We have a fairly hard user authentication problem that we're working on.
We've come up with a solution or two, but nothing that's totally
satisfactory. If anyone has had to do something like this, it'd be great
to hear about: We have a very unique situation, so I'm not sure if
anyone has had to deal with this. Here's a description of the problem,
along with a potential solution.
GOAL: Authenticate student use of online computer labs.
SHORT DESCRIPTION: We have 80 computer all across Europe. They each have
a Linux server (serving files via NFS), and we're working on configuring
them to go online, via IP masquerading. Some are VERY far away (from
Iceland to Saudi Arabia), and it's very expensive to service them. We
have field representatives who deal with students, but who have no tech.
knowledge. These labs are unmonitored. The network we'll be using (the
milnet) is unreliable and insecure. Some labs will be connecting via
Ethernet, some via PPP to a military terminal server. We expect that
we'll have a good percentage down at one time for some reason or another.
* No net/comm between the field staff and lab.
* No reliable net/comm between the lab and 'Headquarters' (in Heidelberg,
* No reliable net/comm between the field staff and Headquarters.
* No "secrets" can be stored on the lab servers: Anyone with a Linux boot
disk can reboot and get root privs.
* Various user timeouts/levels desired (weekend pass / one-semester pass,
* No executable can be stored on the fieldstaff's computer system: They're
very old, and crammed full of necessary software.
* We also need 'instant' access to a lab: If a student has enrolled
in a course, they must be able to use the lab right away.
* If a student is valid, they should be able to use ANY of our labs.
MY ONE, ALMOST GREAT AUTHENTICATION SOLUTION:
The would work wonderfully, if we could put software on the field
1) We install PGP on the field staff systems, along with a Public/Private
2) We install PGP on the lab servers along with the field staff public
key. (No secrets here.)
2) When a student enrolls for a class, we clear-sign a certificate that
looks like this:
Name: Bucky Jones
Dates: 1/5/96 - 1/5/97
Privs: http, ftp, telnet
3) We extract 5 or 6 characters from the sig block, and give that to the
student as their "password".
4) The student gets the signed certificate (minus password) on a floppy disk.
5) When a student first goes to a lab, they insert the floppy into a
client PC. A login program request the password, combines it back with
the signature block, and sends it via TCP/IP to the server.
6) The server validates the sig block and date with the public key.
7) The user, password, priviledges and dates are added to a database which
automatically deletes its entries at the end of the approved usage
dates. Until then, the user can come back to that particular lab and
just enter their password to gain access.
So, Any comments or conversation about this would be really appreciated.
Robb Shecter PGP Fingerprint:
University of Maryland, European Division 5F 70 B1 A7 B9 F9 42 67
Information Systems and Administrative Computing 11 27 47 EE 35 80 04 AA