8.6 Summary

Networks such as the Internet are shared by parties with conflicting interests, a situation that was not entirely foreseeable in the early days of networking. The job of network security is to keep some set of users from spying on or interfering with other users of the network. Confidentiality is achieved by encrypting messages. Data integrity can be assured using cryptographic hashing. The two techniques can be combined to guarantee authenticity of messages.

Symmetric-key ciphers such as AES and 3DES use the same secret key for both encryption and decryption, so sender and receiver must share the same key. Public-key ciphers such as RSA use a public key for encryption and a secret, private key for decryption. This means that any party can use the public key to encrypt a message such that it is readable only by the holder of the private key. The fastest technique known for breaking established ciphers such as AES and RSA is brute force search of the space of possible keys, which is made computationally infeasible by the use of large keys. Most encryption for confidentiality uses symmetric-key ciphers due to their vastly superior speed, while public-key ciphers are usually reserved for authentication and session key establishment.

An authenticator is a value attached to a message to verify the authenticity and data integrity of the message. One way to generate an authenticator is to encrypt a message digest that is output by a cryptographic hash function such as MD5 or one of the SHA family of hashes. If the message digest is encrypted using the private key of a public-key cipher, the resulting authenticator is considered a digital signature, since the public key can be used to verify that only the holder of the private key could have generated it. Another kind of authenticator is a Message Authentication Code, which is output by a hash-like function that takes a shared secret value as a parameter. A hashed MAC is a MAC computed by applying a cryptographic hash to the concatenation of the plaintext message and the secret value.

A session key is used to secure a relatively short episode of communication. The dynamic establishment of a session key depends on longer-lived predistributed keys. The ownership of a predistributed public key by a certain party can be attested to by a public key certificate that is digitally signed by a trusted party. A Public Key Infrastructure is a complete scheme for certifying such bindings and depends on a chain or web of trust. Predistribution of keys for symmetric-key ciphers is different because public certificates can't be used and because symmetric-key ciphers need a unique key for each pair of participants. A Key Distribution Center is a trusted entity that shares a predistributed secret key with each other participant, so that they can use session keys, not predistributed keys, between themselves.

Authentication and session key establishment require a protocol to assure the timeliness and originality of messages. Timestamps or nonces are used to guarantee the freshness of the messages. We saw two authentication protocols that use public-key ciphers, one that required synchronized clocks and one that did not. Needham-Schroeder is a protocol for authenticating two participants who each share a master symmetric-key cipher key with a Key Distribution Center. Kerberos is an authentication system based on the Needham-Schroeder protocol and specialized for client/server environments. The Diffie-Hellman key agreement protocol establishes a session key without predistributed keys and authentication.

We discussed several systems that provide security based on these cryptographic algorithms and protocols. At the application level, PGP can be used to protect email messages and SSH can be used to securely connect to a remote machine. At the transport level, TLS can be used to protect commercial transactions on the World Wide Web. At the network level, the IPsec architecture can be used to secure communication among any set of hosts or routers on the Internet.

A firewall filters the messages that pass between the site it protects and the rest of the network. Firewalls filter based on IP, TCP, and UDP addresses, as well as fields of some application protocols. A stateful firewall keeps track of the state of each connection so that it can allow valid responses to be delivered to dynamically assigned ports. Although firewall security has important limitations, it has the advantage of shifting some responsibility for security from users and applications to system administrators.

Further Reading

The first two security-related papers, taken together, give a good overview of the topic. The article by Lampson et al. contains a formal treatment of security, while the Satyanarayanan paper gives a nice description of how a secure system is designed in practice. The third paper is a thorough and somewhat alarming overview of how worms and viruses spread and how a well-planned attack could be sped up.

  • Lampson, B. et al. Authentication in distributed systems: Theory and practice. ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 10(4):265-310, November 1992.

  • Satyanarayanan, M. Integrating security in a large distributed system. ACM Transactions on Computer Systems 7(3):247-280, August 1989.

  • Staniford, S., V. Paxson, and N. Weaver. How to Own the Internet in Your Spare Time. USENIX Security Symposium 2002, pp. 149-167. San Francisco, CA, August 2002.

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