A Theory of Information-Flow Labels

By BenoƮt Montagu, Benjamin C. Pierce, Randy Pollack
Date: June 26, 2013

In IEEE 26th Computer Security Foundations Symposium (CSF). June 26, 2013, New Orleans, LA USA.

The security literature offers a multitude of calculi, languages, and systems for information-flow control, each with some set of labels encoding security policies that can be attached to data and computations. The exact form of these labels varies widely, with different systems offering many different combinations of features addressing issues such as confidentiality, integrity, and policy ownership. This variation makes it difficult to compare the expressive power of different information-flow frameworks.

To ground such comparisons, we introduce label algebras, an abstract interface for information-flow labels equipped with a notion of authority, and study several notions of embedding between them. The simplest is a straightforward notion of injection between label algebras, but this lacks a clear computational motivation and rejects some reasonable encodings between label models. We obtain a more refined account by defining a space of encodings parameterized by an interpretation of labels and authorities, thus giving a semantic flavor to the definition of encoding. We study the theory of semantic encodings and consider two specific instances, one based on the direct observations of boolean values and one based on the behavior of programs in a small lambda-calculus parameterized over an arbitrary label algebra.

We use this framework to define and compare a number of concrete label algebras, including realizations of the familiar taint, endorsement, readers, and distrust models, as well as label algebras based on several existing programming languages and operating systems.

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