Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

Committee Chair

Ninghui Li

Committee Member 1

Sonia Fahmy

Committee Member 2

Xiangyu Zhang

Committee Member 3

Christopher W. Clifton


Access control systems play a crucial role in protecting the security of information systems by ensuring that only authorized users are granted access to sensitive resources, and the protection is only as good as the access control policies. For enabling a security administrator to express her desired policy conveniently, it is paramount that a policy specification is expressive, comprehensible, and free of inconsistencies. In this dissertation, we study the policy specifications for three practical access control systems (i.e., obligation systems, firewalls, and Security-Enhanced Linux in Android) and improve their expressiveness, comprehensibility, and consistency. First, we improve the expressiveness of obligation policies for handling different types of obligations. We propose a language for specifying obligations as well as an architecture for handling access control policies with these obligations, by extending XACML (i.e., the de facto standard for specifying access control policies). We also implement our design into a prototype system named ExtXACML to handle various obligations. Second, we improve the comprehensibility of firewall policies enabling administrators to better understand and manage the policies. We introduce the tri-modularized design of firewall policies for elevating them from monolithic to modular. To support legacy firewall policies, we also define a five-step process and present algorithms for converting them into their modularized form. Finally, we improve the consistency of Security-Enhanced Linux in Android (SEAndroid) policies for reducing the attack surface in Android systems. We propose a systematic approach as well as a semiautomatic tool for uncovering three classes of policy misconfigurations. We also analyze SEAndroid policies from four Android versions and seven Android phone vendors, and in all of them we observe examples of potential policy misconfigurations.