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The Liberty Research Group

User-Centric Information-Flow Security

Even as modern computing systems allow the manipulation and distribution of massive amounts of information, users of these systems are unable to manage the confidentiality of their data in a practical fashion. Conventional access control security mechanisms cannot prevent the illegitimate use of of privileged data once access is granted. For example, information provided by a user during an online purchase may be covertly delivered to malicious third parties by an untrustworthy web browser. Information-flow security (IFS) mechanisms provide protection against such leaks of confidential data by tracking the flow of information through computation. Information-flow security policies can be used to prevent leaks of confidential data, provide audit trails for medical information access, or even enforce digital rights management. RIFLE is a novel implementation of IFS designed from the user's perspective.

What is RIFLE? RIFLE is a runtime information-flow security system that is made up of:

  1. Binary Translator - converts conventional binaries into an IFS program
  2. IFS Architecture - executes IFS programs and efficiently tracks information flow
  3. Security Enhanced OS - uses information-flow tracking to enforce user policies

How is RIFLE different from existing IFS systems? RIFLE is the first information-flow system designed from the user's perspective. Existing IFS mechanisms enforce information-flow policies for programs written in special programming languages at compile time, placing all the control in the hands of the programmer. RIFLE, on the other hand, uses binary translation to provide IFS for any program, not just those written in special languages. Since policy enforcement happens during program execution, RIFLE empowers users to implement a policy of their choosing, not one predetermined by the programmer. Finally, since RIFLE sees the actual program execution, it is capable of securely executing some programs that conventional static systems would reject as insecure.

RIFLE in Action. The figures on the right show RIFLE in action. The first figure shows simulation output of the program wc. Each file used had a distinct owner. The colors in the figure represent the different data owners on each byte of output. It shows that the data from one file does not leak into word counts of other files. The total word count is colored blue, indicating that information from multiple owners was used in its computation.

For more information, see our paper in MICRO-37.