Security questions for authentication – a ticking privacy time bomb?

30.09.2010 by Martin Kuppinger

We all are familiar with external (and sometimes also internal) websites which require us to pick or define security questions and to provide answer to these questions. What is your mother’s maiden name? Which is your favourite sports team? Which is the color you like most? And so on… These questions are sometimes used as additional means for authentication, for example by PayPal. More frequently they are used for password resets.

These days, when working with my colleagues Sachar Paulus and Sebastian Rohr on a comprehensive piece on strong authentication which will be published soon, we discussed the privacy aspects of all these (more or less strong) authentication approaches – and struggled… The answers on all the typical questions are privacy-relevant data. They unveil some important knowledge about the user. The more questions, the more knowledge. You could argue that this isn’t that sensitive information – but first of all, it is personal data and second, this depends on the questions.

But have you ever seen something around privacy-related disclaimers, buttons to accept the privacy policies of the organization or something like that around these questions? I can’t remember that. That leads to the assumption that probably few people ever have thought about the privacy aspect of these questions – which means that the relevant compliance regulations just have been ignored.

From our perspective, organizations should check where they use such questions and whether they are in sync with the compliance regulations they have to meet. Otherwise such a simple mechanism might become a real issue from the legal perspective.

The website for the European Identity Conference 2011, to be held May 2011 in Munich, is online now.


IBM acquires OpenPages – and proves our GRC vision

16.09.2010 by Martin Kuppinger

It is always nice when trends an analyst has predicted become reality. I’ve been talking and blogging a pretty long time about the need for an integrated GRC approach, especially beyond the isolated “Enterprise GRC” with little automation. Yesterday, IBM announced that they agreed to acquire OpenPages, one of the most prominent vendors in the Enterprise GRC space. That isn’t really a surprise, given that IBM is investing in the GRC market for quite a while. The really interesting parts in the presentation given by IBM on this acquisition yesterday are the parts where the Enterprise GRC layer of OpenPages becomes integrated with the IT GRC tools of IBM, as well Business Analytics as many Tivoli tools. With other words: It is about integrating different layers of GRC to provide a more complete and current (through automation) view on the controls.

That fits well into our expectations as well as to the KuppingerCole GRC Reference Architecture. Successful GRC is based on a mix of manual and automated controls. I remember a conversation with the OpenPages executives where they in fact denied the need for such an integration. Right now, becoming a part of IBM, that seems to change fundamental, because the IBM strategy is about this integration, with a strong layer on top for the executive view.

While some vendors like MetricStream are pushing this approach and others like RSA/EMC with their Archer acquisition in January 2010 have the same potential, it will be very interesting to observe how other “Enterprise GRC” vendors (I still believe that this is an arrogant term as long as these solutions ignore most parts of the enterprise and are mainly a high-level solution focused on manual controls with little integration into the different other GRC layers) will react. With the IBM acquisition of OpenPages, the time where a vendor can ignore the integration of GRC at all levels are past. Thus, this acquisition will heavily influence the overall GRC market and some of the more prominent “Enterprise GRC” players might end up at the loser’s streak.


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