Anonymize usernames with CILogon#

By default, we use a human readable identifier - like email or username - when logging a user in. This is familiar to most users, makes support easier, and usually not a problem. However, in some specific cases, we might need to reduce the amount of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) stored in the system, and so emails or usernames may not be viable. We offer a way to anonymize usernames if absolutely needed.

Do you really need this?#

. Usernames will now look like gibberish (j77eci3dubsngx76m4ssd5sh6z3uiomgdrkvjymoxruigcystuva, not yuvipanda), confusing many users. It almost looks like a password! When needing to provide support to users, they must log in to the hub, go to the Control Panel, and find their username. If they can’t do this, there is no real way to identify the user for support. This is a major disadvantage, so seriously consider if you really really need this.

Moving away from this after the fact is also close to impossible, and changing authentication providers (away from CILogon) is also impossible, without losing all existing users’ home directories.

So, very seriously consider if you need this before you enable it!

How does it work?#

Given that anonymizing usernames comes at a cost, it must provide us some useful privacy guarantees to be worth it. Those are:

  1. We must not possess, stored at rest, a user identifier that is Personally Identifiable. This includes usernames, emails, as well as opaque integer user ids from external services. For example, if we were to use the numerical user id from GitHub (via the oidc attribute from CILogon), it can be trivially mapped back to the username via BigQuery or any number of public data sources. The numerical id is also shared with any other website using GitHub (or Google, etc) for login, so any data breaches in those websites can also be used to de-anonymize our users.

  2. We live in a world where user data leaks are a fact of life, and you can buy tons of user identifiers for pretty cheap. This may also happen to us, and we may unintentionally leak data too! So users should still be hard to de-anonymize when the attacker has in their possession the following:

    1. List of user identifiers (emails, usernames, numeric user ids, etc) from other data breaches.

    2. List of user identifiers from us.

    3. Any secret keys we use to hash these identifiers.

    (1) is out of our control, and we must be prepared for (2) and (3), so we truly do not store any personal information, rather than just make it slightly more complicated for our users to be deanonymized.

To provide these guarantees, we create the anonymized username in the following way:

  1. Take a combination of user attributes returned to us by CILogon. Right now, we pick the following:

    1. A CILogon specific opaque identifier (sub)

    2. The identifier for the 3rd party OAuth provider chosen by the user (Google, GitHub, Microsoft, etc) (idp)

    3. The internal opaque identifier used by that third party (oidc)

  2. Combine it with a per-hub secret salt (or pepper)

  3. Using the pepper as the key, hash the user attributes with the blake2b keyed hashing algorithm, to produce a 32byte secret. This is used as the username.

To now deanonymize these usernames, an attacker must have:

  1. Breached user information from CILogon (for the CILogon identifier)

  2. Breached user information from the third party auth provider

  3. Access to the secret value we used as pepper for the hub in question

This provides a reasonable level of protection. And given that we 2i2c don’t have access to (1) or (2) at rest, even we can’t deanonymize this in the future if we turn evil.

Note, however, that we still receive personally identifiable information when the user logs in, and we might use this for authorization purposes too. All this only removes our liability for storing this data at rest, not while in transit.


Currently, only hubs with the following configuration are supported:

  1. Must use CILogon for authentication

  2. Only non-institutional CILogon authentication providers are supported. This means Google, GitHub and Microsoft. Institutional authentication providers may be supported in the future.

  3. All existing user accounts will become invalid.


We still want to be able to do authorization based on user attributes, such as domain of email or explicit list of allowed emails. This is still possible, as the anonymization step is done in post_auth_hook which runs after the initial authorization steps are done. So admin_users and allowed_users can be used in the same manner as used in CILogon without anonymization turned on.

Enabling anonymization#

  1. In the unencrypted config yaml file for the hub, add the following:

          anonymizeUsername: true

    Nest this inside a basehub key if this is for a daskhub.

  2. Generate a secret key to be used for deriving the username, by running openssl rand -hex 32 on your commandline.

  3. In the corresponding encrypted values file for the hub, add the following config:

           USERNAME_DERIVATION_PEPPER: <value-generated-in-step-2>

    Nest this inside a basehub key if this is for a daskhub.

This should be enough configuration changes for this to work.

Longer term solution#

This is a common problem, and the longer term solution is to get CILogon to implement Pairwise Pseudonymous Identifiers


Thanks to the #infosec channel on the hangops slack for their help in thinking this through.