Language-based Enforcement of User-defined Security Policies (As Applied to Multi-tier Web Programs)

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2008-08-25

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Over the last 35 years, researchers have proposed many different forms of security policies to control how information is managed by software, e.g., multi-level information flow policies, role-based or history-based access control, data provenance management etc. A large body of work in programming language design and analysis has aimed to ensure that particular kinds of security policies are properly enforced by an application. However, these approaches typically fix the style of security policy and overall security goal, e.g., information flow policies with a goal of noninterference. This limits the programmer's ability to combine policy styles and to apply customized enforcement techniques while still being assured the system is secure.

This dissertation presents a series of programming-language calculi each intended to verify the enforcement of a range of user-defined security policies. Rather than ``bake in'' the semantics of a particular model of security policy, our languages are parameterized by a programmer-provided specification of the policy and enforcement mechanism (in the form of code). Our approach relies on a novel combination of dependent types to correctly associate security policies with the objects they govern, and affine types to account for policy or program operations that include side effects. We have shown that our type systems are expressive enough to verify the enforcement of various forms of access control, provenance, information flow, and automata-based policies. Additionally, our approach facilitates straightforward proofs that programs implementing a particular policy achieve their high-level security goals. We have proved our languages sound and we have proved relevant security properties for each of the policies we have explored. To our knowledge, no prior framework enables the enforcement of such a wide variety of security policies with an equally high level of assurance.

To evaluate the practicality of our solution, we have implemented one of our type systems as part of the Links web-programming language; we call the resulting language SELinks. We report on our experience using SELinks to build two substantial applications, a wiki and an on-line store, equipped with a combination of access control and provenance policies. In general, we have found the mechanisms SELinks provides to be both sufficient and relatively easy to use for many common policies, and that the modular separation of user-defined policy code permitted some reuse between the two applications.

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