Online Cardholder Authentication without Accessing the Card Issuer’s Site

One of the saddest failings of Internet technology is the lack of security for online credit card transactions. In in-store transactions, the cardholder authenticates by presenting the card, and card counterfeiting has been made much more difficult by the addition of a chip to the card. But in online transactions, the cardholder is still authenticated by his or her knowledge of credit card and cardholder data, a weak secret known by many.

Credit card networks have been trying to provide security for online transactions for a long time. In the nineties they proposed a complicated cryptographic protocol called SET (Secure Electronic Transactions) that was never deployed. Then they came up with a simpler protocol called 3-D Secure, where the merchant redirects the cardholder’ browser to the issuing bank, which asks the cardholder to authenticate with a password. 3-D Secure is rarely used in the US and unevenly used in other countries, due to the friction that it causes and the risk of transaction abandonment; lately some issuers have been asking for a second authentication factor, adding more friction. Now the networks have come up with version 2 of 3-D Secure, which removes friction for low risk transactions by introducing a “frictionless flow”. But the frictionless flow does not authenticate the cardholder. Instead, the merchant sends device and cardholder data to the issuer through a back channel, potentially violating the cardholder’s privacy.

Last August we wrote a blog post and a paper proposing a scheme for authenticating the cardholder without friction using a cryptographic payment credential consisting of a public key certificate and the associated private key. We have recently written a revised version of the paper with major improvements to the scheme. The paper will be presented next month at HCII 2019 in Orlando.

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Pomcor Contributes Biometrics Chapter to HCI and Cybersecurity Handbook

Karen Lewison and I have contributed the chapter on Biometrics to the book Human-Computer Interaction and Cybersecurity Handbook, published by Taylor & Francis in the CRC Press series on Human Factors and Ergonomics. The editor of the paper, Abbas Moallem, has received the SJSU 2018 Author and Artist Award for the book.

Biometrics is a very complex topic because there are many biometric modalities, and different modalities use different technologies that require different scientific backgrounds for in-depth understanding. The chapter focuses on biometric verfication and packs a lot of knowledge in only 20 pages, which it organizes by identifying general concepts, matching paradigms and security architectures before diving into the details of fingerprint, iris, face and speaker verification, briefly surveying other modalities, and discussing several methods of combining modalities in biometric fusion. It emphasizes presentation attacks and mitigation methods that can be used in what will always be an arms race between impersonators and verifiers, and discusses the security and privacy implications of biometric technologies.

Feedback or questions about the chapter would be very welcome as comments on this post.

Pomcor Granted Patent on Multifactor Cryptographic Authentication

Pomcor has recently been granted US Patent 9,887,989 on a multifactor cryptographic authentication technique that uses a cryptographic key pair in conjunction with a password and/or a biometric key while protecting the password and biometric data against back-end security breaches. All our patents are available for licensing.

At the last Internet Identity Workshop we demonstrated single factor cryptographic authentication, not covered by the patent, where a key pair stored in browser local storage is used instead of a password for authentication to a web application. (A proof-of-concept implementation of a simple web app is available in the PJCL web page and described in the previous post.) Cryptographic authentication has huge advantages over password authentication, as passwords are vulnerable to back-end database breaches, phishing attacks, and password reuse at malicious or insecure sites. But when used in multifactor authentication, a password provides the unique benefit of being something that the user knows, independent of something that the user has (a device that contains a private key or is able to generate or receive one-time codes) and something that the user is (a biometric feature). Our latest patent discloses a novel multifactor authentication technique where a password can provide this benefit while being immune to the vulnerabilities of conventionally used passwords.

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What kind of “encrypted fingerprint template” is used by MasterCard?

In a press release, MasterCard announced yesterday an EMV payment card that features a fingerprint reader. The release said that two trials have been recently concluded in South Africa and, after additional trials, a full roll out is expected this year.

In the United States, EMV chip cards are used without a PIN. The fingerprint reader is no doubt intended to fill that security gap. But any use of biometrics raises privacy concerns. Perhaps to address such concerns, the press release stated that a fingerprint template stored in the card is “encrypted”.

That’s puzzling. If the template is encrypted, what key is used to decrypt it before use?

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Comments on the Recommended Use of Biometrics in the New Digital Identity Guidelines, NIST SP 800-63-3

NIST is working on the third revision of SP 800-63, which used to be called the Electronic Authentication Guideline and has now been renamed the Digital Identity Guidelines. An important change in the current draft of the third revision is a much expanded scope for biometrics. The following are comments by Pomcor on that aspect of the new guidelines, and more specifically on Section 5.2.3 of Part B, which we have sent to NIST in response to a call for public comments.

The draft is right in recommending the use of presentation attack detection (PAD). We think it should go farther and make PAD a mandatory requirement right away, without waiting for a future edition as stated in a note.

But the draft only considers PAD performed at the sensor. Continue reading “Comments on the Recommended Use of Biometrics in the New Digital Identity Guidelines, NIST SP 800-63-3”

Using Near-Field Communication for Remote Identity Proofing

This is the last of a four-part series of posts presenting results of a project sponsored by an SBIR Phase I grant from the US Department of Homeland Security. These posts do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the US Government.

We have just published a paper presenting the last three of the five solutions that we have identified in the research project on remote identity proofing that we are now finalizing. Solutions 3–5 use Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology for remote identity proofing. Each of the solutions uses a preexisting NFC-enabled hardware token designed for some other purpose as a credential in remote identity proofing. A native app running on an NFC-enabled mobile device serves as a relay between the NFC token and the remote verifier.

In Solution 3 the token is a contactless EMV payment card. In Solution 4, the token is a medical identification smart card containing a private key and a certificate that binds the associated public key to attributes and a facial image. In Solution 5, the token is an e-Passport with an embedded RFID chip that contains signed data comprising biographic data and a facial image.

In solutions 4 and 5 a native app submits to the verifier an audio-visual stream of the subject reading prompted text. The verifier matches the face in the video to the facial image in the NFC token, uses speech recognition technology to verify that the subject is reading the text that was prompted, and verifies that the audio and video channels of the stream are in synchrony by matching distinguishable visemes in the video channel to phonemes in the audio channel.

See also:

Revocable Biometrics Discussion at the Internet Identity Workshop

One thing I like about the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) is its unconference format, which allows for impromptu sessions. A discussion during one session can raise an issue that deserves its own session, and an impromptu session can be called the same day or the following day to discuss it. A good example of this happened at the last IIW (IIW XXII), which was held on April 26-28, 2016 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

During the second day of the workshop, a participant in a session drew attention to one of the dangers of using biometrics for authentication, viz. the fact that biometrics are not revocable. This is true in the sense that you cannot change at will the biometric features of the human body, and it is a strong reason for using biometrics sparingly; but I pointed out that there is something called “revocable biometrics”. Continue reading “Revocable Biometrics Discussion at the Internet Identity Workshop”

Biometrics and Derived Credentials

This is Part 4 of a series discussing the public comments on Draft NIST SP 800-157, Guidelines for Derived Personal Identity Verification (PIV) Credentials and the final version of the publication. Links to all the posts in the series can be found here.

As reviewed in Part 3, a PIV card carries two fingerprint templates for off-card comparison, and may also carry one or two additional fingerprint templates for on-card comparison, one or two iris images, and an electronic facial image. These biometrics may be used in a variety of ways, by themselves or in combination with cryptographic credentials, for authentication to a Physical Access Control System (PACS) or a local workstation. The fingerprint templates for on-card comparison can also be used to activate private keys used for authentication, email signing, and email decryption.

By contrast, neither the draft version nor the final version of SP 800-157 consider the use of any biometrics analogous to those carried in a PIV card for activation or authentication. Actually, they “implicitly forbid” the storage of such biometrics by the Derived PIV Application that manages the Derived PIV Credential, according to NIST’s response to comment 30 by Precise Biometrics.

But several comments requested or suggested the use of biometrics by the Derived PIV Application. In this post I review those comments, and other comments expressing concern for biometric privacy. Then I draw attention to privacy-preserving biometric techniques that should be considered for possible use in activating derived credentials.
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Biometrics in PIV Cards

This is Part 3 of a series discussing the public comments on Draft NIST SP 800-157, Guidelines for Derived Personal Identity Verification (PIV) Credentials and the final version of the publication. Links to all the posts in the series can be found here.

After Part 1 and Part 2, in this Part 3 I intended to discuss comments received by NIST regarding possible uses of biometrics in connection with derived credentials. But that requires explaining the use of biometrics in PIV cards, and as I delved into the details, I realized that this deserves a blog post of its own, which may be of interest in its own right. So in this post I will begin by reviewing the security and privacy issues raised by the use of biometrics, then I will recap the biometrics carried in a PIV card and how they are used.

Biometric security

When used for user authentication, biometrics are sometimes characterized as “something you are“, while a password or PIN is “something you know” and a private key stored in a smart card or computing device is “something you have“, “you” being the cardholder. However this is only an accurate characterization when a biometric sample is known to come from the cardholder or device user, which in practice requires the sample to be taken by, or at least in the presence of, a human attendant. How easy it was to dupe the fingerprint sensors in Apple’s iPhone (as demonstrated in this video) and Samsung’s Galaxy S5 (as demonstrated in this video) with a spoofed fingerprint shows how difficult it is to verify that a biometric sample is live, Continue reading “Biometrics in PIV Cards”

Strong Authentication with a Low-Entropy Biometric Key

This is the fourth of a series of posts discussing the paper A Comprehensive Approach to Cryptographic and Biometric Authentication from a Mobile Perspective.

Biometrics are a strong form of authentication when there is assurance of liveness, i.e. assurance that the biometric sample submitted for authentication belongs to the individual seeking authentication. Assurance of liveness may be relatively easy to achieve when a biometric sample is submitted to a reader in the presence of human operator, if the reader and the operator are trusted by the party to which the user is authenticating; but it is practically impossible to achieve for remote authentication with a reader controlled by the authenticating user. When there is no assurance of liveness, security must rely on the relative secrecy of biometric features, which is never absolute, and may be non-existent. Fingerprints, in particular, cannot be considered a secret, since you leave fingerprints on most surfaces you touch. Using a fingerprint as a login password would mean leaving sticky notes with your password everywhere you go.

In addition to these security caveats, biometric authentication raises acute privacy concerns. Online transactions authenticated with biometric features would be linkable not only to other online transactions, but also to offline activities of the user. And both online and offline transactions would become linked to the user’s identity if a biometric sample or template pertaining to the user became public knowledge or were acquired by an adversary.

Yet, in Section 3, the paper proposes a method of using biometrics for user authentication on a mobile device to an application back-end. The method addresses the above security and privacy concerns as follows:

  1. First, biometrics is not used by itself, but rather as one factor in multifactor authentication, another required factor being possession of a protocredential stored in the user’s device, and another optional factor being knowledge of a passcode such as a PIN.
  2. Second, the paper suggests using an iris scan, which provides more secrecy than fingerprints. (The scan could be taken by a camera on the user’s mobile device. The paper cites the work of Hao, Anderson, and Daugman at the University of Cambridge, which achieved good results with iris scans using a near-infrared camera. I have just been told that phone cameras filter our near-infrared light, so a special camera may be needed. The Wikipedia article on iris recognition discusses the use of near-infrared vs. visible light for iris scanning.)
  3. Third, no biometric-related data is sent by the user’s device to the application back-end, neither at authentication time nor at enrollment time. The biometric sample is used to regenerate a key pair on the device, and the key pair is used to authenticate the device to the back-end.
  4. Fourth, neither a biometric sample nor a biometric template are stored in the user’s device. Instead, the paper proposes to use one of several methods described in the literature, cited in Section 3.2, for consistently producing a biometric key from auxiliary data and genuine but varying biometric samples. Only the auxiliary data is stored in the device, and it is deemed unfeasible to recover any biometric information from the auxiliary data.

The resulting security and privacy posture is discussed in Section 4.4 of the paper.

As shown in Figure 3 (in page 22 of the paper), we combine the biometric key generation process with the key pair regeneration process of our protocredential-based authentication method. The biometric sample (the iris image in the figure) is a non-stored secret (the only one in this case), and the auxiliary data is kept in the protocredential as a non-stored-secret related parameter. The auxiliary data and the biometric sample are combined to produce the biometric key. A randomized hash of the biometric key is computed using a salt which is also kept in the protocredential, as a second non-stored-secret related parameter. The randomized hash of the biometric key is used to regenerate the key pair, in conjunction with the key-pair related parameters. The key pair regeneration process produces a DSA, ECDSA or RSA key pair as described in sections 2.6.2, 2.6.3 and 2.6.4 respectively. The public key is sent to the application back-end, and the private key is used to demonstrate possession of the credential by signing a challenge. Figure 4 (in page 23 of the paper) adds a PIN as a second non-stored secret for three-factor authentication; in that case the auxiliary data is kept encrypted in the protocredential, and decrypted by x-oring the ciphertext with a randomized hash of the PIN.

The combination of biometric key generation with our protocredential-based authentication method represents a significant improvement on biometric authentication methodology. There is an intrinsic trade-off between the consistency of a biometric key across genuine biometric samples and the entropy of the key, because the need to accommodate large enough variations among genuine biometric samples reduces the entropy of the key. In the above mentioned paper by Hao et al., the authors are apologetic about the fact that their biometric key has only 44 bits of entropy when the auxiliary data is known. But this is not a problem in our authentication framework, for two reasons:

  1. The auxiliary data is not public. An adversary must capture the user’s device to obtain it.
  2. An adversary who captures the user’s device and obtains the auxiliary data cannot mount an offline guessing attack against the biometric key. All biometric keys produce well-formed DSA or ECDSA key pairs, and most biometric keys produce well-formed RSA key pairs. To determine if a guessed biometric key is valid, the adversary must therefore use it to generate a key pair, and use the key pair to authenticate online against the application back-end, which will limit the number of guesses to a small number. Forty-four bits of entropy is plenty if the adversary can only make, say, 10 guesses.

Therefore our authentication method makes it possible to use low-entropy biometric keys without compromising security. This may enable the use of biometric modalities or techniques that otherwise would not provide sufficient security.

Nevertheless we do not advocate the routine use of biometrics for authentication. As pointed out in Section 10, while malware running on the user’s device after an adversary has captured it cannot obtain biometric data, malware running on the device while the user is using it could obtain a biometric sample by prompting the user for the sample. A biometric authentication factor should only be used when exceptional security requirements demand it and exceptional security precautions are in place to protect the confidentiality of the user’s biometric features.