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4.4.6 Access Control, Stage 2: Request Verification - MySQL

If you need to administer MySQL, this article gets you off to a good start. In this section, we continue our discussion of security issues with the MySQL access privilege system. The third of a multi-part series, it is excerpted from chapter four of the book MySQL Administrator's Guide, written by Paul Dubois (Sams; ISBN: 0672326345).

  1. Working with the MySQL Access Privilege System
  2. 4.4.3 Privileges Provided by MySQL
  3. 4.4.4 Connecting to the MySQL Server
  4. 4.4.5 Access Control, Stage 1: Connection Verification
  5. 4.4.6 Access Control, Stage 2: Request Verification
  6. 4.4.7 When Privilege Changes Take Effect
  7. 4.4.9 Password Hashing in MySQL 4.1
By: Sams Publishing
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 6
June 08, 2006

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Once you establish a connection, the server enters Stage 2 of access control. For each request that comes in on the connection, the server determines what operation you want to perform, then checks whether you have sufficient privileges to do so. This is where the privilege columns in the grant tables come into play. These privileges can come from any of the user, db, host, tables_priv, or columns_priv tables. (You may find it helpful to refer to Section 4.4.2, "How the Privilege System Works," which lists the columns present in each of the grant tables.)

The user table grants privileges that are assigned to you on a global basis and that apply no matter what the current database is. For example, if the user table grants you the DELETE privilege, you can delete rows from any table in any database on the server host! In other words, user table privileges are superuser privileges. It is wise to grant privileges in the user table only to superusers such as database administrators. For other users, you should leave the privileges in the user table set to 'N' and grant privileges at more specific levels only. You can grant privileges for particular databases, tables, or columns.

The db and host tables grant database-specific privileges. Values in the scope columns of these tables can take the following forms:

  • The wildcard characters '%' and '_' can be used in the Host and Db columns of either table. These have the same meaning as for pattern-matching operations performed with the LIKE operator. If you want to use either character literally when granting privileges, you must escape it with a backslash. For example, to include '_' character as part of a database name, specify it as '\_' in the GRANT statement.

  • A '%' Host value in the db table means "any host." A blank Host value in the db table means "consult the host table for further information" (a process that is described later in this section).

  • A '%' or blank Host value in the host table means "any host."

  • A '%' or blank Db value in either table means "any database."

  • A blank User value in either table matches the anonymous user.

The server reads in and sorts the db and host tables at the same time that it reads the user table. The server sorts the db table based on the Host, Db, and User scope columns, and sorts the host table based on the Host and Db scope columns. As with the user table, sorting puts the most-specific values first and least-specific values last, and when the server looks for matching entries, it uses the first match that it finds.

The tables_priv and columns_priv tables grant table-specific and column-specific privileges. Values in the scope columns of these tables can take the following form:

  • The wildcard characters '%' and '_' can be used in the Host column of either table. These have the same meaning as for pattern-matching operations performed with the LIKE operator.

  • A '%' or blank Host value in either table means "any host."

  • The Db, Table_name, and Column_name columns cannot contain wildcards or be blank in either table.

The server sorts the tables_priv and columns_priv tables based on the Host, Db, and User columns. This is similar to db table sorting, but simpler because only the Host column can contain wildcards.

The request verification process is described here. (If you are familiar with the access-checking source code, you will notice that the description here differs slightly from the algorithm used in the code. The description is equivalent to what the code actually does; it differs only to make the explanation simpler.)

For requests that require administrative privileges such as SHUTDOWN or RELOAD, the server checks only the user table entry because that is the only table that specifies administrative privileges. Access is granted if the entry allows the requested operation and denied otherwise. For example, if you want to execute mysqladmin shutdown but your user table entry doesn't grant the SHUTDOWN privilege to you, the server denies access without even checking the db or host tables. (They contain no Shutdown_priv column, so there is no need to do so.)

For database-related requests (INSERT, UPDATE, and so on), the server first checks the user's global (superuser) privileges by looking in the user table entry. If the entry allows the requested operation, access is granted. If the global privileges in the user table are insufficient, the server determines the user's database-specific privileges by checking the db and host tables:

  1. The server looks in the db table for a match on the Host, Db, and User columns. The Host and User columns are matched to the connecting user's hostname and MySQL username. The Db column is matched to the database that the user wants to access. If there is no entry for the Host and User, access is denied.

  2. If there is a matching db table entry and its Host column is not blank, that entry defines the user's database-specific privileges.

  3. If the matching db table entry's Host column is blank, it signifies that the host table enumerates which hosts should be allowed access to the database. In this case, a further lookup is done in the host table to find a match on the Host and Db columns. If no host table entry matches, access is denied. If there is a match, the user's database-specific privileges are computed as the intersection (not the union!) of the privileges in the db and host table entries; that is, the privileges that are 'Y' in both entries. (This way you can grant general privileges in the db table entry and then selectively restrict them on a host-by-host basis using the host table entries.)

After determining the database-specific privileges granted by the db and host table entries, the server adds them to the global privileges granted by the user table. If the result allows the requested operation, access is granted. Otherwise, the server successively checks the user's table and column privileges in the tables_priv and columns_priv tables, adds those to the user's privileges, and allows or denies access based on the result.

Expressed in boolean terms, the preceding description of how a user's privileges are calculated may be summarized like this:

global privileges
OR (database privileges AND host privileges)
OR table privileges
OR column privileges

It may not be apparent why, if the global user entry privileges are initially found to be insufficient for the requested operation, the server adds those privileges to the database, table, and column privileges later. The reason is that a request might require more than one type of privilege. For example, if you execute an INSERT INTO ... SELECT statement, you need both the INSERT and the SELECT privileges. Your privileges might be such that the user table entry grants one privilege and the db table entry grants the other. In this case, you have the necessary privileges to perform the request, but the server cannot tell that from either table by itself; the privileges granted by the entries in both tables must be combined.

The host table is not affected by the GRANT or REVOKE statements, so it is unused in most MySQL installations. If you modify it directly, you can use it for some specialized purposes, such as to maintain a list of secure servers. For example, at TcX, the host table contains a list of all machines on the local network. These are granted all privileges.

You can also use the host table to indicate hosts that are not secure. Suppose that you have a machine public.your.domain that is located in a public area that you do not consider secure. You can allow access to all hosts on your network except that machine by using host table entries like this:

| Host               | Db | ...
| public.your.domain | % | ... (all privileges set
to 'N') | %.your.domain | % | ... (all privileges set
to 'Y') +--------------------+----+-

Naturally, you should always test your entries in the grant tables (for example, by using SHOW GRANTS or mysqlaccess) to make sure that your access privileges are actually set up the way you think they are.

>>> More MySQL Articles          >>> More By Sams Publishing

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