Fabric: Building Open Distributed Systems Securely by Construction
Jed Liu, Owen Arden, Michael D. George, and Andrew C. Myers
Cornell University

Journal of Computer Security
May 2017


Distributed information systems are prevalent in modern computing but difficult to build securely. Because systems commonly span domains of trust, host nodes share data and code of varying degrees of trustworthiness. Modern systems are often open and extensible, making security even harder to reason about. Unfortunately, standard methods for software construction do not help programmers enough with ensuring their software is secure.

Fabric is a system and language for building open, distributed, extensible information systems that are secure by construction. Fabric is a decentralized system that allows nodes to securely share both data and code despite mutual distrust. All resources are labeled with confidentiality and integrity policies that are enforced through a combination of compile-time and run-time mechanisms.

The Fabric language offers a high-level but powerful model of computation. All resources appear as objects in the language, and the distribution and persistence of code and data are largely transparent to programmers. Fabric supports both data-shipping and query/RPC styles of computation: computation and information can both move between nodes. Optimistic, nested transactions ensure consistency across all objects and nodes. Fabric programs can securely share mobile code across trust domains, enabling more reuse and evolution of code and supporting new kinds of secure applications not possible in other distributed systems. Results from applications built using Fabric suggest that Fabric enforces strong security while offering a clean, concise, powerful programming model with good performance. An open-source prototype is available for download.