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Improving U2 Security

April 11, 2010 3 comments

The general IT knowledge of security has come along way in the last 20 years. Even more dramatically when considering the last 10 years.

People are generally aware that unless due care is taken, their computer could be injected with a virus, have personal information stolen from it or even be used to facilitate crime. Major OS Vendors have picked up their game and now are putting in a better attempt to prevent compromises from the OS level. Sure, you still hear the odd story about the latest privilege escalation, but compared to what it use to be…

Network level security has been given most of the attention (and IT budget funding) and is *generally* fairly secure these days. Application level is where most of the major hacks are happening now, but unfortunately, corporate uptake on securing their systems at the Application level hasn’t been as good as it was with the Networks.

Let’s be honesty and not undersell ourselves, securing complex applications is no mean feat. It takes knowledge, planning, lots of time & patience and sometimes out-of-the-box thinking. Thankfully, most modern programming languages and Database Management Systems do the heavy lifting for us. From the security features built into C# and Java to the vastly improved safety net found in SQL engines with fine-grained access control and in-built functions for preventing SQL injection, a lot of the basics have been solved.

This is where the U2 family has a few gaps to be filled. UniBasic needs some inbuilt functions for sanitisation, UniObjects needs some form of access control built around it and UniQuery/RetrieVe prepared statements/stored procedures would be nice.

With the increase push in integrating U2 servers as databases for modern front-ends such as web applications, data sanitisation is going to become a prevalent topic in the community. Built-in functions for UniQuery/RetrieVe, SQL and HTML sanitisation/encoding would be welcome additions to the UniBasic command family. Even better would be some form of prepared statements for the query languages. This make it simpler and easier to obtain better program security.

UniObjects is touted as a standard method of connecting GUI application front-ends to a U2 back-end. However, due to the limited access control supported by UniObjects, it is a dangerous hole in your system to have the required port open for anything other than back-end servers. Take into considering user ‘X’. User ‘X’ has appropriate login credentials for the old green screen system. IT brings out a new Windows GUI application, lets say for reporting, that runs on the user’s machine and uses UniObjects to connect to U2. In the old green screen system, User ‘X’ was limited to set menus and programs to run and could not get access to ECL/TCL. With enough knowledge (and malice), User ‘X’ can now freely use his green screen login credentials to log into the U2 system via UniObjects read/write records directly and even execute raw ECL/TCL commands.

So what exactly is the problem with UniObjects? Quite simply put, it has no fine-grained server-side control of what actions can be done, or commands issued via UniObjects. As long as you can log in, you can get a free pass to the back-end’s data. Let’s take MsSQL as a counter example. You can create views, stored procedures, grant or deny users a suite of privileges to tables and commands. Essentially, UniData needs to be able to have some access control scheme for UniQuery that allow you to define whether the users and read/write records in certain files. Ideally, all read/writes would be done through U2 UniBasic subroutines, with RPC daemon having the ability to have a command ‘white-list’ setup. That way, all data access can be moderated with UniBasic code and the RPC daemon having a white-list that only allows access to calling those subroutines.

All this highlights an issue we need to overcome as a community. The lack of U2 specific security literature. Where is the UniData/UniVerse security manual? Where is the “Top 10 common security mistakes” for U2? Sadly, security does seem to be an afterthought. Sometimes even a ‘neverthought’.

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