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O'Reilly Open Source Convention


SOLD OUT Who Watches the Watchers: Developing "Translucent" Applications that Protect Sensitive Data
Zak Greant, eZ systems

Track: Apps
Date: Tuesday, July 08
Time: 8:45am - 12:15pm
Location: Salon H

Applications that collect, store, and manage sensitive data often rely on combinations of application-level security mechanisms and role-based access controls to protect the data. This strategy does not fully address the real issues surrounding the storage of sensitive data--the issue of protecting the data, rather than just restricting access to it. By focusing on protecting the data, instead of the application, we can reduce or eliminate the damage done when the application is compromised or access to it is abused.

In this tutorial, Greant introduces the concept of “translucent”* information protection methods, teaching the attendee how to create applications that use combinations of cryptographic mechanisms, lossy data storage, quantization, denormalization, and good-old-fashioned misdirection to protect the security and privacy of their users.

The approach described also works to reduce the liability, application administration and data management concerns of the application's developers, managers and providers.

The solutions presented in the tutorial will be implemented using MySQL and Ruby, however the methods and processes presented can be implemented using any combination of comparable technologies.

*As described (and coined) by Peter Wayner in his excellent book, Translucent Databases.

Greant provides some additional background: “My evangelism work for MySQL AB puts me in contact with many interesting and exceptional individuals. One of the people that I met is author Peter Wayner. Peter has written a variety of high-quality books that deal with the practical application of cryptographic techniques. One of these books, Translucent Databases, focuses on protecting sensitive data.

“A good deal of my work as a developer has focused on building systems that manage and protect sensitive data such as credit and investment information, work requests, voting systems, etc. The techniques that I used were less sophisticated than what Peter details in his book.

“I tried to persuade Peter to come and present at OSCON, but he begged off claiming that a baby was on the way. I felt that a lot of developers could really benefit from the information that he describes in his book. So, with his blessing, I decided to propose a tutorial on translucency in applications.

“Few applications focus on protecting the integrity of data that relates to individuals. This is key because we are more and more defined by the information that is available about us.

“The tutorial material can be applied in a variety of environments, but most of the examples will focus more strongly on online applications. After this presentation, attendees will be able to develop policies and applications that work to ensure that the integrity of the sensitive data that they manage remains intact while in their possession.”

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