SecureLogin For Java Web Applications

No, there is not a missing whitespace in the title. It’s not about any secure login, it’s about the SecureLogin protocol developed by Egor Homakov, a security consultant, who became famous for committing to master in the Rails project without having permissions.

The SecureLogin protocol is very interesting, as it does not rely on any central party (e.g. OAuth providers like Facebook and Twitter), thus avoiding all the pitfalls of OAuth (which Homakov has often criticized). It is not a password manager either. It is just a client-side software that performs a bit of crypto in order to prove to the server that it is indeed the right user. For that to work, two parts are key:

  • Using a master password to generate a private key. It uses a key-derivation function, which guarantees that the produced private key has sufficient entropy. That way, using the same master password and the same email, you will get the same private key everytime you use the password, and therefore the same public key. And you are the only one who can prove this public key is yours, by signing a message with your private key.
  • Service providers (websites) identify you by your public key by storing it in the database when you register and then looking it up on each subsequent login

The client-side part is performed ideally by a native client – a browser plugin (one is available for Chrome) or a OS-specific application (including mobile ones). That may sound tedious, but it’s actually quick and easy and a one-time event (and is easier than password managers).

I have to admit – I like it, because I’ve been having a similar idea for a while. In my “biometric identification” presentation (where I discuss the pitfalls of using biometrics-only identification schemes), I proposed (slide 23) an identification scheme that uses biometrics (e.g. scanned with your phone) + a password to produce a private key (using a key-derivation function). And the biometric can easily be added to SecureLogin in the future.

It’s not all roses, of course, as one issue isn’t fully resolved yet – revocation. In case someone steals your master password (or you suspect it might be stolen), you may want to change it and notify all service providers of that change so that they can replace your old public key with a new one. That has two implications – first, you may not have a full list of sites that you registered on, and since you may have changed devices, or used multiple devices, there may be websites that never get to know about your password change. There are proposed solutions (points 3 and 4), but they are not intrinsic to the protocol and rely on centralized services. The second issue is – what if the attacker changes your password first? To prevent that, service providers should probably rely on email verification, which is neither part of the protocol, nor is encouraged by it. But you may have to do it anyway, as a safeguard.

Homakov has not only defined a protocol, but also provided implementations of the native clients, so that anyone can start using it. So I decided to add it to a project I’m currently working on (the login page is here). For that I needed a java implementation of the server verification, and since no such implementation existed (only ruby and node.js are provided for now), I implemented it myself. So if you are going to use SecureLogin with a Java web application, you can use that instead of rolling out your own. While implementing it, I hit a few minor issues that may lead to protocol changes, so I guess backward compatibility should also be somehow included in the protocol (through versioning).

So, how does the code look like? On the client side you have a button and a little javascript:

<!-- get the latest sdk.js from the GitHub repo of securelogin
   or include it from -->
<script src="js/securelogin/sdk.js"></script>
<p class="slbutton" id="securelogin">&#9889; SecureLogin</p>
$("#securelogin").click(function() {
      // TODO: consider adding csrf protection as in the demo applications
      // Note - pass as request body, not as param, as the token relies 
      // on url-encoding which some frameworks mess with
      $.post('/app/user/securelogin', sltoken, function(result) {
          if(result == 'ok') {
              window.location = "/app/";
          } else {
              $.notify("Login failed, try again later", "error");
  return false;

A single button can be used for both login and signup, or you can have a separate signup form, if it has to include additional details rather than just an email. Since I added SecureLogin in addition to my password-based login, I kept the two forms.

On the server, you simply do the following:

@RequestMapping(value = "/securelogin", method = RequestMethod.POST)
public String securelogin(@RequestBody String token, HttpServletResponse response) {
    try {
        SecureLogin login = SecureLogin.verify(request.getSecureLoginToken(), Options.create(websiteRootUrl));
        UserDetails details = userService.getUserDetailsByEmail(login.getEmail());
        if (details == null || !login.getRawPublicKey().equals(details.getSecureLoginPublicKey())) {
            return "failure";
        // sets the proper cookies to the response
        TokenAuthenticationService.addAuthentication(response, login.getEmail(), secure));
        return "ok";
    } catch (SecureLoginVerificationException e) {
        return "failure";

This is spring-mvc, but it can be any web framework. You can also incorporate that into a spring-security flow somehow. I’ve never liked spring-security’s complexity, so I did it manually. Also, instead of strings, you can return proper status codes. Note that I’m doing a lookup by email and only then checking the public key (as if it’s a password). You can do the other way around if you have the proper index on the public key column. Additionally, you’d need to have a password change handling code that’s just a GET endpoint which implements the logic here. (Note: since here the token is a GET param, it might not work properly if spring URL-decodes the param, so try request.getParameter(..) instead).

I wouldn’t suggest having a SecureLogin-only system, as the project is still in an early stage and users may not be comfortable with it. But certainly adding it as an option is a good idea.

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