[RISKS] Risks Digest 26.42

From: RISKS List Owner <risko_at_private>
Date: Thu, 7 Apr 2011 20:32:15 PDT
RISKS-LIST: Risks-Forum Digest  Thursday 7 April 2011  Volume 26 : Issue 42

Peter G. Neumann, moderator, chmn ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

***** See last item for further information, disclaimers, caveats, etc. *****
This issue is archived at <http://www.risks.org> as
The current issue can be found at

  Contents: [APOLOGIES. This was supposed to go out earlier.  PGN]
Mark another security problem done and solved. Web login systems are
  flawless and here to stay. (Kevin Fu)
Abridged info on RISKS (comp.risks)


Date: April 1, 2011
From: Kevin Fu <kevinfu_at_private>
Subject: Mark another security problem done and solved. Web login systems are flawless and here to stay.

It's been nearly ten years since the the USENIX Security [1] "cookie
eaters" paper [2] and the humor-less talk [3] that provided a secure
cookie authentication scheme and claimed to demonstrate weaknesses in
commercially deployed web login systems at places like the Wall Street
Journal [4].  Follow-up discussion appeared in a 2001 CACM Inside
Risks column [5].  I've finally decided to come clean; I'd like to
officially recant the 2001 USENIX Security paper for three reasons:
Web login systems are inherently flawless [6] and any problem is the
user's fault; no one has ever found any problems in a realistic
scenario [7], and the authors cannot possibly be real people.
Scientists occasionally publish erroneous results.

First, the problems were way overblown.  I mean, who even logs into web
sites today anyway?  Gopher and FTP have the most opportunity to gain
mind share; the Web is already saturated.  The New York Times [8]
recently followed suit with the WSJ paywall to install secure web
authentication systems.  It's flawless.  And if you really need extra
security, just use a two factor authentication dongle [9].  Or pick a
password like changeme123 [10].

Second, neither count thou two [11].

Third, the authors are not real. It turns out I had nothing to do with
this paper at all.  I mean, just look at the photo of those four kids
at USENIX Security [12].  Have you ever seen me wear tennis shoes and
jeans?  Clearly that should have been a tip off that some
Fu-doppelgänger was involved.  Nick [13] and Emil [14] might have been
duped, and Dan Wallach was certainly was a replicant.  I mean, look at
Dan [12].  He's wearing khakis.  There's no way that's really Dan [15]. 
And has anyone ever seen Kendra [16]?  Some think that she saw
our totems and tricked us into inception of this cookie authentication
fable.  For all we know, she probably joined the NSA!

Only a few years ago did I awake from my cryogenic suspension after
SCADA systems [17] for the local power substation failed.  In the
meantime, this Fu doppelgänger managed to build up my publication
record.  Thank goodness for Stuxnet [18] or I might never have woken.
Let me explain what happened.  After dabbling with Merkle trees in
file systems [19] in the late 1990s, I asked Ralph Merkle for a good
place for ice cream because Tosci's was closing at the MIT student
center [20].  But he misinterpreted and sent me to his cryogenic
chamber [21].  One you log in, you don't log out.  Upon thawing, I was
quite surprised to learn that Christof Paar and Ari Juels tricked my
doppelgänger into organizing a workshop on aphid security and privacy
[22].  The poor little bugs get such a bad wrap because they are so
tiny yet can damage the leaves of a Merkle tree.  If you are still
reading this, you must be depressed about the state of security of web
authentication and everything else---whether it's 2001 or 2010. 
April Fools!


[1] http://www.usenix.org/events/sec01/
[2] http://prisms.cs.umass.edu/bibliography/kevin.php?q=webauth:sec10
[3] http://www.cs.umass.edu/~kevinfu/talks/Fu-cookie-slides.pdf
[4] http://www.cs.umass.edu/~kevinfu/news/wsj.html
[5] http://www.csl.sri.com/users/neumann/insiderisks.html#135
[6] http://codebutler.com/firesheep
[7] http://www.crypto.com/bingo/pr
[8] http://ocunwired.ocregister.com/2011/03/29/how-to-circumvent-ny-times-pay-wall/6851/
[9] http://www.computerweekly.com/blogs/david_lacey/2011/03/rsa_hack_is_a_timely_reminder.html
[10] http://www.thetechherald.com/article.php/201106/6785/Report-HBGary-used-as-an-object-lesson-by-Anonymous
[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Hand_Grenade_of_Antioch
[12] http://www.usenix.org/events/sec01/DCphotos/02.jpg
[13] http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~feamster/
[14] http://www.emilsit.net/
[15] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~dwallach/
[16] http://www.amazon.com/Five-Ways-Disappearing-Kendra-Smith/dp/B0000251JQ
[17] http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/10/staged_attack_c.html
[18] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuxnet
[19] http://www.google.com/search?q=sfs+read-only+file+system
[20] http://tech.mit.edu/V127/N64/toscaninis.html
[21] http://www.merkle.com/cryo/
[22] http://rfid-cusp.org/rfidsec/

Kevin Fu
Assistant Professor
Computer Science Department
University of Massachusetts Amherst


Date: Thu, 29 May 2008 07:53:46 -0900
From: RISKS-request_at_private
Subject: Abridged info on RISKS (comp.risks)

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End of RISKS-FORUM Digest 26.42
Received on Thu Apr 07 2011 - 20:32:15 PDT

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