Another entry in the internet security hall of shame....

Stephan Neuhaus neuhaus at
Thu Sep 1 03:39:50 EDT 2005

James A. Donald wrote:
> But does not, in fact, prevent. 

Let me rephrase that.  Are we now at a point where we must admit that 
PKI isn't going to happen for the Web and that we therefore must face 
the rewriting of an unknown (but presumably large) number of lines of 
code to accomodate PSKs?  If that's so, I believe that PSKs will have 
deployment problems as large as PKI's that will prevent their widespread 

That's because PSKs (as I have understood them) have storage and 
management issues that CA certificates don't have, four of which are 
that there will be a lot more PSKs than CA certificates, that you can't 
preinstall them in browsers, that the issue of how to exchange PSKs 
securely in the first place is left as an exercise for the reader (good 
luck!), and that there is a revocation problem.

To resolve any of those issues, code will need to be written, both on 
the client side and on the server side (except for the secure exchange 
of PSKs, which is IMHO unresolvable without changes to the business 
workflow).  The client side code is manageable, because the code will be 
used by many people so that it may be worthwhile to spend the effort. 
But the server side?  There are many more server applications than there 
are different Web browsers, and each one would have to be changed.  At 
the very least, they'd need an administrative interface to enter and 
delete PSKs.  That means that supporting PSKs is going to cost the 
businesses money (both to change their code and to change their 
workflow), money that they'd rather not spend on something that they 
probably perceive as the customer's (i.e., not their) problem, namely 

Some German banks put warnings on their web pages that they'll never ask 
you for private information such as passwords.  SaarLB 
( even urges you to check the certificate 
fingerprint and provides well-written instructions on how to do that. 
In return, they'll assume no responsibility if someone phishes your PIN 
and TANs. They might, out of goodwill, reimburse you.  Then again, they 
might not.  I believe that SaarLB could win in court.  So where is the 
incentive for SaarLB to spend the money for PSK support?


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