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Philipp Tessenow, Gilad Bracha, Tim Felgentreff, Robert Hirschfeld

Extending a dynamic programming language and runtime environment with access control

ISBN: 978-3-86956-373-2
83 pages, Monographie
Release year 2016

Series: Technische Berichte des Hasso-Plattner-Instituts für Softwaresystemtechnik an der Universität Potsdam , 107

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Complexity in software systems is a major factor driving development and maintenance costs. To master this complexity, software is divided into modules that can be developed and tested separately. In order to support this separation of modules, each module should provide a clean and concise public interface. Therefore, the ability to selectively hide functionality using access control is an important feature in a programming language intended for complex software systems.
Software systems are increasingly distributed, adding not only to their inherent complexity, but also presenting security challenges. The object-capability approach addresses these challenges by defining language properties providing only minimal capabilities to objects. One programming language that is based on the object-capability approach is Newspeak, a dynamic programming language designed for modularity and security. The Newspeak specification describes access control as one of Newspeak’s properties, because it is a requirement for the object-capability approach. However, access control, as defined in the Newspeak specification, is currently not enforced in its implementation.
This work introduces an access control implementation for Newspeak, enabling the security of object-capabilities and enhancing modularity. We describe our implementation of access control for Newspeak. We adapted the runtime environment, the reflective system, the compiler toolchain, and the virtual machine. Finally, we describe a migration strategy for the existing Newspeak code base, so that our access control implementation can be integrated with minimal effort.

Complexity in software systems is a major factor driving development and maintenance costs. To master this complexity, software is divided into modules that can be developed and tested separately. In order to support this separation of modules, each module should provide a clean and concise public interface. Therefore, the ability to selectively hide functionality using access control is an important feature in a programming language intended for complex software systems.
Software systems are increasingly distributed, adding not only to their inherent complexity, but also presenting security challenges. The object-capability approach addresses these challenges by defining language properties providing only minimal capabilities to objects. One programming language that is based on the object-capability approach is Newspeak, a dynamic programming language designed for modularity and security. The Newspeak specification describes access control as one of Newspeak’s properties, because it is a requirement for the object-capability approach. However, access control, as defined in the Newspeak specification, is currently not enforced in its implementation.
This work introduces an access control implementation for Newspeak, enabling the security of object-capabilities and enhancing modularity. We describe our implementation of access control for Newspeak. We adapted the runtime environment, the reflective system, the compiler toolchain, and the virtual machine. Finally, we describe a migration strategy for the existing Newspeak code base, so that our access control implementation can be integrated with minimal effort.