Category Archive: 2FA

Mar 15 2016

Sound-Proof: an interesting authentication method

Four researchers of ETH Zurich (KARAPANOS N., MARFORIO C., SORIENTE C., and CAPKUN S.) have disclosed at last Usenix conference an innovative two-factor authentication method which is extremely user-friendly. As many current 2FA, it employs the user’s cell phone. However, the interaction with the phone is transparent to the user.

The user initiates the login with the typical login/password process on her or his device. Then, both this device and the user’s cell phone record the ambient sound. The two captured tracks are compared to verify whether they match. If they match, the authentication succeeds. The user’s cell phone captures the sound without the user having to interact with it. The phone may even be in the user’s pocket or shirt.

Obviously, this authentication does not prevent co-localized attacks, i.e., the attacker has the victim’s credentials and is near his victim. As the victim is not aware of the audio capture, the attack would succeed. Nevertheless, many scenarios are not vulnerable to co-localized attacks.

In the proof of concept, the cell phone performs the verification and returns the result to the login server. I do not find a reason this check could not be varied out by the server rather than by the phone. This modification would eliminate one security assumption of the trust model: the integrity of the software executing on the phone. The comparison would be more secure on the server.

A very interesting concept.

Karapanos, Nikolaos, Claudio Marforio, Claudio Soriente, and Srdjan Capkun. “Sound-Proof: Usable Two-Factor Authentication Based on Ambient Sound.” In 24th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 15), 483–98. Washington, D.C.: USENIX Association, 2015. https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity15/technical-sessions/presentation/karapanos.

Jun 22 2015

Stealing account with mobile phone-based two-factor authentication

Attackers often entice users to become the weakest link.   Phishing and scams exploit the human weakness.  These attacks become even creepier if the attacker circumvents legitimate security mechanisms.   Two factor authentication offers better security than simple login/password.  The use of mobile phone as the second factor is becoming mainstream.  It is impossible to steal our account without stealing our phone.  We feel safer.  Should we?

Symantec reported a new used method to steal the account of users despite the use of a two-factor authentication.   Here is the scheme.

Mallory wants to gain access to Alice’s account.  He knows Alice email address and her mobile phone number as well as her account.  For a social engineer, this information is not difficult to collect.  It is part of the usual exploration phase before the actual hack.   Mallory contacts the service provider of Alice’s account and requests a password reset.  He selects the method that sends a digital code to Alice’s mobile phone.   The service provider sends an SMS to Alice’s mobile phone with this code. Simultaneously, Mallory sends an SMS to Alice impersonating the service provider.  Once more, this is not difficult as many providers do not use a specific number.  This SMS explains to Alice that there was some suspicious activity on her account.  To verify her account, she must reply to this SMS with the code that was sent previously to her.  Gullible Alice obeys.  Mallory has now the code that the service provider requests to reset Alice password.  Mallory gains entire access to Alice’s account with the involuntary help of Alice.

This type of attack can be used on most web services, e.g., webmails like gmail.  Obviously, Alice should not have replied to this SMS.  She should have followed the known procedure and not an unknown one.  She may have been cautious that the two phone numbers were different.

This is a perfect example of social engineering.   The only answer is education.  Therefore, spread this information around you,  The more people are aware, the less they will be prone to be hacked.  Never forget Law 6: You are the weakest link.