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Eccentric Authentication

Eccentric Authentication provides secure and anonymous client certificates. It provides better security with less hassles than password authentication. This document describes how it achieves this.

Summary

Eccentric Authentication replaces the password login with client certificate logins.

Each web site runs it's own CA.

The certificates are created when the customer registers for an account at a website.

The only requirement that needs to be met before signing a certificate is that the username is unique.

As these certificates contain no other information than the users' chosen username, the certificates are therefore only trusted by the site that created it and user who requested it.

The customer creates a new certificate at each site.

The user's web browser should do all the difficulties of certificate handling, providing an easy to understand user interface.

Eccentric Authentication ditches the passwords

When you navigate to a site that accepts EcCA, you don't need a password anymore. EcCA replaces passwords with cryptographic certificates.

The problem with passwords are well known: They are either too weak to provide resilience against cracking or they are too difficult to remember. Furthermore, many people reuse the same password at different sites so a security breach at one site could lead to the breach of your account at another site.

Password managers are a big improvement over manual password handling as they relieve you of the burden to remember each and every password - a task better left to the computer, anyway.

With password managers however, you still have the hassle of generating a good strong password for each site. Some managers offer to do that for you as well but there are sites out there that are really restricted in what they can accept. It makes password generation less than ideal.

Secondly, as many people still don't use password managers nor backups, site owners offer the infamous Questions and Answers to reset your password. Now you have a different problem: What was your mothers' maiden name at site A and what was it at site B?

All these hassles are gone, when the site provides Eccentric Authentication.

Eccentric Authentication uses cryptographic certificates

Eccentric Authentication uses cryptographic certificates to replace the passwords. The technology we use is already built into every web browser and web server. It's called SSL/TLS, HTTPS and Certificate Authorities.

Current practise is that for a global Certificate Authority to sign a certificate for a person, the person has to provide his real identity including name, location, payment details. It can take a few days to a week to get all the paperwork done. When you use that identity to log in, it provides your real identity to any site you use it for.

You pay a (high) price to get a certificate and lose all privacy on the web when you use it. That's why client certificates from global CA's are not used much on the web.

And that's why we still have passwords on the net. Using passwords allow users to choose the amount of private details they want to divulge to a random web site.

Eccentric Authentication uses this certificate technology to get rid of the problems we encouter with passwords while providing the same level of privacy for the customers.

Many, many CA's. Many, many identities

We use a Certificate Authority for each web site. We call it the LocalCA.

These are the rules of the protocol. 1. Each website operator runs his own local Certificate Authority; 2. Each website only accepts client certificates from its own local CA; 3. Each user chooses the username they want to use at each site; the only requirement is that the username is unique for the site; 4. Each local CA verifies the uniqueness of the username and signs the certificate for that site; for free; 5. The whole Request -> Validate -> Sign -> Reply transaction happens in a single HTTPS request.

The user can use the certificate to log in to the site immediately.

The certificate is the identity

The certificate binds three data items together: The chosen username, the user's public key and the localCA's key. It forms a digital identity. The only requirement is the unique username. It allows a user to register at a site and use that name to build a reputation. Other users at that site can -- over time -- recognize that username and know that it was the same person who wrote it.

The EcCA protocol does not require users to add an email-address, the identities are really anonymous. And users can create as many as they want at any site. So one can blog about politics under one identity and parenting under another. The users' browser should make it easy to do so.

Benefits for site owners

The benefits for users are clear: no more hassles with passwords, strong security due too cryptography and better privacy for users than with password authentication. There are benefits for site owners too.

As the EcCA-protocol is wholly anonymous, you don't have to store personal details in your database. You won't be targeted by criminals that go after account data and passwords as you don't have any. All you need to store is the list of usernames to prevent signing the same name twice to different people. If criminals would break into your site they leave empty handed. It is probably cheaper to use EcCA than to use passwords.

Although the protocol is anonymous and it does not provide a users' real identity, it does provide you with a sure way to recognize recurring users. You can be sure that it's the same user when he logs in with the same certificate. That's how cryptography works. All you need is to provide an incentive for people to sign up and use that same identity later.

When not to use

The EccA protocol is suited for sites where the real identity is not needed for operation, I.e. it's good for most blogs, newspapers and webshops. Probably it's good for 80% of the websites out there.

If you run a bank, a hospital or a city hall, you should use other mechanism to authenticate your clients. The EcCA protocol does not identify users with their real identity.

Requirements for user interfaces

Current web browsers, such as Firefox can use this protocol, both to create the keys needed for the certificate as well as logging in with the certificate.

However, its user interface is a bit spartan.

A plug-in that provides an easy user interface is severely need.

More information

For more information, feel free to inquire at guido@witmond.nl

Cheers,

Guido Witmond. Rotterdam.

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