User interface, security, and "simplicity"

James A. Donald jamesd at
Sun May 4 21:46:49 EDT 2008

Thor Lancelot Simon wrote:
> And, in fact, most VPN software of any type fails this test.  My concern
> is that an excessive focus on "how hard is it to set this thing up?" can
> seriously obscure the important second half of the question "and if you
> set it up in the easiest possible way, is it safe?"

If there is a wrong way to do it, the end user will do it wrong.  Expert 
cryptographers frequently fail to act correctly on their understanding 
of cryptography.  The end user has no chance - and the chances are still 
not all that good even if your end user is highly qualified cryptographer.

What users comprehend, and are used to, is you that set up an account 
with username and password, and an admin blesses the account with 
appropriate privileges as a result of some out of band communication - 
which username and password has to be secured, invisibly to the user, 
against offline and phishing attacks, without requiring any thought or 
vigilance by the user - see my web page for 
<> for attacks on the 
password model, and defenses against those attacks.

This comes naturally to humans, for humans have long relied on 
shibboleths for security against treachery by outsiders.  Thus the 
computer interface to our clever cryptographic algorithms must resemble 
as closely as possible the ancient human reliance on shibboleths for 

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