Information erasure is a formal security requirement that stipulates when sensitive data must be removed from computer systems. In a system that correctly enforces erasure requirements, an attacker who observes the system after sensitive data is required to have been erased cannot deduce anything about the data. Practical obstacles to enforcing information erasure include: (1) correctly determining which data requires erasure; and (2) reliably deleting potentially large volumes of data, despite untrustworthy storage services.
In this paper, we present a novel formalization of language-based information erasure that supports cryptographic enforcement of erasure requirements: sensitive data is encrypted before storage, and upon erasure, only a relatively small set of decryption keys needs to be deleted. This cryptographic technique has been used by a number of systems that implement data deletion to allow the use of untrustworthy storage services. However, these systems provide no support to correctly determine which data requires erasure, nor have the formal semantic properties of these systems been explained or proven to hold. We address these shortcomings. Specifically, we study a programming language extended with primitives for public-key cryptography, and demonstrate how information-flow control mechanisms can automatically track data that requires erasure and provably enforce erasure requirements even when programs employ cryptographic techniques for erasure.