NSA’s FAQs Demystify the Demise of Suite B, but Fail to Explain One Important Detail

Last July, the National Security Agency (NSA) issued CNSS Advisory Memorandum 02-15, available at the Advisory Memoranda page, updating the list of cryptographic algorithms that can be used in National Security Systems (NSS). A subsequent document referred to the new algorithms as the Commercial National Security Algorithm Suite (CNSA Suite), which replaces Suite B. The transition to the CNSA Suite took place two months before a Suite B deadline to discontinue the use of RSA, DH and DSA and rely exclusively on ECC algorithms for public key cryptosystems. The subsequent document explained the motivation for the transition by saying that “the growth of elliptic curve use has bumped up against the fact of continued progress in the research on quantum computing, which has made it clear that elliptic curve cryptography is not the long term solution many once hoped it would be,” and announced “preliminary plans” for a future transition to quantum-resistant algorithms.

This abrupt change of course, following many years of promoting ECC, took the cryptographic community by surprise. Continue reading “NSA’s FAQs Demystify the Demise of Suite B, but Fail to Explain One Important Detail”

Has Bluetooth Become Secure?

Bluetooth has a bad reputation when it comes to security. Many vulnerabilities have been found over the years in the technology, and many successful attacks have been demonstrated against it. But the Bluetooth specification has also changed much over the years, and each revision of the specification has made substantial changes to the Bluetooth security protocols. Whether the latest protocols are secure is a question open to debate. This question is especially important when Bluetooth is used in emerging medical and Internet-of-Things applications where security flaws have safety implications. But it has also come up recently in the context of the Derived Credentials being standardized by NIST for authentication of Federal employees who use mobile devices.

(This is a continuation of the last two posts, which reported on the recent NIST Workshop on PIV-Related Special Publications. It is also the last of a seven-part series of posts discussing the public comments on Draft 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.)

Before tackling the question of whether Bluetooth is secure today, Continue reading “Has Bluetooth Become Secure?”

Identity-Based Protocol Design Patterns for Machine-to-Machine Secure Channels

Cryptography is an essential tool for addressing the privacy and security issues faced by the Web and the Internet of Things. Sadly, however, there is a chronic technology transfer failure that causes important cryptographic techniques to be underutilized.

An example of an underutilized technique is Identity-Based Cryptography. It is used for secure email, although not broadly. But, to my knowledge, it has never been used to implement secure channel protocols, even though it has the potential to provide great practical advantages over traditional public key infrastructure if put to such usage. We pointed this out in our white paper on TLS. Now we have also shown the benefits of identity-based cryptography for machine-to-machine communications, in a new paper that we will present at the Workshop on Security and Privacy in Machine-to-Machine Communications (M2MSec, San Francisco, October 29, 2014). Machine-to-machine communications fall into many different use cases with very different requirements. So, instead of proposing one particular technique, we propose in the paper four different protocol design patterns that could be used to specify a variety of different protocols.

Update (August 4). I should point out that there is a proposal to use Identity-Based authenticated key exchange in conjunction with MIKEY (Multimedia Internet KEYing), a key management scheme for SRTP (Secure Real-Time Transport Protocol), which itself is used to provide security for audio and video conferencing on the Internet. The proposed authenticated key exchange protocol is called MIKEY-IBAKE and is described in RFC 6267. This is an informational RFC rather than a standards-track RFC, so it’s not clear if the proposed authenticated key exchange method will be eventually deployed. Interestingly, MIKEY-IBAKE uses identity-based encryption rather than identity-based key agreement. This is also what we do in the M2MSec paper, but with a difference. MIKEY-IBAKE uses identity-based encryption to carry ephemeral Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman parameters, and thus does not reduce the number of roundtrips. We use identity-based encryption to send a secret from the initiator to the responder, and we eliminate roundtrips by simultaneously sending application data protected with encryption and authentication keys derived from the secret. This gives up replay protection and forward secrecy for the first message; but replay protection, as well as forward secrecy in two of the four patterns, are provided from the second message onward.

Invited Talk at the University of Utah

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write for more than three months, which is a pity because things have been happening and there is much to report. I’m trying to catch up today.

The first thing to report is that Prof. Gopalakrishnan of the University of Utah invited Karen Lewison and myself to give a joint talk at the University, on May 29. We talked about the need to replace TLS, which I’ve discussed earlier on this blog. The slides can be found at the usual location for papers and presentations at the bottom of each page of this web site.

The University of Utah has a renowned School of Computing and it was quite stimulating to meet with faculty and discuss research after the talk. We were happy to discover common research interests, and we have been exploring the possibility of doing joint research work with Profs. Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, Sneha Kasera, and Tammy Denning; we are thrilled that the prospects look promising.

Other things to report include that we had papers accepted at the forthcoming M2MSec workshop and the forthcoming GlobalPlatform TEE conference. I will report on that in the next two posts.

It’s Time to Redesign Transport Layer Security

One difficulty faced by privacy-enhancing credentials (such as U-Prove tokens, Idemix anonymous credentials, or credentials based on group signatures), is the fact that they are not supported by TLS. We noticed this when we looked at privacy-enhancing credentials in the context of NSTIC, and we proposed an architecture for the NSTIC ecosystem that included an extension of TLS to accommodate them.

Several other things are wrong with TLS. Performance is poor over satellite links due to the additional roundtrips and the transmission of certificate chains during the handshake. Client and attribute certificates, when used, are sent in the clear. And there has been a long list of TLS vulnerabilities, some of which have not been addressed, while others are addressed in TLS versions and extensions that are not broadly deployed.

The November SSL Pulse reported that only 18.2% of surveyed web sites supported TLS 1.1, which dates back to April 2006, only 20.7% supported TLS 1.2, which dates back to August 2008, and only 30.6% had server-side protection against the BEAST attack, which requires either TLS 1.1 or TLS 1.2. This indicates upgrade fatigue, which may be due to the age of the protocol and the large number of versions and extensions that it has accumulated during its long life. Changing the configuration of a TLS implementation to protect against vulnerabilities without shutting out a large portion of the user base is a complex task that IT personnel is no doubt loath to tackle.

So perhaps it is time to restart from scratch, designing a new transport layer security protocol — actually, two of them, one for connections and the other for datagrams — that will incorporate the lessons learned from TLS — and DTLS — while discarding the heavy baggage of old code and backward compatibility requirements.

We have written a new white paper that recapitulates the drawbacks of TLS and discusses ingredients for a possible replacement.

The paper emphasizes the benefits of redesigning transport layer security for the military, because the military in particular should be very much interested in better transport layer security protocols. The military should be interested in better performance over satellite and radio links, for obvious reasons. It should be interested in increased security, because so much is at stake in the security of military networks. And I would argue that it should also be interested in increased privacy, because what is viewed as privacy on the Internet may be viewed as resistance to traffic analysis in military networks.

Feedback on the Paper on Privacy Postures of Authentication Technologies

Many thanks to every one who provided feedback on the paper on privacy postures of authentication technologies which was announced in the previous blog post. The paper was discussed on the Identity Commons mailing list and we also received feedback at the ID360 conference, where we presented the paper, and at IIW 16, where we showed a poster summarizing the paper. In this post I will recap the feedback that we have received and the revisions that we have made to the paper based on that feedback.

Steven Carmody pointed out that SWITCH, the Swiss InCommon federation, has developed an extension of Shibboleth called uApprove that allows the identity or attribute provider to ask the user for consent before disclosing attributes to the relying party. Ken Klingestein told us that the Scalable Privacy NSTIC pilot is developing a privacy manager that will let the user choose what attributes will be disclosed to the the relying party by the Shibboleth identity provider. We have added references to these Shibboleth extensions to Section 4.2 of the paper.

The original paper explained that, although a U-Prove token does not provide multishow unlinkability, the user may obtain multiple tokens from the issuer, and present different tokens to different relying parties. Christian Paquin said that a U-Prove credential is defined as a batch of such tokens, created simultaneously by an efficient parallel procedure. We have added this definition of a U-Prove credential to Section 4.3.

Christian Paquin also pointed out that a U-Prove token is a mathematical concept that can be embodied in a variety of technologies. He sent me a link to the WS-Trust embodiment, which was used in CardSpace. We have explained this and included the link in Section 4.3.

Tom Jones said that what we call anonymity is called pseudonymity by others. In fact, column 9, labeled “Anonymity”, covers both pseudonymity, as provided, e.g., by an Idemix pseudonym or an uncertified key pair or a combination of a user ID and a password when the user ID is freely chosen by the user, and full anonymity, as provided when a relying party learns only attributes that do not uniquely identify the user. I think it is not unreasonable to view anonymity (the service provider does not learn the user’s “name”) as encompassing pseudonymity (the service provider learns a pseudonym instead of the “real name”).

Nat Sakimura provided a lot of feedback, for which we are grateful. He said that Google and Yahoo implemented OpenID Pairwise Pseudonymous Identifiers (PPID), i.e. different identifiers for the same user provided to different relying parties, before ICAM specified its OpenID profile. We have noted this in Section 4.2 of the revised paper and changed the label of row 8 to “OpenID (without PPID)”.

He also said that OpenID Connect supports an ephemeral identifier, which provides anonymity. I was able to find a discussion of an ephemeral identifier in the archives of the OpenID Connect mailing list, but no mention of it in any of the OpenID Connect specifications; so ephemeral identifiers may be added in the future, but they are not there yet.

Nat also argued that OpenID Connect provides multishow unlinkability by different parties and by the same party. I disagree, however. The Subject Identifier in the ID Token makes OpenID Connect authentication events linkable. Furthermore, OpenID is built on top of OAuth, whose purpose is to provide the relying party with access to resources owned by the user by means of an access token. In a typical use case the relying party gets access to the user’s account at a social network such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+. It is unlikely that two relying parties who share information cannot determine that they are both accessing the same account, or that a relying party cannot determine that it has accessed the same account in two different occasions.

Nat said that OpenID Connect can be used for two-party authentication using a “Self-Issued OpenID Provider”. We have added a checkmark to row 11, column 1 of the table to indicate this, and an explanation to Section 4.2.

He also said that OpenID Connect provides group 4 functionality by allowing the relying party to obtain attributes from “distributed attribute providers”. We have mentioned this in Section 4.4 of the revised version of the paper.

Finally, Nat said:

Just by reading the paper, I was not very clear what is the requirement for Issue-show unlinkability. By issuance, I imagine it means the credential issuance. I suppose then it means that the credential verifier (in ISO 29115 | ITU-T X.1254 sense) cannot tell which credential was used though it can attest that the user has a valid credential. Is that correct? If so, much of the technology in group 2 should have n/a in the column because they are independent of the actual authentication itself. They could very well use anonymous authentication or partially anonymous authentication (ISO 29191).

The technologies in group 2 are recursive authentication technologies. The relying party directs the browser to the identity or attribute provider, which recursively authenticates the user and provides a bearer credential to the relying party based on the result of the inner authentication. In all generality there may be multiple inner authentications, as the identity or attribute provider may require multiple credentials. So the authentication process may consist of a tree of nested authentications, with internal nodes of the tree involving group 2 technologies, and leaf nodes other technologies. However, rows 5-11 (group 2) are only concerned with the usual case where the user authenticates to the identity or attribute provider as a returning user with a user ID and a password or some other form of two-party authentication; we have now made that clear in Section 4.2 of the revised paper. In that case there is no issue-show unlinkability.

We have also made a couple of other improvements to the paper, motivated in part by the feedback:

  • We have replaced the word possession with the word ownership in the definition of closed-loop authentication (Section 2), so that it now reads: authentication is closed-loop when the credential authority that issues or registers a credential is later responsible for verifying ownership of the credential at authentication time. The motivation for this change is that, in group 2, the credential is the information that the identity or attribute provider has about the user, and is thus kept by the identity or attribute provider rather than by the user.
  • We have added a distinction between two forms of multishow unlinkability, a strong form that holds even if the credential authority colludes and shares information with the relying parties, and a weak form that holds only if there is no such collusion. The technologies in group 2 that provide multishow unlinkability provide the weak form, whereas Idemix anonymous credentials provide the strong form.

Comparing the Privacy Features of Eighteen Authentication Technologies

This blog post motivates and elaborates on the paper Privacy Postures of Authentication Technologies, which we presented at the recent ID360 conference.

There is a great variety of user authentication technologies, and some of them are very different from each other. Consider, for example, one-time passwords, OAuth, Idemix, and ICAM’s Backend Attribute Exchange: any two of them have little in common.

Different authentication technologies have been developed by different communities, which have created their own vocabularies to describe them. Furthermore, some of the technologies are extremely complex: U-Prove and Idemix are based on mathematical theories that may be impenetrable to non-specialists; and OpenID Connect, which is an extension of OAuth, adds seven specifications to a large number of OAuth specifications. As a result, it is difficult to compare authentication technologies to each other.

This is unfortunate because decision makers in corporations and governments need to decide what technologies or combinations of technologies should replace passwords, which have been rendered even more inadequate by the shift from traditional personal computers to smart phones and tablets. Decision makers need to evaluate and compare the security, usability, deployability, interoperability and, last but not least, privacy, provided by the very large number of very different authentication technologies that are competing in the marketplace of technology innovations.

But all these technologies are trying to do the same thing: authenticate the user. So it should be possible to develop a common conceptual framework that makes it possible to describe them in functional terms without getting lost in the details, to compare their features, and to evaluate their adequacy to different use cases.

The paper that we presented at the recent ID360 conference can be viewed as a step in that direction. It focuses on privacy, an aspect of authentication technology which I think is in need of particular attention. It surveys eighteen technologies, including: four flavors of passwords and one-time passwords; the old Microsoft Passport (of historical interest); the browser SSO profile of SAML; Shibboleth; OpenID; the ICAM profile of OpenID; OAuth; OpenID Connect; uncertified key pairs; public key certificates; structured certificates; Idemix pseudonyms; Idemix anonymous credentials; U-Prove tokens; and ICAM’s Backend Attribute Exchange.

The paper classifies the technologies along four different dimensions or facets, and builds a matrix indicating which of the technologies provide seven privacy features: unobservability by an identity or attribute provider; free choice of identity or attribute provider; anonymity; selective disclosure; issue-show unlinkability; multishow unlinkability by different parties; and multishow unlinkability by the same party. I will not try to recap the details here; instead I will elaborate on observations made in the paper regarding privacy enhancements that have been used to improve the privacy postures of some closed-loop authentication technologies.

Privacy Enhancements for Closed-Loop Authentication

One of the classification facets that the paper considers for authentication technologies is the distinction between closed-loop and open-loop authentication, which I discussed in an earlier post. Closed-loop authentication means that the credential authority that issues or registers a credential is later responsible for verifying possession of the credential at authentication time. Closed-loop authentication may involve two parties, or may use a third-party as a credential authority, which is usually referred to as an identity provider. Examples of third-party closed-loop authentication technologies include the browser SSO profile of SAML, Shibboleth, OpenID, OAuth, and OpenID Connect.

I’ve pointed out before that third-party closed-loop authentication lacks unobservability by the identity provider. Most third-party closed-loop authentication technologies also lack anonymity and multishow unlinkability. However, some of them implement privacy enhancements that provide anonymity and a form of multishow unlinkability. There are two such enhancements, suitable for two different use cases.

The first enhancement consists of omitting the user identifier that the identity provider usually conveys to the relying party. The credential authority is then an attribute provider rather than an identity provider: it conveys attributes that do not necessarily identify the user. This enhancement provides anonymity, and multishow unlinkability assuming no collusion between the attribute provider and the relying parties. It is useful when the purpose of authentication is to verify that the user is entitled to access a service without necessarily having an account with the service provider. This functionality is provided by Shibboleth, which can be used, e.g., to allow a student enrolled in one educational institution to access the library services of another institution without having an account at that other institution.

The core OpenID 2.0 specification specifies how an identity provider conveys an identifier to a relying party. Extensions of the protocol such as the Simple Registration Extension specify methods by which the identity provider can convey user attributes in addition to the user identifier; and the core specification hints that the identifier could be omitted when extensions are used. It would be interesting to know whether any OpenID server or client implementations allow the identifier to be omitted. Any comments?

The second enhancement consists of requiring the identity provider to convey different identifiers for the same user to different relying parties. The identity provider can meet the requirement without allocating large amounts of storage by computing a user identifier specific to a relying party as a cryptographic hash of a generic user identifier and an identifier of the relying party such as a URL. This privacy enhancement is required by the ICAM profile of OpenID. It achieves user anonymity and multishow unlinkability by different parties assuming no collusion between the identity provider and the relying parties; but not multishow unlinkability by the same party. It is useful for returning user authentication.

One-Click OpenID: A Solution to the NASCAR Problem

OpenID allows the user to choose any identity provider, even one that the relying party has never heard of. This freedom of choice is, in my opinion, the most valuable feature of OpenID. Unfortunately, this feature comes with a difficult challenge: how to provide the relying party with the information it needs to interact with the identity provider.

OAuth does not have this problem because the relying party has to preregister with the identity provider, typically a social site, and therefore must know of the identity provider. An OAuth relying party displays one or a few buttons labeled with the logos of the social sites it supports, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, and the user chooses a site by clicking on a button. But of course freedom of choice is lost: the user can only use as identity provider a social site supported by the relying party.

The traditional OpenID user interface consists of an input box where the user types in an OpenID identifier, which serves as the starting point of an identity provider discovery process. To compete with the simplicity of picking a social site by clicking on a button, some OpenID relying parties present the user with many buttons labeled by logos of popular OpenID identity providers, in addition to the traditional input box; but this user interface has been deemed ugly and confusing to the user. The many logos have been compared to the many ads on a race car, hence the term NASCAR problem that is used to refer to the OpenID user interface challenge.

To solve the challenge we propose to let the browser keep track of the identity provider(s) that the user has signed up with. The list of identity providers will be maintained by the browser as a user preference.

An identity provider will be added to the list by explicit declaration. As the user is visiting the identity provider’s site, the provider will offer its identity service to the user. The user will accept the offer by clicking on a button or link. In the HTTP response to the browser that follows the HTTP request triggered by this action the identity provider will include an ad-hoc HTTP header containing identity provider data including the OP Endpoint URL. The browser will ask the user for permission to add the identity provider to the list and store the identity provider data.

A relying party will use a login form containing a single button, with a label such as Login with OpenID. There need not be any input box for entering an OpenID identifier, nor any buttons with logos of particular identity providers. The form will contain a new ad-hoc non-visual element <idp>. When the form is submitted, the browser will choose one identity provider from the list and send its data to the relying party as the value of the <idp> element.

Which identity provider is chosen is up to the browser. It could be the default, or an identity provider that has previously been used for the relying party, as recorded by the browser, or an identity provider explicitly chosen by the user from a menu presented by the browser. The browser could choose to permanently display a menu showing the user’s list of identity providers as part of the browser chrome.

We arrived at this solution while thinking about the NSTIC pilot that we plan to propose. In the planned proposal the identity provider issues a certificate to the browser, which the browser imports automatically. A natural extension is to let the identity provider download to the browser other data besides the certificate, such as the OP Endpoint URL. Also, a browser user interface for selecting an identity provider is akin to the user interface for selecting a client certificate that browsers already have. We realize that existing user interfaces for certificate selection are less than optimal, but we believe that this is due to lack of attention by browser manufacturers to a rarely used feature, and that better interfaces can be designed.

OpenID Providers Invited to Join in an NSTIC Pilot Proposal

NSTIC has announced funding for pilot projects. Preliminary proposals are due by March 7 and full proposals by April 23. There will be a proposer’s conference on February 15, which will be webcast live.

We are planning to submit a proposal and are inviting OpenID identity providers to join us. The proposed pilot will demonstrate a completely password-free method of user authentication where the relying party is an ordinary OpenID relying party. The identity provider will issue a public key certificate to the user, and later use it to authenticate the user upon redirection from the relying party. The relying party will not see the certificate. Since the certificate will be verified by the same party that issued it, there will be no need for certificate revocation lists. Certificate issuance will be automatic, using an extension of the HTML5 keygen mechanism that Pomcor will implement on an extension of the open source Firefox browser.

There will be two privacy features:

  1. The identity provider will supply different identifiers to different relying parties, as in the ICAM OpenID 2.0 Profile.
  2. Before authenticating the user, the identity provider will inform the user of the value of the DNT (Do Not Track) header sent by the browser, and will not track the user if the value of the header is 1.

The identity provider will:

  1. Implement a facility for issuing certificates to users, taking advantage of the keygen element of HTML5. The identity provider will obtain a public key from keygen, create a certificate that binds the public key to the user’s local identity, and download the certificate in an ad-hoc HTTP header. Pomcor will supply a Firefox extension that will import the certificate automatically.
  2. Use the certificate to authenticate the user upon redirection from the relying party. The browser will submit the certificate as a TLS client certificate. The mod_ssl module of Apache supports the use of a client certificate and makes data from the certificate available to high-level server-side programming environments such as PHP via environment variables.

For additional information you may write to us using the contact page of this site.