New Newsletter Season to come: KC Analysts’ View

04.02.2014 by Dave Kearns

It’s a new year, and there are some new changes coming to KuppingerCole, especially in the material that will come into your inbox.

First, some background. After the past year or so we’ve been growing by leaps and bounds with new offices in Europe and the Asia-Pacific area as well as new analysts all over the map. With that has come an increase in the amount of email we’ve sent out, so now it’s time to get a better handle on that.  From now on, you’ll receive, aside from webinar and event invitations, two emails a month: our standard newsletter and a new format which will have up to 3 articles related to our research. For this new publication, you can look forward to major discussions on the topics that we’ve identified as being the “hot topics” for the coming months, such as:

  • Software Defined Networking (SDN) – Software Defined Computing Infrastructures (SDCI);
  • Integrated Real-time Network Security Analytics;
  • Cloud IAM (Identity and Access Management) – both on its own and as part of an all-encompassing security structure;
  • Digital, Smart Manufacturing & Smart Infrastructure: ICS & SCADA;
  • The API Economy and how it affects security and access;
  • IoEE (Internet of Everything and Everyone) including Life Management Platforms;
  • BYOI (Bring Your Own Identity) and Biometric Authentication;
  • Big Data and other threats to privacy;
  • Cloud Service Provider Selection and Assurance; and
  • Ubiquitous Encryption as part of information stewardship.

Of course many other topics – some now unforeseen – will also have their day in the sun.

I’ll still regularly pop up in these publications, just not so often. My thought on some of these topics will still be available on the KuppingerCole blog site, as well as my personal site and my Twitter feed.

While I’ve ranged far and wide in this newsletter over the past two years, the major points of emphasis have revolved around authentication, authorization and access control. These are subjects near and dear to my heart and will continue to be at the forefront of what I write about. And speak about also.

We’ve already started filling in the agenda for the upcoming European Identity & Cloud Conference, coming in May in Munich. So far, I’ll be contributing to “Authentication Trends” and “Supporting Social Login: Risks and Challenges” but you can be sure I’ll add more access control sessions, if I can.

There’s also an exciting new project coming up that Martin Kuppinger and I will be undertaking, but it would be premature to go into details right now. Still, I can say that it will be in the general area of Identity and Access Management (IAM). Note how “access” shows up there, also.

For those of you in Eastern Europe, or close by, let me remind you that KuppingerCole’s Identity, Cloud Risk & Information Security Summit is coming to Moscow in April. This conference will revolve around five topics in a round-table style where you can be part of the dialog. Topics will be:

  • Extended Enterprise – the new Scope of Information Security. How to Deal with the Challenges of the Computing Troika – Cloud, Mobile and Social Computing
  • How Mature is Your Cloud? Defining your own Benchmark on Cloud Maturity, Measuring and Enforcing it.
  • Identity Information Quality – Foundation for reliable Access Control. How to Handle this in the Decade of the Identity Explosion, with Social Logins, BYOI (Bring Your Own Identity) etc.?
  • From Preventive to Pro-Active: Big Data for Network Security Analytics in Realtime.
  • Assessing your Information Security Infrastructure and Understanding your Biggest Risks

It’s a great way to interact with your peers in a discussion moderated by a practitioner & analyst team.

So watch for more information on these and other topics in your inbox, but organized into fewer emails so as not to intrude on your time quite so much. Enjoy!


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No phishing allowed!

07.01.2014 by Dave Kearns

Happy New Year everyone! We’ve just come through what’s probably the biggest gift giving month of the year – most of you, I’m sure, unwrapped more than one present. So let me ask a couple of questions.

If there was a pretty package, with no tag identifying the giver – would you open it?

If the tag said it was from a friend, using their Facebook name – would you open it?

If the tag said it was from a co-worker, but not one you’re very close to – would you open it?

Let’s change the scene just a bit, and imagine that it was an email you received, with an attachment that the email asked you to open – under what circumstances would you actually open the attachment?

Many of you will say that you’d analyze the message and make a judgment based on the words, the spelling, the grammar (malware merchants are all notoriously bad at spelling and grammar. No, really!) and how you (the recipient) and the sender were identified. But in a survey conducted earlier this year,  Courion Corp. found that 1 in 5 respondents would “have opened an email at work they suspected to be fake or a phishing scam – without notifying the IT department”.

1 in 5. Over 19%, and that’s just the ones who thought the email might be problematic. I can only imagine that the number would be much higher for those who didn’t suspect the email was a phishing expedition.

So, what can you do about it? How can you protect the company from its own innocent, but curious, employees?

Malware – Trojans, viruses and the like – are usually handled by anti-virus packages either centrally (on the mail server, for example) or on each desktop – or both. These tools, if kept up to date, are quite effective. But phishing is a different problem.

There are three general vectors for a phishing email: it might contain a link to a URL (including URLs that resemble those you normally visit, such as your bank) that will collect protected information (usernames, passwords and PII – Personally Identifiable Information); it might contain an attachment that the user should fill out and email or fax back; or the note may simply ask for information to be sent in a reply. Alternatively, the URL or attachment could install active malware that would gather authentication or PII data (such as with a keylogger).

You could intercept all emails that contain attachments or URLs and quarantine them, notify the intended recipient and have a security expert review the email before allowing the intended recipient to see it. How long would this delay delivery, do you think? How long would the CEO put up with this?

You could intercept only those which came from outside the organization’s domain. That should cut down on the volume of email that needs to be reviewed, but might actually be more insecure than allowing everything to go through. Emails purporting to come from others in the organization (those, for example, whose credentials had been compromised) would most likely be willingly opened by all and sundry. At the same time, missives of a private nature coming from outside would be subject to intense scrutiny by a security clerk, perhaps one who couldn’t resist gossiping. Not a recipe for success!

No, there really is no substitute for education – teaching your people how to recognize potentially hazardous communications and how to handle them. Especially the part about letting security/IT staff examine questionable emails.

It’s going to take more than a memo and some “be aware” posters, though. What I’m talking about is a real education campaign with actual teaching, perhaps some mentoring and periodic testing. The occasional “pop quiz” via a phishing-style email should be part of your proactive anti-malware campaign. Those that fail the quiz should be required to take refresher courses.

Technology can help, but only well trained, fully-informed and security aware employees can keep your organization safe.


2013 – The End of Innocence?

17.12.2013 by Dave Kearns

Many people have begun thinking of 2013 as the Year That Changed Everything, at least in the area of privacy. From the Snowden leaks thru the many iterations of Facebook’s privacy policy, from the implications of the Internet of Things through Google’s troubles with the EU’s various Data Privacy laws it seems that privacy was on everybody’s mind.

In January, NSA contractor Edward Snowden made contact with The Guardian and the Washington Post and by now we’re all familiar with the revelations of state-sponsored surveillance he revealed. Primarily concerned with the US government, and secondarily with the UK government, Snowden’s leaks also implicated other governments including Spain, France and Germany. Everyone, it seems, was spying on everyone else.

In December, InfoWeek’s Robert Cringeley published a column headlined “Welcome to the Internet of things. Please check your privacy at the door.”

Information Week’s Kristin Burnham wrote: “Facebook privacy changes seem to never end, which can make tackling your privacy settings a daunting task.”

Just last month the Dutch Data Protection Authority found Google to be in violation of its data protection law.

At various points throughout the year, newspaper headlines screamed out about data breaches:

  • Conventioneers’ credit card data stolen in Boston
  • Kaiser Permanente Notifies 49K Patients of Data Breach in Anaheim

Adobe, Evernote, LivingSocial and Yahoo! Japan were also hit by major data leaks. Trend Micro chief technology officer Raimund Genes even predicted an increase (to one a month) of “major” data breaches in 2014.

All of this could lead us to believe that 2013 was the Year We Lost our Privacy. But we’d be wrong.

It was 14 years ago, in 1999, that then Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.” The next year, according to one of the documents released by Snowden, a report by the NSA about its mission for the 21st Century notes: “The volumes of routing of data make indexing and processing nuggets of intelligence information more difficult. To perform both its offensive and defensive mission, NSA must ‘live on the network.'” McNealy was either right, or prescient. The loss of privacy is not new. The knowledge of the loss of privacy is, perhaps, what’s new to many people. Rather than labeling 2013 as The End of Privacy, we’d do better to refer to it as The End of Innocence.

So what can we do?

In the fall of 2012, before any of the Snowden revelations, I wrote: “Thirteen years after McNealy’s proclamation we still are trying to keep at least some parts of our lives private. We also seem to believe that there is a technological solution that will help us maintain our privacy. That’s not going to happen. Get over it. In fact, technology is a greater aid to those looking to violate our privacy than to those looking to protect it.” That’s certainly proven to be true.

Many people and companies, over the past year, have offered new, innovative and (sometimes) weird ways to protect your data and privacy. Most, if not all, have been shown to be flawed when trying to protect against state-sponsored surveillance. Should we stop looking? No, while we may never be able to stop the intrusion of state-sponsored surveillance, we can keep the criminals – who don’t have the same resources – out, and that’s a desirable result.

Many tech companies (such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, etc.) are petitioning and lobbying governments to put an end to state-sponsored mass surveillance. Of course, most of those governments already have laws in place to control this – they just either aren’t enforced or are interpreted in convoluted ways. Should the techs stop doing this? Probably not, as it does keep the issue in front of everybody.

The big takeaway here is that state-sponsored surveillance didn’t start in 2013. Neither did data breaches. If you’ve come this far without leaking data and without being visited by the spooks and spies, then either you’ve been doing the right thing or you’ve been very lucky. Hopefully you’ve been keeping your protections up to date, and you haven’t been drawing attention to your activities. Remember, there’s been no new loss of privacy, only the discovery of what went before.

But you really can’t afford sit back on your laurels, patting yourself on the back because nothing bad has happened to your organization. You need to keep moving forward, doing what needs to be done to continue to protect your assets, the data and information that gives your enterprise value.

Here at KuppingerCole we take data security and privacy very seriously. We think you need to consider the full lifecycle of information, from creation through to its final disposition. We call this Information Stewardship (see “From Data Leakage Prevention (DLP) to Information Stewardship”) and following its guidelines will keep you from an overactive paranoia about your data and information.

If you haven’t already, you need to move from a technology-centric idea of security to an information-centric approach. The basic objectives of information centric security are:

  • Availability: individuals are able to access the business data and applications they need to perform their business functions when and where they need it, and without delay.
  • Integrity: individuals are only able to manipulate data (create, change or delete) in ways that are authorized.
  • Confidentiality: data and applications can only be accessed by authorized individuals and these are not able to pass data to which they have legitimate access to other individuals who are not authorized.

While many of the suggestions for encryption of your data, specifically to thwart state-sponsored surveillance, that were made this year were both cumbersome and doomed to failure, that doesn’t mean protecting your data through encryption is unnecessary. In fact, we believe that ubiquitous encryption should be a goal for 2014. In his recently released look ahead (“Information Security Predictions and Recommendations 2014”), Martin Kuppinger notes: “When looking at the Information Lifecycle, information frequently is left unencrypted and unprotected in various stages, such as processing.” He adds, “Organizations must have a strategy for ubiquitous encryption, including a strategy for managing and storing the secrets.” There are a lot of people, besides the spy agencies, that want to access your information. That’s were you need to focus your security attention.

There’s a lot more of course, and we’ll be telling you more in the coming year. But if you start working now, you may be able to call 2013 the year you began to protect yourself and your organization.


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Safer, stronger authentication

03.12.2013 by Dave Kearns

In my last post (“Dogged Determination”) I briefly mentioned the FIDO alliance (Fast Identity Online) with the promise to take a closer look at the emerging internet password-replacing-authentication system this time. So I will.

But first, an aside. It’s quite possible that the alliance chose the acronym “FIDO” first, then found words to fit the letters. Fido, at least in the US, is a generic name for a dog which came into general use in the mid 19th century when President Abraham Lincoln named his favorite dog Fido. Choosing a word associated with dogs harkens back to the internet meme “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog”. With the FIDO system, no one except those you intended would know who you are. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

FIDO was in the news last week when it was announced that Fingerprint Cards (FPC) and Nok Nok Labs had announced an infrastructure solution for strong and simple online authentication using fingerprint sensors on smartphones and tablets. The two companies have initially implemented the joint solution utilizing Nok Nok Labs’ client and server technology and commercially available Android smartphones using the FPC1080 fingerprint sensor in order to demonstrate readiness to support the emerging FIDO-based ecosystem.

That should give you an idea of the thrust of the Alliance.

The FIDO system doesn’t require a biometric component, but it appears to be highly recommended. From the Alliance’s literature:

The FIDO protocols use standard public key cryptography techniques to provide stronger authentication. During registration with an online service, the user’s client device creates a new key pair. It retains the private key and registers the public key with the online service. Authentication is done by the client device proving possession of the private key to the service by signing a challenge. The client’s private keys can be used only after they are unlocked locally on the device by the user. The local unlock is accomplished by a user–friendly and secure action such as swiping a finger, entering a PIN, speaking into a microphone, inserting a second–factor device or pressing a button.

The FIDO protocols are designed from the ground up to protect user privacy. The protocols do not provide information that can be used by different online services to collaborate and track a user across the services. Biometric information, if used, never leaves the user’s device.

FIDO is, first and foremost, about strong authentication. Two-factor authentication is a requirement. A biometric component (fingerprint, voiceprint, etc.) is highly recommended.

President of the Alliance is Michael Barrett, formerly CISO for PayPal, formerly president of the Liberty Alliance and before that VP, Security & Privacy Strategy for American Express. Interestingly, the VP of FIDO is Brett McDowell, currently Head of Ecosystem Security at PayPal, who was previously Executive Director of the Liberty Alliance and its successor, the Kantara Initiative.  He also served as Management Council chair of the USA’s NSTIC (National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace) Identity Ecosystem Steering Group. These are two guys who know identity systems inside out.

PayPal (which is always looking for stronger authentication methods) and Nok Nok Labs (which is always looking for better ways to use biometrics as well as strong authentication) were two of the founders of the alliance which has now grown to over 50 members including such big names as Google, Blackberry, Lenovo, MasterCard and Yubico as well as just about everyone in the biometric device space.

It’s a good cast of characters, but is that enough?

The impact of so many biometric friendly members means that the Alliance has to first answer (again) all the questions about the “problems” with biometric authentication. Now, if you know me at all you know that “I ♥ Biometrics” but getting others to like them is an uphill battle. In fact, the continuous (I’ve been involved in it for 15 years!) argument about the security of passwords is really a side issue for the FIDO Alliance. More important, I think, is its reliance on the Online Secure Transaction Protocol (OSTP).

OSTP is a protocol designed and issued by FIDO (they say they will turn it over to a public standards body once it is fully “baked”). It’s explained in a white paper (“The Evolution of Authentication,” this is a PDF file) where it’s generally referred to as the “FIDO protocol”. The heart of the system is the FIDO authenticator which the white paper explains:

The FIDO Authenticator is a concept. It might be implemented as a software compo-nent running on the FIDO User Device, it might be implemented as a dedicated hard-ware token (e.g. smart card or USB crypto device), it might be implemented as soft-ware leveraging cryptographic capabilities of TPMs or Secure Elements or it might even be implemented as software running inside a Trusted Execution Environment.

The User Authentication method could leverage any hardware support available on the FIDO User Device, e.g. Microphones (Speaker Recognition), Cameras (Face Recognition), Fingerprint Sensors, or behavioral biometrics, see (M. S. Obaidat) (BehavioSec, 2009).

As I said, biometrics strongly recommended.

Read the paper for more details of how it works.

Can the FIDO proposal succeed? Yes, it’s a well thought-out system that does provide strong authentication with a high degree of confidence that the user is who they claim to be.

Will the FIDO proposal succeed? That’s much more problematic. It requires that relying parties and Identity Providers (which can be the same entity) install specific server software and that users install specific client software. The client part could be an easier “sell” if it comes along with the biometric devices and services that FIDO members provide. Easier, certainly, in a smartphone environment, less so in a desktop/browser environment. History says that anything requiring users voluntarily install something or requiring relying parties to buy, install and maintain single purpose services is a long shot. And the FIDO solution requires both. Still, if the members of the FIDO alliance provide the software and compel their clients to install it a tipping point could be reached. If so, I’d applaud it.

I will note that a number of my colleagues believe I’m reading too much into the so-called “biometric requirements” of FIDO, noting that hardware tokens (represented by Yubico and other members) are an even easier implementation since most modern smartphones can handle a microSD card, which could act as a hardware token – or, at least, turn the phone into a hardware token. It would be protected by a PIN, which users are familiar with entering for all sorts of services.

While I do agree with all that, the typical PIN is 4 digits so there are 10,000 possible combinations (0000 to 9999). That’s not strong enough for my taste. Brute force manual entry could try all possibilities within a few minutes, and – since some combinations (1234, 1111, 1379, 1397, etc.) are more popular than others it could be only a few seconds before the code is broken. Nevertheless, if this would increase the uptake in using the FIDO system, I’d be behind it – at least as a good beginning.


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Dogged Determination

19.11.2013 by Dave Kearns

Some colleagues and I got into a short discussion about the FIDO alliance last week. That’s the Fast Identity Online Alliance, which was formed in July 2012 with the aim of addressing the lack of interoperability among strong authentication devices. They also wish to do something about the problems users face with creating and remembering multiple usernames and passwords. According to their web site, “the FIDO Alliance plans to change the nature of authentication by developing specifications that define an open, scalable, interoperable set of mechanisms that supplant reliance on passwords to securely authenticate users of online services. This new standard for security devices and browser plugins will allow any website or cloud application to interface with a broad variety of existing and future FIDO-enabled devices that the user has for online security.”

There’ll be more from us in the coming weeks and months about FIDO and other emerging protocols, but our discussion got me thinking about something else.

There are now more than 50 members of the alliance, and someone mentioned that Google was an early joiner – not a founding member, but getting on board soon after. The question was Why Google would do this and what that portended for FIDO’s future.

Obviously it’s good to have a big name like Google on board. Along with other well-known names (Lenovo, Blackberry, MasterCard, Yubico and more) the Google brand makes for a bigger “buzz” and makes getting press (and, let’s face it, analyst) coverage easier. There’s no question that having Google on board is a major plus for FIDO. But is FIDO a plus for Google?

Google is known for supporting many authentication and identity protocols and services. They were on board early with OpenID, OpenID Connect, SCIM (System for Cross-domain Identity Management), Oauth and Oauth2, SAML and more. In fact, there are few internet friendly identity-related mechanisms that Google doesn’t support. But why?

One clue is the person responsible for all this activity. Eric Sachs is Google’s Group Product Manager for Identity. On his Google+ site he identifies his goal rather succinctly: Eliminate Internet passwords. He’s very serious about that.

One first step was the implementation of two-factor authentication (2FA) by the search giant last year. Rumor is that in the not too distant future two-factor AuthN will be required by the company. FIDO, of course, has two-factor authentication as one of the ways they wish to strengthen on-line account access.

Why are Google doing this? 2FA is not as easy to use as a simple username/password. It is, though, more secure. And Google wants you to think that their services are more secure than their competitions’. If you feel your account (and your content) is more secure with Google Docs, Google Drive, YouTube, Google+, etc. then you are more likely to use those services rather than another. Since Google’s business is based on advertising, the more “eyes” it gets on its services the more ads it sells and for more dollars per ad.

The second part of the equation is that by supporting strong authentication Google is more assured that you are who you say you are. You may remember the brouhaha that ensued when Google required so called “real names” for Google+ back in 2011 (the aptly named “Nymwars”). Google’s advertising revenue is enhanced when it can deliver ads to you that resonate with your tastes, your wishes and your lifestyle – unlike Walmart, whose marketing gaffe (selling smoked hams to Jews) went viral. By making sure it’s really you, and by tying together everything you do on Google properties, the company ensures that it has the best targeted marketing in cyberspace.

Targeted advertising is another can of worms, which I won’t get into here. But, if that’s what keeps Google working for stronger authentication and password elimination, then I’m OK with that.

Martin Kuppinger suggested another possible reason: Google not only wants to eliminate username/password (which makes sense), they want to end up with strong authentication that does not require massive cost and logistics (deploying hard tokens etc.) for them. This is just not feasible for Google. And it is a problem all larger organizations are facing, while smaller organizations can handle it. Thus Google is looking for standards that allow them to reuse existing strong authentication in a flexible way. Makes sense to me.

To get back to the beginning of this piece, it appears that Google supports any protocol or system that shows any promise of bringing stronger authentication. So the question remains, is FIDO the right vehicle to do that? I’ll look at that question next time. For now, take a look at what Martin had to say last spring in “The FIDO Alliance – game changer for Internet Security?


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BYOI Revisited

05.11.2013 by Dave Kearns

Some time ago, in the wake of Wired journalist Mat Honan’s story of his account compromise (“How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking”), I wrote about  BYOI – Bring Your Own Identity – and how “In the enterprise, there’s even less reason to support today’s BYOI.” Some time before that, my colleague Martin Kuppinger had also addressed this issue (“Bring Your Own Identity? Yes. And No”), dismissing the BYOI idea as simply a small piece of a much larger system.

But I think we need to re-address this issue.

First, the term “BYOI” as it’s commonly used is misleading. It’s not your “Identity” you bring with you (everyone brings their own identity wherever they go), but a third party authentication that you bring to the table such as Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon, etc. ( generally referred to as “social” logins) as well as other third party systems (government eID, healthcare identities, etc.). So let’s be sure to keep that context in mind.

Likewise, from the Enterprise’s point of view, there’s the question of who is bringing this third party AuthN to the table: an employee, contractor, vendor, client, partner, customer – or a visitor who might potentially fill one of these roles. Each of these roles has different requirements for authentication, each will look for different authorization, so each will be scrutinized differently by whatever passes as our Risk-Based Access Control (Risk-BAC) system. And make no mistake about it, we all (that is, our organizations) have a Risk-BAC system. It might be highly sophisticated, automated and dynamic or be a simple, static, implemented-by-hand system based on little more than a username/password combination for access (just because it’s high risk doesn’t remove the Risk-based facet of the system).

For visitors who may or may not be potential vendors, clients or employees the use of a social login is probably sufficient. We want these people to be able to access the resources they need with a minimum of fuss, but with a certain amount of information collected (name, email, physical address, age, and possibly other details). Asking the person to fill out a long form just to be able to view job openings or download marketing materials is going to turn off some otherwise desirable potential employees or customers. Fortunately, we can use the API (also called the “graph matrix”) made available by the social login provider to gather this information by simply asking the person for their approval. So, yes, BYOI works in this case, and works better than creating our own authentication system for this class of users. However, a difficulty could arise when this initial contact is then extended to a full-scale client (or vendor or employee) account – how do we tie together the initial information collected with this new higher value account?

For existing vendors, partners, suppliers and others, whose organization has a current relationship with our organization, the best result would come through federated login. That is, the person would login to their own organization’s system and we would accept that the person is an authorized representative of that organization. We really don’t need any other information about them. We’ve previously negotiated the authorizations that the user would have, which could be adjusted based on the information sent along with the federation credentials. For example, a large supplier might have multiple people needing access to our inventory of various items and would send along qualifying information so that our system would give the correct authorization for that inventory. All the user account maintenance is done by our federation partner, so there’s a sense that the data quality is better than if we tried to maintain it in our system. Using a social BYOI login could be disastrous as we’d have no way of knowing if the person was still employed by the partner.

Then there are the cases of employees and contractors. First we’ll divide contractors into two groups – independent, individual contractors and those working for (or with) a contracted agency.

Those people under contract to a third party agency, who do work for us under the control of the agency, are probably best handled as with other partners – by federation. The situation is a bit different as we’d probably need to adjust authorizations for each individual depending on the work they were doing but it’s also probably best that we let the contracting agency handle the initial authorization especially as it’s that agency’s HR department who would hold all of the individual’s relevant identity data. Of course, should that contractor become a regular employee we would also be faced with converting any data collected about that person from the federated system into identity data within our enterprise system.

For those contractors who are directly contracted by our organization – and not by way of a third party agency – we should use the same controls we would for employees. Generally, the only difference is in the tax status of the employee or the legal status (e.g., “employment at will” statutes), which from our perspective (Identity and Security) are irrelevant.

These are the ones that need to have individual accounts within our enterprise. These are the people who we need to login directly using the credentials we provide. These are the ones we need to scrutinize most, using multi-factor authorization when our Risk-Based systems suggest that we do. These are also the individuals who should be subjected to the most rigorous identity validation when they are first enrolled in our system, something the HR department should handle. By no stretch of the imagination should we ever consider using a social “BYOI” login for this people.

BYOI – especially the case for social logins – by its very nature has a low level of assurance for identity when compared to enterprise controlled systems (all else being equal). It’s useful for low value transactions but – at least as it’s constituted today – should give security personnel nightmares if ever used for access to the organization’s valuable resources.

So to the question “does BYOI have a place in the enterprise?” we can answer with a qualified yes, but also a qualified no.  The Information Risk & Security Summit 2013, coming up in Frankfurt Nov 27-28 will go into BYOI on much more detail. You should register now to attend.


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Getting the security you need

22.10.2013 by Dave Kearns

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about how you should be improving your authentication and authorization. I’ve been haranguing you to get Risk-Based Access Control (RiskBAC) sooner rather than later. There has been some push back.

It’s a truism in IT and security that “technology is easy, it’s the people that are hard.” Well, when moving to RiskBAC, the technology – or its implementation – isn’t easy. So if the technology isn‘t easy what does that say about the people? Darn near impossible, that’s what.

There are, also, two different people problems. The first is users. While we’d like users to understand and embrace any new technology we implement, the truth is that they hate change no matter how much better off they’ll be, no matter how hard we try to sell it. In the end, they’ll go along because they have to, not because they want to. Education is key, but bribery can also be used as this tale about a self-service password reset implementation shows.

Beyond the users, though, comes the real people problem – getting signoff on the budget for the project from the key players in the organization. Everyone needs someone else’s signoff, everyone. Even the CEO needs the board to sign off. Over the 20 years I’ve been doing this I’ve tried to present strategies to get that buy in. One of my favorites revolved around technologies for regulatory compliance. Because some regulations included criminal penalties for non-compliance, the argument I suggested was to present the technology you wanted (or needed) as the best way for the powers-that-be to stay out of jail.

While effective, for the most part, that argument didn’t win many friends in the boardroom.

More recently, when talking about Information Stewardship (see our Advisory Note: From Data Leakage Prevention (DLP) to Information Stewardship), I urged that you compile a clippings folder of the consequences of information leaks in terms of publicity and monetary losses (or even entire corporate losses as in the case of DigiNotar). Again, not something that gets you invited to the weekend outing at the board chairman’s hideaway.

So what can you do?

If you’d thought ahead you would have taken some business courses in college, maybe held out for an MBA or at least taken a course in negotiation strategy. Failing that, let me recommend a couple of books.

Getting to Yes, (1991 edition by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury and Bruce Patton) is subtitled “Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”. There’s a sort of companion volume, called Getting Past NO (by Ury alone) and subtitled “Negotiating in Difficult Situations” was released in 1991 along with the second edition of Getting to Yes. Both have been perennial listings on the Business Week best-sellers list.

Both involve a negotiating strategy originally developed at Harvard University where Fisher and Ury were members of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Their work on the psychology of negotiation led to the postulating of a method called “principled negotiation,” which they expounded on in the 1981 first edition of Getting To Yes.

Principled negotiation involves five propositions:

  • Separate the people from the problem.
  • Focus on interests, not positions.
  • Invent options for mutual gain.
  • Insist on using objective criteria.
  • Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)

In other words, make friends, not enemies.

Ten years later, when the second edition  was issued, Ury realized that no matter how well you followed their advice that there would always be those who simply didn’t listen and kept saying “no”. That’s where the second book comes in.

Getting Past NO looks at what comes next in the negotiation process, and specifically talks about:

The book explains in details how to:

  • Have the joint problem-solving mentality together
  • Break the 5 barriers to cooperation: your reaction, their emotion, their position, their dissatisfaction, their power.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare yourself by identifying/developing:
    • Interests of each side
    • Options
    • Standards
    • BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement
    • What do you aspire to? What would you be content with? What could you live with?

It is Ury’s underlying thesis that a good negotiation is achieved by 2 negotiators meeting the needs of both – never one more skilled that overpowers the deal. Because if one negotiator overwhelms the other the deal itself is weakened as the loser might not recognize his involvement and his interests in the deal and therefore have no stake in seeing its success.

What’s really needed, of course, are great marketing skills. You need to convince the others in the negotiation that what you’re offering is what they want (not necessarily what they need). Of course, they may not know that what they want is Risk-Based Access Control, but by identifying what it is that they want in Information Security – even if that is only the wish to keep the company’s name out of the newspaper – then you can better form your “pitch” for the technology you know that they need. For a closer look at our thoughts on this see Martin Kuppinger’s keynote from last spring’s European Identity Conference.

Get the books, learn the methods, Get To YES.


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Apple finally gets something right

08.10.2013 by Dave Kearns

Apple’s new iPhone (the 5S model) is equipped with the Touch ID fingerprint reader. Its release just a couple of weeks ago has generated more discussion (and bloviating) about biometrics, fingerprints in particular, than all other fingerprint systems together. Not only that, but it’s forcing me to do something I’ve rarely – if ever – done before: say something nice about Apple.

In the twenty years I’ve been writing and opining about technology I’ve occasionally ranted about Apple, its products, its management and its fans, but for the first time, today, I can say bravo Apple.

Bravo Apple for introducing millions of users to the benefits of biometrics.

There’s been a lot of urban mythology about Touch ID being spread already, so here’s a look at some of the more outrageous claims, and why they are outrageous.

  • The NSA will now have your fingerprints (variations include the CIA, the local police, GCHQ, the DGSE, and the Chinese secret police)
  • Criminals can get your fingerprints and plant them at crime scenes (variation: so can the police)

The iPhone neither sends your fingerprint data to Apple, the Cloud or anywhere else (it’s only stored locally on the phone), nor is there a picture of your fingerprint stored anywhere. Like all portable devices (smart phones, “dumb” phones, tablets, etc.) there are probably latent fingerprints all over the screen and the cover. Anyone in possession of your phone could “lift” these prints for whatever purpose, criminal or benign. But that has nothing to do with the Touch ID function.

  • The iPhone reader is easily hacked; it even works with your cat’s paw!

Germany’s Chaos Computer Club claims to have “…successfully bypassed the biometric security of Apple’s Touch ID using easy everyday means.” Everyday means? Here’s how they describe the process:

First, the residual fingerprint from the phone is either photographed or scanned with a flatbed scanner at 2400 dpi. Then the image is converted to black & white, inverted and mirrored. This image is then printed onto transparent sheet at 1200 dpi. To create the mold, the mask is then used to expose the fingerprint structure on photo-sensitive PCB material. The PCB material is then developed, etched and cleaned. After this process, the mold is ready. A thin coat of graphite spray is applied to ensure an improved capacitive response. This also makes it easier to remove the fake fingerprint. Finally a thin film of white wood glue is smeared into the mold. After the glue cures the new fake fingerprint is ready for use.

What? You don’t keep “photo-sensitive PCB material” around the house?

As to the “cat’s paw” statement, one user found that he could enroll the cat by swiping its paw on the Touch ID button. You could also enroll just about any ridged surface. And that same ridged surface would be validated and unlock the device when applied subsequently. It’s not that your cat’s paw could be mistaken for your finger!

  • Fingerprint matching is notoriously unreliable

Fingerprint matching is not 100% reliable. The false positives and false negatives, though, are generally proportional to the number of fingerprints being matched to. Take one fingerprint and try to get a match against the millions in the FBI database and there’s a small, but significant, chance of a false match. But take one fingerprint and try to get a match against the one dataset stored on your iPhone and you’ll find it’s almost always accurate. An occasional mis-read because you swiped your finger poorly is hardly the fault of the hardware and software.

  • Fingerprints are a poor replacement for passwords. What happens if they’re compromised? You can’t change your fingerprint

This is a fallacious argument because in addition to having ten fingers (which can be used in multiple combinations, millions of them in fact) the algorithm used to transform your fingerprint data into a private key could also be changed rendering millions more possibilities. But I will partially agree with this. Biometrics shouldn’t be used to replace passwords. Instead, they should be used to replace usernames.

Usernames need to be unique. While there’s no specific proof that fingerprints (or iris scans or heart waves) are unique, it’s easy enough in any particular namespace to ensure that the biometric is unique at the time of enrollment by comparison to those already enrolled (just as Gmail, for example, tells you that “dkearns is already in use. Would you like to be dkearns1043?”). Also, in the 150 years or so that we’ve been using fingerprints for identification there’s never been a proven instance of two sets being alike. I think we can safely say there’s a Theory of Unique Fingerprints, at least until someone can refute the theory.

In the past I’ve suggested that an email address (which does have to be unique throughout the internet) makes an ideal username. But it’s ridiculously easy to know (or guess) someone’s email address. Standard usernames (first initial and seven letters of last name, for example) are frequently the part of the email address to the left of the “@,” so again, easily guessed. But you can’t guess a fingerprint. You can’t discover it through social engineering, either. It can be collected, but despite what the Chaos Computer Club says, that’s not particularly easy for the average person (e.g., one who could guess your username or email).

For unlocking your iPhone, a swipe of your finger is “secure enough” for most situations. But if Apple wants to also use the finger swipe to authorize access to apps (or “outside the phone” data), then coupling the swipe with a PIN, password or pass phrase makes a lot of sense. It’s not absolutely secure, but it is strong enough for the average user, their average device and the average data they need to access. Even if someone has stolen (or hacked) your password, they still need to re-create your fingerprint. Not at all easy, as we’ve seen. Fear not, swipe away!


A recipe for PII

24.09.2013 by Dave Kearns

PII, Personally Identifiable Information (also phrased as Personal Identity Information) is at the heart of identity security and privacy. Yet, like almost all terms in the Identity sphere, it suffers from multiple overlapping definitions leading to misunderstandings, heated discussions and a distinct lack of clarity.

Major sources of these problems are codified definitions from national laws, standards bodies and government agencies (such as the US National Institute for Standards and Technology).

There’s not much I can do about government definitions, no matter how wrong they are. But I can explain my reasoning for the way in which I discuss PII and which I believe to be a good basis for sound decision making. Too much decision making, unfortunately, is done in the heat of the moment without proper forethought or review. This is especially true – and especially unfortunate – when government entities get involved.

So let’s break down PII into its component parts. First, there’s Information.

Information is data, but not all data is information. As Mike Small and I wrote in From Data Leakage Prevention (DLP) to Information Stewardship: “Data is nothing more than the symbols which are processed by the computer.  Data, in itself, has no meaning and no value.  Information is data with context or processing that makes it useful…” A Social Security number, a date of birth, a postal code, a given name – each of these is a bit of data but none – on their own – is information. None, on their own, have context.

Take date of birth. Month and day of birth can limit the possible identities to approximately 1/365th of the world’s population (given an even distribution) – a number approaching 20 million! You can limit this by adding the birth year, but that still would leave over 175,000 people in the “pool” – hardly a good identifier of an individual!

Given name, of course, is easy to see as a non-starter in the identity sweepstakes. How many “Dave”s do you know of? Even those celebrities known by a single name (Beyoncé, Christo, Oscar, Madonna, etc.) are far from unique. Google “Christo” and see how many show up. If I refer to “Beyoncé”, especially in an entertainment context, then most people will infer that it is Beyoncé Knowles, the singer, that I’m talking about. And, in fact, should I wish to talk about a different Beyoncé I would need to include additional data in order for the reference to be considered actual information, but this is the exception not the rule.

For some (and this is the source of much discussion in identity circles) that inference is enough to make that bit of data qualify as PII. For example, if I’m talking to someone at the European Identity Conference and a third person hears me refer to something that “Martin” said – with no further qualification of “Martin” – the inference will most likely be made that I’m speaking about Martin Kuppinger. But suppose I had been talking about my favorite movie lines and wanted to quote Martin Short’s character (Ned Nederlander) in “Three Amigos”. I might say “Then Martin said: ‘Wherever there is injustice, you will find us. Wherever there is suffering, we’ll be there!’“ A stretch, maybe, but possible.

So without context, data cannot be considered information. And if it’s not information then it certainly can’t be “identifiable” information. Can there be information (in the sense of identity information) that is not identifiable information? Yes, I believe there can be.

I was an early subscriber to Google’s Gmail service, and was able to grab the address dkearns AT gmail DOT com. There are now many people who have the address dkearnsX AT gmail DOT com where “X” is a one, two, or three digit number (which allows you to infer just how many “dkearns” there are in the world). I know this, because not a week goes by that I don’t receive email intended for one of these other “dkearns” addresses but from which the trailing number has been stripped (either by the user, the sending party, an email server, etc.). I know this because they often begin with a salutation: “Dear Dennis” or “Dear Dierdre” or “Dear Danny”. Sometimes these notes come from friends or family of the intended recipient. Most often they’re from a store or service that the person has signed up for. In none of these cases, though, can I – as the owner of the in-box – be identified as the person the note was intended for. It’s information, but not identifiable information.

The danger there is that the other dkearns will say or do something to bring them to the attention of the security services (maybe Danny Kearns is a well known member of the IRA). The content of an email coupled with the known non-American status of Danny Kearns could place my inbox on the NSA’s watch list. In effect we now have Personally mis-Identifiable Information!

Your identity is made up of a very large, almost uncountable, number of attribute-value pairs (e.g., SURNAME = Dave). Each value is another bit of data. Few, if any, on their own can identify you. If you can collect a number of this data points within a given context, then you might have information. If that information is unique within that context – or “namespace” as we call it – then you have identifiable information. If, then, you can tie that identifiable information to a particular person you would have Personally Identifiable Information.

PII is important. PII needs to be protected. That doesn’t mean every bit of data is equally important nor that every bit of data needs a Herculean effort to secure it. It’s hard enough to keep the real PII private without stretching our resources so thin as to cover all possible attribute-value pairs. What I’m talking about is a sense of priorities, especially for those setting information governance regulations. Leaks, breaches and theft of Information, especially Identifiable Information needs to be addressed in as strong a manner as possible. Leaks, breaches and theft of data and non-identifiable information – not so much. Let’s keep things in perspective.

****************

Coming up on Thursday (10/26/2013) is my webinar “Authorization as a Calculated Risk”. I’ll be joined by:

  • Brian Spector, CEO CertiVox;
  • Jamie Cowper, Senior Director of Business Development and Marketing Nok Nok Labs;
  • Gerry Gebel, President Axiomatics Americas.

I hope you’ll join us also.


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I ♥ Biometrics

10.09.2013 by Dave Kearns

If you’ve followed my writings for very long, you know I’m a strong believer in biometric authentication. (See, for example, this Network World column from over a dozen years ago) Why? Well, for one reason, unlike a password or a hardware token, you can’t misplace or lose a biometric (fingerprint, facial scan, keyboard dynamics, etc.) – it’s always with you. Now, there’s another biometric system for you to look at.

Bionym, Inc. has announced Nymi, a biometric reader that goes a step further than most others.

Nymi is a bracelet with two electrical contacts – one on the underside, which is in contact with your wrist, and one topside for you to press with a finger. Putting the bracelet on powers it up, touching the top contact completes a circuit, allowing Nymi to read your unique “cardiac rhythm” similar to the reading an electrocardiogram takes. Bionym assures us that everyone’s is unique. That signal is then sent (via Bluetooth) to a nearby device (such as a smartphone), which is running the app registered to that biometric signature and which contains the data and/or rules necessary to authenticate to other devices and services.

As long as the bracelet stays on your wrist, there’s no need to re-read the cardiac signal. Should it be removed then re-placed, you would need to re-authenticate. That also means there’s no need to actively authenticate to any registered service – which could be a great timesaver.

Along with the ECG sensor and Bluetooth transmitter, the wristband contains a gyroscope and accelerometer so that it can support gesture unlocking scenarios, also, such as different gestures to unlock your car, your PC, a door, etc.

Bionym calls the Nymi a 3-factor security system. They say that to take control of your identity you must have your Nymi, your unique heartbeat and an Authorized Authentication Device (AAD), which would be a smartphone or device registered with their app.

They also claim the Nymi is built upon the principles of Privacy by Design, explaining that this means that only you control and access your identity and personal information. Since that information is not sent to a third party, the company believes that – in future – personalization information could also be stored. They theorize, for example, that the “smart house” of the future would react to the entry of someone wearing (and authenticated to) the device by adjusting temperatures, lighting, entertainment, etc. The device includes hardware-based encryption for all transactions, by the way, further strengthening the authentication services as well as further protecting personally identifiable information.

This is a very interesting concept – it’s easier to use than passwords and safer. It still is susceptible to the problems of a token (can be lost, stolen or strayed), but a lost bracelet won’t work with someone else’s heart wave and remembering to wear it should be as automatic as remembering to put on socks. As yet there are very few applications, but Bionym says the app will be available on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac OSX initially. An open-source SDK will allow for developers to port support to other platforms.

Other news of wearable technology came from Samsung last week with the release of the Galaxy Gear, the next generation of smart device, a “smartwatch”. The smartwatch will work in concert with users’ smartphones (it won’t replace the phone yet). Among the features shown at its debut:

  • Users also will be able to accept phone calls on the watch, answering calls by putting their wrist next to their heads. There are speakers and a microphone in the clasp area of the watch.
  • Gear will also respond to voice commands, so users don’t always have to physically fiddle with the watch while placing calls.
  • The watch also has a camera that captures short video clips — visual memos, the company is calling it — as well as photographs.
  • The smartwatch will also be able to translate signs in foreign languages simply by analyzing a picture. The Gear will also support its own apps, which have been specifically designed for the watch.

The Gear would seem to be ideally matched to the Galaxy note smartphone, one of the devices labeled as a “phablet” because it’s a phone with a larger screen and form factor. The Gear would allow conversations, for example, without the need to hold a large device to your head.

All we need now is for Samsung and Bionym to get together and develop an “all-in-one” wrist appliance that could handle authentication as well as control for your devices. To me that’s the logical extension of these technologies.

*****

Speaking of authentication and access, remember that on the 26th of this month I’ll be hosting a webinar called “Authorization as a Calculated Risk”. Joining me will be Brian Spector from Certivox, Jamie Cowper from Nok-Nok Labs and Gerry Gebel from Axiomatics . Register now.


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