Secure information-flow in Granule

Granule is designed to allow different kinds of property to be tracked via its type system (see more in Language). One such example is for enforcing data privacy so that confidentiality can be automatically verified and enforced via the type system.

The type system can be parameterised by a lattice of permissions. As with the rest of Granule’s property tracking, any quantitative constraints generated during type checking are discharged via an SMT solver. This allows arbitrarily complex lattices to be plugged-in to the compiler without any change to the type checker.

In these examples, we’ll just use a simple two-point lattice which is built-in, which has two values Public and Private. We can then, for example, declare a secret as existing only in a private zone:

secret : Int |Private|
secret = 42

The signature here marks the variable secret as Private only. We can define operations that work on security-level guarded values, but which are polymorphic in the level. For example, the following simulates the idea of having a hash function:

hash : forall (l : Level) . Int |l| -> Int |l|     -- at any level...
hash |x| = |(x * x * x)|                           -- ...hash by cubing

Then, if we try to write a program that is going to run in a public context, we cannot inadvertently leak the secret via the hash. For example, the following is rejected by the compiler:

-- Does not type check
main : Int |Public|
main = hash secret

We get the following error:

$ gr examples/

Checking examples/
Type error: examples/ :16:1:
Definition 'main' is Falsifiable

All of the tracking is automatically computed by the type system. We can of course hash the secret in the context of a private program, e.g., the following is accepted by the type checker:

main : Int |Private|
main = hash secret

Data types and privacy

As another more interesting example. Consider the following data type which capture the idea of a patient record which has a mixture of publicly accessible and non-public fields:

data Patient where
  Patient :
      Int    |Private|   -- Patient id
   -> String |Private|   -- Patient name
   -> Int    |Public|    -- Patient age
   -> Patient

Here we want to allow public access to a persons age, but to nothing else.

We can then write the following function which computes the mean age of a database of patients (represented as a list), which is publicly accessible:

meanAge : List Patient -> Int |Public|
meanAge xs = meanAge' xs |0| |0|

-- Tail-recursive helper
meanAge' : List Patient  -- Patient database
       -> Int |Public|   -- Count
       -> Int |Public|   -- Current age sum
       -> Int |Public|   -- Mean age viewed public
meanAge' xs |total| |n| =
  case xs of
    (Next (Patient |_| |_| |age|) xs) -> meanAge' xs |(age + total)| |(n+1)|;
    Empty -> |(div total n)|

Apart from some accounting via the boxing and unboxing operator |..| this is just a regular tail-recursive program. Notably, the meanAge function takes a database (list) of patients and returns a public integer.

If we tried to “sneak” some private information out through this query or if we wrote a query that exposed some of the patient’s private data, then the type system would reject it, e.g.

-- Rejected by Granule compiler
names : List Patient -> String |Public|
names xs =
  case xs of
    (Next (Patient |_| |name| |_|) xs) ->
       let |allNames| = names xs in |(name `stringAppend` allNames)|;

    Empty -> |("")|

The full example can be found in the Examples directory

What’s next

The next step is to allow partial declassification and tracking of allowed bounded amounts of leakage (e.g., we might allow the 2 bits of a patient ID to be leaked, but not the rest). We are working on primitives to allow more fine-grained tracking in this way. Furthermore, we are working on the interaction of privacy with Granule’s side-effect tracking features.

We are also developing techniques to avoid control flow attacks.

At this point, Granule is a core language for experimenting with fine-grained resource reasoning via graded modal types (the things wrapped in |..|). We have a companion surface-level language in development which makes these type implicit, so that programs resemble standard functional programs even more closely. This will then desguar into the Granule core language in the compiler.