Account Security Interfaces: Important, Unintuitive, and Untrustworthy


Alaa Daffalla and Marina Bohuk, Cornell University; Nicola Dell, Jacobs Institute Cornell Tech; Rosanna Bellini, Cornell University; Thomas Ristenpart, Cornell Tech

Distinguished Paper Award Winner


Online services increasingly rely on user-facing interfaces to communicate important security-related account information—for example, which devices are logged into a user's account and when recent logins occurred. These are used to assess the security status of an account, which is particularly critical for at-risk users likely to be under active attack. To date, however, there has been no investigation into whether these interfaces work well.

We begin to fill this gap by partnering with a clinic that supports survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). We investigated hundreds of transcripts to identify ones capturing interactions between clinic consultants and survivors seeking to infer the security status of survivor accounts, and we performed a qualitative analysis of 28 transcripts involving 19 consultants and 22 survivors. Our findings confirm the importance of these interfaces for assessing a user's security, but we also find that these interfaces suffer from a number of limitations that cause confusion and reduce their utility.

We go on to experimentally investigate the lack of integrity of information contained in device lists and session activity logs for four major services. For all the services investigated, we show how an attacker can either hide accesses entirely or spoof access details to hide illicit logins from victims.

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@inproceedings {291209,
author = {Alaa Daffalla and Marina Bohuk and Nicola Dell and Rosanna Bellini and Thomas Ristenpart},
title = {Account Security Interfaces: Important, Unintuitive, and Untrustworthy},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {3601--3618},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug