Friday, October 12, 2007

NordSec 2007

Over the last couple of days, ICE-TCS and the School of Computer Science at Reykjavík University hosted NordSec 2007, the 12th Nordic Workshop on Secure IT-systems. The workshop featured invited talks by Cedric Fournet (Microsoft Research, Cambridge, UK) and Greg Morissett (Harvard University, USA). I attended a few talks at the workshop (in between visits to my office to take care of typical daily chores and make sure that my inbox did not overflow), and chaired a session with short presentations.

I found the event interesting and enjoyable. In particular, the two invited talks were excellent. Cedric Fournet presented some joint work with Andrew D. Gordon and Sergio Maffeis reported in the paper A Type Discipline for Authorization in Distributed Systems. In his talk, Cedric addressed the following two key questions.
  1. How can we express good authorization policies?
  2. How can we enforce good authorization policies?
Cedric's tenet in the talk was that logics are good languages for expressing policies, and that type systems can be used enforce good policies at compile time. He also showed the audience what can be guaranteed at compile time when parts of the system are compromised, and the role that "robust safety" (safety despite compromised principals) plays in reasoning about processes.

Greg Morissett delivered an inspiring talk on the Cyclone project. Cyclone is a safe dialect of C. It is designed so that pure Cyclone programs are not vulnerable to a wide class of bugs that plague C programs such as buffer overflows. (Greg said early on in his talk that the legacy of C is, if you allow me to phrase one of his slides as a regular expression, (Buffer overrun)* and that he hates C!) Greg's talk was a great ad for some of the topics I am about to cover in my course on semantics for programming languages, and highlighted how good time-honoured theory in new clothes can help improve on the safety of a beast like C.

I think that his talk gave each member of the audience something to take home, and that's one of the main secrets of a successful invited address. I just wish that more of my colleagues had been there to listen.

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