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Google asks for help on Native Client security

Google has been working on a new technology that is designed to help developers create more secure and interesting Web applications that can run on any platform. Known as Native Client, the technology is still in the development stages, but Google is now making it available to developers and security specialists in the hopes that they’ll kick some holes in it and help make it more useful.

Our approach is built around a software containment system called the inner-sandbox that is designed to prevent unintended interactions between a native code module and the host system. The inner-sandbox uses static analysis to detect security defects in untrusted x86 code. Previously, such analysis has been challenging due to such practices as self-modifying code and overlapping instructions. In our work, we disallow such practices through a set of alignment and structural rules that, when observed, enable the native code module to be disassembled reliably and all reachable instructions to be identified during disassembly. With reliable disassembly as a tool, it’s then feasible for the validator to determine whether the executable includes unsafe x86 instructions. For example, the validator can determine whether the executable includes instructions that directly invoke the operating system that could read or write files or subvert the containment system itself.

Interesting approach from Google. One thing that’s important to note here is that Google obviously isn’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Just as Microsoft for years has focused its efforts on getting as many developers as possible working on Windows-compatible projects, Google is interested in Web developers writing browser- and OS-independent applications. Google has its own browser now in Chrome, and while it doesn’t yet have an OS in the wild, it has just about everything else, including persistent rumors of an OS in the works.

So there’s motivation aplenty here and Google continues to do pretty well on the transparency scale. But there’s certainly a number of other security issues facing the company. Malicious search results continue to be a major problem, as does click fraud. But those aren’t solely Google’s problems either.

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