Interesting Reads

We assembled a collection of research papers which you may read to get a better idea of the usable security research field and how to conduct research in general.


Authors: Dominik Wermke, Noah Wöhler, Jan H. Klemmer, Marcel Fourné, Yasemin Acar and Sascha Fahl
Publication: IEEE S&P, 2022
Abstract Open Source Software plays an important role in many software ecosystems. Whether in operating systems, network stacks, or as low-level system drivers, software we encounter daily is permeated with code contributions from open source projects. Decentralized development and open collaboration in open source projects introduce unique challenges: code submissions from unknown entities, limited personpower for commit or dependency reviews, and bringing new contributors up-to-date in projects’ best practices & processes.In 27 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with owners, maintainers, and contributors from a diverse set of open source projects, we investigate their security and trust practices. For this, we explore projects’ behind-the-scene processes, provided guidance & policies, as well as incident handling & encountered challenges. We find that our participants’ projects are highly diverse both in deployed security measures and trust processes, as well as their underlying motivations. Based on our findings, we discuss implications for the open source software ecosystem and how the research community can better support open source projects in trust and security considerations. Overall, we argue for supporting open source projects in ways that consider their individual strengths and limitations, especially in the case of smaller projects with low contributor numbers and limited access to resources.


Authors: Nicolas Huaman, Sabrina Amft, Marten Oltrogge, Yasemin Acar and Sascha Fahl
Publication: IEEE S&P, 2021
Abstract Password managers are tools to support users with the secure generation and storage of credentials and logins used in online accounts. Previous work illustrated that building password managers means facing various security and usability challenges. For strong security and good usability, the interaction between password managers and websites needs to be smooth and effortless. However, user reviews for popular password managers suggest interaction problems for some websites. Therefore, to the best of our knowledge, this work is the first to systematically identify these interaction problems and investigate how 15 desktop password managers, including the ten most popular ones, are affected. We use a qualitative analysis approach to identify 39 interaction problems from 2,947 user reviews and 372 GitHub issues for 30 password managers. Next, we implement minimal working examples (MWEs) for all interaction problems we found and evaluate them for all password managers in 585 test cases.Our results illustrate that a) password managers struggle to correctly implement authentication features such as HTTP Basic Authentication and modern standards such as the autocomplete-attribute and b) websites fail to implement clean and well-structured authentication forms. We conclude that some of our findings can be addressed by either PWM providers or web-developers by adhering to already existing standards, recommendations and best practices, while other cases are currently almost impossible to implement securely and require further research.
Qualitative Analysis


Authors: Daniel J Votipka, Desiree Abrokwa and Michelle L. Mazurek
Publication: CHI, 2020
Abstract Security is an essential component of the software development lifecycle. Researchers and practitioners have developed educational interventions, guidelines, security analysis tools, and new APIs aimed at improving security. However, measuring any resulting improvement in secure development skill is challenging. As a proxy for skill, we propose to measure self-efficacy, which has been shown to correlate with skill in other contexts. Here, we present a validated scale measuring secure software-development self-efficacy (SSD-SES). We first reviewed popular secure-development frameworks and surveyed 22 secure-development experts to identify 58 unique tasks. Next, we asked 311 developers - over multiple rounds - to rate their skill at each task. We iteratively updated our questions to ensure they were easily understandable, showed adequate variance between participants, and demonstrated reliability. Our final 15-item scale contains two sub-scales measuring belief in ability to perform vulnerability identification and mitigation as well as security communications tasks.
Security ScaleSurvey


Authors: Yasemin Acar, Michael Backes, Sascha Fahl, Simson Garfinkel, Doowon Kim, Michelle L. Mazurek and Christian Stransky
Publication: IEEE S&P, 2017
Abstract Potentially dangerous cryptography errors are well-documented in many applications. Conventional wisdom suggests that many of these errors are caused by cryptographic Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that are too complicated, have insecure defaults, or are poorly documented. To address this problem, researchers have created several cryptographic libraries that they claim are more usable, however, none of these libraries have been empirically evaluated for their ability to promote more secure development. This paper is the first to examine both how and why the design and resulting usability of different cryptographic libraries affects the security of code written with them, with the goal of understanding how to build effective future libraries. We conducted a controlled experiment in which 256 Python developers recruited from GitHub attempt common tasks involving symmetric and asymmetric cryptography using one of five different APIs. We examine their resulting code for functional correctness and security, and compare their results to their self-reported sentiment about their assigned library. Our results suggest that while APIs designed for simplicity can provide security benefits - reducing the decision space, as expected, prevents choice of insecure parameters - simplicity is not enough. Poor documentation, missing code examples, and a lack of auxiliary features such as secure key storage, caused even participants assigned to simplified libraries to struggle with both basic functional correctness and security. Surprisingly, the availability of comprehensive documentation and easy-to-use code examples seems to compensate for more complicated APIs in terms of functionally correct results and participant reactions, however, this did not extend to security results. We find it particularly concerning that for about 20% of functionally correct tasks, across libraries, participants believed their code was secure when it was not. Our results suggest that while new cryptographic libraries that want to promote effective security should offer a simple, convenient interface, this is not enough: they should also, and perhaps more importantly, ensure support for a broad range of common tasks and provide accessible documentation with secure, easy-to-use code examples.
Usability ScaleExperiment


Authors: Erin Kenneally and David Dittrich
Publication: Available at SSRN, 2012
Abstract This report proposes a framework for ethical guidelines for computer and information security research, based on the principles set forth in the 1979 Belmont Report, a seminal guide for ethical research in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Despite its age, the Belmont Report’s insightful abstraction renders it a valuable cornerstone for other domains. We describe how the three principles in the Belmont report can be usefully applied in fields related to research about or involving information and communication technology.
Research Ethics


Authors: Aaron Bangor, Philip T. Kortum and James T. Miller
Publication: Intl. Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 2008
Abstract This article presents nearly 10 year's worth of System Usability Scale (SUS) data collected on numerous products in all phases of the development lifecycle. The SUS, developed by Brooke (1996), reflected a strong need in the usability community for a tool that could quickly and easily collect a user's subjective rating of a product's usability. The data in this study indicate that the SUS fulfills that need. Results from the analysis of this large number of SUS scores show that the SUS is a highly robust and versatile tool for usability professionals. The article presents these results and discusses their implications, describes nontraditional uses of the SUS, explains a proposed modification to the SUS to provide an adjective rating that correlates with a given score, and provides details of what constitutes an acceptable SUS score.
Usability Scale