Privacy through Noise: A Design Space for Private Identification

Karsten Nohl and David Evans
2009 Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC)
Honolulu, Hawaii
7-11 December 2009


To protect privacy in large systems, users should be able to authenticate against a central server without disclosing their identity to others. Private identification protocols based on public key cryptography are computationally expensive and cannot be implemented on small devices like RFID tags. Symmetric key protocols, on the other hand, provide only modest levels of privacy, but can be efficiently executed on servers and cheaply implemented on devices. The privacy of symmetric-key privacy protocols derives from the fact that an attacker only ever knows a small fraction of the keys in a system while the legitimate reader knows all keys. We propose to amplify this gap in the ability to distinguish users by adding noise to user responses. We focus on scenarios where an attacker is not able to acquire multiple different reads known to be from the same device, and justify this threat model by proposing a simple modification to RFID tag designs. In such scenarios, we can use noise to blur the borders between groups of users that the attacker would otherwise be able to distinguish. We evaluate the effectiveness and cost of this randomization and find that the information leakage from the tree protocol can be decreased to two thousandths of its original value with 150 times the number of server-side cryptographic operations and minimal cost to the tag. Degrees of privacy up to those achieved by public key protocols can be reached while staying well below the cost of public key cryptography.


Full paper (10 pages): [PDF]