Protecting Web-Based Single Sign-on Protocols against Relying Party Impersonation Attacks through a Dedicated Bi-directional Authenticated Secure Channel

  • Yinzhi Cao
  • Yan Shoshitaishvili
  • Kevin Borgolte
  • Christopher Kruegel
  • Giovanni Vigna
  • Yan Chen
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 8688)


Web-based single sign-on describes a class of protocols where a user signs into a web site with the authentication provided as a service by a third party. In exchange for the increased complexity of the authentication procedure, SSO makes it convenient for users to authenticate themselves to many different web sites (relying parties), using just a single account at an identity provider such as Facebook or Google.

Single sign-on (SSO) protocols, however, are not immune to vulnerabilities. Recent research introduced several attacks against existing SSO protocols, and further work showed that these problems are prevalent: 6.5% of the investigated relying parties were vulnerable to impersonation attacks, which can lead to account compromises and privacy breaches. Prior work used formal verification methods to identify vulnerabilities in SSO protocols or leveraged invariances of SSO interaction traces to identify logic flaws. No prior work, however, systematically studied the actual root cause of impersonation attacks against the relying party.

In this paper, we systematically examine existing SSO protocols and determine the root cause of the aforementioned vulnerabilities: the design of the communication channel between the relying party and the identity provider, which, depending on the protocol and implementation, suffers from being a one-way communication protocol, or from a lack of authentication. We (a) systematically study the weakness responsible for the vulnerabilities in existing protocols that allow impersonation attacks against the relying party, (b) introduce a dedicated, authenticated, bi-directional, secure channel that does not suffer from those shortcomings, (c) formally verify the authentication property of this channel using a well-known cryptographic protocol verifier (ProVerif), and (d) evaluate the practicality of a prototype implementation of our protocol.

Ultimately, to support a smooth and painless transition from existing SSO protocols, we introduce a proxy setup in which our channel can be used to secure existing SSO protocols from impersonation attacks. Furthermore, to demonstrate the flexibility of our approach, we design two different SSO protocols: an OAuth-like and an OpenID-like protocol.


Impersonation Attack Secure Channel Threat Model Identity Provider Security Assertion Markup Language 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yinzhi Cao
    • 1
  • Yan Shoshitaishvili
    • 2
  • Kevin Borgolte
    • 2
  • Christopher Kruegel
    • 2
  • Giovanni Vigna
    • 2
  • Yan Chen
    • 1
  1. 1.Northwestern UniversityUSA
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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