Passwords are a very convenient way to authenticate. In terms of simplicity and portability they are very difficult to match. Nevertheless, current password-based login mechanisms are vulnerable to phishing attacks and typically require users to create and manage a new password for each of their accounts. This research investigates the potential for indirect/decentralized approaches to improve password-based authentication. Adoption of a decentralized authentication mechanism requires the agreement between users and service providers on a trusted third party that vouches for users' identities. Email providers are the de facto trusted third parties on the Internet. Proof of email address ownership is typically required to both create an account and to reset a password when it is forgotten. Despite its shortcomings (e.g., latency, vulnerability to passive attack), this approach is a practical solution to the difficult problem of authenticating strangers on the Internet. This research utilizes this emergent, lightweight relationship with email providers to offload primary user authentication from service providers; thus reducing the need for service provider-specific passwords. Our goal is to provide decentralized authentication that maintains the convenience and portability of passwords, while improving its assurances (especially against phishing). Our first step to leverage this emergent trust, Simple Authentication for the Web (SAW), improves the security and convenience of email-based authentications and moves them from the background into the forefront, replacing need for an account-specific password. Wireless Authenticationg using Remote Passwords (WARP) adapts the principles of SAW to authentication in wireless networks. Lightweight User AUthentication (Luau) improves upon WARP and unifies user authentication across the application and network (especially wireless) layers. Our final protocol, pwdArmor, started as a simple wrapper to facilitate the use of existing databases of password verifiers in Luau, but grew into a generic middleware framework that augments the assurances of conventional password protocols.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Computer Science



Date Submitted


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authentication, email-based authentication, passwords, password-authenticated key exchange, single sign-on, authentication in wireless networks