May 14

The new Sync protocol

(This wraps up a two-part series on recent changes in Firefox Sync, based on my presentation at RealWorldCrypto 2014. Part 1 was about problems we observed in the old Sync system. Part 2 is about the protocol which replaced it.)

Last time I described the user difficulties we observed with the pairing-based Sync we shipped in Firefox 4.0. In late April, we released Firefox 29, with a new password-based Sync setup process. In this post, I want to describe the protocol we use in the new system, and their security properties.

(For the cryptographic details, you can jump directly to the full technical definition of the protocol, which we’ve nicknamed “onepw”, since there is now just “one password” to protect both account access and your encrypted data)

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Apr 14

Pairing Problems

(This begins a two-part series on upcoming changes in Firefox Sync, based on my presentation at RealWorldCrypto 2014. Part 1 is about problems we observed in the old system. Part 2 will be about the system which replaces it.)

In March of 2011, Sync made its debut in Firefox 4.0 (after spending a couple of years as the Weave add-on). Sync is the feature that lets you keep bookmarks, preferences, saved passwords, and other browser data synchronized between all your browsers and devices (home desktop, mobile phone, work computer, etc).

Our goal for Sync was to make it secure and easy to share your browser state among two or more devices. We wanted your data to be encrypted, so that only your own devices could read it. We weren’t satisfied with just encrypting during transmission to our servers (aka “data-in-flight”), or just encrypting it while it was sitting on the server’s hard drives (aka “data-at-rest”). We wanted proper end-to-end encryption, so that even if somebody broke into the servers, or broke SSL, your data would remain secure.

Proper end-to-end encryption typically requires manual key management: you would be responsible for copying a large randomly-generated encryption key (like cs4am-qaudy-u5rps-x/qca-hu63l-8gjkl-28tky-6whlt-fn0) from your first device to the others. You could make this easier by using a password instead, but that ease-of-use comes at a cost: short, easy-to-remember passwords aren’t very secure. If an attacker could guess your password, they could get your data.

We didn’t like that tradeoff, so we designed an end-to-end encryption system that didn’t use passwords. It worked by “pairing”, which means that every time you add a new device, you have to introduce it to one of your existing devices. For example, you could pair your home computer with your phone, and now both devices could see your Sync data. Then later, you’d pair your phone with your work computer, and now all three devices could synchronize together. Continue reading →

Jul 13

PiCL Crypto Review

I’ve been working on the security design for the next version of Firefox Sync, which is the bit that keeps your bookmarks/history/saved-passwords/etc synchronized between Firefoxes on all your various devices. The working title is “PiCL”, which stands for “Profile In the CLoud”. In the coming year, this will be deployed to roughly 500 million Firefox users.

I’m looking for feedback on our design. It involves key-stretching (PBKDF2 and scrypt), secure handling of password-derived keys, SRP, and a healthy distrust of SSL. If you’re interested, read on!

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