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Are Privacy-Enhancing Technologies Really Needed for NSTIC?

This is the third of a series of posts on the prospects for using privacy-enhancing technologies in the NSTIC Identity Ecosystem.

In the first two posts we’ve looked at two, or rather three, privacy-enhancing authentication technologies: U-Prove, Idemix, and the Idemix Java card. The credentials provided by these technologies have some or all of the privacy features called for by NSTIC, but they have various practical drawbacks, the most serious of which is that they are not revocable by the credential issuer.

Given these drawbacks, it is natural to ask the question: are privacy-friendly credentials really necessary for NSTIC? My answer is: they are not needed in many important use cases, and they are useful but not indispensable in other important cases; but they are essential in cases that are key to the success of NSTIC.

Use Cases Where Privacy-Enhancing Technologies Are Not Needed

The most common use case of Web authentication is the case where a user registers anonymously with a Web site and later logs in as a returning user. Traditionally, the user registers a username and a password with the site and later uses them as credentials to log in. Today, third-party login is becoming popular as a way of mitigating the proliferation or reuse of passwords: the user logs in with username and password to a third-party identity provider, and is then redirected to the Web site, which plays the role of relying party. But there is a way of avoiding passwords altogether: the Web site can issue a cryptographic credential to the user upon registration, which the user can submit back to the Web site upon login. In that case there is no third party involvement and no privacy issues. The cryptographic credential can therefore be an ordinary PKI certificate. No privacy-enhancing technologies are needed.

Update. The PKI certificate binds the newly created user account to the public key component of a key pair that the browser generates on the fly.

Other cases where privacy-enhancing technologies are not needed are those where a credential demonstrates that the user possesses an attribute whose value uniquely identifies the user, and the relying party needs to know the value of that attribute. (One example of such an attribute is an email address.) Privacy-enhancing technologies are not useful in such cases because a uniquely-identifying attribute communicated to relying parties can be used to track the user no matter what type of credential is used to communicate the attribute.

Use Cases Where Privacy-Enhancing Technologies Are Useful but not Essential

Privacy-enhancing technologies are useful but not essential when the attributes certified by a credential do not uniquely identify the user, and the user has a choice of credential issuers. They are useful in such cases because they prevent the issuer from tracking the user’s activities by sharing data with the relying parties. They are not essential, however, because the user may be able to choose a credential issuer that she trusts. (Most privacy-enhancing technologies also prevent relying parties from collectively tracking the user by sharing their login information, without involvement of the credential issuer, but the risk of this happening may be more remote.)

Examples of non-identifying attributes are demographic attributes (city of residence, gender, age group), shopping interests, hobby interests, etc.; such attributes are usually self-asserted, but they can be supplied by an identity provider, chosen by the user, as a matter of convenience, so that the user does not have to reenter them and maintain them uptodate at each relying party. Examples of sites that may ask for such attributes are dating sites, shopping deal sites, hobbyist sites, etc.

Of course, a credential that contains non-identifying attributes will not by itself allow a user to log in to a site. But it can be used in addition to a PKI certificate issued by the site itself to recognize repeat visitors.

Use Cases Where Privacy-Enhancing Technologies Are Necessary

Privacy-enhancing technologies are necessary when the relying party does not require uniquely identifying information, and there is only one credential issuer. That one credential issuer could be the government. Non-uniquely-identifying information provided by government-issued credentials could include assertions that the user is old enough to buy wine, or is a resident of a particular state, or is licensed to practice some profession in some state, or is a US citizen, or has the right to work in the US.

I find it difficult to find examples where people would have a reasonable fear of being tracked through their use of government-issued credentials. But the right to privacy is a human right that is held dear in the United States, and has been found to be implicitly protected by the US constitution. Government-issued credentials will only be acceptable if they incorporate all available privacy protections. That makes the use of privacy-enhancing technologies essential to the success of NSTIC.

Wanted: Efficiently-Revocable Privacy-Friendly Credentials

So: privacy-friendly credentials are necessary; but, in my opinion, the drawbacks of existing privacy-enhancing technologies make them impractical. Therefore we need new privacy-enhancing technologies. Those new technologies should have issue-show and multi-show unlinkability; they should provide partial information disclosure, including proofs of inequality relations involving numeric attributes; and they should be efficiently revocable.

Fortunately, that’s not too much to ask. U-Prove and Idemix have been pioneering technologies, but they are now dated. U-Prove is based on research carried out in the mid-nineties, and the core cryptographic scheme later used in Idemix was described in a paper written in 2001. A lot of research has been done in cryptography since then, and several new cryptographic schemes have been proposed that could be used to provide privacy-friendly credentials.

I don’t think a scheme meeting all the requirements, including efficient revocation, has been designed yet. (I would love to be corrected if I’m wrong!) But possible ingredients for such a system have been proposed, including methods for proving non-revocation in time proportional to the square root of the number of revoked credentials [1] or even in practically constant time [2].

Update. Stefan Brands has told me that the cryptosystem described in [1] is considered part of the U-Prove technology, and that the revocation technique of [1] could be integrated into the existing U-Prove implementation to provide issuer-driven revocation. If that were done and the resulting system proved to be suitably efficient, the only ingredient missing from that system would be multi-show unlinkability.

Once a scheme with all the ingredients has been designed and mathematically verified, it still needs to be implemented. Cryptographic implementations are few and far between, but that does not mean that they are difficult. Recently, for example, three different systems of privacy-friendly credentials were implemented just for the purpose of comparing their performance [3].

Next and Last: Usability and Deployment

To conclude the series, in the next post I’ll try to respond to a comment made by Anthony Nadalin on the Identity Commons mailing list: “if it’s not useable or deployable who cares?”.

References

[1] Stefan Brands, Liesje Demuynck and Bart De Decker. A practical system for globally revoking the unlinkable pseudonyms of unknown users. In Proceedings of the 12th Australasian Conference on Information Security and Privacy, ACISP’07. Springer-Verlag, 2007. ISBN 978-3-540-73457-4. Preconference technical report available at http://www.cs.kuleuven.be/publicaties/rapporten/cw/CW472.pdf.
 
[2] T. Nakanishi, H. Fujii, Y. Hira and N. Funabiki. Revocable Group Signature Schemes with Constant Costs for Signing and Verifying. In IEICE Transactions, volume 93-A, number 1, pages 50-62, 2010.
 
[3] J. Lapon, M. Kohlweiss, B. De Decker and V. Naessens. Performance Analysis of Accumulator-Based Revocation Mechanisms. In Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Information Security (SEC 2010). Springer, 2010.
 

Pros and Cons of Idemix for NSTIC

This is the second of a series of posts on the prospects for using privacy-enhancing technologies in the NSTIC Identity Ecosystem.

In the previous post I discussed the pros and cons of U-Prove , so naturally I should now discuss the pros and cons of Idemix, the other privacy-enhancing technology thought to have inspired NSTIC. This post, like the previous one, is based on a review of the public literature. If I’ve missed or misinterpreted something, please let me know in a comment.

By the way, a link to the previous post that I posted to the Identity Commons mailing list triggered a wide-ranging discussion on NSTIC and privacy, which can be found in the mailing list archives .

Idemix is an open-source library implemented in Java. It is described in the Idemix Cryptographic Specification [1], and the academic paper [2]. It is mostly based on the cryptographic techniques of [3]. Curiously, although Idemix is provided by IBM, the main Idemix site is located at idemix.wordpress.com and disclaims to be an official IBM site.

There is also a smart card that implements a “light-weight variant of Idemix”. I discuss it at the end of this post.

Feature Coverage

Idemix provides all three privacy features alluded to in NSTIC documents [4] [5] and discussed in the previous post:

  1. Issuance-show unlinkability,
  2. Multi-show unlinkability, and
  3. Partial information disclosure.

The third feature includes both selective disclosure of attributes and the ability to prove inequalities such as the value of a birthdate attribute being less than today’s date minus 21 years without disclosing that birthdate attribute value.

Idemix also includes other features, such as the ability to prove that two attributes have the same value without disclosing that value, and the ability to prove that a certain attribute certified by the issuer has been encrypted under the public key of a third party, which may decrypt it under some circumstances. It could be argued that Idemix is over-engineered for the purpose of Web authentication, including features that add complexity but are not useful for that purpose.

Performance

The richer feature set of Idemix may come at a cost in terms of performance. From the data in Table 1 of [2], it follows that it would take about 12 seconds for the user to submit a credential with one attribute to a relying party that checks for expiration, and about 28 seconds to submit a credential with 20 attributes. The paper dates back to 2002, and the processor used was a relatively slow 1.1GHz Pentium III. (The authors say 1.1MHz but I assume they mean 1.1GHz.) But on the other hand the modulus size was 1024 bits, and Idemix currently uses a 2048 modulus [2]. The paper also promises optimizations that have no doubt been implememted by now. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find performance data in the Idemix site. A search for the word performance restricted to the site produces no results. If you know of any recent performance data, please let me know in a comment.

Revocation

We saw in the previous post that unlinkability makes revocation difficult. U-Prove credentials can be revoked by users because they do not have multi-show unlinkability, but cannot be revoked by issuers because they have issue-show unlinkability. Idemix credentials, which have both multi-show unlinkability and issue-show unlinkability, are revocable neither by users nor by issuers. I am not saying that unlinkability makes revocation impossible. Cryptographic techniques have been devised to allow revocation of unlinkable credentials, which I will discuss later in this series of posts. But those techniques are not used by U-Prove or Idemix.

Idemix has a credential update feature that can be used to extend the validity period of a credential that has expired. This facilitates the use of short-term credentials that may not need to be revoked. But the Idemix Cryptographic Specification [1] should not claim as it does that the credential-update feature can be used to implement credential revocation. Waiting for a credential to expire is not the same as revoking it. Short term credentials are an alternative to revocation. And, as an alternative, they have serious drawbacks: they are costly to implement for the issuer; they impose a logistic burden on the user agent; they may become unavailable if the issuer is down when the validity period needs to be extended; and the user agent may be overwhelmed by the need to renew many credentials at once if it has not been operational for an extended period of time. If a short-term credential is renewed on demand, just before it is used, renewal and use of the credential may be linkable by timing correlation.

The Idemix Java Card

The Idemix Java Card was intended as a smart identity card. Its implementation on the Java Card Open Platform (JCOP) is described in [6].

The cryptographic system in an Idemix card is described in the Idemix site as a “light-weight variant of Identity Mixer” (i.e. Idemix). But it is very different from the original Idemix system. According to [6], an implementation of the original system in a Java card would be impractical because credential submission could take 70 to 100 seconds. To make it less impractical, the issuer of a credential to a Java card certifies only that it trusts the Java card. The card is then free to present any attributes it wants to the relying party. (A different way of handling attributes is possible but not recommended, presumably because of the time it takes; see Footnote 5 of [6].) Security for the relying party depends on the issuer downloading the correct attributes and software to the card, and the user not being able to modify those attributes and software. The card must therefore be tamper resistant against the user. (Or at least tamper responsive, i.e. able to detect tampering and respond by zeroing out storage.)

Whereas a U-Prove smart card performs only a small portion of the cryptographic computations, the Idemix Java card is an autonomous system that performs all the cryptographic computations by itself, without help from the user’s computer. This takes time: 10.453 seconds for a transaction, i.e. for submitting a credential to a relying party, according to Table 2 of [6]; or 11.665 seconds according to Table 3. (In both cases, with a 1536-bit modulus, and not counting a 1.474 second revocation check; revocation is discussed below; the discrepancy between the two figures is not explained.) Some of the computations in Table 2 are labeled as precomputations, but no precomputations can take place if the card is not plugged in. The authors of [6] consider that a 10 second transaction time would be adequate. But I don’t think many Web users will be happy waiting 10 seconds each time they want to log in to a site.

Update. It is possible to implement full-blown privacy-friendly credentials systems very efficiently on a smart card. A non-Microsoft implementation of U-Prove on a MULTOS smart card [8], where all the cryptographic computations are carried out by the card, achieves credential-show times close to 0.3 seconds.

The Idemix card features a revocation mechanism. A card can be revoked by including its secret key in a revocation list. But the secret key is generated in the card when the card is “set up”, and it is not known to the party that sets up the card, nor to the issuers of credentials to the card, nor to the user who owns the card. The secret key can only be obtained by breaching the tamper pretection of the card, hence can only become known to an adversary. So the revocation feature seems useless.

Where does the peculiar idea of listing secret keys in a revocation list come from? It turns out that the cryptographic system of the Idemix card is derived from the cryptographic system of [7] which was designed for media copyright protection, e.g. to authenticate the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) in a DVD player before downloading a protected movie to the player. Apparently hackers extract secret keys of TPMs and publish them on the Web. Copyright owners find those secret keys and blacklist them. Blacklisting secret keys makes sense for copyright protection, but not as a revocation technique for smart cards.

Coming Next…

After reading this post and the previous post, you may be thinking whether privacy-enhanced technologies are really a good idea. I will try to answer that question in the next post.

References

[1] IBM Research, Zurich. Specification of the Identity Mixer Cryptographic Library Version 2.3.1. December 7, 2010. Available at http://www.zurich.ibm.com/~pbi/identityMixer_gettingStarted/ProtocolSpecification_2-3-2.pdf .
 
[2] Jan Camenisch and Els Van Herreweghen. Design and Implementation of the Idemix Anonymous Credential System. In Proceedings of the 9th ACM conference on Computer and Communications Security. 2002.
 
[3] J. Camenisch and A. Lysyanskaya. Efficient Non-Transferable Anonymous Multi-Show Credential System with Optional Anonymity Revocation. In Theory and Application of Cryptographic Techniques, EUROCRYPT, 2001.
 
[4] The White House. National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. April 2011. Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/NSTICstrategy_041511.pdf.
 
[5] Howard A. Schmidt. The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace and Your Privacy. April 26, 2011. White House blog post, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/26/national-strategy-trusted-identities-cyberspace-and-your-privacy.
 
[6] P. Bichsel, J. Camenisch, T. Groß and V. Shoup. Anonymous Credentials on a Standard Java Card. In ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, 2009.
 
[7] E. Brickell, J. Camenisch and L. Chen. Direct anonymous attestation. In Proceedings of the 11th ACM conference on Computer and Communications Security, 2004.
 
[8] Update. W. Mostowski and P. Vullers. Efficient U-Prove Implementation for Anonymous Credentials on Smart Cards. Available at http://www.cs.ru.nl/~pim/publications/2011_securecomm.pdf.
 

Pros and Cons of U-Prove for NSTIC

This is the first of a series of posts on the prospects for using privacy-enhancing technologies in the NSTIC Identity Ecosystem.

NSTIC calls for the use of privacy-friendly credentials, and NSTIC documents [1] [2] refer to the existence of privacy-enhancing technologies that can be used to implement such credentials. Although those technologies are not named, they are widely understood to be U-Prove and Idemix.

There is confusion regarding the capabilities of privacy-enhancing technologies and the contributions that they can make to NSTIC. For example, I sometimes hear the opinion that “U-Prove has been oversold”, but without technical arguments to back it up. To help clear some of the confusion, I’m starting a series of posts on the prospects for using privacy-enhancing technologies in the NSTIC Identity Ecosystem. This first blog is on the pros and cons of U-Prove, the second one will be on the pros and cons of Idemix, and there will probably be two more after that.

U-Prove is described in the U-Prove Cryptographic Specification V1.1 [3] and the U-Prove Technology Overview [4]. It is based on cryptographic techniques described in Stefan Brands’s book [5].

Privacy Feature Coverage

Three features of privacy-friendly credentials are informally described in NSTIC documents:

  1. Issuance of a credential cannot be linked to a use, or “show,” of the credential even if the issuer and the relying party share information, except as permitted by the attributes certified by the issuer and shown to the relying party.
  2. Two shows of the same credential to the same or different relying parties cannot be linked together, even if the relying parties share information.
  3. The user agent can disclose partial information about the attributes asserted by a credential. For example, it can prove that the user if over 21 years of age based on a birthdate attribute, without disclosing the birthdate itself.

Here I will not discuss how desirable these features are; I leave that for a later post in the series. In this post I will only discuss the extent to which U-Prove provides these features.

U-Prove provides the first feature, which is called untraceability in the U-Prove Technology Overview [4]. A U-Prove credential consists of a private key, a public key, a set of attributes, and a signature by the credential issuer. The signature is jointly computed by the issuer and the user agent in the course of a three-turn interactive protocol, the issuance protocol, where the issuer sees the attributes but not the public key nor the signature itself. Therefore the issue of a credential can be linked to a show of the credential only on the basis of the attribute information disclosed during the show.

U-Prove, on the other hand, does not provide the second feature, because all relying parties see the same public key and the same signature. Stefan Brands acknowledges this in Section 2.2 of [6], where he compares the system of his book [5] to the system of Camenisch and Lysianskaya, i.e. U-Prove to Idemix, acknowledging that the latter provides multi-show unlinkability but the former does not.

Unfortunately, the U-Prove Technology Overview [4] is less candid. It does discuss the fact that multiple shows of the same U-Prove credential (U-Prove token) are linkable, in Section 4.2, but the section is misleadingly entitled Unlinkability. It starts as follows:

Similarly, the use of a U-Prove token cannot inherently be correlated to uses by the same Prover of other U-Prove tokens, even if the Issuer identified the Prover and issued all of the Prover’s U-Prove tokens at the same time.

This is saying that different U-Prove tokens are not linkable! Which is a vacuous feature: why would different tokens be linkable? The section goes on to argue that that the issuer should issue many tokens to the user agent (the Prover) with the same attributes, one for each relying party (each Verifier). On the Web, this is utterly impractical. There are millions of possible relying parties: how many tokens should be issued? How can all those tokens be stored on a smart card? What if the user agent runs out of tokens? And how does the user agent know if two parties are different or the same? (Is example.com the same relying party as xyz.example.com?)

Update. Stefan Brands has pointed out that a U-Prove token does not take up any storage in a smart card if the private key splitting technique featured by U-Prove (which I refer to below) is used.

As for the third feature of privacy-friendly credentials, partial information disclosure, U-Prove provides it to a certain extent. When showing a credential, the user agent can disclose only some of the attributes in the credential, proving to the relying party that those attributes were certified by the credential issuer without disclosing the other attributes. However, U-Prove does not support the “age over 21” example found in several NSTIC documents. That would require the ability to prove that a value is contained in an interval without disclosing the value. Appendix 1 of the U-Prove Technology Overview [4] lists the ability to perform such a proof as one of the “U-Prove features” that have not been included in Version 1.1, suggesting that it could be included in a future version. In Section 3.7 of his book [5], Stefan Brands does suggest a method for proving that a secret is contained in an interval. However, it dismisses it as involving “a serious amount of overhead”, because it requires executing many auxiliary proofs of knowledge. (I believe that proving “age over 21” would require at least 30 auxiliary proofs, which is clearly impractical.)

An interesting feature of U-Prove is the ability to split the private key of a credential between the user agent and a device such as a smart card. The device must then be present for the credential to be usable, thus providing two-factor authentication; but the device only has to perform a limited amount of cryptographic computations, most of the cryptographic computations being carried out by the user agent. This makes it possible to use slower, and hence cheaper, devices than if all the cryptographic computations were carried out by the device (as is the case, for example, in an Idemix smart card).

Update. A non-Microsoft implementation of U-Prove on a MULTOS smart card, where all the cryptographic computations are carried out by the card with impressive performance (close to 0.3 seconds in some cases), can be found in [8].

Revocation

The ability to revoke credentials is usually taken for granted. In the case of privacy-friendly credentials, however, it is difficult to achieve. An ordinary CRL (Certificate Revocation List) cannot be used, since it would require some kind of credential identifier known to both the issuer and the relying parties, which would defeat unlinkability.

U-Prove credentials have a Token Identifier, which is a hash of the public key and the signature. Because U-Prove does not provide multi-show unlinkability, the Token Identifier, like the public key and the signature, is known to all the relying parties. The user agent could therefore revoke the credential by including the Token Identifier in a CRL. However, because U-Prove provides issue-show unlinkability, the credential issuer does not know the Token Identifier, nor the public key or the signature, and therefore cannot use it to revoke the credential.

Section 5.2 of the U-Prove Technology Overview [4] says that an identifier could be included in a special attribute called the Token Information Field for the purpose of revocation, and “blacklisted using the same methods that are available for X.509 certificates”; this, however, would destroy the only unlinkability feature of U-Prove credentials, viz. issuance-show unlinkability (which [4] calls untraceability).

Section 5.2 of [4] also suggests using on-demand credentials. However that does not seem practical: the user agent would have to authenticate somehow to the issuer, then conduct a three-turn interactive issuance protocol with the issuer to obtain the token, then conduct a presentation protocol with the relying party. The latency of all these computations and interactions would too high; and since the issuance computations would have to be carried out each time the credential is used, the cost for the issuer would be staggering. Furthermore, on-demand credentials may allow linking of issuance to show by timing correlation.

A workaround to the revocation problem is suggested in Section 6.2 of [4], for cases where the credential is protected by a device such as a smart card by splitting the private key between the user agent and the device. In those cases the Issuer could revoke the device rather than a particular credential protected by the device, by adding an identifier of the device to a revocation list. However this would require downloading the revocation list to the device in a Device Message when the credential is used, so that the device can check if its own identifier is in the list. Since a revocation list can have hundreds of thousands of entries (e.g. the state of West Virginia revokes about 90,000 driver licenses per year [7]), downloading it to a smart card each time the smart card is used is not a viable option.

Update. Stefan Brands has pointed out that only a revocation list increment needs to be downloaded to the card.

Appendix 1 of [4] includes an “issuer-driven revocation” feature in a list of U-Prove features not yet implemented:

An Issuer can revoke one or more tokens of a known Prover by blacklisting a unique attribute encoded in these tokens (even if it is never disclosed at token use time).

How this can be achieved is not explained in the appendix, nor in Brands’s book [5]. However it is explained in [6], where Brands proposes a new system and compares it to his previous system of [5], i.e. to U-Prove. He says that [5] “allows an issuer to invisibly encode into all of a user’s digital credentials a unique number that the issuer can blacklist in order to revoke that user’s credentials” adding that the blacklist technique “consists of repeating a NOT-proof for each blacklist element”. In other words, the idea is to prove a formula stating that the unique number is NOT equal to the first element of the blacklist, and NOT equal to the second element, and NOT equal to the third element, etc., without revealing the unique number. That can be done but, as Brands further says in [6], it is “not practical for large blacklists”. Indeed, based on Section 3.6 of [5], proving a formula with multiple negated subformulas requires proving separately each negated subformula. So if the blacklist has 100,000 elements, 100,000 proofs would have to be performed each time a credential is used.

By the way, the system of [6] is substantially different from U-Prove and not well suited for use on the Web, since it requires the set of relying parties to be known at system-setup time.

Update. Stefan Brands has told me that the cryptosystem described in [6] is considered part of the U-Prove technology, and that the revocation technique of [6] could be integrated into the existing U-Prove implementation to provide issuer-driven revocation.

Conclusions

I will save my conclusions for the last post in the series, but of course any comments are welcome now.

References

[1] The White House. National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. April 2011. Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/NSTICstrategy_041511.pdf.
 
[2] Howard A. Schmidt. The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace and Your Privacy. April 26, 2011. White House blog post, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/26/national-strategy-trusted-identities-cyberspace-and-your-privacy.
 
[3] Christian Paquin. U-Prove Cryptographic Specification V1.1 Draft Revision 1. February 2011. No http URL seems to be available for this document, but it can be downloaded from the Specifications and Documentation page, which itself is available at http://www.microsoft.com/u-prove.
 
[4] Christian Paquin. U-Prove Technology Overview V1.1 Draft Revision 1. February 2011. No http URL seems to be available for this document, but it can be downloaded from the Specifications and Documentation page, which itself is available at http://www.microsoft.com/u-prove.
 
[5] Stefan Brands. Rethinking Public Key Infrastructures and Digital Certificates: Building in Privacy 2000. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, USA, 2000. ISBN 0262024918. Available for free download at http://www.credentica.com/the_mit_pressbook.php
 
[6] Stefan Brands, Liesje Demuynck and Bart De Decker. A practical system for globally revoking the unlinkable pseudonyms of unknown users. In Proceedings of the 12th Australasian Conference on Information Security and Privacy, ACISP’07. Springer-Verlag, 2007. ISBN 978-3-540-73457-4. Preconference technical report available at http://www.cs.kuleuven.be/publicat ies/rapporten/cw/CW472.pdf.
 
[7] West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles. Annual Report 2010. Available at http://www.transportation.wv.gov /business-manager/Finance/Financial%20Reports/DMV_AR_2010.pdf.
 
[8] Update. W. Mostowski and P. Vullers. Efficient U-Prove Implementation for Anonymous Credentials on Smart Cards. Available at http://www.cs.ru.nl/~pim/publications/2011_securecomm.pdf.
 

Pomcor’s Comments on the Cybersecurity Green Paper

We have written a response to the Call for Comments on the report entitled Cybersecurity, Innovations and the Internet Economy, written by the Internet Policy Task Force of the US Department of Commerce.

In the response we call for research and development efforts aimed at improving and broadening the scope of the TLS protocol (formerly known as SSL). This would benefit NSTIC and the many IETF protocols that rely on TLS for their security.

If you have any comments on our response, please leave then below.

Pomcor’s Response to the NSTIC Notice of Inquiry

We’ve just sent to NIST Pomcor’s response to the NSTIC Notice of Inquiry with answers to questions 2.2 and 2.3.

NOI responses will eventually be posted at the NSTIC Web site. In the meantime, you can find ours here. Comments are very welcome. Please leave them below.

BrowserID and NSTIC

This post is in response to a tweet by @francesIDexpert who asked: “For those of you following #NSTIC, what do you think about this http://t.co/zUErAzZ”, where the shortened link refers to an article on BrowserID.

Here is my take on BrowserID and the Verified Email Protocol that it is based on. The functionality provided by an “IDBrowser Primary Authority” is equivalent to the functionality that would be provided by a certificate authority (CA) that would issue to a user a PKI certificate binding a public key to an email address, the CA being the email service providing the address.

I see two positives and one negative in BrowserID. The positives are:

  1. Having an email service provider issue email-address certificates, and
  2. Having the certificates issued automatically.

The negative is that BrowserID reinvents the wheel. There is no need for a new type of certificate, a new certificate store in the browser and a Javascript API for submitting certificates to a relying party, when an email address can be carried in an ordinarly PKI certificate, which a browser can store and present to a relying party as a TLS client certificate.

Now to NSTIC.

An explicit privacy goal of NSTIC is that colluding relying parties should not be able to use the user’s credentials to track the user. That is, two different relying parties should not be able to tell that the same user has logged in to both of them by comparing their login logs. Using an email address as an identifier is incompatible with this goal.

One could argue that relying parties need the user’s email address anyway. That’s true today, because email is often used to recover from forgotten passwords. But another goal of NSTIC is to provide alternatives to passwords. Without passwords, many relying parties will have no valid reason to ask for an email address. (And there will consequently be less spam.)

So an email-address certificate is a good way of demonstrating ownership of an email address to a relying party with a legitimate need to know the address. Actually, I will incorporate that idea into our proposed NSTIC architecture (with proper credit, of course) at the very next revision of the white paper. But an email address is not a good idea as a universal identifier for the Web.

Browsing Real Time Search Results

We have just released a cool new feature of Noflail Search. You can now watch how results change in real time as you use the page menu to browse a result set.

When you leave a page, the results in that page become “old”. Old results are shown with a dimmer grey background, and a page that only has old results has a dimmer grey button in the page menu. Noflail Search checks for new results when you click any button in the page menu. If a page that you’ve already visited has new results, its button is black rather than grey, and the new results are highlighted within that page by a brighter background.

You can control how the result set changes. You can make the results in the current page old without going away by clicking on a button for the current page in the page menu. You can go away without making the results old by holding down the shift key while clicking. And you can stop new results from coming in by freezing the result set. A short YouTube video tutorial goes over all this.

Noflail Search is a multisearch engine, that lets you run a query on many different search engines. It can run a query on an engine’s site and display results in pop-up window as rendered by the engine’s front-end. But for some engines that have a Web API, Noflail Search gets results by default through the API and displays them using the Noflail Search front-end. The new real time feature works for all those engines. I suggest that you try it out on the results provided by the real time search engine Topsy, which change fast for trending topics. But even results from a more traditional search engine such as Bing can be seen changing as you browse them.

This new feature solves an open problem in real time search: how to browse results that change frequently.

Some real time search engines, such as Twitter search (at twitter.com or search.twitter.com) and Google/Realtime (at google.com/realtime) show results ranked by recency in a constantly scrolling display. This shows how results change, but it is not very practical, since the user has to watch many irrelevant results go by before catching a relevant one.

Other real time search engines, such as Topsy (at topsy.com), rank results by both recency and relevance, with a traditional paginated user interface. This makes it easier to find relevant results, but it may be difficult to keep track of what results you have seen. If a result moves from page 2 to page 1 as you go from page 1 to page 2, the user may miss it.

Twitter and Google/Realtime address this open problem by also showing, besides the fast scrolling display, three older more relevant results. This concedes that they do not know how to blend recency and relevance.

Our new feature makes it possible to rank results by a balanced combination of recency and relevance and to use a paginated user interface, while at the same time showing how results change in real time and helping the user keep track of what results have been seen.

This new feature derives from research funded in part by grant 1013594 from the National Science Foundation.

We have patents pending on this and other aspects of Noflail Search.