App security


This secetion discusses how different security concerns are handled in SPS.

suppressPackageStartupMessages(library(systemPipeShiny))

SPS mode

SPS has an option of mode. This option controls how the file upload is handled by SPS. It can be either “server” or “local”, which is asking whether you are running the app on the “server” or running on your “local” machine.

  • “server”: for security, users do not have access of file system on the server, choose files from users' local computer.
  • “local”: Assumes the Shiny server and users' local computer is the same machine, so users can access file Shiny server’s file system.

It is first defined in the global.R file in a SPS project.

options(sps = list(
    mode = "local",
    ...
))

You can check current setting after the app started for the first time

spsOption("mode")
## [1] "local"

The most affected function is dynamicFile and its server side function dynamicFileServer.

Server:

After clicking the file selection button in SPS, server mode uses the default shiny file choose, which users can choose from their local computer. You can see from the picture above, this is a user operating system built-in file chooser.

Local:

You can see this is different than the “server” mode. “Local” mode is able to use the file system of the shiny deploy environment file system, and it is no longer the users' local system.

This may be confusing for the first time. Remember “server” and “local” mean where you deploy the shiny app, on the server or run on your local computer.

Modechoose file fromfile pointing method
Serveruser local computercopy to temp
Localthe computer where you deploy the appdirect pointer

Pro and cons of modes

It does not matter if which mode you choose if you run the app on your own computer, because the deploy server and the user computer are the same.

  • However “local” mode will not copy a file to temp after the file chooser, but directly create a pointer.
  • “Server” mode will first upload/copy the file to temp and create a pointer. This will cause resources waste if you are running the app on your own computer. You already have the file on your computer but now it gets copied to temp before Shiny can use it. This will also waste some time to copy the file, especially for large files.
  • There is a limit for default Shiny upload size which is 24MB in “server” mode.
  • You can choose files as large as you desire on “local” mode.

The security issue of local mode

There is a security concern of “local” mode when the app is deployed on a remote server. “local” mode enables users to choose files from the remote server, so there is the risk of file leaking and file damaging.

We recommend DO NOT use “local” mode for remote deployment, like https://shinyapps.io. You can turn the option warning_toast = TRUE on global and testing the app before deploy. This option will check for security problems and inform you.

There are cases where you really need users to choose files from the remote server, like the Workflow module, where all workflow files are stored on the remote server. Then use a sandbox or container environment to isolate the app, and also turn on the login page login_screen = TRUE to limit access will be helpful.

Warning toast

Set warning_toast = TRUE option will check for potential security risks and show a pop-up message if there is any risk when app starts. This is option is helpful on pre-deployment testing.

  • check if you have changed the default admin page url “admin”
  • check if you have changed the default admin user “admin”
  • check if you have changed the default user “admin”
  • check if you are on “local” mode

The workflow module

The workflow module enables users to manage, design, and run workflows directly from the app and in the final running workflow session, users are allowed to run arbitrary R code in a Rstudio like console in a child R session. Running any R code means they can modify your remote system, and use system commands.

For shinyapps.io, it runs in a container and it reset itself once a while, so security is not a big concern, but apparently, shinyapps.io is not a place you want to deploy heavy data analysis workflows. Most users will deploy the SPS with workflow modules in other cloud computing sites or their own servers. For these cases, we recommend you:

  1. Turn on the login to give access to limited people.

  2. Isolate the app with sandboxes or containers.