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Part IV Determining Identity 107
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What people think: It s not worth worrying about the password security on a minor application that is not business-critical What we think: People use the same passwords for many different situations, and a hacker can collect passwords on an unimportant insecure system Often, at least one of these will grant access to a much more important and otherwise secure system
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8 Determining Identity: Passwords
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How Passwords Work
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Most passwords are stored in a password database This database can exist on the local file system or on a central authentication server Password databases are protected by one or more systems to prevent hackers from obtaining the passwords or editing the file to insert their own passwords The box that asks for the password is called a password dialog box The user enters their password, which is compared to the password found in the password database If the two results are the same, the user is given access Well-designed password dialogs will always scramble the password before sending it to an authorization server for comparison Otherwise, anyone intercepting the communication can see the password in plain text The password-scrambling process is a form of encryption, discussed in Part 9 In such a system, passwords in the database are also scrambled A comparison is made between the scrambled user input and the scrambled password found in the database, not the actual plain text passwords Since the password database never needs to be unscrambled, a scrambling method can be used that makes unscrambling nearly impossible The security benefit is that administrators, users, or hackers can t unscramble the database in order to learn all of the plain-text passwords chosen by the system s users Although this scrambling process might seem secure, it actually is not enough A user s password gets scrambled the same way every time A smart hacker will capture the scrambled password in transit The hacker won t know the user s original plain text password, but it doesn t matter The authentication server is only expecting a scrambled password By simply sending the captured scrambled password along, the hacker can gain access This is known as a replay attack, because capturing a transmission and replaying it back at a later time can compromise the system Protecting against replay attacks requires using a challenge and response system The password server sends a randomized challenge, some numeric/textual information that is unpredictable and different for every request The scrambled password is combined with the challenge, scrambled again, and sent back to the password server (this is the response) The password server combines the challenge it sent with the scrambled password found in the database and scrambles the result
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The Challenge/Response Password System
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I Figure 8-1
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This result is compared to the response and should be identical if the password is valid (see Figure 8-1) The challenge-response system prevents replay attacks because a response is only valid for a specific challenge Furthermore, scrambling the response makes the password inseparable from the challenge The next connection will require a different challenge, and any previously captured response will therefore not work
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We ve all seen movies where someone knocks on a door to a villain s lair A little window in the door slides opens, eyes look through, and a burly voice grunts out, What s the password The hero, watching from around the corner, overhears a henchman s response and uses the same password to gain entry a few moments later We all sit on the edge of our seats, because we know that an intense bar brawl, gunfight, or chop-socky scene is sure to follow This scene illustrates a number of potential problems with passwords Whenever a password is used, an opportunity is available to intercept it Overhearing, watching over a shoulder, wiretapping a line, and logging keystrokes are all techniques that can be used to compromise a password Shared passwords are even worse, because more opportunities for interception are present
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