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This chapter is from the book

Implementing Security

ColdFusion provides two ways to secure the functionality that you encapsulate in a ColdFusion component: roles-based authorization, and access control. Chapter 61, "Understanding Security," in Vol. 3, Advanced Application Development, discusses application user authentication and authorization, which allows the assignment of roles to your application's users. This roles-based security can also be applied to the functions in a CFC. The second technique, access control, was used in the preceding chapter in every cffunction tag as the attribute access="...".

Implementing Access Control

The access attribute of the <cffunction> tag basically answers the question, "Who can use this function?" The attribute has four options: private, package, public (the default), and remote. These four options represent, in that order, the degree of openness of the function.

The access options range from a narrow group of potential consumers to a very broad audience. The consumers allowed by each option are as follows:

  • Private. Only other functions within the same CFC can invoke the function.
  • Package. Only components in the same package can invoke the function.
  • Public. Any CFML template or CFC on the same server can invoke the function.
  • Remote. Any CFML template or CFC on the same server can invoke the function, as can Adobe Flash applications (using Flash Remoting) and Web Services clients.

Within any given CFC, you can have functions of any type mixed together. Remember, it's the function and not the component itself to which you grant or deny access.

Let's take a look at each access option to see how they can be used.

Private

I was at a hotel one weekend and passed by a room from which drifted some terrific music and the sound of laughing, happy people. Naturally I wanted to see what the occasion was and join in the festivities. At the door, though, I was met by a gruff and rather large gentleman who blocked my way and shook his head. He pointed to a small sign on a brass post that read "Private Function."

Silly story, but you see the connection. Private functions are the most "exclusive." Any consumer (that is, a CFML page, Web service client, Flash application, and so on) outside of a CFC cannot use a function that has been designated as access="private". Private functions are for use only in the CFC where they are coded. How can they be used at all, then, you ask? They are used by other functions in the same CFC. Generally, private functions are functions whose only purpose is to help other functions. In Chapter 26, FilmRotationCFC had a number of private functions: for example, randomizedFilmList and currentFilmID. Neither of these functions would ever be accessed directly from outside of the component. Rather, they are called from other functions, as we saw with the getCurrentFilmID method. We should mark them private, because they are only used internally to the CFC, and by exposing them to the outside world we risk letting people in on our implementation.

Why bother? You should always hide as much information about implementation as you can. Hiding information gives you the flexibility to change the component's implementation at a later time, due to changed requirements or developing a better algorithm. It also protects the user from changes in your implementation, because code can become dependent on functionality that was never intended to be exposed, and break when it changes. Marking the code private forces your CFC's users to play by your rules when using it.

Now, here's something to watch out for: If you try to invoke a private function from anywhere but inside the component itself, you'll get an error that says "The method 'myPrivateFunction' could not be found in component (whatever)." You'll then think that you typed the name wrong, and go back and check and reenter your code, and still get the same error. "But I can see the function right there! How can it not be found?!?" you'll cry to the heavens. You've not lost your mind—it's just a private function. To be certain, look at the self-documenting view of the CFC in a browser. You'll see an asterisk next to the function's name: "aPrivateFunction*". Then, under the methods list at the top of the page, you'll see a teeny explanation: *private method.

Package

Earlier in this chapter, you saw how component packages could help you organize the components in an application. Likewise, access="package" can help you control the access to your component's functionality within applications. A primary use of package access can be to prevent applications that happen to have functions with the same name from accidentally calling each other.

For example, Orange Whip Studios uses an application that lets the catering department order sandwiches for the movie shoots. A component in this application has a method that adjusts the number of sandwiches needed for a given day. The studio also uses a casting department application that can hire and fire actors. In that application, there is a component that helps calculate staff levels and make the firing decisions. Both of these methods have the apt but far-from-original name of updateQuantity. Without access control at the package level, someone developing an application could inadvertently end up firing 300 actors and leaving the remaining ones very hungry.

Public

The default option for a function's access setting is public. It's a somewhat confusing term, in that it doesn't mean "Anyone in the public can use this function." People who mistake the meaning of public usually find themselves coming to the assumption, "I don't want this function to be available as a Web service, so I shouldn't make it publicly accessible. It's just for my application, so I guess that would make it a private function." They then code a page somewhere that tries to invoke that function, and they get the less-than-intuitive error type that was mentioned earlier for private access: "The method (whatever) could not be found."

Public really means "accessible by the ColdFusion server in which the component is running." So any other component can invoke the function, as can any CFML page.

Here again, those people who cannot use a public function are precisely those you would ordinarily consider to be the "public"—other people on the Internet somewhere trying to use a Web service, for example.

Watch out for HTTP and form posts and public functions. Because the page that you post to happens to be on the same machine as the component that it invokes, many people think that posting a form to a public function should work. But a form post, just like a URL invocation, uses HTTP—it does not access the function from within the server. An HTTP request is just like any other remote request and thus necessitates the most open access option, remote.

Remote

A remote function is what you might have thought a public function is. It's open to anyone who wants it—the whole "public." The function can be used by the same component, another component (regardless of the package in which it's placed), any CFML page (on the server), HTTP requests, Web Services clients, and Adobe Flash applications.

To sum up, you can see how a lack of attention to the access attribute of a function can cause lots of trouble. A function that performs some sensitive business function could be inadvertently made available to the whole world if it were set as remote instead of private. Likewise, a business partner who tries to consume a Web service from your application may not find it in the WSDL ColdFusion creates for your component if you forgot to set the function's access to remote. (Refer to Chapter 68 in Vol. 3, Advanced Application Development, for more information on creating Web services and WSDL with ColdFusion.)

Implementing Role-Based Security in CFCs

In some applications, you'll want to control access to a component's functions based on who is using your application. This will be most common in traditional, HTML-based user interface applications, but it may also be true of Adobe Flash applications. Role-based security is not, however, a common approach to securing access to Web services, since a Web service client is a program and not an individual.

To see this technique in action, let's go back to the actors component that was created earlier in this chapter—the one that retrieves information about all actors. Part of the Orange Whip Studios Web application allows studio executives to review the salaries of the stars—how much should the studio expect to fork over for their next box-office smash? Of course, this information is not exactly something that they want just anybody seeing.

First we need to create the basic security framework for this part of the application, with the security tags in ColdFusion: <cflogin>, <cfloginuser>, and <cflogout>. (We discuss this process in detail in Chapter 23, "Securing Your Applications," online.)

For the purposes of this exercise, we'll just test by running the cfloginuser tag with the role we want to test with:

<cfloginuser name="Test" password="dummy" roles="Producers">

Any roles for the logged-in user will be the roles that correspond to those listed in our component function—more on this after we create the function (Listing 27.5).

The function will be simple: It takes an Actor ID as an argument, queries that actor's salary history, and returns a recordset. Notice, though, that the roles attribute in the <cffunction> tag has a comma-delimited list of values. Only users who have authenticated and been assigned one or more of those roles will be allowed to invoke the method.

Listing 27.5. actor.cfc—The Salary Method

<!--- Demonstrate roles --->
<cffunction name="getActorSalary" returnType="query" roles="Producers, Executives">
  <cfargument name="actorID" type="numeric" required="true"
    displayName="Actor ID" hint="The ID of the Actor">
  <cfquery name="salaries" dataSource="ows">
    SELECT Actors.ActorID, Actors.NameFirst, Actors.NameLast,
      FilmsActors.Salary, Films.MovieTitle
    FROM Films
    INNER JOIN (Actors INNER JOIN FilmsActors
     ON Actors.ActorID = FilmsActors.ActorID)
       ON Films.FilmID = FilmsActors.FilmID
    WHERE Actors.ActorID = #Arguments.actorID#
  </cfquery>
  <cfreturn salaries>
</cffunction>

The roles assigned to this function are Producers and Executives—they don't want any prying eyes finding this sensitive data. All we need now, then, is a page to invoke the component—something simple, as in Listing 27.6.

Listing 27.6. showSalary.cfm—Show Salary Page

<!---
  showSalary.cfm
  Demonstrate CFC roles
  Modified by Ken Fricklas (kenf@fricklas.com)
  Modified: 8/17/2007
--->
<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>What were they paid?</TITLE>
</HEAD>

<BODY>
<!--- Make sure they are logged in. Change roles to "User" to see what happens if
they don't have sufficient access. --->
<cfloginuser name="Test" password="dummy" roles="Producers">
<!--- Invoke actors component. getActorSalary method will fail unless
  they have sufficient access. --->
<cfinvoke
 component="actor"
 method="getActorSalary"
 returnVariable="salaryHistory">
  <cfinvokeargument name="actorID" value="17"/>
</cfinvoke>
<h1>Salaries of our stars...</h1>
<cfoutput>
<H2>
#salaryHistory.NameFirst# #salaryHistory.NameLast#</H2>
<cfloop query="salaryHistory">
  #MovieTitle# - #dollarFormat(Salary)#<BR>
</cfloop>
</cfoutput>
</BODY>
</HTML>

ColdFusion now has all it needs to control the access to the component. The process will work in this order:

  1. The Show Salary page is requested by a browser.
  2. The <cfinvoke> tag is encountered, specifying the Actor component and the getActorSalary method.
  3. An instance of the component is created, and the function is found.
  4. Since the function has values specified in the roles attribute, a comparison is automatically made between the values in the roles attribute of the <cffunction> tag and those in the roles attributes that were set in the <cfloginuser> tag. If the user is not logged in, this function will fail.
  5. A match will allow the function to be executed as usual; a failure will cause the following error: "Error Occurred While Processing Request—The current user is not authorized to invoke this method."

Notice that an unauthorized attempt to execute a secured function causes ColdFusion to throw an error. Consequently, you should put a cftry around any code that invokes secured functions (Listing 27.7).

Listing 27.7. showSalary_final.cfm—Catching a Secure Function Invocation

<!---
  showSalary_final.cfm
  Demonstrate CFC roles
  Modified by Ken Fricklas (kenf@fricklas.com)
  Modified: 8/17/2007
--->
<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>What were they paid?</TITLE>
</HEAD>

<BODY>
<!--- Make sure they are logged in. Change roles to "User" to see what happens if
they don't have sufficient access. --->
<cfloginuser name="Test" password="dummy" roles="Producers">
<!--- Invoke actors component. getActorSalary method will fail unless
  they have sufficient access. --->
<cftry>
  <cfinvoke
    component="actor"
    method="getActorSalary"
    returnVariable="salaryHistory">
    <cfinvokeargument name="actorID" value="17"/>
  </cfinvoke>
  <cfcatch>
    What? Trying to steal company secrets? Get lost!
    <cfabort>
  </cfcatch>

<h1>Salaries of our stars...</h1>
<cfoutput>
<H2>
#salaryHistory.NameFirst# #salaryHistory.NameLast#</H2>
<cfloop query="salaryHistory">
  #MovieTitle# - #dollarFormat(Salary)#<BR>
</cfloop>
</cfoutput>
</BODY>
</HTML>

This is not the only way to secure component functionality, of course. You could use the isUserInRole() function to check a user's group permissions before even invoking the function, or you could use Web server security for securing the CFML files themselves. The role-based security in CFCs is, however, a good option particularly if you are already using the ColdFusion authentication/authorization framework in an application.

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