Web applications in many domains such as healthcare and finance must process sensitive data, while complying with legal policies regarding the release of different classes of data to different parties. Currently, software bugs may lead to irreversible disclosure of confidential data in multi-tier web applications. An open challenge is how developers can guarantee these web applications only ever release sensitive data to authorised users without costly, recurring security audits.
Our solution is to provide a trusted middleware that acts as a “safety net” to event-based enterprise web applications by preventing harmful data disclosure before it happens. We describe the design and implementation of SafeWeb, a Ruby-based middleware that associates data with security labels and transparently tracks their propagation at different granularities across a multi-tier web architecture with storage and complex event processing. For efficiency, maintainability and ease-of-use, SafeWeb exploits the dynamic features of the Ruby programming language to achieve label propagation and data flow enforcement. We evaluate SafeWeb by reporting our experience of implementing a web-based cancer treatment application and deploying it as part of the UK National Health Service (NHS).