Feeds

Boffins demo passwords even users don’t know

Using neuroscience to bolster crypto

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

What if you could use a password with 38 bits of entropy without memorizing it? Stanford University researchers think they've found a way to deliver.

Their argument is that attackers can steal passwords from ill-defended servers, install keyloggers in drive-by attacks, or force people to hand over their security tokens. The aim is to defeat the “rubber hose” attack (ie, beating the information out of some unfortunate insider) – since you can’t divulge what you don’t know.

In a paper to be presented at the August Usenix conference in Washington, Stanford University scientists led by Hristo Bojinov designed a game to deliver a password that the user can remember without knowing it.

The researchers apply a neuroscience concept called implicit learning to the question of cryptography. Activities such as bike-riding or guitar-playing are learned by repetition: people know they’re learning, but they’re not conscious of the processes by which they learn.

The same applies, the researchers say, to repetitive game-playing. While complex games pose explicitly intellectual challenges, there are plenty of games in which the only way to get better is to keep trying.

To turn this into a crypto technique, the researchers created a game into which they planted patterns – what the paper refers to as Serial Interception Sequence Learning. The game itself is simple: you use keystrokes to intercept falling blobs before they reach a sink at the bottom of the screen (see image).

Beat the game to get your password. Source: Hristo Bojinov, bojinov.org

However, unlike a “real” game – in which the column in which the blobs appear would be randomized – the researchers embedded a pattern into the game which represented passwords, but couldn’t be memorized. “All of the sequences presented to the user are designed to prevent conspicuous, easy to remember patterns from emerging,” the paper states. The sequences “are designed to contain every ordered pair of characters exactly once, with no character appearing twice in a row”.

What they found was that users could be trained to “beat” the game (and thus capture the password) in between 30 and 45 minutes without ever knowing the password they used – and that even after an interval of two weeks, people would remember how they played.

Of course, the system is still vulnerable to a hack: if attackers gained access to the authentication system itself, all bets are off. And a 30-minute learn time to achieve a password is impractical in the real world. However, the researchers told New Scientist that “If the time required for training and authentication can be reduced, then some of the benefits of biometrics, namely effortlessness and minimal risk of loss, can be coupled with a feature that biometrics lack: the ability to replace a biometric that has been compromised.” ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
UK smart meters arrive in 2020. Hackers have ALREADY found a flaw
Energy summit bods warned of free energy bonanza
DRUPAL-OPCALYPSE! Devs say best assume your CMS is owned
SQLi hole was hit hard, fast, and before most admins knew it needed patching
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Mozilla releases geolocating WiFi sniffer for Android
As if the civilians who never change access point passwords will ever opt out of this one
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.