Stop Building Identity Houses On Sand

Jericho Forum puts forward its vision of a new identity paradigm at the RSA Conference

Believe it or not, it has been 20 years since the debut of Peter Steiner's seminal cartoon, captioned with the ubiquitous "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" joke.

But even after two decades, the core identity problem that makes that gag so funny still stands true, said Paul Simmonds, a board member of the Jericho Forum. In an RSA Conference talk last week, Simmonds unveiled some visionary work done by the group to push forward a new paradigm for asserting identity and entitling authentication across the Internet personas that a person may identify with, be it corporate, banking, social or citizen information.

"It's really easy to be whoever you want to be on the Internet," Simmonds said, "We've known about it as an industry for 20 years. We've done almost nothing about it. So shame on us."

RSA Conference 2013
Click here for more articles.

Some examples he gave to prove his point were the ease with which anyone can still send spoofed email messages and the card-not-present fraud problem, which pretty quickly cropped up after Europe and much of the world outside of the U.S. instituted chip-and-pin technology in their cards.

Though the industry for years now has been declaring the death of passwords, these authenticators still remain because the alternatives are largely schemes built on flawed assumptions, Simmonds said.

"We all know about building houses on sand. If you build your house or your identity system on a flawed assumption, then the ecosystem doesn't work," he said, "which is why we haven't solved the getting rid of passwords problem."

As examples, Simmonds pointed to the credit card industry, which has tried alternatives, such as cards with one-time password (OTP) technology built in. In the case of OTP, he argues that the system is actually less secure because when the vendor can't see the card itself, how is it going to know that the user hasn't compromised the system by writing the PIN on the card or giving that information to an untrusted party?

"I would argue that this is less secure," he said. "Why? Because you've changed the risk dimension that goes with this. Basically the receiving system that doesn't see this card said this has a higher grade of intelligence behind it and a higher grade of authentication."

In his talk, Simmonds talked about the Global Identity Foundation, a nonprofit bootstrap effort his group hopes will spur industry players into building a stronger foundation for identity around a core identifier backed by some sort of cryptography and biometrics foundation that can be federated across multiple identity personas online.

"So if you distribute your personas over the Internet, then if the bad guys get one of them, they don't get the rest of your identity and, more, they don't get the root crypto," he said. "So even if they take the identity, they can't assert it because they don't have the crypto components that go with it because you hold those yourself."

Using the persona entitlement system, access to data, systems, or e-commerce applications would be based on the trusted identity and all of the attributes of the entities and components in a transaction chain, Simmonds said.

"When you try to access something or go an e-commerce system, you take the identity sources and the identity attributes from everything in that chain coming in," he said. "You make an authorization decision based on those entitlement rules, and then you get access either to buy something or granular access even to the level of data."

It's a system that creates "some seriously good risk-based decisions," Simmonds said.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
It Takes an Average of 3 to 6 Months to Fill a Cybersecurity Job
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  3/12/2019
New Mirai Version Targets Business IoT Devices
Dark Reading Staff 3/19/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: LOL  Hope this one wins
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
Organizations are responding to new threats with new processes for detecting and mitigating them. Here's a look at how the discipline of incident response is evolving.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-18
An unquoted search path vulnerability was identified in Lenovo Dynamic Power Reduction Utility prior to version that could allow a malicious user with local access to execute code with administrative privileges.
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-18
Five9 Agent Desktop Plus 10.0.70 has Incorrect Access Control (issue 2 of 2).
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-17
Phamm (aka PHP LDAP Virtual Hosting Manager) 0.6.8 allows XSS via the login page (the /public/main.php action parameter).
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-15
CircuitWerkes Sicon-8, a hardware device used for managing electrical devices, ships with a web-based front-end controller and implements an authentication mechanism in JavaScript that is run in the context of a user's web browser.
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-15
An Integer overflow vulnerability exists in the batchTransfer function of a smart contract implementation for CryptoBotsBattle (CBTB), an Ethereum token. This vulnerability could be used by an attacker to create an arbitrary amount of tokens for any user.