The New Face of ID Management

Cormac Foster, Journalist, Analyst, Tech Manager | 1/25/2013 | 28 comments

Cormac Foster
This is supposed to be a big year for identity management. IDC thinks we might all be logging onto the corporate network with our Facebook logins. Wired Magazine has declared passwords dead. BYOD is forcing IT to integrate personal devices that are used outside of the office by multiple parties. And every hardware vendor seems to offer its own proprietary biometric scanner that no one ever uses.

Identity management is a mess, but it's an important mess. There's just too much sensitive data being aggregated online for criminals to ignore. So what does this mean to you in 2013?

Let's start with IDC. In late 2012, the company predicted "that many more enterprises, and the security software and services vendors that serve them, will use the identity management systems of Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and other consumer social networks and cloud services as a new foundation for enterprise authentication." While this makes an interesting conversation starter, it's a non-issue for most enterprises. To be fair, the OAuth standard used by social networks has some pretty interesting features, but migrating to such a system doesn't solve the primary problem of keeping your data safe. This one is safe to ignore.

So what does keep your data safe? Passwords, the long-time bedrock of identity management. Wired Magazine's article brought up some important concerns about them. Faster computers, lazy users, and more efficient data sharing among criminals have made passwords almost trivial to circumvent. If bad guys with enough resources want in, nearly all consumer-accessible systems and the majority of corporate systems can be compromised. Forrester Research has some excellent ideas about mitigating risk without throwing the system away, but even they admit that, ultimately, passwords are insufficient. But are passwords going away? Not a chance. Users understand them, IT departments know how to manage them, and they're hardware-independent. Passwords are fine. They just need a boost.

And there's the real problem: single-factor authentication. Any system that relies on only one device is easy to dupe -- fake IDs have worked for decades. Adding a second authentication factor provides exponential security improvements, and forces criminals to expend a tremendous amount of effort. That's why bank cards require a PIN or a visual ID check at the point of sale. Two-factor authentication isn't perfect, as we learned from the Verizon employee who shipped his ID dongle to Chinese outsourcers. Still, it's a huge upgrade to traditional passwords, and if you're not using two-factor authentication (2FA), this is the year you should start.

What should your 2FA system look like? It's a bit murky, but think low-tech. Biometrics are out. Biometric scanners work reasonably well in retail locations (my gym has used a thumb print scan for more than a year now), but the economics of distributing hardware to a diverse workforce, syncing multiple device types, addressing privacy concerns, and supporting the whole system are a nightmare. For access to highly specific resources (e.g., a government lab or a specific piece of hardware), biometrics can make sense, but as an enterprise standard, don't expect to see it for years. There's also been a lot of talk about smart IDs. If you're based in Europe, this shows some promise, but the US is far from a solution. The federal government is working on a voluntary ID system, but it could be years before any products based on the standard hit the market, and a wave of privacy lawsuits is on its way.

Your security firm will have recommendations for what vets your situation best, but you're probably looking at distributing physical or virtual devices that generate unique, secondary passwords at user login. Activision Blizzard uses both physical and virtual (Android and iOS apps) 2FA for its Blizzard Authenticator program. Is there any reason a video game should have better security than your enterprise?

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MDMConsult   The New Face of ID Management   2/4/2013 1:08:11 PM
Re: i sure hope so
I do believe the mass adoption of biometrics is critical today as we have adopted social media. With the security and identity theft at a high rate, installing the proper biometrics to such sites according to standards will be beneficial. The worst scenarios are having your data compromised. Relying on strong passwords is good however further security measures that are even stronger is best for today's sites.

KeithGrinsted   The New Face of ID Management   2/4/2013 9:43:12 AM
Re: i sure hope so
@tinym yes, it was not that long ago when you would email the school and perhaps get a response in 2 weeks time!  In the meantime you'd sorted whatever the issue was!

I am in a fortunate position to be Vice Chair of Governors at my daughters' school so I tend to have more email contact with teachers than some do.

However, there is always the thin line between what is right and what oversteps the mark when teachers are engaging directly with parents.

Social media contact for teachers is a real minefield.
tinym   The New Face of ID Management   2/4/2013 8:41:50 AM
Re: i sure hope so
Same challenges, different scenery. Thanks for the link! It is nice to email teachers these days. At least now I can tell them a check is in a backpack so they can be sure to get it.
KeithGrinsted   The New Face of ID Management   2/4/2013 1:40:53 AM
Re: i sure hope so
@tinym Hah!! It's good to know that parents around the world are facing the same challenges!!

I hate cheques (checks) because the money may be there when you write them, but possibly not by the time they cash it!!  As you say, in the meantime you don't know whether it has gone astray or not!

Here's the system we use...
tinym   The New Face of ID Management   2/3/2013 4:46:56 PM
Re: i sure hope so
@Keith Agreed. I feel the same about the responsibility put on these kids at a young age. Our schools seem to take a very long time to deposit checks so it's takes a while before we learn a check has been lost. This is a scary thought for me. The system sounds like a dream. The most we can do is manage lunch account monies. Everything else is cash or checks...

It's funny you mention scrambling for cash at the last minute just as the bus pulls up. I did just that Friday morning!
KeithGrinsted   The New Face of ID Management   2/3/2013 4:27:29 PM
Re: i sure hope so
@tinym school trip payments are not small sums of money these days and it is unfair for the kids to have that responsibility at a young age.  Also, it is an unnecessary temptation to anyone that may easily be lead astray.

The online payment system is so good too.

When you make a payment for a specific trip it is allocated against that trip and the system generates a code that you can then write on the slip you send back saying your child can go.  The teacher then knows payment has been made and it makes everyone's job easier.  No more scrabbling around for cash just as they are about to leave for the school bus!!
KeithGrinsted   The New Face of ID Management   2/3/2013 4:22:35 PM
Re: i sure hope so
@Sara yes, in theory, they are a lazy person's dream security measure.  Put in practice they are clearly not used to any great level.

Technology is devised too often for a solution the developers / designers think end users want, whereas in reality it should be a joint effort.  Push and pull development.

But perhaps as David says there is a need for this level of security deeper into the organisation.
KeithGrinsted   The New Face of ID Management   2/3/2013 4:18:56 PM
Re: i sure hope so
@David Oh dear!  I now have a completely different vision of you with the brass knuckles and the MJ tribute glove!! Is that why your profile photo looks a little like a mugshot!?!

I certainly want to retain my own thumbs and they are portrayed poorly in gangster films.

But I think for many people not using the scanner on their laptop (my wife's has one) is simply because they can't be bothered and assume their password is secure enough.
tinym   The New Face of ID Management   1/29/2013 2:40:49 PM
Re: i sure hope so
@Keith that's good news. I'm glad it's not a system created only for school lunch payments. I like the idea of keeping cash and checks out of my kids' hands for school trips and whatnot. One of our kids (or maybe the teacher) recently lost a check meant for a school trip payment. I would have rather paid online!
David Wagner   The New Face of ID Management   1/28/2013 11:50:43 AM
Re: i sure hope so
@Sara- My experience with them is that they are touchy. If you press too hard and squash your thumb too much or don't squash it enough, they don't work. They easily get dirty and lost their abilit to scan properly.

i also have to take off my brass knuckles to use them. And sometimes even my Michael Jackson tribute glove if I forget to use the thumb i don't wear the glove on.

Seriously though. I do not like them, Sam I AM.
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