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Keyjacking: The Surprising Insecurity of Client-side SSL
John Marchesini, Sean W. Smith, Meiyuan Zhao
Dartmouth TR2004-489

Abstract: In theory, PKI can provide a flexible and strong way to authenticate users in distributed information systems. In practice, much is being invested in realizing this vision via client-side SSL and various client keystores. However, whether this works depends on whether what the machines do with the private keys matches what the humans think they do: whether a server operator can conclude from an SSL request authenticated with a user's private key that the user was aware of and approved that request. Exploring this vision, we demonstrate via a series of experiments that this assumption does not hold with standard desktop tools, even if the browser user does all the right things. A fundamental rethinking of the trust, usage, and storage model might result in more effective tools for achieving the PKI vision.

Note: This TR supercedes TR2003-443. A preliminary version appeared in the proceedings of the 2nd Annual PKI Research Workshop in April of 2003.


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   John Marchesini, Sean W. Smith, and Meiyuan Zhao, "Keyjacking: The Surprising Insecurity of Client-side SSL." Dartmouth Computer Science Technical Report TR2004-489, February 13,.


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