Platform Security

One of the things that makes Java so interesting is the security features that are built in to the platform itself. Java was designed to enable small programs, applets, to be downloaded and run without danger. Applets are nifty, but without the right precautions they would be very dangerous. Java’s bytecode verifier, ClassLoader, and SecurityManager work in tandem to safely execute downloaded classes.

The Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.2 (in beta as this book goes to press) includes some interesting security enhancements, including the concepts of protection domains, permissions, and policies. I won’t rehash Java’s platform security features here. For a good summary, see Exploring Java by Pat Niemeyer and Joshua Peck (O’Reilly). For a more thorough treatment, including the new JDK 1.2 features, see Java Security by Scott Oaks (O’Reilly). The security that the Java platform provides comes “for free” to application developers. Application-level security, however, needs to be developed into the application. This book is about programming application-level security through the use of cryptography.

Application-level security can compensate for an insecure platform, in some cases. Internet Protocol (IP) networks, for example, are insecure. It’s impossible to prevent packet snooping, Domain Name System (DNS) spoofing, or foul-ups like misdelivered email. A carefully crafted application, however, can compensate for an insecure platform like the IP network. If the body of your email is encrypted, for example, it won’t do anyone any good to view a message.[2] If you encrypt all data that you send over the network, then a packet sniffer won’t be able to pick up much useful information.

[2] If you’re especially careful, you might be interested in concealing the mere existence of the email. In this case, you’d need to take more elaborate precautions than simply encrypting the email.

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