Security and risk professionals know what to do with security vulnerabilities: we mitigate the risk directly as best we can, and put in place compensating controls when we can't change the underlying dynamic. But in the age of the customer, upping our game in authentication strategies has forced us to take a harder look at an area that, generally speaking, is not our specialty at all.
Last summer, Forrester published a Customer Authentication Assessment Framework that leveraged some exciting academic research called “The Quest to Replace Passwords: A Framework for Comparative Evaluation of Web Authentication Schemes” out of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. (Gunnar Peterson has a recent post highlighting the arc and nature of these researchers' work, and even has a nice back-and-forth in the comments with contributor Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research.)
I had the chance once again to do a podcast with Mike Gualtieri as part of his wonderful Forrester TechnoPolitics series, talking about the usability affordances of passwords that make them natural targets for consensual impersonation. As Mike memorably puts it, is this behavior frisky, or risky? Just like in our last podcast together, I found myself confessing deep dark authentication secrets. Take a listen and let me know your thoughts.
A couple of months back, I advocated killing your password policies and applying some other techniques instead to make existing use of passwords more effective (including my hobby horse: take the user-experience sting out of rotating ordinary static passwords by pushing them out to users on an alternate channel, à la activation codes and other OTPs). But adding factors is still a great idea, and the barriers to doing so are falling fast.
In approaching the research for my recently published TechRadar™ on strong authentication, at first I struggled a bit with overlapping concepts and terminology (as can be seen in the lively discussion that took place over in the Security & Risk community a few months back). The research ultimately revealed that form factor matters a lot -- smartcards in actual card form, for example, have some properties and use cases distinct from smart chips in other devices. So smartcards became one of the 14 categories we included.
The category that quickly became my favorite was "bring-your-own-token." BYOT is Forrester's term for the various methods (sometimes called "tokenless") that leverage the devices, applications, and communications channels users already have. The classic example is a one-time password that gets sent in an SMS message to a pre-registered phone, but we see emerging vendors doing a lot of innovation in this space. You can get a surprising amount of risk mitigation value from this lightweight approach, in which you can treat provisioning not as an expensive snail-mail package, but as a mere self-registration exercise. In a world where hard tokens and smartcards prove themselves to be, shall we say, imperfectly invulnerable, lightweightness can have a value all its own. In fact, BYOT showed up just behind these two venerable methods in the "significant success" trajectory on the TechRadar.