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10/22/2019
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FIDO-Based Authentication Arrives for Smartwatches

The Nok Nok App SDK for Smart Watch is designed to let businesses implement FIDO-based authentication on smartwatches.

Nok Nok Labs today debuted the Nok Nok App SDK for Smart Watch, bringing FIDO-based authentication to smartwatches at a time when global smartwatch shipments are spiking.

The move will help organizations provide consumers with a flexible, secure way to log in through a unified back-end infrastructure that now includes smartwatches in addition to mobile applications, mobile Web, and desktop Web, says Nok Nok Labs, founder of the FIDO Alliance. The organization started with authentication for native mobile apps on Android and iOS, then went onto Chrome and Firefox on mobile, followed by Safari, Edge, Chrome, and Firefox on the desktop. Now, Nok Nok Labs is bringing authentication support to smartwatch apps.

Its announcement arrives following a 44% increase in global smartwatch shipments, which reached 12 million units in the second quarter of 2019, Strategy Analytics reports. Once mostly used for fitness, smartwatches now have several use cases: banking, e-commerce, productivity, and home security apps among them. One in 10 Americans is expected to own one this year.

Nearly 40% of people are planning to buy a smartwatch so they don't have to pull out their phones to view information or notifications, Nok Nok Labs reports. In newer smartwatches, like the Apple Watch Series 3, LTE support means users won't need to be tethered to their phones at all.

The growth of smartwatches, particularly among young consumers, drove Nok Nok Labs to launch the Nok Nok App SDK for Smart Watch, says Dr. Rolf Lindemann, vice president of products at Nok Nok Labs. Its new standards-based controls will tackle the issue of authentication on smartwarches with a solution that governs access control directly on the device, regardless of whether it's directly attached to the network or tethered to a smartphone.

Nok Nok Labs already supports use of the smartwatch as an authenticator for a phone client. Now smartwatch owners will be able to use the watch both as the client and the authenticator.

"When we first looked into the smartwatch, in general, we saw the smartwatch primarily [as a] replacement for the dedicated security key," Lindemann says. "As opposed to a security key, a smartwatch is something you already have with you." People would prefer to keep their smartphone in their pockets and more heavily rely on the functionality in a smartwatch, he adds.

Further, Lindemann continues, most smartwatch wearers don't want to purchase a security key to use an authenticator. It's simply easier for them to authenticate using a watch they already have.

Most of the technologies that let users access sensitive data via smartwatch typically store OAuth tokens or other bearer tokens in their smartwatch applications, Nok Nok Labs said in a blog post on today's announcement. These tokens provide "relatively weak" authentication and must be renewed often as they lack strong binding to the device. Its new SDK lets developers standardize on FIDO-based authentication infrastructure for smartwatch applications, eliminating the need for weaker bearer tokens and the requirement to expire and renew them.

With standards-based controls that govern access control on the watch, employees can use enterprise applications and view sensitive data that is centrally managed with policies designed to limit access to certain users, noted Steve Brasen, research director with EMA, in a statement.

Nok Nok App SDK for Smart Watches will first be available on Apple Watch, which has consistently been the most popular smartwatch on the market. Between 2015 and 2019, 98.5 million Apple Watches were sold, compared with 93.1 million units of all other models combined.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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