Oct 27, 2009

RSA Conference Europe 2009

I attended RSA Conference Europe 2009 in London the other week, where I gave a presentation on something I blogged about before (combining ePassports and Information Card, a project sponsored by NLnet). My talk was scheduled for the very last slot on the very last day, which means I had plenty of time to go and listen to the other talks. Some of my impressions are below.

I checked out the booths of the conference's sponsors and noticed a relative large number of authentication factor vendors (G&D, Kobil, smspasscode.com) and of course the big guys (RSA Security, Microsoft, Qualys, CA).

As for the presentations, there were at least 4 different tracks, and all talks had catchy titles. Very difficult to choose from. There were a lot of "securing the cloud" talks. I've heard people claim that 'cloud==deperimeterization'. Others claim that 'cloud==virtualization', and yet others claim that 'cloud==SaaS', and even 'cloud==social networks'. Most of the talks dealt with managing the risks of enterprise cloud computing (sharing resources is risky, you'll need good SLA contracts for that). I especially liked the Collateral Hacking panel session which focused on the risk presented by totally unrelated parties you happen to share services with.

There were a few hacking-presentations. I really enjoyed Björn Brolin and Marcus Murray's Breaking the Windows driver signing model. Great live reversing demo. Bottom line: Running an anti-virus suite with badly engineered (yet Microsoft signed) kernel drivers can actually render your PC less secure from malware.

Talking about anti-virus software vendors. Both McAfee's Anthony Bettini's and Kaspersky labs' Stefan Tanase's presentation focused on threats from social networks (personalized spam, Twitter based C&C, targeted attacks based on synchronization between personal and enterprise information). Anthony had the best sound-bites IMHO: 'open-sourcing one's life', 'keep your enemies closer'. Stefan showed a glimpse of crawler based technology that Kaspersky's R&D team in Romania is working on.

More targeted social network threats came from Brian Honan who introduced the audience to some of the tools of the trade, notable pipl.com and Maltego. Interestingly, in Ireland, anyone can request everyone else's birth certificate (apparently for reasons of genealogical research), and the only thing needed to request a driver's license or passport in Ireland is a birth certificate.

Microsoft's keynote was delivered by Amy Barzdukas. She made some valid points about the perception of privacy and security by the average computer user. The FUD (initially directed at Google: Chrome's auto-completing address bar will send packets to Google, OMG, better stick with IE8) was a little too much for my taste. They're going to make it more difficult to download and install third party software through IE because of the fake virus scanner scams.

The keynote by special agent Mularski of the FBI and Andy Auld of SOCA about the Russian Business Network was so secret that I cannot blog about it. The keynote by Dave Hansen of CA on content-aware extensions of RBAC was pretty interesting and included another secret agent.

Andrew Nash of PayPal gave an insightful presentation on the consumer identity bootstrap problem. After explained the clever big bang/steady state analogy he showed just how big the problem is. What's the most important feature an Identity Provider should offer to its users? Right. Anonymity. The other PayPal presentation was by Hadi Nahari who put forward some requirements (or rather, desirements) for identity in mobile computing. It appears that PayPal is trying to get some of these ideas into the Global Platform specifications.

Ira Winkler went on a one-hour rant over the use of the term information warfare. Funny stuff, except for the one Estonian guy in the audience.

Oct 19, 2009

Two ideas I could have submitted to the SIMagine contest

Here are two ideas I could have submitted to the SIMagine contest, but didn't. ;)
  1. Info Cards securely stored in your SIM: Florian van Keulen, one of Maarten's students did a project on different architectures for implementing Info Card on mobile devices. One of the options that Florian investigated was to store the Info Cards on the SIM. A handset resident application would then facilitate communication between the Card Selector on a different platform (a PC in an Internet cafe) and the SIM through Bluetooth.
  2. Turning an existing contactless smart card into a pre-paid mobile SIM application: You're not supposed to be able to clone an ePassport or contactless creditcard, of course. But you can do something else. You can pre-record some challenge-response pairs using an NFC handset and store these in an application on the secure element (SE, usually the SIM card) of the handset. If the application can authenticate itself to an inspection system (a POS terminal) then the handset can be used instead of the original contactless card. This improves convenience: one device instead of multiple cards, you now have a GUI. As for security: You can limit the number of challenge-response pairs, you can time-stamp the challenge-response pairs (the SE can connect to some trusted time server during enrollment), etc.
Oh well, deadline expired, never mind.

Oct 1, 2009

Mobile PKI

Mobile PKI, also known as Wireless PKI (and a lot of other names such as Mobile Secure Signature Service, Secure Signature Creation Device, ...) is a technology which allows users to place electronic signatures with their cell phone. This can be used for applications that run on the phone, but also for applications that run on other platforms (the user's computer connected to the Internet, for instance). One could use this, for example, as an authentication mechanism at a relying party. In the latter scenario your phone is a "something-you-have" token which provides extra security as an attacker would have to manipulate two separate channels to mount an attack. Before placing a signature, the cell phone will ask the user for his or her PIN.

The SIM card inside the cell phone plays a central role in Mobile PKI. Actually, the obvious way to implement Mobile PKI is through a so-called SIM Application Toolkit (SAT) applet installed on the SIM card. SAT has some really cool features that make things easy, both for the mobile operator and for the user:
  • They can be installed over the air (OTA) to an already deployed SIM by the mobile operator, without disturbing the user
  • They can add extra (basic menu-based) features to the GUI
  • They can react to events such as selection of menus by the user or incoming SMSs sent by the mobile operator
This makes Mobile PKI a pretty secure solution:
  • The application resides on a tamper resistant smart card
  • Most handset manufacturers will make sure that there's a trusted path from the phone's keyboard to SAT applications (the malware problem seems to still be small for the mobile platform)
  • The separate channel advantage was already mentioned above
It's also user-friendlier when compared to other authentication solutions such as smart cards, PKI tokens, and one-time-password SMSs:
  • The PIN is the same for each and every transaction
  • There's no need to install software on the user's PC
  • There's no need to read and type challenges or responses
  • Most users will not forget or leave their cell phone unattended, and most will notice and report a missing or stolen phone
Mobile PKI has been standardized by ETSI around 2002/2003. Also Common Criteria protection profiles for Secure Signature Creation Devices have existed since 2001. So the technology is pretty old. It has found its way to end-customers in some countries, most notably Turkey and more recently to the Nordic countries (in Finland you can apparently even add your government issued eID to a SIM card). Most of the SIM manufacturers and technology providers offer Mobile PKI as an option to their customers (the mobile operators). I wonder why this hasn't caught on here in the Netherlands.