Jeremiah Blocki – Usable and Secure Human Authentication

CITP Luncheon Series

Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Location: 306 Sherrerd Hall
Streaming Live: https://www.youtube.com/user/citpprinceton

Food and discussion begin at 12:30pm. Open to current Princeton faculty, staff, and students. Open to members of the public by invitation only. Please contact Laura Cummings-Abdo at lcumming@princeton.edu if you are interested in attending a particular lunch.

A typical computer user today manages passwords for many different online accounts. Users struggle with this task — often forgetting their passwords or adopting insecure practices, such as using the same passwords for multiple accounts and selecting weak passwords. While there are many books, articles, papers and even comics about selecting strong individual passwords, there is very little work on password management schemes — systematic strategies to help users create and remember multiple passwords. Before we can design good password management schemes it is necessary to address a fundamental question: How can we quantify the usability or security of a password management scheme. One way to quantify the usability of a password management scheme would be to conduct user studies evaluating each user’s success at remembering multiple passwords over an extended period of time. However, these user studies would necessarily be slow and expensive and would need to be repeated for each new password management scheme. In this talk we argue that user models and security models can guide the development of password management schemes with analyzable usability and security properties. We present several results in support of this premise. First, we introduce Naturally Rehearsing Password schemes. Notably, our user model, which is based on research on human memory about spaced rehearsal, allows us to analyze the usability of this family of schemes while experimentally validating only the common user model underlying all of them. Second, we introduce Human Computable Password schemes, which leverage human capabilities for simple arithmetic operations. We provide constructions that make modest demands on users and we prove that these constructions provide strong security: an adversary who has seen 100 10-digit passwords of a user cannot compute any other passwords except with very low probability. Our password management schemes are precisely specified and publishable: the security proofs hold even if the adversary knows the scheme and has extensive background knowledge about the user (hobbies, birthdate, etc.).

The talk is based on joint work with the following collaborators: Manuel Blum, Anupam Datta, Lorrie Cranor, Saranga Komanduri and Santosh Vempala.


Jeremiah Blocki is a post-doctoral fellow in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University. He completed his PhD at Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 under the supervision of Manuel Blum and Anupam Datta. His research interests include: Passwords, Usable and Secure Human Authentication, Human Computable Cryptography, Differential Privacy and the intersection of Game Theory and Security. He is generally interested in applying fundamental ideas from theoretical computer science to address practical problems in privacy and security.