Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

11/8/2016
10:00 AM
Mickey Boodaei
Mickey Boodaei
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
100%
0%

Is Fingerprint Authentication Making The Password Problem Worse?

Problems emerge when users switch to a new phone.

Fingerprint scanning is an easy and fast way to unlock mobile phones and authenticate identity to supported applications. Many banks have already added support for this capability and are allowing their customers to log in to mobile banking apps by scanning a finger instead of entering a password.

The initial impact was immediate. Millions of users enrolled in fingerprint authentication and started logging in without using passwords. The user experience improved, and security seemed to be better, because, unlike passwords, fingerprint data is locked on the device and can't be easily stolen or phished.

Over time, however, security and usability issues started to emerge. The first problem occurs when users switch to a new phone. When users download a bank's app to their new phone, they are required to enter their password again during the first login. There is a technical explanation for this requirement, which I'll describe shortly.

First, let's consider the usability and security impact of re-entering a password on the new device. Many users who have become accustomed to logging in with their fingers are less likely to remember their password. Therefore, when the app forces them to enter a password, many will have to initiate a "forgot my password" process. This often involves contacting the bank's call center, which affects the user experience. There is also a security implication attached to this process. Even if they're not being used to log in, passwords still exist in the background. Therefore, they can still be stolen or phished by fraudsters to take over an account, even if the user is using fingerprint authentication.

Dark Reading's all-day virtual event Nov. 15 offers an in-depth look at myths surrounding data defense and how to put business on a more effective security path. 

Now for the technical explanation. Fingerprint information is managed by the mobile device's operating system. It's stored on the device and never leaves it. When a user enrolls in fingerprint authentication for a specific app, such as the banking app in our example, the app links the user's identity with the fingerprint information stored on the device. Therefore, when a user replaces his or her device and downloads the app to the new one, the app has no way of verifying the owner's fingerprint because that data was stored on the old device. To validate the user's identity and link a fingerprint to the new device, the app falls back to password authentication.

This problem isn't limited to new devices. There are other scenarios in which the link between a user's fingerprint and the mobile app can break (for example, if the user adds fingerprints to the device or removes them). As a security measure, the operating system breaks the link in this scenario and the user is forced to re-enter a password. This is a security function that many sensitive applications, such as banking applications, have implemented. Other scenarios include when a user resets the device to its factory settings or reinstalls the app.

Fingerprint authentication is a good first step for avoiding passwords, but it doesn't eliminate them. This partial measure, as described above, can create a bigger password problem. In order to truly get rid of passwords, we need to address and remove the scenarios (and others like them) described earlier. This involves implementing processes and technologies to bridge these gaps. Some alternatives include the use of challenge questions, one-time-passwords, voice biometrics, touch biometrics, and other technologies that need to be constantly orchestrated to create a password-free experience.

Related Content:

 

Mickey Boodaei is a serial cybersecurity entrepreneur. Currently, he is CEO of Transmit Security, which helps organizations add omni-channel authentication capabilities to their applications. He previously founded Trusteer, an online fraud prevention company which was ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/17/2020
Cybersecurity Bounces Back, but Talent Still Absent
Simone Petrella, Chief Executive Officer, CyberVista,  9/16/2020
Meet the Computer Scientist Who Helped Push for Paper Ballots
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-5421
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-19
In Spring Framework versions 5.2.0 - 5.2.8, 5.1.0 - 5.1.17, 5.0.0 - 5.0.18, 4.3.0 - 4.3.28, and older unsupported versions, the protections against RFD attacks from CVE-2015-5211 may be bypassed depending on the browser used through the use of a jsessionid path parameter.
CVE-2020-8225
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-18
A cleartext storage of sensitive information in Nextcloud Desktop Client 2.6.4 gave away information about used proxies and their authentication credentials.
CVE-2020-8237
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-18
Prototype pollution in json-bigint npm package < 1.0.0 may lead to a denial-of-service (DoS) attack.
CVE-2020-8245
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-18
Improper Input Validation on Citrix ADC and Citrix Gateway 13.0 before 13.0-64.35, Citrix ADC and NetScaler Gateway 12.1 before 12.1-58.15, Citrix ADC 12.1-FIPS before 12.1-55.187, Citrix ADC and NetScaler Gateway 12.0, Citrix ADC and NetScaler Gateway 11.1 before 11.1-65.12, Citrix SD-WAN WANOP 11....
CVE-2020-8246
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-18
Citrix ADC and Citrix Gateway 13.0 before 13.0-64.35, Citrix ADC and NetScaler Gateway 12.1 before 12.1-58.15, Citrix ADC 12.1-FIPS before 12.1-55.187, Citrix ADC and NetScaler Gateway 12.0, Citrix ADC and NetScaler Gateway 11.1 before 11.1-65.12, Citrix SD-WAN WANOP 11.2 before 11.2.1a, Citrix SD-W...