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The Ed-Fi ODS / API contains a robust, configurable means of securing information. This section covers the essential information and provides links to additional detail and how-to information. A few key concepts you'll find throughout this section are discussed below.

Authentication via OAuth2

The ODS / API solution uses two-legged OAuth 2 for authentication. In the context of an education enterprise, this means that authentication is granted to client applications (like student information systems or gradebook systems) as opposed to assigning permissions for every end-user. This means that client applications, such as a student information system at a district, control end-user access to data based on local accounts and roles, and the ODS / API platform host simply controls what data the student information system can access and modify.

The two-legged OAuth 2 model was selected because it provides greater control for local system hosts (often school districts or local organizations) while greatly simplifying the administration of ODS / API accounts and roles in the system (often state education agencies or regional education service centers).

Authorization via Claims and Profiles

The API exposes data as resources. Access to these resources is primarily controlled by two mechanisms: claims and profiles.  

The following diagram shows the interaction of these two concepts. Profiles define what data elements of a resource are available for reading and/or writing (e.g., FirstName, LastSurname, SexType) while Claims are used to authorize access to resources generally. In some cases, as is depicted below for students, the caller may only be able to access some items in the collection (i.e., only "Johnny Johns" and "Jane Doe" are available).

Claims and claim sets provide fine-grained access control over the resources available in the API. Claims define whether a client has permissions to create, read, update, or delete information (i.e., perform the basic database CRUD operations). If desired, resource claims can be set all the way down to the individual resource level – but for convenience, a claims taxonomy has been established to allow host administrators to set claims at higher-level conceptual groupings of resources. 

The article How To: Configure Claim Sets describes specifics about making adjustments to the API claim sets. (Claim sets are expressed in a database, but the solution doesn't have a UI to manage that data, so modifying claim sets is a developer task.)

Profiles also define access to resources, but use the concept of a data policy. Profiles allow platform hosts to limit client access to particular parts of resources for read and/or write use cases. While it's not a perfect analogy, profiles have a similar function to database views in this regard.  Profiles can also be used to define and communicate an explicit subset of the API resources that are relevant to a particular usage scenario.

The API Profiles section of this documentation provides conceptual and practical information about profiles. 

Claims and profiles both control facets of client access to resources, but they are complementary. Claims are useful when you want incredibly fine-grained control over access to resources. Claim sets are analogous to "roles" or "group" permissions in other security schemes. Profiles are useful when you want to constrain access to data elements based on a type of client. For example, you may determine that every gradebook client application needs view-only access to a subset of student information, but full write access to resources related to grades and gradebook entries. Profiles make this configuration easy to implement and easy to understand once implemented.

Vendors and Applications

As noted above, two-legged OAuth 2 authentication grants access at the client application level. Throughout this documentation (and the solution), we use the term "Vendor" to describe an organization that hosts or owns client systems, and "Application" to describe an actual client system. Vendors are associated with one or more applications. Each application is issued an OAuth key and secret.

The technical article Securing OAuth Secrets provides details about how OAuth secrets are stored, plus guidance on how to change the hashing method by which OAuth secrets are secured.

API Security Configuration Tool

Platform host administrators can manage and distribute keys and secrets for applications using the web-based Security Configuration Tool included in the ODS / API code distribution. The code distribution also includes a web-based Key Retrieval Tool that allows client developers to retrieve keys securely.

The Security Configuration Tool section of this documentation contains everything you need to know to use and deploy those websites.

Adaptable Security

Some platform hosts may wish to extend or create their own security model. Since the ODS / API is open source, the built-in security can be extended in a number of ways. The API Claim Sets & Resources section of this documentation provides detail on the resources and claims implementation in the ODS / API solution. Meanwhile, the Security Configuration Data Stores section of this documentation provides details on how information is organized in the various security and admin databases.

More Information

Additional information regarding Ed-Fi ODS / API security concepts can be found in the Ed-Fi ODS / API Security & Profiles Deep Dive session, which was presented at the 2015 Ed-Fi Summit.


Developers' Guide Contents

Find out more about how to develop platforms based on the Ed-Fi ODS / API v2.5: