COLBAC: Shifting Cybersecurity from Hierarchical to Horizontal Designs

Kevin Gallagher, Santiago Torres-Arias, Nasir Memon, Jessica Feldman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Cybersecurity suffers from an oversaturation of centralized, hierarchical systems and a lack of exploration in the area of horizontal security, or security techniques and technologies which utilize democratic participation for security decision-making. Because of this, many horizontally governed organizations such as activist groups, worker cooperatives, trade unions, not-for-profit associations, and others are not represented in current cybersecurity solutions, and are forced to adopt hierarchical solutions to cybersecurity problems. This causes power dynamic mismatches that lead to cybersecurity and organizational operations failures. In this work we introduce COLBAC, a collective based access control system aimed at addressing this lack. COLBAC uses democratically authorized capability tokens to express access control policies. It allows for a flexible and dynamic degree of horizontality to meet the needs of different horizontally governed organizations. After introducing COLBAC, we finish with a discussion on future work needed to realize more horizontal security techniques, tools, and technologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNew Security Paradigms Workshop, NSPW 2021
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781450385732
StatePublished - Oct 25 2021
Event12th New Security Paradigms Workshop, NSPW 2021 - Virtual, Online, United States
Duration: Oct 26 2021Oct 28 2021

Publication series

NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series


Conference12th New Security Paradigms Workshop, NSPW 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityVirtual, Online


  • access control
  • activism
  • authorization
  • democracy
  • distributed systems
  • horizontality
  • participation
  • participatory design
  • security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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