End-to-End Passwords

Scott Ruoti and Kent Seamons

Passwords continue to be an important means for users to authenticate themselves to applications, websites, and backend services. However, password theft continues to be a significant issue, due in large part to the significant attack surface for passwords, including the operating system (e.g., key loggers), application (e.g., phishing websites in browsers), during transmission (e.g., TLS man-in-the-middle proxies), and at password verification services (e.g., theft of passwords stored at a server). Relatedly, even though there is a large body of research on improving passwords, the massive number of application verification services that use passwords stymie the diffusion of improvements—i.e., it does not scale for each improvement to require an update to every application and verification service. To address these problems, we propose a new end-to-end password paradigm that transfers password functionality to two end-points, the operating system (entry, management, storage, and verification) and the password verification service (verification, and verification token storage). In this paradigm, passwords are never shared with applications or transmitted over the network, but are instead verified using zero-knowledge protocols. There are five key benefits of this approach that are not possible with the current password paradigm: (a) a minimal attack surface, (b) protection from password phishing, (c) protection from malware, (d) consistent password policies, and (e) the ability to more rapidly diffuse improvements from password research.

Scott Ruoti and Kent Seamons. 2017. End-to-end passwords. In Proceedings of the 20th New Security Paradigms Workshop. ACM.