In the last post I explained how to set the security attributes of a file on Windows. What naturally follows such a post is explaining how to implement the os.access method that takes into account such settings because the default implementation of python will ignore them. Lets first define when does a user have read access in our use case:

I user has read access if the user sid has read access our the sid of the ‘Everyone’ group has read access.

The above also includes any type of configuration like rw or rx. In order to be able to do this we have to understand how does Windows NT set the security of a file. On Windows NT the security of a file is set by using a bitmask of type DWORD which can be compared to a 32 bit unsigned long in ANSI C, and this is as far as the normal things go, let continue with the bizarre Windows implementation. For some reason I cannot understand the Windows developers rather than going with the more intuitive solution of using a bit per right, they instead, have decided to use a combination of bits per right. For example, to set the read flag 5 bits have to be set, for the write flag they use 6 bits and for the execute 4 bits are used. To make matters more simple the used bitmask overlap, that is if we remove the read flag we will be removing bit for the execute mask, and there is no documentation to be found about the different masks that are used…

Thankfully for use the cfengine project has had to go through this process already and by trial an error discovered the exact bits that provide the read rights. Such a magic number is:


Therefore we can easily and this flag to an existing right to remove the read flag. The number also means that the only import bit that we are interested in are bits 0 and 3 which when set mean that the read flag was added. To make matters more complicated the ‘Full Access’ rights does not use such flag. In order to know if a user has the Full Access rights we have to look at bit 28 which if set does represent the ‘Full Access’ flag.

So to summarize, to know if a user has the read flag we have to look at bit 28 to test for the ‘Full Access’ flag, if the ‘Full Access’ was not granted we have to look at bits 0 and 3 and when both of them are set the usre has the read flag, easy right ;) . Now to the practical example, the bellow code does exactly what I just explained using python and the win32api and win32security modules.

from win32api import GetUserName
from win32security import (
from ntsecuritycon import (
platform = 'win32'
def _int_to_bin(n):
    """Convert an int to a bin string of 32 bits."""
    return "".join([str((n >> y) & 1) for y in range(32-1, -1, -1)])
def _has_read_mask(number):
    """Return if the read flag is present."""
    # get the bin representation of the mask
    binary = _int_to_bin(number)
    # there is actual no documentation of this in MSDN but if bt 28 is set,
    # the mask has full access, more info can be found here:
    if binary[28] == '1':
        return True
    # there is no documentation in MSDN about this, but if bit 0 and 3 are true
    # we have the read flag, more info can be found here:
    return binary[0] == '1' and binary[3] == '1'
def access(path):
    """Return if the path is at least readable."""
    # for a file to be readable it has to be readable either by the user or
    # by the everyone group
    security_descriptor = GetFileSecurity(path, DACL_SECURITY_INFORMATION)
    dacl = security_descriptor.GetSecurityDescriptorDacl()
    sids = []
    for index in range(0, dacl.GetAceCount()):
        # add the sid of the ace if it can read to test that we remove
        # the r bitmask and test if the bitmask is the same, if not, it means
        # we could read and removed it.
        ace = dacl.GetAce(index)
        if _has_read_mask(ace[1]):
    accounts = [LookupAccountSid('',x)[0] for x in sids]
    return GetUserName() in accounts or EVERYONE_GROUP in accounts

When I wrote this my brain was in a WTF state so I’m sure that the horrible _int_to_bin function can be exchanged by the bin build in function from python. If you fancy doing it I would greatly appreciate it I cannot take this any longer ;)

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