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Ruby Programming
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Locking Ruby in the Safe

Walter Webcoder has a great idea for a portal site: The Web Arithmetic Page. Surrounded by all sorts of cool mathematical links and banner ads that will make him rich is a simple central frame, containing a text field and a button. Users type an arithmetic expression into the field, press the button, and the answer is displayed. All the world's calculators become obsolete overnight, and Walter cashes in and retires to devote his life to his collection of car license plate numbers.

Implementing the calculator is easy, thinks Walter. He accesses the contents of the form field using Ruby's CGI library, and uses the eval method to evaluate the string as an expression.

require 'cgi'

cgi = CGI::new("html4")

# Fetch the value of the form field "expression" expr = cgi["expression"].to_s

begin   result = eval(expr) rescue Exception => detail   # handle bad expressions end

# display result back to user...

Roughly seven seconds after Walter puts the application online, a twelve-year-old from Waxahachie with glandular problems and no real life types ``system("rm *")'' into the form and, like his application, Walter's dreams come tumbling down.

Walter learned an important lesson: All external data is dangerous. Don't let it close to interfaces that can modify your system. In this case, the content of the form field was the external data, and the call to eval was the security breach.

Fortunately, Ruby provides support for reducing this risk. All information from the outside world can be marked as tainted. When running in a safe mode, potentially dangerous methods will raise a SecurityError if passed a tainted object.
Ruby Programming
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  Published under the terms of the Open Publication License Design by Interspire