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Alpaca: Extensible Authorization for Distributed Services

Chris Lesniewski-Laas, Bryan Ford, Jacob Strauss, Robert Morris, and M. Frans Kaashoek
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Published in 14th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security, Oct 29-Nov 2, 2007, Alexandria, VA.


Traditional Public Key Infrastructures (PKI) have not lived up to their promise because there are too many ways to define PKIs, too many cryptographic primitives to build them with, and too many administrative domains with incompatible roots of trust. Alpaca is an authentication and authorization framework that embraces PKI diversity by enabling one PKI to “plug in” another PKI's credentials and cryptographic algorithms, allowing users of the latter to authenticate themselves to services using the former using their existing, unmodified certificates. Alpaca builds on Proof-Carrying Authorization (PCA), expressing a credential as an explicit proof of a logical claim. Alpaca generalizes PCA to express not only delegation policies but also the cryptographic primitives, credential formats, and namespace structures needed to use foreign credentials directly. To achieve this goal, Alpaca introduces a method of creating and naming new principals which behave according to arbitrary rules, a modular approach to logical axioms, and a domain-specific language specialized for reasoning about authentication. We have implemented Alpaca as a Python module that assists applications in generating proofs (e.g., in a client requesting access to a resource), and in verifying those proofs via a compact 800-line TCB (e.g., in a server providing that resource). We present examples demonstrating Alpaca's extensibility in scenarios involving inter-organization PKI interoperability and secure remote PKI upgrade.

Full Paper: PDF PS

© ACM, 2007. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in ACM CCS '07, Oct 29-Nov 2, 2007, Alexandria, VA.

Topics: Programming Languages Networks Operating Systems Cryptography Identity Bryan Ford