Fast, Automatic Checking of Security Protocols

Authors: Darrell Kindred and Jeannette M. Wing

Appears in the Second USENIX Workshop on Electronic Commerce, November 1996, pp. 41-52.

The full text of this paper is available in postscript and HTML formats.


Protocols in electronic commerce and other security-sensitive applications require careful reasoning to demonstrate their robustness against attacks. Several logics have been developed for doing this reasoning formally, but protocol designers usually do the proofs by hand, a process which is time-consuming and error-prone.

We present a new approach, theory checking, to analyzing and verifying properties of security protocols. In this approach we generate the entire finite theory, Th, of a logic for reasoning about a security protocol; determining whether it satisfies a property, phi, is thus a simple membership test: phi in Th. Our approach relies on (1) modeling a finite instance of a protocol in the way that the security community naturally, though informally, presents a security protocol, and (2) placing restrictions on a logic's rules of inference to guarantee that our algorithm terminates, generating a finite theory. A novel benefit to our approach is that because of these restrictions we can provide an automatic theory-checker generator. We applied our approach and our theory-checker generator to three different logics for reasoning about authentication and electronic commerce protocols: the Burrows-Abadi-Needham logic of authentication, AUTLOG, and Kailar's accountability logic [4, 6, 8]. For each we verified the desired properties using specialized theory checkers; most checks took less than two minutes, and all less than fifteen.

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