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The larger hardware crypto devices are generally called crypto accelerators (see Figure 3-8) because they usually have specialized chips that perform cryptographic operations faster than general-purpose microprocessors. Crypto accelerators can also store data more securely than can a regular computer. The problem with, for example, your desktop PC is that the hard drive is visible to the outside world. As you saw in 1, attackers can probably read your computer s hard drive, and even if you have firewalls around your sensitive information, attackers can use tools, such as data recovery software, to read that data as well. But a crypto accelerator is built so that its storage space is not visible. There is very limited access to it using normal channels, and if attackers try to pry open the cover to physically access the hard drive, the device erases itself. If you store your key on such a box, it s extremely unlikely that someone will be able to extract it. Many crypto accelerators do not let the key leave the device. With a token, if you want to encrypt 10 megabytes (MB) of data, you must get the key from the token and let your PC do the encrypting. While the key is in memory and afterward, as you saw in 1 with memory reconstruction attacks it is vulnerable. With a crypto accelerator, you send the
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Figure 3-8 Some crypto accelerators
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plaintext to the device, and it encrypts and returns the ciphertext. This arrangement further limits the key s vulnerability. One problem with crypto accelerators is that they are connected to your computer 24 hours a day. This is in contrast to tokens, which are connected only for a few seconds at a time, limiting their vulnerability. Presumably, the crypto accelerator I/O is secure so that if attackers have remote access to your computer, they still cannot get access to the accelerator. Presumably, however, may not be adequate security in some situations. That s why most crypto accelerators work in conjunction with tokens that is, they don t operate without a token inserted. If you store your keys on the box, you can recover them by presenting the correct token and entering the correct password. For attackers to access your keys, they must somehow obtain your token (another token by the same manufacturer won t work, just as two credit cards don t refer to the same account) and the ability to use that token (usually a password). And, of course, they must have physical contact with the accelerator (to insert the token), again thwarting a remote attack.
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Hardware Devices and Random Numbers
Tokens and crypto accelerators usually come with an RNG (see 2 for details about RNGs and PRNGs). You must be careful, though, because some tokens don t have true RNGs. Rather, they have PRNGs seeded at the factory. Even if your device constantly collects seed material each time it is used a better approach than a PRNG seeded at the factory it s still a PRNG.
A hardware device stores your keys securely, but it usually relinquishes them when someone enters a password. Good passwords can be strong, but in real life, not everyone uses good passwords. Another way to authorize a device to unleash the key is through biometrics, which uses your unique physical characteristic to verify your identity. The most well-known biometric is the fingerprint. It s common knowledge that everyone, even an identical twin, has unique fingerprints. If a machine could read fingerprints, it could determine whether the
appropriate person is requesting an operation. Such machines exist. (It s macabre, but some of these machines can even tell whether the finger being used is actually attached to the body and whether the body is alive.) Other biometrics include retina scans, voiceprints, and even DNA. Biometrics companies are attempting to build hardware that can be programmed to identify you by scanning your eye, voice, or DNA and then appropriately release secure information or perform a cryptographic function. Biometric devices are not currently in widespread use for a couple of reasons. One is the cost of the devices, and the other is their reliability. A number of concerns have been raised. Will the device return an erroneous positive ID on someone who isn t the identified subject Will it always return a positive ID on the subject What if the subject has cut his or her right thumb will the fingerprint reader still function Can it instead use the left thumb Another finger For a voiceprint reader, what if the person has a cold will it still work And so on. A password works virtually 100 percent of the time. If you enter the wrong password, access is denied. With the correct password, you always get access. With biometrics, there may be some errors. The technology is advancing, and companies are building better and cheaper readers. Someday, maybe a smart card will contain not only a chip but also a fingerprint reader. Maybe your cell phone will have built-in voice recognition.
After you ve generated a symmetric key and used it to encrypt data, how do you protect the key One of the most common techniques is passwordbased encryption. In PBE, you use a password and a salt to build the key encryption key. You then use the KEK to encrypt the session key. Another method of protecting your session key is to store it on a hardware device, such as a token or crypto accelerator.
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