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COWL: A Confinement System for the Web

Posted by Marcus Zillman

COWL: A Confinement System for the Web

Modern web applications are conglomerations of JavaScript written by multiple authors: application developers routinely incorporate code from third-party libraries, and mashup applications synthesize data and code hosted at different sites. In current browsers, a web application’s developer and user must trust third-party code in libraries not to leak the user’s sensitive information from within applications. Even worse, in the status quo, the only way to implement some mashups is for the user to give her login credentials for one site to the operator of another site. Fundamentally, today’s browser security model trades privacy for flexibility because it lacks a sufficient mechanism for confining untrusted code once it reads sensitive data. COWL (Confinement with Origin Web Labels) is a robust JavaScript confinement system for modern web browsers. COWL introduces label-based mandatory access control to browsing contexts (pages, iframes, etc.) in a way that is fully backward-compatible with legacy web content. With COWL, developers not only can restrict with whom they share data, but also can impose restrictions on how their data is disseminated once it is shared. COWL achieves both flexibility for developers and privacy for users: it allows code to fetch and share data as necessary, but once code has read sensitive data, COWL confines the code by revoking its right to communicate with unauthorized parties. This will be added to Privacy Resources Subject Tracer™. This will be added to Entrepreneurial Resources Subject Tracer™. This has been added to the tools section of Research Resources Subject Tracer™.

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