On the Usability of Authenticity Checks for Hardware Security Tokens

Pfeffer, Katharina and Mai, Alexandra and Dabrowski, Adrian and Gusenbauer, Matthias and Schindler, Philipp and Weippl, Edgar and Franz, Michael and Krombholz, Katharina
(2021) On the Usability of Authenticity Checks for Hardware Security Tokens.
In: Usenix Security 2021.
Conference: USENIX-Security Usenix Security Symposium


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The ultimate responsibility to verify whether a newly purchased hardware security token (HST) is authentic and unmodified lies with the end user. However, recently reported attacks on such tokens suggest that users cannot take the security guarantees of their HSTs for granted - even despite widely deployed authenticity checks. We present the first comprehensive market review evaluating the effectiveness and usability of authenticity checks for the most commonly used HSTs. Furthermore, we conducted a survey (n=194) to examine users’ perceptions and usage of these checks. We found that due to a lack of transparency and information, users often do not carry out - or are not aware of - essential checks but rely on less meaningful methods. Moreover, our results confirm that currently deployed authenticity checks cannot mitigate all variants of distribution attacks. Furthermore, some authenticity concepts of different manufacturers contradict each other. To address these challenges, we suggest a combination of already deployed and novel authenticity checks as well as a user-centered transparent design.


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