"We have a tombstone here for passwords," Barrett toldthe audience, pointing to a slide with a tombstone for passwordswith the years 1961 to 2013 etched on it.
"Passwords, when used ubiquitously everywhere at Internetscale are starting to fail us," he added.
User Only as Secure as the Least Secure Place They Visit Online
Users now have dozens of accounts online, between emailaccounts, social media accounts, online store accounts and more.Each ostensibly has its own username and password, though Barrettnotes that users have so much trouble coping with the multitude ofusernames and passwords that they tend to reuse the same oneseverywhere they go on the Internet.
Those passwords tend to be poor, he said, pointing to the manypasswords that have been published online as a result of numerousdata breaches over the past five years. Passwords like"12345" and "password" are among the mostcommonly used passwords online.
"Users will pick poor passwords and then they'll reusethem everywhere," Barrett said. "That has the effect ofreducing the security of their most secure account to the securityof the least secure place they visit on the internet."
FIDO Alliance Pushing Open Authentication Standard
The answer, Barrett said, is to replace the 50-year-old passwordtechnology we rely on with more robust authentication methods.He's the president of the Fast IdentityOnline (FIDO) Alliance, an organization formed two years agowith the goal of revolutionizing online authentication with anindustry-supported, standards-based open protocol that not onlymakes users more secure but is also easy and convenient to use.
The FIDO Alliance protocol allows users a choice ofauthentication method while shifting control to providers who canmake authentication user-transparent and limit the risk of fraud.Essentially, FIDOcombines hardware, software and Internet services.
When a FIDO Authenticator is connected to an online account, itestablishes a relationship between the Authenticator, the relyingparty and the FIDO Validation Service. Once the relationship isestablished, the Authenticator and the validation service will onlyexchange one time passwords (OTP).
In addition, all browsers on a user's system would have aFIDO plug-in capable of recognizing available FIDO Authenticatorsconnected to the user's system. The Authenticator ValidationService will bind the whole system together, serving as aclearinghouse for token information.
Interest in FIDO Alliance 'Extreme'
Composed of a number of Internet companies, system integratorsand security providers, theFIDO Alliance went public in February. Since that time, Barrettsaid, the level of interest and growth of the organization has been"extreme."
"Passwords are running out of steam as an authenticationsolution," he added. "They're starting to impede thedevelopment of the internet itself. It's pretty clear that wecan't fix it with a proprietary approach."
[Related: TwitterCalls for Smarter Password Habits]
"Our intention is to really obliterate within a certainnumber of years both passwords and PINs, including internally inenterprises," Barrett added. "Starting this year you willsee FIDO-enabled devices appearing in the market."
Apple to Push FIDO with New Phone?
Barrett hinted that Apple will do its part to take the FIDOprotocol mainstream.
"It's widely rumored that a large technology providerin Cupertino, Calif., will come out with a phone later this yearthat has a fingerprint reader on it," he said. "There isgoing to be a fingerprint enabled phone on the market later thisyear. Not just one, multiple."
Even so, passwords won't disappear overnight, he noted.
"These kinds of trends take a while," he said."We're in this world-changing moment, but it's goingto take several years before you see real, mass turning of theship. But the ship is turning."
Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for CIO.com. Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Thor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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