5.4. Protecting Client-Side Information

The cookie-based implementation of the hangman game is a lot classier than the first implementation. Not only does it have the advantage of maintaining state across browser sessions, but the game is also somewhat harder to cheat. While the user is actively playing the game, the cookie is kept in memory where it is difficult to read without the benefit of a debugger. However, after the user quits the browsing session, the cookie is written out to disk; determined cheaters could still find and edit the cookie database file if they wanted to make their statistics look better.

When you store information on the client side of the connection, peeking and tampering is a general problem. Fortunately, the cure is relatively simple. To prevent tampering, you can use a message authentication check (MAC)—a form of checksum that will detect if the user has altered the information in any way. To prevent peeking, you can encrypt the information using an encryption key that is known to you but not to the user.

5.4.1. Message Authentication Checks

Let's add a MAC to the cookie used in the last section's example. There are many ways to compute a checksum, but the most reliable use a class of algorithms known as message digests. A message digest algorithm takes a large amount of data (usually called the "message") and crunches it through a complex series of bit shifts, rotates, and other bitwise operations until it has been reduced to a smallish number ...

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