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Double Secret Authentication

Right by way of wrong
(+3, -3)
  [vote for,

The idea is simple: before the system accepts your correct password, you must first attempt to log in using a specified "knock" password. The system will reject this first password in the normal fashion, and to all outward appearances it would simply seem that an incorrect password had been typed in. However, the system would detect the "knock" password, then accept the actual password on the next attempt.

The primary advantage of doing this is that it would stop brute force attacks cold. Even if a cracker knew about this security method, it would immediately square the search space for potential passwords. And it would be trivial for a system to detect the same incorrect password being repeatedly attempted within a given amount of time, and cut off access or alert an administrator.

Also, attacks on the password hash itself, such as rainbow table attacks, would be made much more difficult. Even if a cracker somehow got a list of all of the users and passwords on a system, he wouldn't be able to do anything with it without knowing the "knock" password. And while he might be able to brute force this, repeated entry and refusal of a correct password would trigger an alert condition as mentioned above.

Lastly, even if somebody managed to compromise the username, password, and "knock" password, security could be restored systemwide by simply changing the "knock" password. Since this password would be set by the system administrator rather than the users, it could be stored in a more difficult to compromise manner than the regular password database—perhaps even hardcoded into the authentication program itself. Of course, since it must be shared with the users (although it could be set on a per- user basis), it would be potentially easy to compromise by non- technical methods. However, the requirement to take the additional step to do so would complicate the attack significantly, particularly in the case of automated botnet attacks.

ytk, Jan 30 2012

knockd http://www.zeroflux.org/projects/knock
does at advertised [fho, Feb 02 2012]

xkcd... http://xkcd.com/936/
...on passwords. [DrBob, Feb 02 2012]

Double Secret Probation http://www.youtube....watch?v=Y0cF2piwjYQ
[normzone, Feb 03 2012]


       There's many ad hoc methods of increasing security against standard attacks. This method topologically simply increases password length. Though having the first bit set by sysadmin sounds interesting.
FlyingToaster, Jan 31 2012

       At [FlyingToaster] says, this just increases password length. Also, having the system define a user's password is common practice. My password is automatically changed to a new, random, 9-letter password every month. The solution proposed here just adds complexity, which is often confused with adding security.
hippo, Feb 01 2012

       It might seem like it just increases the length of the password, but it really does more than that. You could only mount an effective brute force attack if you already know one or the other of the two passwords. But entering. and having the system reject, the same password repeatedly is easily detectable, even if you only have the hash of the entered password to compare with and not the actual password itself. Just making the password longer only still creates a single hash, so two different password attempts can't be compared for similarity.   

       [hippo], that sounds like a total pain for the users, and doesn't really do much for security (in fact, it lessens it, because users will invariably write their passwords down and leave them in insecure places). Wouldn't it be easier to have your own personal password that doesn't change regularly (one that you have memorized), and to be issued a rotating additional password every month that's simply, say, a dictionary word? It could even be just a four digit numeric code, and it would add basically the same amount of additional security. Since having to put in two separate passwords severely hampers brute force attacks, it doesn't need to be an overly complicated password. Just rotate it every month or so, and you'll be fine. And even if users write down the "knock" password, by having part of the password be something they have memorized, it doesn't do an attacker any good to find it.   

       Of course, all of these benefits could be realized by simply requiring two passwords to log in: one the user has memorized, and one assigned by the sysadmin. I'm willing to concede that the ruse of entering an "incorrect" password followed by a "correct" one only provides a marginal bit of security through obscurity (and hence, not really any security at all), but I still think the basic idea of having two passwords is sound.
ytk, Feb 01 2012

       two sequentially entered passwords = one long password.   

       The only difference is that you've added <CR> and pause(if applicable) to the list of characters.
FlyingToaster, Feb 01 2012

       No, because with two passwords, one can be changed by the sysadmin without affecting the other, and can potentially be shared by all users. With one long password, you can't just change half of it without knowing the other half.   

       While they may be cryptographically equivalent, two passwords and one long password are functionally quite different.
ytk, Feb 01 2012

       Make up your mind.   

       The "incorrect/correct" label isn't what you mean since neither password is incorrect.   

       The admin-set/user-set passwords, as I said, sounds interesting but, for the third time, it doesn't provide any more security against a brute-force attack than an extended length single password. The advantage would be against social-hacking in general.
FlyingToaster, Feb 02 2012

       actually this method exists and is more or less widely known. [see link]   

       the advantage is that the service isn't open to the outside and therefore can't be spotted by an attacker
fho, Feb 02 2012

       Is it mathematically harder to brute force? No.   

       Does it potentially make it easier to detect and stop brute force attacks? Yes.   

       Does it therefore "provide any more security against a brute-force attack than an extended length single password"? I would have to say it does.
ytk, Feb 02 2012

       //Does it potentially make it easier to detect and stop brute force attacks? Yes. // No.   

       Having your detection software look for non sys-password repetition is different from looking for non-longer-user-password repetition in what manner ?
FlyingToaster, Feb 02 2012

       Because looking for the /same/ password being entered over and over is much easier than looking for /similar/ passwords being entered serially (and if you only have access to the encrypted version of the password, or a hash of it, comparing similar passwords is impossible). If you detect that someone (or a group of someones) keeps entering the same correct system password, but different user passwords each time, it's trivial to either block further connections, or change the system password and render the entire attack fruitless.   

       The system could be configured to automatically change the system password (and notify users) after a given number of total attempts where the system password is correct and the user password is wrong. So even if an attacker is just trying both passwords randomly, he could exhaust the entire key space without discovering either password, unless he happens to get really lucky and, within the first, say, 25 tries that he happens to randomly get the system password correct, he also randomly gets the user password correct. Meaning that you could search through every possible password, and still only have a minute chance of finding the correct one. A distributed brute force attack would be effectively impossible this way.   

       Let's take a really simple example. Imagine your user password is known to be a six letter lowercase English word, and the system password is four numeric characters. Assuming roughly 15,000 six letter words, that yields 15,000 * 10^4, or 150,000,000 combinations. That's pretty easy to brute force. But, if you change the system password after each 25 correct guesses but failed logins, such an attack would succeed an average of 1 out of (15,000 / 25 = 600) times*. The only way to attack such a password system would be to repeatedly throw random keys at it until you happen to luck out, which would take, on average, about as long as brute forcing a system with a key space of 90,000,000,000 potential passwords.   

       In sum, even with a password policy yielding passwords that would be trivially easy to brute force, you could still have security comparable to a system with a much more complicated and onerous password scheme.   

       *Actually, it's probably slightly less, because there's a chance that the new system password could be within the as yet untried part of the key space.
ytk, Feb 02 2012

       // (and notify users)// How?   

       Just curious, but you frequently have to be able to log in to get notifications.
MechE, Feb 02 2012

       Alternate email address, SMS, carrier pigeon, singing telegram, smoke signals, coded message on highway billboards...
ytk, Feb 02 2012

       So the same thing as saying "OK, everybody change the first 4 characters of their password to 1234".
FlyingToaster, Feb 02 2012

       //The system could be configured to automatically change the system password (and notify users) after a given number of total attempts where the system password is correct and the user password is wrong. //   

       It seems like it should be pretty easy to have some kind of rolling password algorithm for the system reset which is known to the legitimate users but hard to guess for the attacker, so then the only communication that would be required would be 'login attempt trials exceeded, next system password chosen' or somesuch.
RayfordSteele, Feb 02 2012

       //Alternate email address, SMS, carrier pigeon, singing telegram, smoke signals, coded message on highway billboards...//   

       So you've weakened the first half of your password to the weakest protection on someone's alternate contact.
MechE, Feb 02 2012

       //So the same thing as saying "OK, everybody change the first 4 characters of their password to 1234".//   

       Sure. In the same way that saying "OK, everybody pick a really good password and keep it safe" is the same as enforcing a good security policy.
ytk, Feb 02 2012

FlyingToaster, Feb 02 2012

       Why bother locking your car? Just put a sign on the dashboard saying "This car is hard to break into." Exactly the same thing.
ytk, Feb 02 2012

       Why not go for dodecatuple secret authentication?

<Dean Vernon> Whenever a fire alarm is pulled, Robot House. Whenever the campus liquor store is looted, Robot House. Whenever a human corpse is desecrated- </DV>
DrBob, Feb 03 2012

       Don't computer systems lock you out for an hour after three failed passwords anymore? I thought that was pretty good defense against brute force password cracking. A bit of a pain if someone tried to hack your account and now YOU can't get in for an hour, but it's very secure.   

       A bone for trying to make me learn yet another *#@&$*$%* password. Got too many of them things already, dagnabbit!   

       Sorry, just picking. No bone, but I don't think it would be any more secure and it would dramatically increase the number of people bugging admin because they forgot one of the two passwords.
Psalm_97, Feb 05 2012


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