Zero-Interaction Authentication

Laptops are vulnerable to theft, greatly increasing the likelihood of exposing sensitive files. Unfortunately, storing data in a cryptographic file system does not fully address this problem. Such systems ask the user to imbue them with long-term authority for decryption, but that authority can be used by anyone who physically possesses the machine. Forcing the user to frequently reestablish his identity is intrusive, encouraging him to disable encryption.

Our solution to this problem is Zero-Interaction Authentication, or ZIA. In ZIA, a user wears a small authentication token that communicates with a laptop over a short-range, wireless link. Whenever the laptop needs decryption authority, it acquires it from the token; authority is retained only as long as necessary. With careful key management, ZIA imposes an overhead of only 9.3% for representative workloads.

The largest file cache on our hardware can be re-encrypted within five seconds of the user’s departure, and restored in just over six seconds after detecting the user’s return. This secures the machine before an attacker can gain physical access, but recovers full performance before a returning user resumes work.

Download the paper in PDF format here.