Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Salesforce Security

Salesforce security? Cloud security? Multi tenancy? I can't believe myself I set off writing a blog entry maybe on the hottest discussion topic in the industry nowadays. No, no, not at all, not yet, not yet.

I will rather try to quickly outline for the benefit of the interested reader how security is applied within a force.com Org. That is, security which enables or prevents certain users in the Org seeing the other user's records/data and how users are prevented from seeing certain fields and objects in the Org. So in-house Salesforce 'data' security I should say, not inter-cloud security.

Were you ever interested? We know Oracle and other databases use words like 'permissions' to describe data access. We know applications use words like 'authorisation' or 'authentication' to describe security. Were you ever interested what and how security is accomplished in Salesforce and force.com? If you are, keep on reading, else give up now.

Data Security in Salesforce is tricky, different and not something which is similar to anything else. There aren't words like 'authorisation' and 'privileges' in the force.com world. Once a Salesforce or force.com user logs in, 'data access' security kicks in. Somebody can only login if he/she is a salesforce user.  I use Force.com and Salesforce interchangeably here, it is the same platform at the end of the day. And the security in this platform described in descending order from big data to small data access is something like this:

1. Object Level Security: This type of security prevents a user form deleting, updating, seeing or creating any instance of the object (record in the table or if you like more old fashioned, tuple in the relation).

2. Field Level Security: In this type of security a user is prevented from seeing, editing and/ or deleting the value for a particular field of an object.

I know you already started visualising a database table. Object, what object?



3. Record Level Security: In this type of security we control data with a little bit more of a 'finesse'. We allow particular users to see an object, but we restrict the individual object records a user can see. A bit like virtual private database (VPD). In Oracle achieved with DBMS_RLS. I wonder how is this done in Salesforce? Salesforce is implemented on an Oracle database anyway. This is hot stuff. Everyone is interested in this nowadays, this means you can slice and dice the 'object' (table) horizontally! How is this done in Salesforce? Well the methods are four.
3.1 Organisational Wide Defaults (OWD): This is the baseline level of access to objects (tables ;-) ) a user has. OWD is defined for each standard or custom (your make) object in Salesforce. OWD in other words is the "baseline level of access that the most restricted user should have". Another name for OWD is "Sharing Model". That is, use OWD to lock-down objects to the most restrictive level.
3.2 Role Hierarchies: Role hierarchy, is the first way we can share access to records per se. OWD is a very 'lock-down' and 'restrictive' thing at the object level, whereas roles is the beginning of opening access to certain records via a hierarchy. The role hierarchy ensures that a manager will always have access to the same data as his or her employees. A polite way of saying your boss owns all your data. That is if you own 10 records in Salesforce, you own them, but your boss owns them as well. Typical, hierarchical record level access control coming down vertically, top to bottom and the 'Top' owns all! You can even assign access through hierarchies on an object-by-object basis as well.
3.3 Sharing Rules: Is when you start making exceptions, and confusing people. Not really! Sharing rules let us make automatic exceptions to Organisational Wide Defaults (OWD) for particular groups of users. As you realised in Role hierarchies section 3.2 above, the Role Hierarchies enable certain group of people to own lower level people's data. Low, down that is. Well Sharing Rules, don't do down, they do left and right. Did you get it? Basically saying that if there are 2 managers in the same hierarchy at the same level, how would they be able to see each others data? Enter Sharing Rules. Sharing Rules enable the access to records across levels in the hierarchy, by establishing certain groups which contain this same level managers, so that they can share their data. Something like Marketing wants to share its records with the IT department, with Role hierarchy this is not possible unless the departments are one 'under' the other and not across at the same level and next to each other in the hierarchy.
3.4 Manual Sharing: What manual sharing in few words is to 'give access to your record, to the guy you like'. No, not exactly but similar. With manual sharing you can grant read or read/write access on records that you own to any other user, role, or public group in Salesforce manually whenever you fancy and like. Although it isn't automatically like in all 3 cases above, manual sharing gives you the flexibility to share particular records. So manual sharing is when you can't do it in any of the 3 ways above. That is when you can't grant access to the record via OWD, Role hierarchies and Sharing Rules, you use Manual Sharing.

This was my attempt to give you a taste of what is data security in force.com. We started by letting you see the object, then playing with which fields of the object you can see, and lastly what records of the object you can see.

If you are interested to read more on this topic check 'Force.com Fundamentals' by Chris McGuire and Caroline Roth. A very Cloud book.

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