According to the Java API Class SecurityManager documentation [API 2014],

The security manager is a class that allows applications to implement a security policy. It allows an application to determine, before performing a possibly unsafe or sensitive operation, what the operation is and whether it is being attempted in a security context that allows the operation to be performed. The application can allow or disallow the operation.

A security manager may be associated with any Java code.

The applet security manager denies applets all but the most essential privileges. It is designed to protect against inadvertent system modification, information leakage, and user impersonation. The use of security managers is not limited to client-side protection. Web servers, such as Tomcat and WebSphere, use this facility to isolate trojan servlets and malicious Java Server Pages (JSP) code as well as to protect sensitive system resources from inadvertent access.

Java applications that run from the command line can set a default or custom security manager using a command-line flag. Alternatively, it is possible to install a security manager programmatically. Installing a security manager programmatically helps create a default sandbox that allows or denies sensitive actions on the basis of the security policy in effect.

From Java 2 SE Platform onward, SecurityManager is a nonabstract class. As a result, there is no explicit requirement to override its methods. To create and use a security manager programmatically, the code must have the runtime permissions createSecurityManager (to instantiate SecurityManager) and setSecurityManager (to install it). These permissions are checked only if a security manager is already installed. This is useful for situations in which a default security manager is in place, such as on a virtual host, and individual hosts must be denied the requisite permissions for overriding the default security manager with a custom one.

The security manager is closely tied to the AccessController class. The former is used as a hub for access control, whereas the latter provides the actual implementation of the access control algorithm. The security manager supports

  • Providing backward compatibility: Legacy code often contains custom implementations of the security manager class because it was originally abstract.
  • Defining custom policies: Subclassing the security manager permits definition of custom security policies (for example, multilevel, coarse, or fine grain).

Regarding the implementation and use of custom security managers as opposed to default ones, the Java security architecture specification [SecuritySpec 2010] states:

We encourage the use of AccessController in application code, while customization of a security manager (via subclassing) should be the last resort and should be done with extreme care. Moreover, a customized security manager, such as one that always checks the time of the day before invoking standard security checks, could and should utilize the algorithm provided by AccessController whenever appropriate.

Many of the Java SE APIs perform security manager checks by default before performing sensitive operations. For example, the constructor of class throws a SecurityException if the caller does not have the permission to read a file. Because SecurityException is a subclass of RuntimeException, the declarations of some API methods (for example, those of the class) may lack a throws clause that lists the SecurityException. Avoid depending on the presence or absence of security manager checks that are not specified in the API method's documentation.

Noncompliant Code Example (Command-Line Installation)

This noncompliant code example fails to install any security manager from the command line. Consequently, the program runs with all permissions enabled; that is, there is no security manager to prevent any nefarious actions the program might perform.

java LocalJavaApp

Compliant Solution (Default Policy File)

Any Java program can attempt to install a SecurityManager programmatically, although the currently active security manager may forbid this operation. Applications designed to run locally can specify a default security manager by use of a flag on the command line at invocation.

The command-line option is preferred when applications must be prohibited from installing custom security managers programmatically and are required to abide by the default global security policy under all circumstances. This compliant solution installs the default security manager using the appropriate command-line flags. The security policy file grants permissions to the application for its intended actions.

java \

The command-line flag can specify a custom security manager whose policies are enforced globally. Use the flag, as follows:

java ...

If the current security policy enforced by the current security manager forbids replacements (by omitting the RuntimePermission("setSecurityManager")), any attempt to invoke setSecurityManager() will throw a SecurityException.

The default security policy file java.policy—found in the /path/to/java.home/lib/security directory on UNIX-like systems and its equivalent on Microsoft Windows systems—grants a few permissions (reading system properties, binding to unprivileged ports, and so forth). A user-specific policy file may be located in the user's home directory. The union of these policy files specifies the permissions granted to a program. The file can specify which policy files are used. If either of the systemwide java.policy or files is deleted, no permissions are granted to the executing Java program.

Compliant Solution (Custom Policy File)

Use double equals (==) instead of the single equals (=) when overriding the global Java security policy file with a custom policy file:

java \ \

Compliant Solution (Additional Policy Files)

The appletviewer automatically installs a security manager with the standard policy file. To specify additional policy files, use the -J flag.

appletviewer \

Note that the policy file specified in the argument is ignored when the policy.allowSystemProperty property in the security properties file ( is set to false; the default value of this property is true. Default Policy Implementation and Policy File Syntax [Policy 2010] discusses in depth the issues of and syntax for writing policy files.

Noncompliant Code Example (Programmatic Installation)

A SecurityManager can also be activated using the static System.setSecurityManager() method. Only one SecurityManager may be active at a time. This method replaces the currently active SecurityManager with the SecurityManager provided in its argument or no SecurityManager if its argument is null.

This noncompliant code example deactivates any current SecurityManager but does not install another SecurityManager in its place. Consequently, subsequent code will run with all permissions enabled; there will be no restrictions on any nefarious action the program might perform.

try {
} catch (SecurityException se) {
  // Cannot set security manager, log to file

An active SecurityManager that enforces a sensible security policy will prevent the system from deactivating it, causing this code to throw a SecurityException.

Compliant Solution (Default Security Manager)

This compliant solution instantiates and sets the default security manager:

try {
  System.setSecurityManager(new SecurityManager());
} catch (SecurityException se) {
  // Cannot set security manager, log appropriately

Compliant Solution (Custom Security Manager)

This compliant solution demonstrates how to instantiate a custom SecurityManager class called CustomSecurityManager by invoking its constructor with a password; this custom security manager is then installed as the active security manager.

char password[] = /* initialize */
try {
    new CustomSecurityManager("password here")
} catch (SecurityException se) {
  // Cannot set security manager, log appropriately

After this code executes, APIs that perform security checks use the custom security manager. As noted earlier, custom security managers should be installed only when the default security manager lacks the required functionality.


Java security fundamentally depends on the existence of a security manager. In its absence, sensitive actions can execute without restriction.

Programmatic detection of the presence or absence of a SecurityManager at runtime is straightforward. Static analysis can address the presence or absence of code that would attempt to install a SecurityManager if the code were executed. Checking whether the SecurityManager is installed early enough, whether it specifies the desired properties, or whether it is guaranteed to be installed may be possible in some special cases but is generally undecidable.


[API 2014]Class SecurityManager
Class AccessControlContext
Class AccessController
[Gong 2003]§6.1, "Security Manager"
[Pistoia 2004]§7.4, "The Security Manager"
[Policy 2010]Default Policy Implementation and Policy File Syntax
[SecuritySpec 2010]§6.2, "SecurityManager versus AccessController"



  1. I've approved this rule. This is more of a tutorial than a secure coding rule, but it is a good introduction to Java's security architecture, and we have very few security-related 'beginner buidelines' here.

  2. WRT the last CS, does anyone use a custom SecurityManager? The default SecurityManager seems powerful enough for most uses (there are very few uses).

    1. For what it's worth, we use a custom securitymanager.  the default implementation is great as long as what you want to do is like an applet or a webstart app.  however, it's a bit lacking in other scenarios.