Thursday, May 20, 2010

Application Secrets vs. Key Pairs

I was just reading about the new Google Storage API for US developers and I am wondering why we see application secrets so often?

Google is generating an application-id / "access key" and up to five application secrets for different projects a developer is working on. Fine. The developer has to sign each request to the storage API.
http://code.google.com/apis/storage/docs/getting-started.html#keys

I assume that Google might even generate code snippets for a given pair of access key and application secret to sign requests to make things really easy for the developer.

Does nobody fear that Google admins might misuse the developer credentials?
Does nobody fear that Google's database of developer credentials might be breached one day?

What is so hard in using key pairs for developers? I know that some people faint when you use the three letter word "RSA" or "DSA" or whatever smells like asymmetric crypto. But if I have to sign a request anyway then where is the difference between symmetric and asymmetric? Is performance really still an issue? gmail is now SSL which is good. So here security finally won.

Generating a keypair is really simple and using it to sign bytes is as simple as using a symmetric key. Yes you have to protect the private key but not more than you have to protect the symmetric key.

It is harder to autogenerate code snippets because the generator does not know the private key or how to access it. But is this the point?

With asymmetric crypto there is no database of keys that can be stolen because the private key is not on a central system. And the developer credentials can not abused by Google operators which is good for audits and Google's liability.

So why are symmetric keys so ubiquitous? They are nothing than passwords and share some of the problems passwords have.

1 comment:

jernst said...

If you ever find out, I'd really like to know, too. I've been puzzled ever since LID (which uses GPG). There's also non-repudiation we get get for free with asymmetric keys.