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Book ChapterDOI

The Trust Economy of Brief Encounters

01 Apr 2009-pp 285-297

TL;DR: I sat down and scratched my head a bit, and wondered what I might possibly say about brief encounters, and so a few of the examples that the authors’ve worked with are scraped together, and having dashed through these I will then try and draw a few conclusions.
Abstract: I sat down and scratched my head a bit, and wondered what I might possibly say about brief encounters, and I suppose it relates to what we were talking about last time, namely ad hoc networks, and the kind of trust relationships that get set up on the fly, or get set up informally. And so I have scraped together a few of the examples that we’ve worked with, and having dashed through these I will then try and draw a few conclusions.

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The Trust Economy of Brief Encounters
Ross Anderson
University of Cambridge Computer Lab oratory
Ross.Anderson@cl.cam.ac.uk
February 14th, 2009
The security of ad-hoc networks has been a subject of academic study for about
fifteen years. In the process it’s thrown up all sorts of provocative ideas, from
Berkeley’s Smart Dust to our suicide bombing protocol [1, 2]. Now that a
number of ad-hoc network technologies are being deployed, it turns out that
reality is even stranger. After giving an overview of the history, I’ll look at
what some real systems teach us.
Peer-to-peer systems were our first contact with this world; the ambitiously-
named Eternity Service may be no more, but it inspired a host of other peer-to-
peer systems that brought creative mayhem to the music industry and helped
teach us the importance of incentives; people are more likely to defend things
they care about than the more abstract free speech of remote users on unfamiliar
topics [3, 4]. More broadly, a literature grew up on reputation systems: the key
idea here was that the initial establishment of a secure association was much
less important than mechanisms to deal with its evolution afterwards. No-one
can remember when they first decided to trust their mother, and many of us
can’t remember when we first met many of our friends [5]. Trust is organic; it
grows and can also die.
The Resurrecting Duckling was our second contact [6]. Here the idea was
to bootstrap trust using physical contact, as a means of introducing practi-
cal authentication into embedded systems for which the overhead of PKIs and
crypto protocols was unacceptable. It found application, for example, in digital
tachographs: the tachograph sensor acts as the mother duck and the vehicle
unit, on initialisation, imprints on it by accepting a key offered by the sen-
sor [7]. That this key is sent in the clear is immaterial. The threat model is
that the truck driver, perhaps months after the official calibration of the de-
vice, attempts to tamper with the communication between the sensor and the
vehicle unit. Wiretapping of the key set-up is excluded by the environmental
assumptions.
1

A third development was the HomePlug protocol [8]. This is used to support
power-line communications between consumer electronic devices, and comes
with two modes of operation: “simple connect” mode, which works like a tacho-
graph by sending the key in the clear, and “secure mode” in which the user types
a key provided on the device label into a network management station. An aca-
demic cryptographer might have hoped to see a protocol such as Diffie-Hellman
here. We decided against this because users would still have to either verify a
key checksum or copy a key in order to prevent middleperson attacks, and from
the viewpoint of security usability, copying is much preferable to checking. It’s
also cheaper and more robust to do things simply.
A fourth development has been recent work on social networks, which taught us
about the importance of topology, and gave us new insights into such matters as
traffic analysis and anonymity. Again, the big issue isn’t the key setup per se,
but how you manage the evolution of the peer relationships afterwards. Node
compromise is a big deal in some of these systems, while in others it’s group
compromise the detection by authority of a covert community [9].
The latest development comes from industrial control systems, where some ven-
dors are selling what they call “lick’em and stick’em” sensors that can be de-
ployed rapidly in an industrial plant. For example, a process engineer can add
an extra temperature sensor to a reactor vessel by just slapping it on the outside
and letting it establish its own network to the control centre. At first sight, that
can save a lot of money on cabling. But configuration management now becomes
the bugbear: Homer takes the sensor destined for the tank of methyl isocyanate
and slaps it in the sewage tank instead. And that isn’t all. Ad-hoc deploy-
ments into private networks open up backdoors to the Internet that bypass the
plant firewall, and there’s always the small matter of battery replacement. An
initially appealing solution can rapidly teach some hard lessons about lifecycle
costs.
In short, the things that caused problems mostly weren’t the things we’d ex-
pected to. The protocols community’s traditional insistence on immaculate key
establishment turned out to be overblown or even irrelevant in most of these
applications; what mattered was what happens afterwards. It’s about putting
the effort into the right part of the security lifecycle. But that effort is still
substantial, and if anything it’s much greater than the cost of initial authenti-
cation.
So what does this teach us about brief encounters? I will use our now traditional
definition of trust as the ability to do harm a trusted system or component is
one that can break your security policy. From this I believe a difficult conclusion
follows. If you are going to trust a principal with whom you have only one brief
encounter, then the mechanisms commonly associated with “ad-hoc networks”
namely the optimistic establishment of an association, followed by its continued
assessment on the basis of subsequent behaviour are inappropriate. They
really work only where the encounters are repeated or prolonged; only then
2

do tit-for-tat and various institutional and social sanction mechanisms kick in
effectively.
Where the encounter is brief, the trust will usually have to be provided by some
third party, most likely using one of the many conventional protocols discussed
at these workshops in the past. A merchant won’t give goods to a customer
without either trousering her cash or executing an EMV protocol run with her
chip card. Whether you trust the Bank of England to issue the notes or the
Bank of Scotland to issue your chip card, you’re still trusting a bank.
Of course this is widely misunderstood. Websites tiresomely demand passwords
from one-off customers when all that really matters is the card transaction.
Transactions are often asymmetric because of a power imbalance; the difficulty
that bank customers have in telling fake PIN entry devices from real ones is just
one example of many. Nonetheless a more mobile and fluid society, with more
transient encounters, will on aggregate require more security protocol runs. Per-
haps they’d be designed better if we were more explicit about two things: how
long the resulting security associations are intended to last, and who’s guaran-
teeing what to whom. Knowing someone’s name isn’t the same as knowing their
reputation, and being able to tarnish their reputation is usually little recom-
pense afterwards (ask any of Mr Madoff’s erstwhile customers). Clarity about
these questions might hopefully shift the emphasis in many applications from
“identity”, whatever that is, to something more appropriate.
References
[1] Joseph Kahn, Randy Katz, Kris Pister, “Emerging Challenges: Mobile
Networking for Smart Dust”, in Journal of Communications and Networks
v 2 no 3 (2000) pp 188–196
[2] Tyler Moore, Jolyon Clulow, Shishir Nagaraja and Ross Anderson, “New
Strategies for Revocation in Ad-Hoc Networks”, in ESAS 2007, Springer
LNCS 4572 pp 232–246
[3] Ross Anderson “The Eternity Service”, in Proceedings of Pragocrypt 96
pp 242–252
[4] George Danezis and Ross Anderson, “The Economics of Censorship Re-
sistance”, at WEIS 2004 and in IEEE Security & Privacy v 3 no 1 (2005)
pp 45–50
[5] Ross Anderson, “The Initial Costs and Maintenance Costs of Protocols”,
in Security Protocols Workshop 2005 Springer LNCS v 4631 pp 333–343
[6] Frank Stajano, Ross Anderson, “The Resurrecting Duckling: Security
Issues for Ad-hoc Wireless Networks”, in Security Protocols, 7th Interna-
3

tional Workshop (1999), http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/
~
rja14/duckling.
html
[7] Ross Anderson, “On the Security of Digital Tachographs”, in Computer
Security ESORICS 98, Springer LNCS vol 1485 pp 111–125
[8] Richard Newman, Sherman Gavette, Larry Yonge and Ross Anderson,
“HomePlug AV Security Mechanisms”, in ISPLC 2007 pp 366–371
[9] Ross Anderson and Shishir Nagaraja, “The Topology of Covert Conflict”,
at WEIS 2006; University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory technical
report CL-637, 2005
4
References
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Book ChapterDOI
Frank Stajano1, Frank Stajano2, Ross Anderson1Institutions (2)
19 Apr 1999-
TL;DR: A resurrecting duckling security policy model is presented, which describes secure transient association of a device with multiple serialised owners over the air in a short range wireless channel.
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