• Open Access

SCN-SI-021 achieving privacy and access control in pervasive computing environments



This paper focuses on the inherent trade-off between privacy and access control in pervasive computing environments (PCEs). On one hand, service providers require user authentication and authorization for the provision of a service, while at the same time end users require untraceability and unlinkability for their transactions. There are also cases where the anonymity of a specific credential must be revoked and a real identity be traced, in order to establish accountability. We analyze privacy and security requirements for PCEs and we show that existing privacy-preserving access control schemes do not fully satisfy these requirements. Then we propose two approaches towards privacy-preserving access control in PCEs. Our goal is twofold: (a) to enhance privacy by achieving untraceability and unlinkability even against malicious insiders and (b) to enhance security by achieving conditional traceability of user credentials, and if possible, non-repudiation of evidence concerning the user's participating in a transaction. Finally, we analyze and compare the proposed schemes against existing schemes. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


One of the most exciting aspects of the not so far future will involve the integration of computing and communication into a mobile and dynamic environment. Within a pervasive computing environment (PCE), a typical scenario involves mobile users that use low-cost, handheld devices in order to have seamless access to different kinds of value-added services, anytime and anywhere 1, typically by connecting to wireless (local or cellular) access points (AP). Because of the unique characteristics of the dynamic PCE environment, such as user mobility, loose physical boundaries, and transient interactions with devices of undefined trust, security will naturally be required as an inherent property by consumers and organizations. Specifically, security issues involve entity authentication and access control, as well as message confidentiality, communication integrity, and service availability 2, 3.

On the other hand, the protection of sensitive data such as identity and other context information is also seen as an important criterion for large-scale deployment of PCEs 2, 4, 5. With the advent of pervasive devices and technologies (e.g., wireless sensors, fusion, and RFIDs), individuals are wary of a ‘Big Brother’-type threat, where their transactions could be monitored without their consent 6, 7. For example, a supposedly anonymous transaction may be traced back to the identity of an unsuspected user; or, different transactions between the system and the user may be linked in order to build a profile.

Naturally, there is a tradeoff between user privacy and access control in PCEs 8, 9. From the user's point of view, a privacy adversary should not be able to: (a) trace the real identity of the user, (b) link different sessions between the user and the system, and (c) obtain context information (e.g., location, time and duration, and type of service). On the other hand, the need for access control is threefold. Service providers (SP) may need message, entity or context authentication in order to: (a) authorize access to a service (e.g., for billing purposes, for abuse prevention and detection), (b) provide personalized, context-aware services, and (c) trace back an identity for accountability or liability (e.g., in case of service abuse, unlawful acts, and for privilege revocation). Furthermore, due to the limitations imposed by resource-constrained environments, security and privacy mechanisms should be efficient in terms of storage, communication, and computation. As a result, access control with privacy preservation in PCEs is still an open research area 2, 4, 6, 10–13.

Recent work 8, 13–15 uses blind signatures 16 and cryptographic hash chains 17, in order to provide users with untraceable credentials for efficient access control. Although the use of hash chains simplifies key management and provides protection against replay attacks in a very efficient way, it fails to provide unlinkability between different transactions of a user, against malicious insiders.

Our contribution

In this paper, we discuss requirements for privacy and access control in PCEs and show how a recent scheme for PCEs 8, 13, proposed by Ren and Lou 13 – hereinafter called the RL scheme, does not fully satisfy such requirements against a global passive adversary. We also discuss why the requirements for accountability and non-repudiation of the RL scheme, are weak. In addition, we review a recent attack against the RL scheme, proposed by in Ref. 15, and argue that this attack is not practical. To balance the requirements for privacy against malicious insiders (users, front-end and back-end entities), with the security requirements for access control and accountability, we adopt an efficient hybrid approach that combines both public-key and symmetric key credentials. For conditional traceability a trusted entity keeps a record of the pseudonyms and the corresponding real identity of the device. Finally, we analyze and compare the proposed schemes against existing schemes.

Privacy and Security Requirements

In a PCE, a mobile user dynamically accesses a service among a list of available service types. We consider users, front-end entities, back-end authorities, and a Trusted Third Party (TTP) (Figure 1):

  • Users are equipped with hand-held devices and request access to different kinds of services at anytime and from anywhere.

  • Front-end entities: typically these are wireless Access Points (APs) that handle the communication with the user, collect the service request messages and mediate between the user and a back-end authority.

  • Back-end authorities involve an application Service Provider (SP) and an authentication server (AS). The task of the SP and the AS is to provide the service data to authorized users. For simplicity we will assume that the SP will also act as an AS, since usually they are controlled by the same entity. However, users may access the same SP through various APs, controlled by different entities (such as network operators).

  • The TTP is usually an offline authority that is invoked in exceptional circumstances (e.g., certification, dispute resolution, and anonymity revocation).

Figure 1.

The system model.

Threat model

In our threat model, we consider both passive and active adversaries. The passive adversary monitors all communications within the network to extract private information. This information may be used to link past or future message exchanges in order to track and/or trace users. The adversary may also compromise APs and/or the SP(s), and extract their logs in order to facilitate tracking/tracing.

An active adversary will attempt to modify messages in transit, replay past messages or fabricate messages at will, in order to impersonate system entities or simply disrupt the network. We assume that the adversary will not exploit any weaknesses in the underlying public-key or symmetric cryptographic algorithms. We also assume the communication channel between the APs and the SP(s) to be secure. Finally, as in Ref. 13 we assume that users are capable of manipulating the source address of layer 2 (MAC) frames, or else the unlinkability property is trivially defeated at the AP.

Privacy requirements


Under this requirement, no unauthorized entity (or a coalition of unauthorized entities) should be able to trace the real identity of the user, unless the user or system policy explicitly permit it.

Untraceability by itself cannot provide adequate privacy protection in PCEs. If a set of distinct credentials can be linked to the same anonymous entity, then a customer profile can be built and this is considered a privacy violation. In this case, and in order to completely undermine privacy, the adversary will only have to trace one particular link of this chain (e.g., after the customer uses a credit card, with use of a camera, physical pursuit, etc).


Under the unlinkability requirement (also known as tracking protection), no unauthorized entity, external or internal to the system (i.e., other users, APs and SPs) should be able to link different sessions of the user, unless the user or system policy explicitly permit it.

It is important to note that, as stated in Ref. 18, anonymity-protected communications are unlinkable as long as application content does not enable linkage. Another interesting point concerning unlinkability, is that there may be cases where unlikability may be impossible or undesirable, as in reputation-based systems 19. Or, back-end authorities may need to link information for supporting infotainment or value-added (e.g., location-based) services. In the above cases, the linkage may or may not necessarily require tracing the real identity, e.g., pay services are not always traceable 20.

Security requirements

Mutual authentication

Communication messages between system entities should be authenticated and integrity-protected. An SP will require user authentication in order to prevent service abuse, while users may also require server authentication, in order to protect themselves from spoofing attacks. Note that user authentication and access control seem to contradict with user privacy, since if a user is completely anonymous, SPs will be concerned with service abuse.


It should not be easy for outsiders or insiders, not having valid credentials for a particular service, to prove possession of a valid credential.

Conditional traceability

In case of service abuse, e.g., illegal actions, abnormal access pattern of the user or when a credential is linked to an unlawful act, it should be possible to have an accountability mechanism for revoking the anonymity of a specific credential and tracing the identity of a real user, in order to establish accountability. Typically, anonymity revocation will be an off-line protocol, where an SP and a TTP, given credential and transaction information, will be able to trace the real identity of a user. The SP can then take appropriate measures, e.g., blacklisting a user. Note however, that it should not be easy to abuse this capability (e.g., in order to impersonate a user).


It should not be easy for outsiders or insiders to successfully impersonate or frame an honest user. In addition, no entity should be fully trusted: even a TTP in collaboration with the SP, should not be able to create a transaction that opens to an honest user. A special case of non-frameability is exculpability: the TTP and/or the SP, should not be able to give a usable credential of one user to another user.


A related requirement is non-repudiation, under which it must be possible to produce evidence regarding an entity participating to a transaction, and also to protect against a user's false denial of having participated to a transaction 21.

Efficiency requirements

For functional and non-functional requirements that are not strictly security-related, we refer to Ref. 3 for a list. For efficiency, we note that any privacy-preserving access control scheme should be efficient in terms of:

  • 1Computation. We require efficient user registration and service access protocols, with as few public operations as possible.
  • 2Storage. Users obtain and store a minimum necessary amount of credential information.
  • 3Communication. The number of passes and bits that are communicated should be kept as low as possible.

Related Work

Security and privacy preservation in pervasive environments is not a new topic – see for example 3, 6 for general security requirements and challenges 2, for privacy definitions 5, for a survey of privacy enhancing technologies. The privacy vs. access control tradeoff has also been explored in the literature 22, 23 and particularly in the context of wireless mesh networks (e.g., Refs. 24–28), where it was suggested that a long list of short-lived pseudonyms is generated during registration in such a way that the pseudonyms cannot be linked to each other by non-authorized entities. In Ref. 24, 26 for example, these credentials are anonymous public keys for verifying digital signatures, validated by a trusted entity. In Ref. 27 each public key is validated during registration by using blind signatures 16. Such solutions, if adopted in the PCE context, should be carefully designed to avoid increasing the complexity of the user registration phase and the computational, storage, and communication cost for the handheld devices.

Recent work also points out that the use of independent pseudonyms is not a panacea 4, 24, 29. For example, changing identity does not always guarantee unlinkability in telematics or indoor PCEs, where a global adversary has access to context (e.g., spatiotemporal) information and performs traffic analysis against a mobile user. The preservation of context privacy in pervasive environments has been explored in some recent works (e.g., Refs. 4, 5, 7, 30, 31, also refer to Ref. 32 for a survey). For example, to deal with adversaries that track moving nodes by using spatiotemporal information, in Ref. 24, a pseudonym-changing algorithm based on spatial and temporal criteria was proposed. In Ref. 25, the use of a random silent period was suggested to deal with correlation attacks and diffuse the spatiotemporal redundancy when users change pseudonyms. Based on the idea of Chaum 33, the authors in Ref. 4 propose that pseudonyms should be changed within a MIX zone, in order to hide the identity of a user belonging to a group of users with similar characteristics. In another work 9, it is suggested that user's sensitive (context) data are encrypted by the user and stored at server side to ensure context privacy.

In a line of works that began with Camenish and Lysyanskaya 34, and extended in Refs. 35, 36 an anonymous credential system is built by defining a signature scheme, a commitment scheme and (a) a protocol for obtaining a signature on a committed message, (b) a protocol for proving knowledge that the contents of a commitment have been signed, and (c) a protocol for proving that a pair of commitments commit to the same value. A related class of works consists on anonymous group identification (or pseudonymous identification) schemes (e.g., Refs. 37, 38), which basically are interactive zero-knowledge (ZK) identification techniques, where a user derives multiple cryptographic pseudonyms from a single master secret. While basic properties such as anonymity (i.e., untraceability and unlinkability) and unforgeability criteria are inherently satisfied in ZK identification protocols, without any trust assumptions, the computation and communication costs of such constructions are high.

In this paper, we focus on a recent line of efficient protocols for privacy-preserving access control in PCEs 8, 9, 13–15, 19. A representative scheme of this category is the RL Scheme 13, which is considered as the first attempt to provide a secure communication model for privacy-preserving access control in PCEs. The RL scheme uses blind signatures 16 and cryptographic hash chains 17 at the application layer in order to provide mutual authentication while preserving privacy against malicious outsiders. In Refs. 14, 15 the RL scheme is tweaked to increase performance while in Ref. 15, an impersonation attack against the RL scheme, hereinafter called the Li et al. attack, was described and addressed (see also Section 3.2.3). Finally, the work in Ref. 9 where non-unique temporal IDs are issued by the AP to system users, achieves authentication and unlikability against back-end authorities, but fails to establish accountability and untraceability against front-end entities.

RL scheme

The RL scheme 13 contains a set of protocols executed between an SP and a mobile user (e.g., Alice) that communicate via an AP. The claimed security services in Ref. 13 are: mutual authentication, anonymity, unlinkability, non-repudiation, and accountability. We recall the two distinct phases of the protocol (Figure 2), while avoiding a few (non-crucial) details and slightly changing the notation.

Figure 2.

Registration and user access in the RL scheme.

During a user registration phase, Alice registers as a legal user, obtains an authentic public-key certificate equation image for her real identity, and the public-key equation image of a service she is entitled to use. For a specific service equation image, Alice chooses a random seed as the anchor value equation image of a credential chain, and hashes it equation image times to compute the end value equation image. Then, Alice uses the blind signature primitive 16 and prepares a blinded version of equation image as equation image, where equation image is a random nonce and equation image denotes encryption with the public key of service equation image. Alice submits equation image, her identity equation image and certificate equation image, together with equation image, to the SP. The SP verifies that Alice is eligible, signs equation image with the private signature key for equation image and sends the blindly signed message equation image to Alice, who unblinds it by dividing with equation image. What Alice finally gets is a valid but untraceable ticket for equation image future service accesses. In order to access different services, Alice may generate and authorize several different credential chains.

At any time, a service access phase can be run between Alice, an AP and the SP. The phase can be viewed as the execution of two different sub-protocols:

  • The first sub-protocol achieves mutual entity authentication between Alice and the SP, mediated by the AP who just relays messages. For the equation image-th service access, equation image, Alice chooses a challenge equation image, concatenates it with a credential equation image (or with equation image, if equation image), encrypts them with the public-key equation image of the SP, and sends the result, together with the service equation image, to the SP, via the AP. The SP decrypts, uses hash chain verification to check whether equation image is a fresh, valid credential for the specific service type, and returns equation image and equation image to the AP, through a secure channel.

  • The second sub-protocol achieves authenticated key agreement between Alice and the AP, with implicit key authentication. The AP chooses a random challenge equation image, and computes two session keys for encryption and message authentication, namely equation image and equation image. The AP encrypts equation image and its identity equation image with equation image and sends equation image to Alice. From that point, communication between Alice and the AP will be encrypted and authenticated with equation image and equation image.

To deal with situations where a credential equation image may be compromised or stolen, the authors in Ref. 13 suggest that the anchor value is the output of a cryptographic hash function whose pre-image also contains a message that is digitally signed with Alice's private key equation image. That is, equation image, where equation image is a nonce selected by Alice during registration. Then, in case of a dispute, a dispute resolution protocol is run between a TTP, the SP and Alice. The SP presents the TTP with the disputed credential and the real Alice will reveal to the TTP a valid pre-image value of equation image, i.e., her authentic signature on the nonce equation image. The claimed property for the above enhancement is non-repudiation for the system users 13.

Vulnerabilities of the RL scheme

In the following, we summarize several privacy and security vulnerabilities of the RL scheme. Specifically, we will show how the RL scheme fails to satisfy the unlinkability and untraceability criteria within our threat model, while its accountability and non-repudiation assurances are also weak.

Privacy vulnerabilities

Weak unlinkabilty against the APs. The remarks below also apply to Refs. 8, 14, 15. Assume that an equation image ‘sees’1 an authorized credential equation image of Alice for the epoch equation image, and that at some future epoch equation image, where equation image, Alice uses equation image to access the same service using the anonymous credential equation image. If equation image keeps a database of authorized credentials, it will effectively link the two transactions by performing equation image hashing operations. Similarly, two or more cooperating APs will be able to jointly link some or all of Alice's transactions.

Weak unlinkabilty against the SPs. An SP will be able to link all transactions for all services that it offers, by efficiently performing hashing operations on the authorized credentials and checking whether there is a match with any value stored in its database. Similarly, two or more cooperating SPs will be able to jointly link some or all of Alice's transactions.

Strong trust assumptions for the TTP. During dispute resolution for a challenged credential, Alice proves her identity by digitally signing a unique message, and also reveals the anchor value equation image for her credential chain. The side-effect is that the TTP will be able not only to trace Alice's identity but also to re-construct all components equation image, equation image, of the hash chain of credentials. These may be used to link and trace Alice's past and future transactions for a given service, not only the disputed one.

Security vulnerabilities

Weak accountability. Accountability is not well supported in the RL scheme. There is not a way for the SP and/or the TTP, when they are given a specific credential and transaction information, to work off-line and trace the real identity of the owner of the credential.

Weak non-repudiation. The dispute resolution protocol of Ref. 13 will expose an adversary that has stolen a credential from a valid user, as he will not be able to demonstrate knowledge of a valid pre-image of the anchor value equation image. However, a repudiation attack may also be possible, where for example a valid user who used an authentic credential during a transaction chooses for some reason to falsely deny participation in this transaction 39.

The Li et al. 15 (impersonation) attack

We review an impersonation attack, described in Ref. 15, against the RL scheme. The attack is summarized as follows: in Step 1 of the user registration phase (Figure 2), an adversary (hereinafter called Mallory) computes a fake credential equation image, where equation image is some valid user's identity and equation image is a nonce. Mallory computes the end value equation image and the blinded message equation image. He then sends equation image, the identity equation image and the certificate equation image, together with equation image, to the SP. In Ref. 15, it is said that the SP will only check the validity of the certificate equation image and if it is correct the SP will authorize the submitted credential. Then, Mallory will unblind equation image as normally and use the credential chain for equation image service accesses, by impersonating the user equation image.

We argue that the Li et al. attack cannot be seen as a practical attack against the RL scheme. Although not explicitly stated in Ref. 13, the attack is trivially defeated if, during the user registration phase, the user-SP channel is assumed authenticated. This is an assumption made by many security models (e.g., for applications such as e-payment 40 or e-elections 41) that are based on blind signatures to authorize a set of anonymous credentials. Under this assumption, the attack would not be applicable. A trivial way to explicitly turn the user-SP channel of the RL scheme into an authenticated one, is by combining the use of certified signature keys with the SSL/TLS protocol. This will not violate the privacy of the authorized credentials, as equation image is blindly signed by the SP 42.

Enhancing Privacy and Access Control in PCE Environments

In this section, we propose two approaches for privacy-preserving access control in PCEs. Our motive is twofold: (a) to enhance privacy by achieving untraceability and unlinkability even against malicious insiders and (b) to enhance security by achieving conditional traceability of user credentials, and if possible, non-repudiation of evidence concerning the user's participating in a transaction. The solutions presented below are based on existing protocols proposed in the literature for various applications and technologies. Therefore, we do not focus on formal security and efficiency analysis, but we rather discuss how these solutions can be applied in order to provide the required privacy and security properties.

The first approach is trivial and it is based on uncorrelated public keys. Our second approach, which is the actual proposed scheme, extends the basic scheme into a hybrid variation, in which uncorrelated public keys are balanced, for efficiency, with the RL scheme.

Basic scheme with unlinkable pseudonyms

We propose a basic scheme that is based on lists of short-lived, uncorrelated pseudonyms, in order to achieve full user unlinkability. Specifically any handheld device equation image is installed with a list of anonymous public/private signature key pairs equation image and their corresponding certificates equation image, where equation image. Each public key will be used for a different service access. For conditional traceability and accountability, a TTP is involved, during the user registration. Below we describe the registration and the user access protocols.

We assume that all the communication during the user registration protocol is performed through an encrypted and authenticated channel. Otherwise, it is possible for an attacker to intercept the communication and/or impersonate a user, in order to steal the credentials belonging to the user.

User registration

Each user, say Alice, participates in the registration protocol with the TTP as shown in Figure 3, in order to issue its anonymous public-key certificates. The user will generate equation image independent anonymous public/private signature key pairs equation image, equation image. Then, the user will send a certificate request to the TTP, along with its real identifier equation image, the service id equation image and the independent public-keys equation image. After the TTP has authenticated the user, it will certify the anonymous public keys and will generate equation image user certificates equation image for equation image anonymous service accesses.

Figure 3.

Basic scheme: user registration phase.

User access

In order to access a service with identifier equation image (Figure 4), Alice will use an anonymous certificate issued by the TTP for that service, say equation image. For full unlikability against AP and SP, each certificate is used for a single service access. The user signs a random nonce equation image with the private key equation image, encrypts the signature with the public key of the SP and sends the result message equation image to the SP via the AP, along with the corresponding certificate. The SP will decrypt the message and verify the signature. If the verification is successful, the SP will forward equation image to the AP. Then the user and the AP will compute the common keys equation image and equation image as in the RL scheme.

Figure 4.

Basic scheme: user access phase.

Remark: reducing the trust assumptions

In order to reduce the trust assumptions for the TTP, the basic scheme could be trivially modified so that the TTP blindly signs the public keys of the user, as in the user registration phase of the RL scheme. In this case, the obtained key pairs and the corresponding certificates would be completely anonymous and it would not be easy even for a coalition between the TTP and the SP to undermine the privacy of the user. Under this approach however, conditional traceability would be difficult to achieve, or it would require inefficient escrow approaches (e.g., Ref. 27).

Hybrid scheme

In view of the costs associated with registration, key storage and signature generation, we extend the basic and adopt a hybrid approach, where both public-key and symmetric-key credentials are combined in order to balance unlinkability with efficiency. For conditional traceability, the TTP keeps a record of the pseudonyms and the corresponding real identity of the device. Below we describe the registration and the user access phases.

User registration

Each user, say Alice, participates in the registration protocol with the TTP, in order to issue her pseudonymous certificates (Figure 5). Specifically, Alice generates equation image independent private/public-key pairs equation image, equation image. For each pseudonym equation image, Alice also chooses a random seed equation image and generates a hash chain equation image, where equation image is a previously agreed parameter, equation image, and equation image with equation image. Each element of the chain can be used in reverse order for up to equation image service access sessions. Then, Alice sends a certificate request to the TTP, along with her real identifier equation image, the service id equation image, the public-keys equation image, the end values equation image and the parameter equation image. The TTP authenticates Alice, and issues equation image pseudonymous certificates equation image, equation image. The TTP also keeps records of those certificates and Alice's identity equation image, for conditional traceability.

Figure 5.

Hybrid scheme: user registration phase.

At the end of user registration, Alice obtains equation image unlinkable pseudonyms, to be used for up to equation image sessions with the SP, since each pseudonym can be used for up to equation image sessions.

User access

The user access phase is depicted in Figure 6. When engaging to a new transaction with a service equation image, Alice uses a pseudonymous certificate issued by the TTP for that service, say equation image. If this is the first session where equation image is used, Alice chooses a random nonce equation image and computes a signature2 on equation image and the end value equation image of the hash chain, using the private key equation image. Or, if equation image is used for the equation image-th session (equation image), Alice encrypts equation image, the equation image-th chain element equation image and the index equation image with the public key of the SP. Alice will send the encrypted message, along with the corresponding pseudonymous certificate to the SP via the AP. The SP will decrypt the message, verify the signature (in case this is the first session) and perform hash chain verification on equation image. If the verification is successful, the SP will forward equation image and equation image to the AP. Then the AP and Alice will establish the common keys equation image and equation image, as in the RL scheme. For the next sessions (up to a total of equation image sessions), and until Alice chooses to update her pseudonym, message authentication from Alice to the SP is performed by using the chain elements in reverse order, equation image.

Figure 6.

Hybrid scheme: user access phase.

Key management

The credentials obtained during the user registration phase, can be distributed to the handheld devices either statically or dynamically. In the static mode 24 a number of pseudonymous certificates are pre-loaded to the device offline e.g., by the equation image. In the dynamic mode, the certificates are updated by executing an online protocol between the device and a equation image periodically or when needed 43.

At first glance, the lifetime of a certificate should be (relatively) short and Alice could use a different pseudonymous public key for each interaction with the SP (as in the basic scheme). In reality, some transactions can be linked anyhow at the application layer 18, because of context-related information; for example, when the user repeatedly connects via the same (non-trusted) AP to access services, privacy can be difficult to achieve. For this reason, it is possible to stretch the use of each of the equation image pseudonyms up to equation image linkable user-SP sessions. During that time, the more efficient hash chain authentication can be used, as described earlier in the user access phase. Typically, the mobile user will change a pseudonym every time it connects to the SP through a different AP.

Ultimately, a best strategy for a mobile node to avoid being tracked, in view of a global adversary that performs traffic analysis and has access to spatiotemporal information, is to make itself indistinguishable from other nodes by ‘hiding in the crowd’: this means that pseudonyms should be changed within a MIX zone that hides the identity of a user belonging to a group of users with similar characteristics 4.

Protocol Analysis

We examine the proposed schemes against the privacy, security and efficiency requirements which were set in Section 2. Since the hybrid scheme extends the RL scheme, we also compare the proposed schemes against the RL scheme. A summary of the results is shown in Table I.

Table I. Comparison of the schemes.
  RL schemeOur scheme (basic)Our scheme (hybrid)
Privacy requirementsUntraceabiliy
UnlinkabilityAPs and SPs can link users by performing hashing operations (Section 3.2.1)
TTP implied levelThe TTP is able to link all user transactions by hashing the anchor value (it is trusted not to)A trusted TTP is assumedA trusted TTP is assumed
Security requirementsMutual authentication
Conditional traceabilityNot possible for the SP and/or the TTP to resolve a credential to a user (Section 3.2.2)
Non-repudiationPossible for a user to deny participation to a transaction (Section 3.2.2)
Efficiency (registration)ComputationOne EXPn EXPn/k EXP
CommunicationTwo messages (2048 bit)(128 + n × 1792) bit(192 + n/k × 1856) bit
StorageOne public/private keys and certificatesn public/private keys and certificatesn public/private keys and certificates
Efficiency (user access)ComputationOne EXPTwo EXPOne EXP
CommunicationTwo messages (1088 bit)Two messages (2048 bit)Two messages (1408 bit)
Storage256 bit256 bit256 bit

Privacy analysis


Untraceability in the RL scheme is based on the blind signature primitive, whose security is underlied by the RSA function 16. In the basic and hybrid schemes, the user obtains a validated list of pseudonyms, that can not be traced by (a coalition of) the AP and SP. Untraceability is conditional in the sense that, under well-defined conditions, the TTP is able to trace the identity of the user, if the SP provides the messages sent by a user, during the user access phase.


In the RL scheme user transaction linkability is protected only against outsiders. Furthermore, during dispute resolution the TTP is able to link all user transactions simply by performing hash operations to the anchor value (see also Section 3.2.1). From the proposed schemes, the basic version provides the strongest unlinkability assurances against a malicious SP, since during registration the user obtains from a trusted center a validated list of information-theoretically unlinkable pseudonyms and uses a different anonymous certificate for each access to a service. Unlinkability also holds against an AP or a coalition of APs for the same reasons.

The hybrid scheme is a trade-off between privacy and efficiency, since it provides unlinkability against SPs and APs, only if a different anonymous public key is used for a different transaction with the same back-end entity. Within the use of a particular public-key equation image, a malicious SP or AP is able to link transactions performed with the credentials equation image, equation image, ..., equation image, in the same way as in the RL scheme. However, it is possible for a user to preserve transaction unlinkability against a particular AP or SP, by accepting the extra cost of public-key operations and by using a different anonymous certificate.

Security analysis

Mutual authentication

During user access, all protocols (RL, basic, and hybrid) achieve mutual authentication between the user and the SP, mediated by the AP. In all user access protocols, the user encrypts a random number with the public key of the SP, and verifies that this random number is included in the message that receives later from the AP. Furthermore, in the basic and hybrid schemes, user access requests are digitally signed with a private key and the SP verifies that the accompanying pseudonymous certificate is valid and that it contains the correct public key. In the RL and hybrid schemes, symmetric authentication of the user to the SP is also based on the security of the cryptographic hash function. Finally, all schemes also achieve authenticated key agreement between Alice and the AP, with implicit key authentication.

Conditional traceability

Accountability is not supported in the RL scheme. Indeed, since the TTP signs blinded user credentials during the registration phase, even if the SP and the TTP cooperate, it is not possible to set a user accountable for a possible illegal action, since there is no way to trace the real identity of the user. In both the proposed schemes conditional traceability is achieved. If a user must be set accountable for a transaction, the TTP can be employed, under assumingly well-defined conditions, in order to reveal the real identity of the user. Typically when there is a dispute, the SP will submit a set of transaction data and misuse evidence to the TTP, who will look up in the database for a matching between an pseudonymous certificate and the real identity of a user.


In contrast with Ref. 39, it is not easy even for the TTP to impersonate system users: the TTP does not know the private signature keys of the users, nor is able to invert the cryptographic hash function and compute the next element of the credential chain. The same arguments also apply to the unforgeability criterion.


The proposed schemes, in contrast to the RL scheme, achieve non-repudiation of evidence. Since in each transaction, the user signs an access request message, a user cannot later deny participation to a specific transaction.

Efficiency analysis

The tradeoff for the privacy and security enhancements offered by the proposed schemes is the increased storage, processing and communication cost for the user. We examine both the registration and user access phases. For the computation costs, we compare the number of required (expensive) modular exponentiations. For the communication costs, we measure the number of exchanged messages, as well as the expected message length (in bytes). Finally for the storage costs we measure the number of bytes required for the storage of the protocol parameters. In order to calculate message and storage size, we assume that the used identifiers and nonces are 64 bit, the hash functions provide output of 128 bit, the public-key modulo is 768 bit3 and each certificate requires 1024 bit.

The RL scheme is the most efficient in both registration and user access phases. During the registration phase, the RL scheme involves one modular exponentiation, in order to blind the credential equation image. The proposed schemes are more expensive, since the basic scheme requires equation image exponentiations and the hybrid scheme equation image exponentiations (assuming that credentials are registered for equation image different user transactions). All three schemes require the exchange of two messages during the registration, but with different message length, as shown in Table I. In terms of storage costs, the RL scheme outperforms the proposed schemes, since it requires the storage of a single public/private key and certificate, in comparison with equation image and equation image.

During the user access phase, the hybrid scheme has almost the same computation cost per user transaction by requiring one modular exponentiation (public-key encryption), while the basic scheme requires two exponentiations, considering the cost for the signature required in each transaction. The communication cost for the three schemes is 1088 bit (RL scheme), 2048 bit (basic scheme) and 1408 bit (hybrid scheme). The storage cost per user access is the same in all schemes, since only the keys equation image and equation image need to be stored.

Since in PCEs the mobile devices may have very limited computation and storage capabilities, it may be required to further decrease the computation and storage costs on the mobile device side. For this reason, optimized implementation scenarios may be considered, especially in the case of the basic scheme. A possible optimization is that the user registers with the SP through a full functional device (e.g., a laptop), which is capable of performing expensive exponentiations and has no storage limitations. Then, the user may load her low-capabilities pervasive device with credentials for a limited number of use from the full functional device, through a secure local connection. For example, in the basic scheme, the user may have pre-computed Step 1 of Figure 3 for equation image user accesses and load the device with the corresponding values equation image for equation image unlinkable transactions with SP. In this way, the user may balance the computation and storage requirements, even for lower capabilities mobile equipment.


Privacy and access control in PCEs pose some interesting challenges. In this paper, we defined a threat model as well as requirements for privacy and security in PCEs, reviewed the related work on the subject and shown that a recent scheme, the RL scheme has privacy and security vulnerabilities under our threat model. Finally, we presented two alternative schemes, a basic and a hybrid scheme, for privacy-preserving access control in PCEs and discussed their security and efficiency.

  • 1

    This attack assumes that the AP has application-level capabilities. Typically, a compromised AP will forward traffic data to a capable adversary.

  • 2

    For example, using a conventional digital signature (e.g., ECDSA 42).

  • 3

    Since the public keys have short time life and are used for a single or for a small number of transactions, for better performance we avoid using larger public key parameters.