[Cryptography] Making ceremonies robust

Phillip Hallam-Baker phill at hallambaker.com
Wed May 6 12:45:45 EDT 2020

I came across an interesting detail while implementing a PIN code based
authentication scheme for the Mesh which I think indicates a much wider
security concern.

Carl Ellison argued that we need to treat user interface 'Ceremony' as an
intrinsic element of the protocol. My standards process experience is that
is absolutely essential. Unless you model the user as part of the protocol,
the user becomes a magic asterisk solving all the security concerns using
information they haven't got.

So the specific question that comes up is this: Alice issues a PIN
authentication code to allow connection of a device and hands it to Bob out
of band. The PIN is used to authenticate a device. What should happen when
it is then used to authenticate a second device before the code expires?

The traditional response to this is to essentially ignore the second
connection attempt. Report it to the user as an error but thats pretty much
it. Thinking the ceremony aspects through, I think that is the wrong
approach. What should probably happen is to refuse the connection and place
the previously connected device on hold.

What I haven't managed to do yet is to work out how to generalize the
approach. Perhaps it is as simple as 'error messages don't transfer
responsibility back to the user'. By which I mean tell the user something
happened but don't assume that is the end of the matter.
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