Towards a Formal Foundation of Web Security

Devdatta Akhawe


We propose a formal model of web security based on an abstraction of the web platform and use this model to analyze the security of several sample web mechanisms and applications. We identify multiple distinct threat models that can be used to analyze web applications, ranging from a web attacker who controls malicious web sites and clients, to stronger attackers who can control the network and/or leverage sites designed to display user-supplied content. We propose two broadly applicable security goals and study five security mechanisms. In our case studies, which include HTML5 forms, Referer validation, and a single sign-on solution, we use a SAT-based model-checking tool to find two previously known vulnerabilities and three new vulnerabilities. The case study of a Kerberos-based single sign-on system illustrates key differences between network protocols and web protocols and finds a vulnerability that arises because of the way cookies, redirects, and embedded links are used. The paper based on this work is scheduled to appear at CSF 2010.

Time and Place

Jul 13 2010 (Tuesday) at 1630 hrs
Gates 4B (opposite 490)