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PKI: A Technology Whose Time Has Come in Higher Education EDUCAUSE Live! Web Seminar May 11, 2004. Our Systems Are Under Constant Attack. The numbers of vulnerabilities and attack techniques continue to mushroom We need to improve how we secure access to applications and data

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Pki a technology whose time has come in higher education educause live web seminar may 11 2004 l.jpg

PKI: A Technology Whose Time Has Come in Higher Education EDUCAUSE Live! Web SeminarMay 11, 2004

Our systems are under constant attack l.jpg
Our Systems Are Under Constant Attack

  • The numbers of vulnerabilities and attack techniques continue to mushroom

  • We need to improve how we secure access to applications and data

    Don’t forget the greatest threat often comes from a disgruntled insider.

Some attacks succeed spectacularly l.jpg
Some Attacks Succeed Spectacularly

  • Loss of personal data

  • Outages

  • Potentially huge costs:

    • Productivity loss

    • Remediation

    • User notification

    • Bad publicity

    • Loss of credibility

    • Lawsuits?

  • See “Damage Control: When Your Security Incident Hits the 6 O’Clock News”

It security risks escalate l.jpg
IT Security Risks Escalate

  • More and more important information and transactions are online:

    • Personal identity information

    • Financial transactions

    • Course enrollment, grades

    • Tests, quizzes administered online

    • Licensed materials

    • Confidential research data

  • We must comply with increasingly strict regulations:

    • Health information - HIPAA

    • Educational records - FERPA

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Specific Example: Email

  • Spoofing email is trivial (simple setting in most email clients)

    • Spoofed message from professor postponing a final

    • Inappropriate message seemingly from College President

  • Email is like a postcard written in pencil

    • Others on network can see (or even modify) contents if not encrypted (really easy on wireless!)

    • You may use SSL, but what about other hops between mail servers?

  • Risk of wayward email archives

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Specific Example: Student Information System

  • Online enrollment, schedule, grades

  • FERPA protected information

  • Potentially available to hackers via network

    Q: What if someone hacks your authentication system and potentially downloads students grades?

    A: You are probably obligated by law to notify every individual whose grades may have been exposed!

Password problems user perspective l.jpg

Users HATE username/passwords

Too many for them to manage:

Re-use same password

Use weak (easy to remember) passwords

Rely on “remember my password” crutches

Forgotten password help desk calls cost $25 - $200 each (IDC) and are far too common

As we put more services online, it just gets worse…

Password Problems: User Perspective

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Many different username/password schemes to learn, set up, and administer:

Backups, password resets, revoking access, initial password values, etc.

Multiple administrators have access to usernames/passwords – many points of failure

Password Problems: Admin Perspective

Password sharing l.jpg

Corrupts value of username/password for authentication and authorization.

Users do share passwords: PKI Lab survey of 171 undergraduates revealed that 75% of them shared their password and fewer than half of those changed it after sharing.

We need two factor authentication to address password sharing.

Password Sharing

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Traditional approaches authorization.

Single password

Single sign-on, fewer sign-ons


Local password management by end user

Two factor authentication

Ending the Madness

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Users manage their own (single or few) passwords. authorization.

Cost-effective two factor authentication.

Widely supported alternative for authentication to all sorts of applications (both web-based and otherwise).

PKI’s Answer to Password Woes

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PKI eliminates user passwords on network servers. authorization.

Password to PKI credentials is local to user’s computer, smartcard, or token.

User manages the password and only has one per set of credentials (likely only one or two total).

No need for password synchronization.

Standard PKI infrastructure.

Still need process for forgotten password, but it is less likely to be forgotten (used frequently and not so many of them).

PKI Passwords Are Local to Client

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Asymmetric encryption uses a pair of asymmetric keys, each is the only way to decrypt data encrypted by the other.

One key is private and carefully protected by its holder. The other is public and freely distributed.

In authentication, the server challenges the client to encrypt or decrypt something with the private key. Its ability to do so proves its identity.

Private key and password always stay in the user’s possession.

Underlying Key Technology

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Requires something the user has (credentials stored in the application or a smartcard or token) in addition to something a user knows (local password for the credentials).

Significant security improvement, especially with smartcard or token (a post-it next to the screen is no longer a major security hole).

Reduces risk of password sharing.

PKI Provides Two Factor Authentication

Pki benefit encryption l.jpg

Strong encryption with extensible number of bits in key. application or a smartcard or token) in addition to something a user knows (local password for the credentials).

Can use same PKI digital credentials as authentication and digital signatures.

More leverage of the PK Infrastructure.

Encrypt data for any individual without prior exchange of information – just acquire their certificate which contains their public key.

PKI Benefit: Encryption

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Asymmetric encryption prevents need for shared secrets. application or a smartcard or token) in addition to something a user knows (local password for the credentials).

Anyone encrypts with public key of recipient.

Only the recipient can decrypt with their private key.

Private key is secret and protected, so “bad guys” can’t read encrypted data.

How PKI Encryption Works

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Our computerized world still relies heavily on handwritten signatures on paper.

PKI enables digital signatures, recognized by Federal Government as legal signatures:

Reduce paperwork with electronic forms.

Much faster and more traceable business processes.

Improved assurance of electronic transactions (e.g. really know who that email was from).

PKI Benefit:Digital Signatures

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Signer computes content digest, encrypts with their private key.

Reader decrypts with signer’s public key.

Reader re-computes the content digest and verifies match with original – guarantees no one has modified signed data.

Only signer has private key, so no one else can spoof their digital signature.

How Digital Signatures Work

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Fewer passwords! key.

Consistent mechanism for authentication that users only have to learn once. (UT Houston Medical Center users now request that all network services use PKI authentication.)

Same user credentials for authentication, digital signatures, and encryption – lots of payback for user’s effort to acquire and manage the credentials.

PKI Benefit: User Convenience

Pki benefit coherent enterprise wide security administration l.jpg

Centralized issuance and revocation of user credentials (goes hand in hand with identity management).

Consistent identity checking when issuing certificates.

Same authentication mechanism for all network services.

Single process to recover from lost passwords or keys (not per application).

Leverage investment in tokens or smart cards across many applications.

PKI Benefit: Coherent Enterprise-Wide Security Administration

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Allows authentication, digital signatures, and encryption using credentials issued by a trusted collaborating institution:

Signed forms and documents for business process (e.g. grant applications, financial aid forms, government reports)

Signed and encrypted email from a colleague at another school

Authentication to applications shared among schools (e.g. grid)

Peer to peer authentication for secure information sharing

Interoperability With Other Institutions

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Standards provide interoperability among multiple vendors and open source.

Wide variety of implementations available and broad coverage of application space.

Level playing field for open source and new vendors – promotes innovation and healthy competition.

Standards Based Solution

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Commercial and open source and open source.

Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Solaris, UNIX

Apache, Oracle, IIS, SSL, Web Services, Shibboleth, Browsers, email, VPN, Acrobat, MS Office, AIM, and many others Software and hardware key storage

Development libraries, toolkits and applications

Certificate Authority, directory, escrow, revocation, and other infrastructure tools

PKI Enjoys Unequaled Client, Server, and Application Support

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Industry support for PKI and open source.

Federal and State governments major adopters

Microsoft, Sun, Johnson and Johnson, Disney, banks heavy industry adopters

Major deployment in Europe

China pushing WAPI wireless authentication standard that requires PKI

Web Services (e.g. SAML uses PKI signed assertions)

Momentum Outside Higher Education

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FBCA, HEBCA bridge projects and open source.

Proof of concept NIH EDUCAUSE project to demonstrate digitally signing documents for submission to the Federal government

Possible DOE, NSF, NIH applications for Higher Education?

Federal Collaborations

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Dartmouth PKI Lab and open source.

R&D to make client side PKI a practical component of campus networks

Multi-campus collaboration sponsored by the Mellon Foundation

Dual objectives:

Deploy existing PKI technology to improve network applications (both at Dartmouth and elsewhere).

Improve the current state of the art.

Identify security issues in current products.

Develop solutions to the problems.

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Production PKI Applications at Dartmouth and open source.

  • Dartmouth certificate authority

    • 780 end users have certificates, 558 of them are students

  • PKI authentication in production for:

    • Banner Student Information System

    • Library Electronic Journals

    • Tuck School of Business Portal

    • VPN Concentrator

    • Blackboard CMS

    • Software downloads

  • S/MIME email (Outlook, Mozilla, Thunderbird)

  • AOL AIM (PKI-secured sys admin communications)

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“Open Source CA in a Box” and open source.

  • Hardened open source Certificate Authority (based on OpenCA) bundle suitable for trial and simple deployment

  • PKI Lab’s “Enforcer” TPM-hardened Linux

    • Controversial “TCPA” technology turned to use for good and freedom (secures Linux boot process and provides much enhanced run-time protection against hackers)

  • Packaging for easy installation (bootable CD)

  • Carefully chosen enhancements to OpenCA

  • We welcome feedback on requirements, contributions, testing, etc!

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Deploying PKI and open source.

  • Client-side PKI is usually a significant undertaking and requires planning and commitment.

  • Get buy in and support from management, legal, audit, others – a little fear in today’s cyber world is healthy.

  • Learn from examples and experiences of others.

  • Deploy in phases, plan for future extensibility.

  • Choose initial applications to maximize benefits versus cost.

  • Take a long term view - PKI ROI is excellent when leveraged broadly, but probably not as strong for individual applications.


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Blatant Advertisement and open source.

  • We seek a few schools that we can assist as you deploy PKI credentials and applications for end users! An explicit part of our mission is to directly assist you in the planning/justification, implementation, and deployment phases.

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For More Information and open source.

[email protected]