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: The hazards of presumptive computing

Related Stories

Does your password pass muster?

Mar 25, 2015

"Create a password" is a prompt familiar to anyone who's tried to buy a book from Amazon or register for a Google account. Equally familiar is that red / yellow / green bar that rates the new password's strength. ...

Fitness app connects exercisers to experts

Mar 24, 2015

Can advanced networking and next-generation applications help solve some of our nation's most pressing health problems? Can mobile devices and high-speed Internet be used to improve our health and well-being? ...

Automation offers big solution to big data in astronomy

Mar 24, 2015

It's almost a rite of passage in physics and astronomy. Scientists spend years scrounging up money to build a fantastic new instrument. Then, when the long-awaited device finally approaches completion, the ...

UN urged to ensure open access to plant genomes

Mar 20, 2015

A plant scientist from The Australian National University (ANU) has called for the United Nations to guarantee free and open access to plant DNA sequences to enable scientists to continue work to sustainably intensify world ...

We need to take responsibility for our own safety online

Mar 13, 2015

Going online without understanding the basics of how the internet works is like getting behind the wheel without knowing the road rules: you might still get where you're going, but you could be a danger to ...

Recommended for you

The hazards of presumptive computing

2 hours ago

Have you ever texted somebody saying how "ducking annoyed" you are at something? Or asked Siri on your iPhone to call your wife, but somehow managed to be connected to your mother-in-law?

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.