Compromised Passwords – There’s More Than What You See
It’s March 29th, I’m using MyFitnessPal from Under Armour to help with meal planning, when I receive a message that my account was compromised. My username, e-mail, and password, along with 150 million other unfortunate users, was stolen. Well, not the clear password, but rather its hashed version. But still, depending on the complexity of the password, the hashed version can be easily cracked by any rookie hacker.
Of course, I’m not taking any chances, and I’ve changed my password. Is that enough? No! If you’re like me – only a mere mortal who can’t remember dozens of different username and password combinations for the numerous sites and services I use online – you reuse your credentials…frequently. This is a much bigger problem.
The growth of the number of services, online accounts, and places where you have to register an account has made it virtually impossible to create and remember unique usernames and passwords, so it is quite common for people to repeat the same password – sometimes with a small variant, such as a digit – across many accounts. And some sites will actually ask you to change your password from time to time, and they will remember the last passwords, so you won’t be able to use them again.
Dynamic Passwords and User Friction
To help solve those issues, several methods of multi-factor authentication (MFA) are now available. MFA uses more than a standard username and password to verify that it’s actually you logging in. Instead of changing your password every 30 or 60 days, why not have something that creates a new password on every authentication? Hardware tokens that change the password every 30 seconds, SMS-based passwords, questions and answers, all of these can add a layer of verification beyond a simple password. However, added security can create added complexity that generates user friction.
Now you have to carry one or more keyfobs anywhere you go. Or rely on SMS, knowing it doesn’t work that well everywhere in the world, and I’m not even talking about its vulnerabilities. Or questions and answers that can be easily guessed or retrieved using social engineering. In any case, you are adding something that not everybody will like, or use.
I participated once in an event with C-level executives from Latin American retail and eCommerce companies, and one of them said something that I will never forget about maintaining a good user experience. He told me: “You know what? I’m sure you right, MFA would drastically reduce the eCommerce fraud. But at the same time, if I add something that will be annoying to the customer, they will buy their products somewhere else.” It’s vital to both enhance security and the user experience at the same time.
Push Technology – Tearing Down Old MFA Paradigms
The smartphone era, with a strong concentration on Android and iOS, has made the work for developers simple. Push technology is commonly implemented by developers for chat, news, and many other app notifications, so why not use it for security?
Push-based authentication changed the way we see MFA. You will still type in your username and password, but with MFA enabled on an application, you will also receive a confirmation request on your phone. Nothing extra to carry. No cumbersome questions and answers. Your mobile phone is always with you. Your unique, personal mobile authenticator is always with you. It’s there to protect you, protect your accounts, protect your access.
So, the paradigm has changed. MFA is made easy with push messages, provides a great user experience, avoids the burden of changing your network password many times a year; and offers extra protection for your credentials.
If you have MFA enabled — even if you are using the same Under Armour user name and password for your corporate VPN access — nobody will be able to get in. If they try to use that stolen credential, you will receive a push notification on your smartphone, and can reject it.
David S says
A similar implementation question has arisen where a single portal provides access to different data submission systems used for different types of business data. User base includes mobile workers who work for multiple organisations, workers without a fixed work location within an organisation (regional national or international), workers without fixed work location within an organisation and unable to carry personal smart phones. Question is how to implement MFA for this type of user base?