Software Tool Plugs Security Leaks

Aug 01, 2007

Often when you make an Internet transaction, symbols on the Web page assure you that your transaction will be secure and that private information about you, such as passwords, bank account or credit card numbers, will not be intercepted by a third party.

Such assurances mean safe passage along the information highway. But is your private information secure after it enters a merchant's computer?

Not necessarily, says a University of Illinois at Chicago computer-security expert who is developing a software tool that will help keep private information from falling under prying eyes.

"There are many ways software can leak information, and often programmers are clueless about how to prevent it," said V.N. Venkatakrishnan, assistant professor of computer science and co-director of UIC's Center for Research and Instruction in Technologies for Electronic Security.

"Programmers need tools and techniques to write good code that safeguards private data," he said. "It is important to address end-user privacy concerns during software development."

The problem focuses on the massive number of computer programs written in C, the language most widely used for building systems software for applications such as mail agents, calendars and web browsers.

Building on previous research findings, Venkatakrishnan has developed a software tool to break up private, protected data-entering programs written in C, separating it from information that is open to public access, such as via an Internet link. The tool automatically identifies what Venkatakrishnan calls the program's public and private zones, monitoring the program while running, checking the information flow almost like a gatekeeper dividing attention between these two zones.

"Taken together, the public and private zones replace the original functionality of the program," he said. "It enables you to enforce different policies on these zones. For instance, the public zone is not allowed to read sensitive data, and the private zone is not allowed network access, which addresses end-user privacy concerns."

Venkatakrishnan has already developed a prototype tool and has successfully tested it on medium-scale software programs. He just received a two-year, $250,000 single-investigator grant from the National Science Foundation to create a way to scale-up the tool for use on large-scale programs, such as mail readers and Web browsers.

The tool will be easy for programmers to use, and applicable to a wide range of programs, Venkatakrishnan said. He expects to have it tested and ready for public release within two years.

"The prototype is there. It will be fairly easy for us to build on it."

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

Explore further: New role for Twitter: Early warning system for bad drug interactions

Related Stories

Most internet anonymity software leaks users' details

7 hours ago

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are legal and increasingly popular for individuals wanting to circumvent censorship, avoid mass surveillance or access geographically limited services like Netflix and BBC ...

For app developers, more big changes are coming soon

Jun 15, 2015

The App Store revolutionized the tech world when it opened in summer 2008, spawning a billion-dollar industry in one fell swoop. It was neither the first nor the largest back then, but the store quickly exploded in popularity, ...

US data breach is intelligence coup for China

Jun 13, 2015

The hacking of millions of US government employees is likely part of an effort by Chinese intelligence for long-term profiling—and possibly more nefarious things.

Recommended for you

Cattle ID system shows its muzzle

13 hours ago

Maybe it sounds like a cow and bull story, but researchers in Egypt are developing a biometric identification system for cattle that could reduce food fraud and allow ranchers to control their stock more efficiently. The ...

Combining personalization and privacy for user data

19 hours ago

Computer scientists and legal experts from Trinity College Dublin and SFI's ADAPT centre are working to marry two of cyberspace's greatest desires, by simultaneously providing enhanced options for user personalisation alongside ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.