It’s always obvious in hindsight review of the impact of a major bug like Heartbleed that something was missed. Hackers like it when the authentication deployment and security experts build sloppy authentication. The sloppiness generates vulnerabilities and thus the vector(s) for attack.
Common myths state that website hacks are the result of the breaking of authentication algorithms or the stealing of authentication seeds. But none of the major notable hacks, such as Living Social, Target, SnapChat, or Heartbleed have provided any truth to these misconceptions.
Instead, hackers attack the enterprise rather than the algorithm. Hacks are not assaults on the authentication algorithms. Simply buying new tokens (or SMS systems or PUSH two-factor systems) is not going to remove hackers, because the attacks are on the entire authentication system. We must look at authentication as an entire process, not just as an encryption or algorithm. This way, any organization can confidently secure access to all of its resources.
When looking at authentication as an entire process, you find that it involves the issuance of authentication credentials, the collection of credentials, the validation of the credentials, and finally, the assertion to the target:
This key step in authentication is often left to a highly vulnerable form post or other sloppy form of SSO assertion. But why shouldn't the authentication solution also include in its process the assertion to the web resource, the network gateway/VPN, the cloud resource, and the mobile application?
While there are technologies that combine all of the mechanisms of authentication into a single solution to ensure the integrity of the final authentication process (disclosure: SecureAuth offers one such solution), enterprises can also incorporate standalone two-factor/SSO solutions, or conduct the full code reviews, penetration tests, and crypto validation to refine their authentication process and deliver a complete solution to mitigate attacks.
The bottom line is that hackers will keep feeding off misguided and sloppy authentication deployments. It's up to us in the security profession to start mandating and implementing authentication solutions that address, not just the authentication algorithm, but the process as a whole. By centralizing the authentication and assertion procedures and removing all untrusted human contact from the system, organizations can more efficiently mitigate hackers.Garret Grajek is a CISSP-certified security engineer with more than 20 years of experience in the information security and authentication space. As Chief Technical Officer and Chief Operating Officer for SecureAuth Corp., Garret is responsible for the company's identity ... View Full Bio