Portable Symmetric Key Container (PSKC) Library

For the past weeks I have been working on implementing RFC 6030, also known as Portable Symmetric Key Container (PSKC). So what is PSKC? The Portable Symmetric Key Container (PSKC) format is used to transport and provision symmetric keys to cryptographic devices or software.

My PSKC Library allows you to parse, validate and generate PSKC data. The PSKC Library is written in C, uses LibXML, and is licensed under LGPLv2+. In practice, PSKC is most commonly used to transport secret keys for OATH HOTP/TOTP devices (and other OTP devices) between the personalization machine and the OTP validation server. Yesterday I released version 2.0.0 of OATH Toolkit with the new PSKC Library. See my earlier introduction to OATH Toolkit for background. OATH Toolkit is packaged for Debian/Ubuntu and I hope to refresh the package to include libpskc/pskctool soon.

To get a feeling for the PSKC data format, consider the most minimal valid PSKC data:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<KeyContainer xmlns="urn:ietf:params:xml:ns:keyprov:pskc" Version="1.0">

The library can easily be used to export PSKC data into a comma-separated value (CSV) format, in fact the PSKC library tutorial concludes with that as an example. There is complete API documentation for the library. The command line tool is more useful for end-users and allows you to parse and inspect PSKC data. Below is an illustration of how you would use it to parse some PSKC data, first we show the content of a file “pskc-figure2.xml”:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<KeyContainer Version="1.0"
    <Key Id="12345678"

Here is how you would parse and pretty print that PSKC data:

jas@latte:~$ pskctool -c pskc-figure2.xml 
Portable Symmetric Key Container (PSKC):
	Version: 1.0
	Id: exampleID1
	KeyPackage 0:
			Id: 12345678
			Issuer: Issuer-A
			Algorithm: urn:ietf:params:xml:ns:keyprov:pskc:hotp
			Key Secret (base64): MTIzNA==


For more information, see the OATH Toolkit website and the PSKC Library Manual.

Unattended SSH with Smartcard

I have several backup servers that run the excellent rsnapshot software, which uses Secure Shell (SSH) for remote access. The SSH private key of the backup server can be a weak link in the overall security. To see how it can be a problem, consider if someone breaks into your backup server and manages to copy your SSH private key, they will now have the ability to login to all machines that you take backups off (and that should be all of your machines, right?).

The traditional way to mitigate SSH private key theft is by password protecting the private key. This works poorly in an unattended server environment because either the decryption password needs to be stored in disk (where the attacker can read it) or the decrypted private key has to be available in decrypted form in memory (where attacker can read it).

A better way to deal with the problem is to move the SSH private key to a smartcard. The idea is that the private key cannot be copied by an attacker who roots your backup server. (Careful readers may have spotted a flaw here, and I need to explain one weakness with my solution: an attacker will still be able to login to all your systems by going through your backup server, however it will require an open inbound network connection to your backup server and the attacker will never know what your private key is. What this does is to allow you to more easily do damage control by removing the smartcard from the backup server.)

In this writeup, I’ll explain how to accomplish all this on a Debian/Ubuntu-system using a OpenPGP smartcard, a Gemalto USB Shell Token v2 with gpg-agent/scdaemon from GnuPG together with OpenSSH.

Continue reading Unattended SSH with Smartcard

Introducing the OATH Toolkit

I am happy to announce a project that I have been working quietly on for about a year: the OATH Toolkit. OATH stands for Open AuTHentication and is an organization that specify standards around authentication. That is a pretty broad focus, but practically it has translated into work on specifying standards around deploying and using electronic token based user authentication such as the YubiKey.


OATH’s most visible specification has been the HOTP algorithm which is a way to generate event-based one-time passwords from a shared secret using HMAC-SHA1. HOTP has been published through the IETF as RFC 4226. Built on top of HOTP is the time-based variant called TOTP, which requires a clock in the token. OATH do some other work too, like specifying a data format for transferring the token configuration data (e.g., serial number and shared secret) called PSKC.
Continue reading Introducing the OATH Toolkit

On Password Hashing and RFC 6070

The RFC Editor has announced a new document, RFC 6070, with test vectors for PKCS5 PBKDF2. The document grow out of my implementation of SCRAM for GNU SASL. During interop testing, more than one other implementation turned out to have mistakes in the PBKDF2 implementation. It didn’t help that there weren’t any stable test vectors for PBKDF2, so that we could do black-box testing of our PBKDF2 implementations against well-known and stable test vectors. Debugging this was time consuming. The document addresses this problem.

So what is PBKDF2?
Continue reading On Password Hashing and RFC 6070

GS2-KRB5 in GNU SASL 1.5.0

I have worked in the IETF on the specification for the next generation GSSAPI-to-SASL bridge called GS2 (see my status page for background) for a couple of years now. The specification is (finally!) in the RFC editor’s queue, and is supposed to be stable and final although we are still tuning some details. The next step is to implement the protocol and do interop testing. A couple of months of implementation and testing work culminated in tonight’s release of GNU SASL 1.5.0 (see announcement here). Or should I say that the work can now begin…
Continue reading GS2-KRB5 in GNU SASL 1.5.0

PAM module for Yubico

During the autumn, in Yubico, we have been working on a PAM module for the Yubikey. It allows you to use the Yubikey to login to your machine, to unlock the screensaver, and so on. I decided to let Google Code host this project, which is the first time I’ve used them. It will be interesting to see how working with their site is going to turn out.

ObLink: code.google.com/p/yubico-pam/

You can buy Yubikeys on our web shop. If you have an interesting idea about what can be done with the key, let me know and I may be able to arrange a good deal for you. 🙂