Universal Authenticators

2015-10-02 crypto

I was checking out of my hotel the other day, fumbling a magstripe hotel door key, a proximity car key and a wallet full of Paywave RFID cards, and it occured to me that we’re really doing this key thing all wrong.

Would it not be nice if I could just have one device to do all of these things?

The proliferation of these devices is because each of them is Authenticating and Authorizing me to use that particular system. How about if we split these two jobs and let the key do the authentication while the lock handles the authorization.


Humans are not good at performing complex cryptographic operations in their heads, so we’ll still need to carry some kind of exobrain around with us. This could be a smartphone app, or it could take the form of a keytag, necklace, ring, brooch, implant, whatever. You’d only need to carry one of them, so the sartorial options are less limited than with the current proliferations of cards and keys.


The problem with systems like this is that at present, using my wallet, I can choose which card(s) to hand over for a given situation. I don’t want to just have a single fixed identifier which is handed over to anyone who asks, but neither do I want to have to set up a shared-secret relationship with every possible user of the card system.


Regular RFID tags won’t do this, but it is possible to make a DIY RFID tag and thus customize the RFID protocol so this should actually be practical.

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