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Implementing Secure Distributed Systems for Assignments

July 02, 2024
Dr. Alex Johnson
Dr. Alex
🇨🇦 Canada
Computer Networks
Dr. Alex Johnson, a Ph.D. in Computer Science specializing in Distributed Systems, brings over 15 years of expertise in secure distributed computing. As a seasoned educator and researcher, he guides students through complex assignments with a structured approach, emphasizing theoretical understanding and practical application. Connect with him for unparalleled support and insight.
Key Topics
  • Understanding the Project Requirements
    • Security Fundamentals
    • Project Specifications
  • Project Setup and Environment Preparation
    • Environment Preparation
  • Implementation Steps
    • Server and Client Setup
    • Authentication
    • Secure Communication
    • Document Management
  • Security Practices and Testing
    • Secure Coding
    • Threat Modeling
    • Testing and Validation
    • Documentation
  • Conclusion

Distributed systems security is an essential and dynamic area in computer science, addressing the challenge of ensuring secure communication, data integrity, and access control in a distributed environment. Implementing a Secure Shared Store (3S) service, as described in many academic projects, offers hands-on experience with these concepts. This comprehensive guide provides students with a step-by-step approach to tackling such Distributed Systems assignments, focusing on general principles and techniques applicable to similar tasks.

Understanding the Project Requirements

The first step in any project is thoroughly understanding the requirements and objectives. This section breaks down the fundamental concepts and specific elements you need to grasp to successfully complete a distributed systems security assignment.

Security Fundamentals

Before diving into the technical implementation, it is crucial to understand the basic security concepts that underpin distributed systems:



Authentication verifies the identity of users and systems. In the context of a Secure Shared Store (3S) service, authentication typically involves the use of private keys and certificates to ensure that users are who they claim to be. This process prevents unauthorized access and helps maintain the integrity of the system.


Authorization defines and enforces access control policies. Once a user is authenticated, authorization determines what actions they are permitted to perform. For instance, in a 3S service, different users may have different levels of access to documents, such as the ability to check in, check out, or delete files.

Confidentiality and Integrity

Confidentiality ensures that data is only accessible to authorized parties, protecting it from eavesdropping. Integrity ensures that data cannot be altered by unauthorized parties, maintaining its accuracy and consistency. These principles are typically enforced through encryption and digital signatures.

Project Specifications

Identify the key components and functionalities required by the project. This helps in organizing your approach and ensuring that you address all necessary aspects:

Secure Communication

Ensure that all communication between clients and servers is encrypted to protect data in transit. This often involves using certificates and mutual TLS (MTLS) to authenticate both parties and establish a secure channel.

Authentication and Session Management

Implement mechanisms for users to authenticate using private keys and manage sessions securely. This usually involves generating session tokens upon successful authentication, which are then used for subsequent requests to maintain the session state.

Document Management

Implement functionalities for checking in, checking out, granting access, deleting documents, and logging out. These operations need to be secure and respect the access control policies defined for the system.

Access Control

Define and enforce access control policies to ensure that only authorized users can perform specific actions on documents. This involves implementing functions for granting and revoking permissions based on roles and policies.

Project Setup and Environment Preparation

Setting up the development environment correctly is crucial for the successful implementation of the project. This section covers the steps required to prepare your environment, including the creation and management of certificates.

Environment Preparation

Start by setting up the development environment according to the project requirements. This often involves configuring a virtual machine (VM) and understanding the project folder structure.

Virtual Machine (VM)

Download and configure the provided VM image. The VM typically includes the necessary software and a predefined folder structure to simulate a real-world distributed system. Familiarize yourself with the VM setup and the tools available within it.

Folder Structure

Understand the project folder structure, which usually includes directories for the Certificate Authority (CA), server, and clients. Each component has specific responsibilities and roles within the system, and understanding this structure helps in organizing your implementation.


Certificates play a vital role in ensuring secure communication and authentication in distributed systems. This section covers how to generate and manage certificates using a Certificate Authority (CA).

CA Setup

Use a tool like OpenSSL to set up the CA. The CA is responsible for issuing certificates that are trusted by all nodes in the system. This includes generating root certificates and private keys that will be used to sign the certificates for clients and servers.

Client and Server Certificates

Generate certificates for the client and server nodes using the CA. These certificates are used for mutual authentication and establishing secure communication channels. Ensure that the certificates are correctly placed in the respective directories (e.g., clientX/certs) as specified in the project requirements.

Implementation Steps

With the environment set up and certificates in place, you can now focus on implementing the core functionalities of the project. This section guides you through the essential implementation steps.

Server and Client Setup

Begin by working with the skeletal code provided for the server and client. This section provides an overview of setting up and configuring the server and client nodes.

Server (server.py)

Implement the server functionalities using a web framework like Flask. The server is responsible for handling requests from clients, managing documents, and enforcing security policies. Start by completing the outline provided in server.py, focusing on secure coding practices and handling various requests appropriately.

Client (client.py)

Develop the client functionalities to interact with the server. The client should be able to authenticate users, make secure requests, and manage documents locally. Ensure that the client can handle tasks such as logging in, checking in and out documents, and managing sessions effectively.


Implement robust user authentication and session management mechanisms. This section details how to handle user login and session tokens.

Login Function

The login function should verify the user's identity using their private key and generate a session token upon successful authentication. The session token is then used for subsequent requests to maintain the session state. Ensure that private keys are never transmitted over the network and are only used for signing authentication statements.

Session Tokens

Session tokens play a crucial role in maintaining the session state and ensuring that subsequent requests are authenticated. Include the session token in all client requests and validate it on the server to manage user sessions securely.

Secure Communication

Ensure that all communication between clients and the server is encrypted to protect data in transit. This section covers how to use mutual TLS (MTLS) for secure communication.


Use a proxy like nginx to handle mutual TLS authentication. MTLS ensures that both the client and server authenticate each other using their respective certificates before establishing a secure communication channel. This prevents man-in-the-middle attacks and ensures the integrity and confidentiality of the data exchanged.

Document Management

Implement the core functionalities for managing documents securely. This section details the steps for checking in, checking out, granting access, deleting documents, and logging out.


The check-in function allows users to upload documents to the server. Ensure that documents are encrypted if confidentiality is required and that appropriate metadata is stored. Handle scenarios where documents are updated by authorized users and maintain the correct ownership and access control information.


The check-out function enables users to retrieve documents from the server. Ensure that only authorized users can access documents and that the data is decrypted if necessary. Handle the transfer of documents between the client’s local directories appropriately.

Grant Access

Implement the functionality to grant access to documents based on defined access control policies. The grant function should allow document owners to specify permissions for other users, such as check-in, check-out, or both. Ensure that the latest access control rules are enforced.


The delete function securely removes documents from the server. Ensure that deleted documents cannot be recovered, especially if they contain confidential information. This may involve securely deleting encryption keys and data.


Implement the logout functionality to terminate user sessions. Ensure that any modified documents are checked back in with integrity checks before the session ends. Proper session management helps prevent unauthorized access and data loss.

Security Practices and Testing

Implementing secure coding practices and thoroughly testing your system are critical for ensuring the robustness and security of your solution. This section covers the best practices and testing strategies.

Secure Coding

Follow secure coding practices to prevent vulnerabilities in your implementation. This section provides guidelines and tools for secure coding.

Static Analysis Tools

Use static analysis tools like Pylint and Pyflakes to analyze your code for potential security vulnerabilities. These tools can help identify issues such as unsafe function calls, uninitialized variables, and coding practices that may lead to security flaws.

Safe Function Calls

Avoid using unsafe functions that may introduce security vulnerabilities. If the use of certain functions is necessary, provide inline comments to justify their use and ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place. For example, avoid functions that can lead to buffer overflows or injection attacks.

Threat Modeling

Identify potential threats to your system and design your implementation to mitigate them. This section covers the importance of threat modeling and the common threats you should address.

Authentication Attacks

Protect against authentication attacks such as brute force and replay attacks. Implement rate limiting, account lockout policies, and use strong cryptographic algorithms to secure authentication processes.

Data Breaches

Ensure that data is encrypted both at rest and in transit to protect against data breaches. Use strong encryption algorithms and manage encryption keys securely. Regularly update and rotate keys to minimize the risk of compromise.

Access Control Violations

Implement strict access control policies to prevent unauthorized access to documents. Regularly review and update access control rules to ensure they reflect the current security requirements. Implement logging and monitoring to detect and respond to unauthorized access attempts.

Testing and Validation

Thoroughly test and validate your implementation to ensure it meets the security and functional requirements. This section covers the different types of testing you should perform.

Unit Testing

Write unit tests for individual components to ensure they function correctly. Unit tests help verify the correctness of specific functions and modules, allowing you to catch and fix bugs early in the development process.

Integration Testing

Test the interaction between different components, such as the client and server, to ensure they work together seamlessly. Integration tests help identify issues that may arise from the interaction between different parts of the system.

Penetration Testing

Simulate attacks on your system to identify and fix security vulnerabilities. Penetration testing involves attempting to exploit potential weaknesses in your implementation to ensure it is robust and secure. Regularly conduct penetration tests to stay ahead of emerging threats.


Proper documentation is essential for maintaining and understanding your implementation. This section covers the different types of documentation you should provide.

Code Documentation

Comment your code to explain the logic and purpose of different sections. Clear and concise code documentation helps other developers understand and maintain your code. Use docstrings and inline comments to provide context and explanations for complex or critical code sections.

Project Report

Document the tools used, security measures implemented, and any assumptions made in your project report. The report should provide an overview of your implementation, the security practices followed, and the testing conducted. Include a discussion of any challenges faced and how they were addressed.

Threat Model

Discuss the identified threats and how your implementation addresses them. The threat model should outline the potential security risks and the measures taken to mitigate them. This helps in understanding the security posture of your system and provides a basis for future improvements.


Successfully implementing a secure distributed system involves understanding fundamental security concepts, carefully planning and setting up the environment, and rigorously testing and documenting your solution. By following this comprehensive guide, you can tackle programming assignments with confidence and ensure your implementations are both functional and secure.

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