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Developing Secure Applications Through Aspect-Oriented Programming

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This chapter provides helpful information on using aspect-oriented programming to develop security components for distributed applications. The effectiveness of AOP technology is demonstrated with two application-level security problems that illustrate the utility of this technology.
This chapter is from the book

In this chapter, we report upon our experiences using AspectJ to secure application software in a manageable way. Our case studies illustrate the effectiveness of AOP technology and show encouraging results. However, we also highlight some challenges to be addressed in the further development of aspect-oriented software development technology.

27.1 Introduction

Invariably, developing a real-life application demands that we consider both functional (i.e., related to the application business logic) and non-functional requirements. Separating the development of different requirements has important advantages in system evolution: As such requirements originate from different concerns (and very often from different stake-holders), they may cause different reiterations over various parts of the software life cycle. Successful separation of concerns thus leads to ease of development, maintenance, and potential reuse. State-of-the-art software techniques already support separating concerns, for instance, by using method structuring, clean object-oriented programming, and design patterns. However, these techniques are insufficient for more complex modularization problems. A major cause for this limitation is the inherently forced focus of these techniques on one view of the problem; they lack the ability to approach the problem from different viewpoints simultaneously. The net result is that conventional modularization techniques are unable to fully separate crosscutting concerns.

Aspect-oriented programming (AOP) is an approach that provides more advanced modularization techniques. The main characteristic of this technology is the ability to specify both the behavior of one individual concern and the way this behavior is related to other concerns (the binding). In fact, AOP has become a general term to denote several approaches to providing such development functionality. One prominent tool in this space is AspectJ [19]. AspectJ extends Java with mechanisms for expressing advanced modularization capabilities. In AspectJ, a unit of modularization is called an aspect, and a unit of binding is a pointcut.

This chapter reports the experience of developing security solutions for application software using AspectJ. We highlight both the advantages of aspect technology and remaining open challenges. The chapter is structured as follows: Section 27.2 briefly introduces the domain of application security. Section 27.3 covers two of the several case studies that we have developed. Section 27.4 evaluates AOP technology on the basis of our experience. We compare our work with alternative approaches to engineering application-specific security in Section 27.5, and we conclude in Section 27.6.

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