Securing logins, Duo Security experience

In January, I’ve ranted about not being able to get a Yubikey so that I could test some kind of OTP token for logging in to the FTP of one of my servers, so that my friend who is maintaining the WordPress install could work even from his office (where SSH does not work).

In the comments of that post Dug Song pointed me to his company, Duo Security which actually seemed like a good idea for what I had in mind. It provides support for both software and hardware token generators, has a clear API, and has a few integrations already available. Unfortunately now we’re in April, and you’ve seen nothing from me discussing it before. Why?

Well, mostly it feels like there’s a problem with timing. When I ranted about Yubikey, it was the week before leaving for FOSDEM, so I was finishing up job stuff and I couldn’t look at it until I came back from my combined trip (after FOSDEM I came here to Los Angeles). So when I started looking into it, I was at first only able to provide them with some build system changes.

When I then decided to spend some more time on it since the need to set up FTP increased, I started fighting with vsftpd to get it to accept using their PAM integration to use log in. The end result has been … a lot of time spent. Unfortunately the original design of their PAM implementation only works with a normal challenge-response authentication method (so it wouldn’t work with “safe” sshd PAM configurations), and more to the point, it would require asking two passwords, which an FTP client can’t.

While I first hacked it around, I was able to implement while here in LA last month a more complete patchset that implements a proper way to use it as a “single factor” authentication, or as a secondary push authentication. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet received a response about this patchset, which is why you won’t find duo_unix in Gentoo as it is.

The situation is getting more complex now: from one side I’m going to cut down most of my contract work in Italy as that’s not making me any money (seriously I think that even with all my ranting Flattr and Google AdSense are making me more money than website hosting), so I don’t foresee the need to provide users with some kind of strong authentication on the long term. From the other, while the firmware I’m working on doesn’t really care about this kind of strong authentication, the organization for which I’m working could use something like this. Of course, if the upstream for the package is not responding, that’s bad enough not to consider this.

I’m honestly not sure what to say since Dug and Jon seemed like friendly and helpful guys, maybe they are just too swamped with other requests and they can’t process mine as well, but whatever the reason, the issue I’m afraid is going to be a lapsed sale for them. Guys if you’re reading this, please let me know something, okay?

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