Security Research in 2016: Measurements and Usability

Posted: February 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: privacy, research, security | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

My security research in 2016 focused on two broad categories: measurement-, and usability-studies. In this blog post, I briefly discuss the four most important papers we published in these domains in 2016.

Data-driven security and measurement studies

The Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol is the building block of secure web communication. A number of important Internet applications rely on the TLS  protocol for the protection of exchanged information. One of these important applications is E-Mail, which despite of the growing use of mobile messengers, remains very popular. In a joint project with Wilfried, Aaron, and Martin we analyzed how TLS is used in the global E-Mail ecosystem. Our measurements consist of over 10 billion TLS handshakes against 20 Million global email services. Our findings showed that weak Diffie Hellman parameters are a serious threat for the security of the current E-Mail systems. We also showed that roughly one third of all analyzed E-Mail services supported the insecure plain-authentication method. Our paper got the award for best paper at ARES 2016, for the details on our research: read the paper and/or download our dataset.

number of email hosts that offer auth plain authentication (2016)

In 2016 we furthermore conducted a study on the effectiveness of state-of-the-art blocker tracking tools. Online tracking is a widespread practice for web services in order to tailor online advertisement as well as to identity the online behavior of people. Tracker-blocking tools such as Ghostery or AdBlock Plus are currently the only available solution for people to protect against tracking and malicious advertisement, yet little is known how effective these tools are. We performed the first large-scale measurement study on the effectiveness of tracker-blocking tools on websites as well as mobile apps. The research is part of our PriSAd research project (FH St. Pölten + nimbusec) and joint work with SBA Research (in particular Georg + Damjan), as well as Nick Nikiforakis from Stony Brook University. We will present our findings at the EuroS&P conference in Paris / April 2017. A preprint of our paper is available here.

Usability of Secure Mobile Applications

In addition to measurements on the usage of TLS in E-Mail services we tackled the correct usage of TLS in mobile applications. Android enables application developers to customize how TLS certificates are verified. Per default Android applications trust valid certificates based on its own CA store. Developers can however completely disable certificate validation (which is very bad and renders the security of TLS useless), or in best case pin certificates. Ultimately, users have to trust application developers to use TLS correctly. We outlined a method improve the correct usage of TLS in Android applications for end users, despite potential implementation bugs introduced by app developers. The main idea we proposed consists in intercepting calls to the Android TrustManager and pin TLS certificates on the fly. Damjan presented our method and proof-of-concept implementation at the IFIP Networking conference.

Finally, in 2016 we conducted a usability study on the state-of-the-art secure messenger: Signal. The Signal protocol provides both forward as well as future secrecy. Signal also works if message recipients are offline. In 2016 WhatsApp rolled out encrypted communication based on Signal and the cryptographic protocol is now used by more than a billion users worldwide. Signal makes the use of state-of-the-art cryptography easy, the whole protocol is however broken if an attacker manages to compromise the key-exchange servers of e.g. Signal or WhatsApp. We studied how users perform on countering targeted attacks with Signal’s fingerprint verification feature. We found that 75% of our study participants failed to correctly verify the identity of other Signal users. Read the paper for further details on our study and our suggested usability improvements for the Signal messenger.

example warning dialog from Signal once identity key changes

What else happened in 2015

Posted: November 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: privacy, random, security | No Comments »

Time to post a short update on things that happened, since I attended WWW in Florence 2015. In 2015, I devoted the majority of my research time on the development of the Usable Privacy Box (upribox). The upribox is a RaspberryPi-based WiFi router that automatically filters advertisement and optionally routes traffic through the Tor anonymity network. I presented the upribox at the CCC Camp in Berlin and ITSecX 2015.

Life as a post-doc

Posted: August 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: personal, security | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Since I defended my PhD thesis in November 2013 I kept myself busy with writing grant proposals and also started to collaborate with the brilliant PhD students at SBA Research. One of our project proposals, on the practical usage of the TLS protocol (TLSip), has been accepted by FFG. I also started to as a lecturer at the University of Applied sciences at Sankt Pölten where I teach classes on UNIX hardening, software engineering and privacy enhancing technologies. This spring I helped to analyze the impact of the heartbleed bug on Austria. Next month I will present two papers at the SIN conference in Glasgow and attend the SysSec summer school on mobile malware.


ACM COSN at Northeastern

Posted: October 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: research, security | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The last two days I attended the first conference on online social network. I was really amazed by how the well the conference was organized and the interesting crowd of researchers it attracted. Our paper on social networking apps, was among 3-4 papers related to security and privacy issues in online social networks. As of my presentation yesterday, I also made our AppInspect Project website publicly available.
Hope to post some pics from Boston soon, if I find time for some sightseeing.

Happy new year 2013

Posted: January 12th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: 29c3, personal, random, security | No Comments »

Happy belated new year everyone!

2012 was an exciting year for me. In August, we moved to Barcelona and I am doing my research in a lab at UPC now. Towards the end of last year I also finished some new security and privacy research on Facebook. Hopefully I will be able to post some results soon. In December 2012 we attended the CCC in Hamburg. 29C3 featured some cool talks and the streams are already available online; go download and watch some of them!

Like last year, this year’s resolutions include to blog more often. 😉 I am already curios what 2013 will bring.