Quality metrics for assessing security-critical computer programs

Alshammari, Bandar M. (2011) Quality metrics for assessing security-critical computer programs. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Existing secure software development principles tend to focus on coding vulnerabilities, such as buffer or integer overflows, that apply to individual program statements, or issues associated with the run-time environment, such as component isolation. Here we instead consider software security from the perspective of potential information flow through a program’s object-oriented module structure. In particular, we define a set of quantifiable "security metrics" which allow programmers to quickly and easily assess the overall security of a given source code program or object-oriented design. Although measuring quality attributes of object-oriented programs for properties such as maintainability and performance has been well-covered in the literature, metrics which measure the quality of information security have received little attention. Moreover, existing securityrelevant metrics assess a system either at a very high level, i.e., the whole system, or at a fine level of granularity, i.e., with respect to individual statements. These approaches make it hard and expensive to recognise a secure system from an early stage of development. Instead, our security metrics are based on well-established compositional properties of object-oriented programs (i.e., data encapsulation, cohesion, coupling, composition, extensibility, inheritance and design size), combined with data flow analysis principles that trace potential information flow between high- and low-security system variables. We first define a set of metrics to assess the security quality of a given object-oriented system based on its design artifacts, allowing defects to be detected at an early stage of development. We then extend these metrics to produce a second set applicable to object-oriented program source code. The resulting metrics make it easy to compare the relative security of functionallyequivalent system designs or source code programs so that, for instance, the security of two different revisions of the same system can be compared directly. This capability is further used to study the impact of specific refactoring rules on system security more generally, at both the design and code levels. By measuring the relative security of various programs refactored using different rules, we thus provide guidelines for the safe application of refactoring steps to security-critical programs. Finally, to make it easy and efficient to measure a system design or program’s security, we have also developed a stand-alone software tool which automatically analyses and measures the security of UML designs and Java program code. The tool’s capabilities are demonstrated by applying it to a number of security-critical system designs and Java programs. Notably, the validity of the metrics is demonstrated empirically through measurements that confirm our expectation that program security typically improves as bugs are fixed, but worsens as new functionality is added.

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ID Code: 49780
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Fidge, Colin & Corney, Diana
Keywords: object-orientation, software security, Java security, software quality metrics, security metrics, security design principles, refactoring, software design, software coding, software maintenance, information flow
Divisions: Past > Schools > Computer Science
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 18 Apr 2012 07:02
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2012 07:02

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