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Stronger secrecy for network-facing applications through privilege reduction

Marchenko, P; (2014) Stronger secrecy for network-facing applications through privilege reduction. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Despite significant effort in improving software quality, vulnerabilities and bugs persist in applications. Attackers remotely exploit vulnerabilities in network-facing applications and then disclose and corrupt users' sensitive information that these applications process. Reducing privilege of application components helps to limit the harm that an attacker may cause if she exploits an application. Privilege reduction, i.e., the Principle of Least Privilege, is a fundamental technique that allows one to contain possible exploits of error-prone software components: it entails granting a software component the minimal privilege that it needs to operate. Applying this principle ensures that sensitive data is given only to those software components that indeed require processing such data. This thesis explores how to reduce the privilege of network-facing applications to provide stronger confidentiality and integrity guarantees for sensitive data. First, we look into applying privilege reduction to cryptographic protocol implementations. We address the vital and largely unexamined problem of how to structure implementations of cryptographic protocols to protect sensitive data even in the case when an attacker compromises untrusted components of a protocol implementation. As evidence that the problem is poorly understood, we identified two attacks which succeed in disclosing of sensitive data in two state-of-the-art, exploit-resistant cryptographic protocol implementations: the privilege-separated OpenSSH server and the HiStar/DStar DIFC-based SSL web server. We propose practical, general, system-independent principles for structuring protocol implementations to defend against these two attacks. We apply our principles to protect sensitive data from disclosure in the implementations of both the server and client sides of OpenSSH and of the OpenSSL library. Next, we explore how to reduce the privilege of language runtimes, e.g., the JavaScript language runtime, so as to minimize the risk of their compromise, and thus of the disclosure and corruption of sensitive information. Modern language runtimes are complex software involving such advanced techniques as just-in-time compilation, native-code support routines, garbage collection, and dynamic runtime optimizations. This complexity makes it hard to guarantee the safety of language runtimes, as evidenced by the frequency of the discovery of vulnerabilities in them. We provide new mechanisms that allow sandboxing language runtimes using Software-based Fault Isolation (SFI). In particular, we enable sandboxing of runtime code modification, which modern language runtimes depend on heavily for achieving high performance. We have applied our sandboxing techniques to the V8 Javascript engine on both the x86-32 and x86-64 architectures, and found that the techniques incur only moderate performance overhead. Finally, we apply privilege reduction within the web browser to secure sensitive data within web applications. Web browsers have become an attractive target for attackers because of their widespread use. There are two principal threats to a user's sensitive data in the browser environment: untrusted third-party extensions and untrusted web pages. Extensions execute with elevated privilege which allows them to read content within all web applications. Thus, a malicious extension author may write extension code that reads sensitive page content and sends it to a remote server he controls. Alternatively, a malicious page author may exploit an honest but buggy extension, thus leveraging its elevated privilege to disclose sensitive information from other origins. We propose enforcing privilege reduction policies on extension JavaScript code to protect web applications' sensitive data from malicious extensions and malicious pages. We designed ScriptPolice, a policy system for the Chrome browser's V8 JavaScript language runtime, to enforce flexible security policies on JavaScript execution. We restrict the privileges of a variety of extensions and contain any malicious activity whether introduced by design or injected by a malicious page. The overhead ScriptPolice incurs on extension execution is acceptable: the added page load latency caused by ScriptPolice is so short as to be virtually indistinguishable by users.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Stronger secrecy for network-facing applications through privilege reduction
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Computer Science
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1417188
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