News
3/18/2013
00:00 AM
Dave Kearns
Dave Kearns
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

With Biometrics, Can Fingers Do Password Management's Work?

Biometrics are one way end users can, literally, "give the finger," to cumbersome password management systems. But it won't be cheap.

Why haven't companies replaced clunky password management with fingerprint biometrics for mobile device authentication? Three words: fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD).

The vendor Sileo once claimed in a blog post:

In a worst-case-scenario, someone inside of the biometric database company could attach their fingerprint to your record — and suddenly they are you. The reverse is also true, where they put your fingerprint in their profile so that if they are convicted of a crime, the proof of criminality is attached to your finger.

Sileo was either purposely lying or extremely naïve. The fingerprint stored in the database has no possible use to law enforcement, because it isn't an image of your finger. The reader and the accompanying client software take multiple measurements (the best take many, many measurements) of the ridges and valleys on the tip of your finger. They then compute a number according to a proprietary algorithm and hash that number. That becomes the token for your fingerprint.

Because the token is salted and hashed, it's irreversible. Even if you have all the computing power in the world, you simply cannot recreate that fingerprint to implicate someone in a crime.

Another point that's frequently made is that you can easily (and frequently) replace a password, but you can't replace your finger or change your fingerprint. But you've got eight fingers and two thumbs. They have different patterns -- perhaps even more different than your last 10 passwords. How often has your password been hacked? More than nine times? And even though you should probably change the finger you use periodically, reusing a finger after a year or so really shouldn't cause a problem.

Then there are the stories that keep resurfacing about how easy it is to fool a biometric reader with a photograph. And it's true that cheap readers can be fooled. It's the equivalent of having a system that limits passwords to four lowercase letters. Just as you need to consider the strength of your password requirements, you need to consider the sophistication of your biometric readers.

This brings us to the only reason that could stop you from using biometrics: the cost. Passwords can be implemented for no cost. Even password-based single sign-on solutions can be had for less than $10 per user. But even a cheap, easily fooled biometric system will set you back $25-$50 per user. A decent system will more than likely cost more than $100 per user (unless you have tens of thousands of users, but you still likely would pay a half million for one of those systems). What happens when you go to the bean counters and say you want to spend $100 for each employee, partner, client, etc. who needs to authenticate to your system? I don't have to tell you what the answer will be.

It's not the technology that's the problem, really. It's the fear, uncertainty, doubt, and cost. Still, once you've been hacked and the crown jewels have been stolen or leaked, it'll probably be easier to convince the powers that be that a better system is needed. Just hope they don't make you the scapegoat.

This article originally appeared in The Transformed Datacenter on 5/27/2013.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Threat Intel Today
Threat Intel Today
The 397 respondents to our new survey buy into using intel to stay ahead of attackers: 85% say threat intelligence plays some role in their IT security strategies, and many of them subscribe to two or more third-party feeds; 10% leverage five or more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2013-2595
Published: 2014-08-31
The device-initialization functionality in the MSM camera driver for the Linux kernel 2.6.x and 3.x, as used in Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) Android contributions for MSM devices and other products, enables MSM_CAM_IOCTL_SET_MEM_MAP_INFO ioctl calls for an unrestricted mmap interface, which all...

CVE-2013-2597
Published: 2014-08-31
Stack-based buffer overflow in the acdb_ioctl function in audio_acdb.c in the acdb audio driver for the Linux kernel 2.6.x and 3.x, as used in Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) Android contributions for MSM devices and other products, allows attackers to gain privileges via an application that lever...

CVE-2013-2598
Published: 2014-08-31
app/aboot/aboot.c in the Little Kernel (LK) bootloader, as distributed with Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) Android contributions for MSM devices and other products, allows attackers to overwrite signature-verification code via crafted boot-image load-destination header values that specify memory ...

CVE-2013-2599
Published: 2014-08-31
A certain Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) patch to the NativeDaemonConnector class in services/java/com/android/server/NativeDaemonConnector.java in Code Aurora Forum (CAF) releases of Android 4.1.x through 4.3.x enables debug logging, which allows attackers to obtain sensitive disk-encryption pas...

CVE-2013-6124
Published: 2014-08-31
The Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) init scripts in Code Aurora Forum (CAF) releases of Android 4.1.x through 4.4.x allow local users to modify file metadata via a symlink attack on a file accessed by a (1) chown or (2) chmod command, as demonstrated by changing the permissions of an arbitrary fil...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
This episode of Dark Reading Radio looks at infosec security from the big enterprise POV with interviews featuring Ron Plesco, Cyber Investigations, Intelligence & Analytics at KPMG; and Chris Inglis & Chris Bell of Securonix.