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PhD Thesis

An Expressive Formal Model of the Web Infrastructure

Abstract: The World Wide Web is arguably the most important medium of our time. Billions of users rely on the security of the web each day for tasks such as banking, shopping, and business and private communication.

The web is a heterogeneous infrastructure developing at a high pace. The question of whether the web infrastructure or certain web applications are secure is not easy to answer. Standards and applications today are reviewed by experts before they are deployed, but all too often even serious security vulnerabilities are simply overlooked.

In this thesis, we propose a formal model for the web infrastructure which enables a rigorous formal analysis of security and privacy in the web. Our model is the most comprehensive and expressive model of the web infrastructure to date. It facilitates accurate security and privacy analyses of current web standards and applications, and can serve as a reference for web security researchers, developers of new technologies and standards, and for teaching web security concepts.

As a case study we analyze the security of two important standards for federated authorization and authentication, OAuth 2.0 and OpenID Connect. Standardized by the IETF and OpenID Foundation, respectively, they are among the most widely deployed single sign-on systems in the web.

For our analysis, we develop detailed formal models for both systems based on our model of the web infrastructure. These models then allow us to precisely define the security goals of authentication, authorization and session integrity.

While proving security with respect to these goals, we found a total of five new attacks on the two single sign-on systems, breaking all of the security goals. In particular OAuth 2.0 had been analyzed many times before; the fact that we were able to find new attacks in OAuth 2.0 demonstrates the potential of rigorous analyses in our web infrastructure model.

We develop fixes against the underlying vulnerabilities and are then able to prove the security of OAuth 2.0 and OpenID Connect. Since our results are based on a comprehensive model, our proofs can exclude large classes of attacks against OAuth and OpenID Connect, including yet unknown attack vectors. Our attacks and fixes led to the development of new security recommendations by the standardization organizations.