18 June 2015

Why Password Vaults, and Emojis are not the Future of Authentication

The news this week that Last Pass has suffered a security breach is a reminder of why I am not a fan of the password vaults currently on the market.

Password vaults serve one purpose only and that is to make it easier for people to store their login
credentials centrally. They are not about making those credentials more secure. Yes, you will see marketing materials talking about encryption and the like, but at the end of the day all you are doing is consolidating your passwords and ‘securing’ them with just one master code.

People buy in to password vaults for convenience in fact Last Pass has the tagline ‘The last password you’ll ever need’. It is essentially the same as storing all your credit, debit and store cards, along with your driving licence and cash in a wallet. It seems like a great idea until it gets stolen.

For me, the root cause of the problem isn’t the password vault itself, but the password. Most of us tend to see the login screen as an obstacle that stands in the way of us doing what it is that we want to do. Anything that makes it quicker and easier to get through the process is welcomed with open arms. To illustrate my point, how many of you click the ‘remember this password’ when given the opportunity? I know I have.

If we are being honest most of us are willing to make some form of trade-off between security and convenience, but we should not be expected to do so. Passwords continue to haunt our lives because organisations decide to enforce their use, and in most instances it is because they do so as they don’t know what else to do. As security professionals it is our role to give these organisation choice, show them that there is a better way and crucially, put forward a compelling business case that will drive lasting change.

At the same time Last Pass has been hitting the headlines this week, so too has Tripwire for its attempt to solve the problem using Emojis. As a marking gimmick it has certainly succeeded in grabbing attention, and they seem to be heading in the right direction by trying to make login credentials easier to remember and leveraging the capabilities of mobile devices. But could such a solution viably replace every website, mobile app or corporate network that currently uses a password? Emojis might appeal to millennials logging on to a social forum, but would a silver surfer feel comfortable using them for their online banking? It may well be more secure than a password but I can’t imagine entering: smiley face, sad face, birthday cake and love heart to authorise a transaction from my corporate bank account!
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale biometrics are promising to change the world, but unless you are a large bank with money to burn it is pretty much out of reach, and even then you have the issue of standardising on a biometric.

This is the big challenge we as an industry face if we are going to replace something as ubiquitous as a password. We need to find something that has the potential to be just as ubiquitous in the future, otherwise we will be stuck in the same old rut. 

We think we might have just the thing! www.pingrid.com 

Author: Fred Astfedlt, Winfrasoft

11 June 2015

Reducing Customer Friction with Better Authentication

Retail banks around the work are trying to get to grips with a difficult challenge. How to make their identification and authentication processes secure enough to protect them and satisfy the regulators, but at the same time balance that with the desire of customers to have a frictionless experience. This was one of the key issues that was debated at a one day conference held at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills in London last week.

Attended by experts in e-identity and authentication, those working in some of the largest banks in Europe, as well as representatives from the European Commission and the European Banking Association (EBA), the event was held a few weeks after 24 out of 28 authorities from EU member states signed up to the new EBA guidelines for online payment security. Coming in to force from 1st August 2015 these guidelines require banks to have stronger authentication whereby a customer must provide non-reusable security details. So, unsurprisingly online payments was a red hot topic of conversation.

The problem with online payments today is when consumers buy something online they reach for their debit or credit-card. However, these cards were introduced when there was no Internet and where designed to be presented at the point-of-sale. As a result banks are having to deal with huge amounts of fraud from online card payments, costing huge sums of money and draining resources.

Since their introduction cards have evolved, such chip-and-pin, and more recently contactless payment technology for low value transactions, but the later makes these cards more, rather than less susceptible to crime. So it is interesting to see how the rapid uptake of this innovation, which suggests customers are willing to trade a level of security for convenience, in much the same way as they opt for easy to remember passwords for their online accounts.

The problem for banks is that whilst customer may be happy with a trade-off, the banks and its regulators are not. However, they know that to gain and retain customers they need to find ways of delivering a more frictionless online experience. Hence, whether you are a business or a retail customer you may have seen the need to for your card reader or key-ringer number generator (otherwise known as a hard-token) diminish in favour of more convenient methods of online authentication. Of course, this is also great news for banks as the cost to administer these devices is very high indeed.

However, during the conference it was clear that banks are eager to find ways to strengthen their identification and authentication processes in a friction free manner, and worryingly many explained how they are investigating the use cases of biometrics in all its forms.

In my opinion, there are a number of significant stumbling blocks when it comes to biometrics. Not only the level of investment and management that is required, and the sophistication of biometric readers on the current crop of ‘smart devices’, but also the challenge and cost of on-boarding all new and existing customers. This is far from the frictionless experience that customers are wanting, and banks are replacing one costly technology with another! Also, these readers currently feature on the higher end devices, alienating the majority of customers. And, as one speaker was quick to point out – what happens if a customer using biometrics is a victim of fraud? Criminals will undoubtedly find a way to cheat the system. So, how does a victim then go about proving they are who they say they are?

One of the most insightful observations of the day was that banks can choose to add as many ‘layers’ of security as they wish, but if they are going to satisfy the customer they need to make the customer feel like they are using just one, any more and they feel like barriers. So, whether they are logging on or transacting via a website, on a desktop PC, a browser on a smartphone or tablet, or via an app, the process needs to be convenient, reliable and of course trusted.

This is why the username, password and memorable information approach has been well adopted as it is device agnostic. So, if you want to have stronger security (and whilst this approach it strong it could be stronger) you need to find a solution that can also work in this environment, and currently biometric readers are neither robust nor ubiquitous enough to satisfy these requirements.

However, there was unanimous consensus that using smart/mobile devices was undoubtedly the way forward. Using these devices presents a way to improve the authentication process for banks, without adversely impacting or burdening the customer. Yet, rather than biometrics, these device can be used to replace card-readers or key-ring tokens, by augmenting the username and password login in with a one-time code generated through an offline app residing on the device.

From the banks perspective this approach is relatively inexpensive when compared to hard-tokens and biometrics. It can be rolled out rapidly at a regional, national or international level and it ease the possible friction for the customer.

Another great benefit of this approach is that as well as being used for logging on to online bank accounts, it can also be used for swift online transaction verification, meaning online card payments can be afforded a far greater level of protection, which is great news for the banks who can save millions in reduced fraud incidents and the customers who are less likely to be innocent victims.

Author: Steven Hope, CEO, Winfrasoft

1 June 2015

Is Your Action Camera Watching You?

Here at Winfrasoft we think action cameras are great pieces of kit, whether you want capture for posterity the three-legged race at the school sports day, or are abseiling down a cliff. However, this morning we were as surprised as anyone to learn that the camera and the images, video and audio recorded and stored on them can be vulnerable to attack.

Today, the BBC has reported that the latest Hero4 device from the market leading action camera vendor GoPro could compromised by, yes you guess it weak password security!

In the video report, Ken Munro from Pen Test Partners explains how these cameras uses WiFi to sync with the GoPro app on the users mobile device. Those of you who have an action camera will know that from the app you can have complete control over the cameras features and functions. And it works fantastically well.

The problem is the GoPro app requires a password and as Mr Munro rightly points out, that people typically choose simple passwords. As a result, the ‘intruder’ can take full control of your camera without you knowing! In fact, they were able to crack the password in just a few seconds, using a dictionary attack. As a result the intruder can chose when the camera is switched on or off, can record (both video and audio) and they can even switch off the usual lights and sounds, so you would never know that the camera sat on the table is capturing everything. 

Of course, most criminals are not going to be interested in your adrenaline fuelled holiday adventures, but thought of someone possibly listening and watching without you knowing feels somewhat sinister and intrusive. The advice by Pen Test Partners is to make the password as strong as you can, but anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that there really isn’t such a thing. So, if you want to be 100% safe then make sure you have the WiFi setting on your camera switched off.

You can read the full story and watch the video at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-32934083

Author: Steven Hope, Winfrasoft