Single Sign-On (SSO) has been widely adopted for online authentication due to its favorable usability and security. However, it also introduces a single point of failure since all service providers fully trust the identity of a user created by the SSO identity provider. In this paper, we investigate the identity-account inconsistency threat, a new SSO vulnerability that can cause the compromise of online accounts. The vulnerability exists because current SSO systems highly rely on a user’s email address to bind an account with a real identity, but ignore the fact that email addresses might be reused by other users. We reveal that under the SSO authentication, such inconsistency allows an adversary controlling a reused email address to take over associated online accounts without knowing any credentials like passwords. Specifically, we first conduct a measurement study on the account management policies for multiple cloud email providers, showing the feasibility of acquiring previously used email accounts. We further perform a systematic study on 100 popular websites using the Google business email service with our own domain address and demonstrate that most online accounts can be compromised by exploiting this inconsistency vulnerability. To shed light on email reuse in the wild, we analyze the commonly used naming conventions that lead to a wide existence of potential email address collisions, and conduct a case study on the account policies of U.S. universities. Finally, we propose several useful practices for end-users, service providers, and identity providers to protect against this identity-account inconsistency threat.

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