The Next Step in ID Verification

The Next Step in ID Verification

Positively ID online users by identifying behavior and gestures that are unique to each individual

The Next Step in ID Verification“Banks Heap Suits on Target over Breach,” read a recent headline of a Wall Street Journal story. By that time, seven financial institutions had already filed class action suits against the retail giant alleging it did not sufficiently protect its customer’s data.

They have a case, as a review of how the breach occurred shows that hackers accessed customer information despite the fact that the credit card security codes and debit PINs were encrypted.

Numerous other retailers also have suffered cyberattacks; but at 40 million accounts, the magnitude of the Target bombshell heralds a call-to-arms for all retailers and any other businesses that allow consumers to access their accounts via the Internet. This includes diverse industries such as healthcare, education, hospitality, government, travel and the very institutions behind the recent lawsuits, banking and financial.

The Risk Based Security and Open Security Foundation reported a record number of 2,644 breaches in 2012, with 70 percent due to external hacking. A total of 267 million records were exposed, and according to Javelin Research, the dollar amount stolen was $21 billion, a three-year high.

Conducting “business as usual” will no longer suffice. To reassure and retain now-skittish consumers, any entity that engages in e-commerce must employ greater lock-down methods. ID authentication now requires protection that goes beyond ordinary PINs and passwords.

Some early-adopting businesses and institutions have already pegged biometric-signature authentication as a more secure approach to providing greater accuracy in customer verification. Given the advantages that the latest systems require absolutely no additional hardware; entail no extra expense by users; reside in the cloud, outside of the company‘s business system and allow for the monitoring of fraudulent activity, this subset of biometric verification is emerging as a strong new strategy of defense.

“We have used signature biometrics for nearly three years with more than 10,000 student users, and it has exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Mark Sarver, CEO of eduKan, a consortium of community colleges offering online courses and degrees. “It provides an identity-proofing means that is transparent to our students while respecting their privacy. [It] is available anytime and stays cost-effective for the institution.”

Toward the Next Level of Customer Authentication

Identification-checking modalities currently fall into three basic categories:

  1. Presumably something only the user knows, such as a PIN or password;
  2. An item that the user has in his or her possession: devices like a flash drive or a token that provides random authentication codes, credit cards or personal IDs in various forms, including a phone; and
  3. Biometrics: something physically or behaviorally unique to an individual.

The failure of relying on something the user knows has become all too apparent. Cybercriminals have repeatedly proven the ease of cracking passwords and PINs.

Secondly, requiring a user to possess a verification tool, like a flash drive, entails the cost of purchasing, producing and distributing the necessary hardware. Beyond the initial expense, these items can break, get misplaced or stolen. Of even greater concern, such devices do not necessarily authenticate the individual. They only verify that a person has possession of the device. The same can be said for personal IDs, credit cards and phones; does one really know if that person is the rightful owner?

This leaves biometric verification, quantifiable physical characteristics of each individual. Examples include fingerprints, iris scans, facial recognition and even vein scanning. While this offers near-absolute verification, this type of identification requires sophisticated and costly hardware to capture and interpret.

Qualification of Unique Behaviors

The subset of dynamic biometrics involves quantifying an individual’s unique behaviors, like movements. For instance, keystroke analysis establishes the unique patterns and dwell times of an individual while typing. Because this picks up only one biometric, the dwell time, or intervals between key strokes, is such a small metric that prevents accurate identification of a given user out of thousands possible.

Biosignature typing via handwriting proves infinitely greater specificity. Identification is accomplished by having the user handwrite letters or numbers within a confined space by moving his or her finger, mouse or stylus. Unique writing attributes, such as length, angle, speed, height and number of strokes, get assessed and stored in an encrypted database. Software algorithms compare this data against patterns collected by the user’s subsequent logins, confirming whether or not they match.

In independent testing by the Tolly Group, a global provider of testing and third-party validation and certification services for the information technology industry, one biosignature recognition system, BioSig-ID, was found to be 27 times more accurate than keystroke analysis. Observed confidence ratings at 99.97% meant that the false positive level of the biosignature software was three times better than guidelines put out by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Virtual Biometric Reader

Despite its high degree of specificity, signature authorization could suffer the same fate as that of other biometrics: The need for a device to read the biometric. However, this obstacle has been sidestepped by engineering a virtual reader that resides in the cloud. Users gain access to it via the Internet, making it instantly and universally available.

“The gauntlet was thrown down while pitching the federal Drug Enforcement Agency on using a biosignature device to confirm the identity of doctors so they could write electronic prescriptions over the Internet,” said Jeff Maynard, CEO of BSI. “But, with 600,000 physicians, and at $400 a pop, the DEA felt it would be too expensive to find wide adoption. They said, ‘if I could come up with a software-only biometric, then we could talk.’”

Maynard subsequently developed a system where the signature reader resides on the company’s server. Users log onto the website, handwrite four unique alphanumeric characters or symbols within the defined spaces, and when confirmed, access their account. Industry-accepted, application program interface standards, like SAML 2.0 SSO-IO, communicate with the business systems institution, employing this means of ID verification.

“We outsource everything we can, except teaching and learning, as a means of fulfilling our mission to be accessible and affordable,” Sarver said. “Since our biosignature system is hosted by the vendor, we can keep our overhead as well as our tuition low.”

Higher Security for Preservation of Assets

Many retailers and e-tailers have not implemented higher security measures because they don’t want their clients to spend additional time going through extra security. This extra time, they believe, could mean loss of clients and sales. What may be true is just the opposite.

Consider that in 2010 Consumer Reports, there were 50M people paying $120-$300 yearly for identity theft protection. These are the same people who are concerned about using higher security to preserve their personal assets. It is likely they would pay a little per month for better security and tolerate spending more time if it meant less financial risk to them. Part of their willingness to accept and pay for newer security may be to provide options that have a positive user experience.

“Banks and financial services companies are increasingly vulnerable to identity fraud, especially when users are accessing accounts online,” said Tuck Ackerman, former FDIC senior examiner and FFIEC program manager, who now serves as a consultant to financial institutions.

In 2001, the FFIEC issued strong warnings to financial institutions on the need for better authentication techniques for online banking, with an emphasis on the need for a third component to better identify the person as the true authorized user. In 2005, they issued guidance requiring this additional authentication by the end of 2006; and, in 2011, a third and stronger warning as supplemental guidance was issued.

“The industry has been slow to adapt, primarily because of the expense for additional hardware to better identify the person, and more importantly, the perceived inconvenience and lack of consumer desire,” Ackerman said. “The use of biosignatures is a significant leap forward not only in security, but in the ease-of-use and customer acceptance category. Since users do not require any additional hardware or software, they can continue to access their accounts using basically the same process they have been accustomed to for over a decade, and that should translate into a high rate of user acceptance and satisfaction. This is an especially exciting breakthrough for community banks and credit unions.”

Biosignatures provides a solution that is easy-to-deploy, far less expensive and matches the more complicated security features offered by larger banks, while enhancing customer service with additional security and no inconveniences.

Tracking Down the Invaders

Going one step further, the latest biometric authorization systems utilize audit trails to uncover suspicious activity by pinpointing the time, date, physical location and even the IP address of an unauthorized user who tries to access an account.

“Through continuous and randomized forensic checks via neural net technology, we can uncover fraudulent activity, like ‘is the same IP address used for log-in all the time or does it come in every once in a while from China or Romania?’” Maynard said. “We then bring this ‘red flag’ to the attention of the company whose customers we authenticate.”

The ability to provide evidence of all the events surrounding the authentication activity not only provides a powerful tool to combat fraud, but also ensures compliance with evolving regulations that portend to mandate stricter standards of identity authorization.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Security Today.

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