prone to system administration faults. Faults can occur simply due to mistakes in the process of administering a complex system. These mistakes can make the system insecure or unavailable. Faults can also occur due to a malicious act of the system administrator. Systems provide little protection against system administrators who install a backdoor or otherwise hide their actions. To prevent these types of system administration faults, we created ISE-T (I See Everything Twice), a system that applies the two-person control model to system administration. ISE-T requires two separate system administrators to perform each administration task. ISE-T then compares the results of the two administrators' actions for equivalence. ISE-T only applies the results of the actions to the real system if they are equivalent. This provides a higher level of assurance that administration tasks are completed in a manner that will not introduce faults into the system. While the two-person control model is expensive, it is a natural fit for many financial, government, and military systems that require higher levels of assurance. We implemented a prototype ISE-T system for Linux using virtual machines and a unioning file system. Using this system, we conducted a real user study to test its ability to capture changes performed by separate system administrators and compare them for equivalence. Our results show that ISE-T is effective at determining equivalence for many common administration tasks, even when administrators perform those tasks in different ways.



More About This Work

Academic Units
Computer Science
Published Here
June 23, 2010


Proceedings of the 23rd Large Installation System Administration Conference (LISA '09): November 1-6, 2009, Baltimore, MD, USA (Berkeley: USENIX Association, 2009), pp. 15-27.