by Maurice ter Beek, Stefania Gnesi, Fabio Martinelli, Franco Mazzanti and Marinella Petrocchi

Formal methods and tools are a popular means of analysing the correctness properties of computer network protocols, such as safety, liveness and security. First the protocol under scrutiny is described in a formal language, which often results in a more precise definition of its function. Subsequently, the properties to be analysed are specified in a suitable logic. Finally, to decide whether or not the protocol fulfils certain properties, automatic tools are used to analyse it. The outcome either proves the protocol to be correct with respect to the relevant properties or shows there to be a problem.

Recent trends in telecommunication for the delivery of services such as Web applications have highlighted the need to improve and extend the current network protocols. In this context, we have recently been involved, in collaboration with Telecom Italia Labs, in the formal modelling and verification of some protocols for service-oriented computing. This work is part of the EU-funded research project SENSORIA (FP6-2004-IST-FETPI). Its aim is to develop a novel comprehensive approach to the engineering of software systems for service-oriented overlay computers.

Here we briefly describe our experience in evaluating the suitability of the service-oriented application approach for the delivery of telecommunication services, and in investigating possible improvements and extensions. In particular, we present the formal analysis of a protocol for identity management (end-user identity in a federated context; application versus end-user identity), and a protocol definition supported by formal analysis. Readers are encouraged to refer to the website of the SENSORIA project for more details.

Identity Federation Protocols for Web Services
Telecom Italia recently proposed a network protocol that permits end users to access services through different access networks (both mobile and fixed) without explicitly providing any credentials, while the service application level can nevertheless trust the identity and authentication information provided by the access networks. As a result, service providers (SPs) identify a user with the authentication procedure performed by the network provider. After identity federation, a single sign-on suffices for a user to access all services belonging to the same circle of trust of SPs, while keeping personal data private. This is an improvement over having to repeatedly introduce (and remember) one's credentials. This protocol is related to recent solutions specified by Liberty Alliance, who delegate the task of authenticating a user to an identity provider.

We have provided formal analyses of a protocol that transfers identity and authentication information handled by the systems in an operator’s network infrastructure to the applications that implement services provided by third-party service providers. These formal analyses verify the correctness of the protocol and investigate its security properties. The analysis results will be used to identify possible flaws or weaknesses in the protocol and to suggest improvements.

Verifying vulnerability by adding an intruder component.
Verifying vulnerability by adding an intruder component.

As initial steps towards a full formal security analysis of this protocol, we have modelled a number of user scenarios in the process algebra Crypto-CCS. The model checker PaMoChSA (developed by the Security group at IIT-CNR) has then be used to verify their vulnerability with respect to man-in-the-middle attacks by adding a so-called intruder component (see figure).

Asynchronous Web Service Invocation Protocols
Mobile communication networks are typically unstable, since terminal devices may dynamically change their reachability status during their lifetime. Within service-oriented architectures, asynchronous service invocation is often the more suitable paradigm for the choreography and orchestration of mobile components. There is therefore a need for communication protocols that are able to manage both synchronous and asynchronous communication in the presence of unstable network connections. The formal modelling and verification of these protocols is the first step towards the successful implementation and evaluation of reliable service-oriented computing applications.

Together with Telecom Italia, we are involved in developing a variant of SOAP coined aSOAP that supports asynchronous communications. This process is driven stepwise by the results of a formal analysis. Hence this activity is different to that described above, where the formal analysis is performed on a protocol already specified in order to verify its correctness. Our aim is to eventually arrive at a proposal of aSOAP of which we can guarantee that it satisfies certain desirable properties. The formal analysis of a preliminary definition of the protocol highlighted several issues and flaws that suggested a complete review was necessary.

We have modelled aSOAP as a set of communicating UML state machines and verified a number of behavioural properties expressed in the action- and state-based temporal logic UCTL. This was done with the model checker UMC, developed in the Formal Methods and Tools group at ISTI-CNR, which creates and traverses the state space on the fly. The advantage of on-the-fly model checking is that often only a fragment of the full state space needs to be generated and analysed to obtain a satisfactory result. The development of UMC is still in progress and a prototypical version is being used internally at ISTI-CNR for academic and experimental purposes. There has not yet been an official public release of the tool, but the current prototype can be accessed via a Web interface.


Please contact:
Maurice ter Beek
Tel: +39 050 315 3471

Next issue: January 2018
Special theme:
Quantum Computing
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