Carnegie Mellon Developing Programming Language That Accommodates Multiple Languages in Same Program

Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have designed a way to safely use multiple programming languages within the same program, enabling programmers to use the language most appropriate for each function while guarding against code injection attacks, one of the most severe security threats in Web applications today.

A research group led by Jonathan Aldrich, associate professor in the Institute for Software Research (ISR), is developing a programming language called Wyvern that makes it possible to construct programs using a variety of targeted, domain-specific languages, such as SQL for querying databases or HTML for constructing Web pages, as sublanguages, rather than writing the entire program using a general purpose language.

Printed Circuit Board 2223Wyvern determines which sublanguage is being used within the program based on the type of data that the programmer is manipulating. Types specify the format of data, such as alphanumeric characters, floating-point numbers or more complex data structures, such as Web pages and database queries.

Many programming tasks can involve multiple languages; when building a Web page, for instance, HTML might be used to create the bulk of the page, but the programmer might also include SQL to access databases and JavaScript to allow for user interaction. By using type-specific languages, Wyvern can simplify that task for the programmer, Aldrich said, while also avoiding workarounds that can introduce security vulnerabilities.

One common but problematic practice is to paste together strings of characters to form a command in a specialized language, such as SQL, within a program. If not implemented carefully, this practice can leave computers vulnerable to two of the most serious security threats on the Web today — cross-site scripting attacks and SQL injection attacks. 

“Wyvern would make the use of strings for this purpose unnecessary and thus eliminate all sorts of injection vulnerabilities,” Aldrich said.

You can view the full press release here.