Another player, Yubikey, has also recently announced a new product that supports FIDO2 and NFC. While Yubikey has stepped away from their early open source policy, Solo is embracing the open source ethos. The Kickstarter promises the release of both the software and hardware design as fully open, using MIT and CC BY-SA licenses.
For more information, see the blog post detailing the project goals and initial design process. As always, caveat emptor, but this seems to be a crowdfunding project worth taking a look at.
Google Authenticator is a particularly popular smartphone application that can be used as a token for many two factor authentication (2FA) systems by generating a time-based one time password (referred to as TOTP). With Google Authenticator, the combination of your user name and password along with the single-use code generated by the application allows you to securely authenticate yourself in a way that would be difficult for an attacker to replicate.
That sounds great, but what if you don’t have a smartphone? That’s the situation that [Lady Ada] recently found herself in, and rather than going the easy route and buying a hardware 2FA token that’s compatible with Google Authenticator, she decided to build one herself based on the ESP8266. With the hardware and source documented on her site, the makings of an open source Google Authenticator hardware token are available for anyone who’s interested.
For the hardware, all you need is the ESP8266 and a display. Naturally [Lady Ada] uses her own particular spin on both devices which you can purchase if you want to create an identical device, but the concept will work the same on the generic hardware you’ve probably already got in the parts bin. Software wise, the code is written in CircuitPython, a derivative of MicroPython, which aims to make microcontroller development easier. If you haven’t tried MicroPython before, grab an ESP and give this a roll.
Conceptually, TOTP is relatively simple. You just need to know what time it is, and run an SHA1 hash. The time part is simple enough, as the ESP8266 can connect to the network and get the current time from NTP. The calculation of the TOTP is handled by the Python code once you’ve provided it with the “secret” pulled from the Google Authenticator application. It’s worth noting here that this means your 2FA secrets will be held in clear-text on the ESP8266’s flash, so try not to use this to secure any nuclear launch systems or anything, OK? Then again, if you ever lose it the beauty of 2-factor is you can invalidate the secret and generate a new one.
Passwords are in a pretty broken state of implementation for authentication. People pick horrible passwords and use the same password all over the place, firms fail to store them correctly and then their databases get leaked, and if anyone’s looking over your shoulder as you type it in (literally or metaphorically), you’re hosed. We’re told that two-factor authentication (2FA) is here to the rescue.
Well maybe. 2FA that actually implements a second factor is fantastic, but Google Authenticator, Facebook Code Generator, and any of the other app-based “second factors” are really just a second password. And worse, that second password cannot be stored hashed in the server’s database, which means that when the database is eventually compromised, your “second factor” blows away with the breeze.
Second factor apps can improve your overall security if you’re already following good password practices. We’ll demonstrate why and how below, but the punchline is that the most popular 2FA app implementations protect you against eavesdropping by creating a different, unpredictable, but verifiable, password every 30 seconds. This means that if someone overhears your login right now, they wouldn’t be able to use the same login info later on. What 2FA apps don’t protect you against, however, are database leaks.