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RSA Laboratories

Fourth Factor Authentication: Somebody You Know

Citation: J. Brainard, A. Juels, R. Rivest, M. Szydlo, and M. Yung. Fourth Factor Authentication: Somebody You Know. In ACM CCS, pp. 168-78. 2006.

Abstract: User authentication in computing systems traditionally depends on three factors: something you have (e.g., a hardware token), something you are (e.g., a fingerprint), and something you know (e.g., a password). In this paper, we explore a fourth factor, the social network of the user, that is, somebody you know.

Human authentication through mutual acquaintance is an age-old practice. In the arena of computer security, it plays roles in privilege delegation, peer-level certification, help-desk assistance, and reputation networks. As a direct means of logical authentication, though, the reliance of human being on another has little supporting scientific literature or practice.

In this paper, we explore the notion of vouching, that is, peer-level, human-intermediated authentication for access control. We explore its use in emergency authentication, when primary authenticators like passwords or hardware tokens become unavailable. We describe a practical, prototype vouching system based on SecurID, a popular hardware authentication token. We address traditional, cryptographic security requirements, but also consider questions of social engineering and user behavior.

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