Heartbleed OpenSSL Vulnerability
Security and Privacy Tips for World Travelers
Filing Taxes Online This Year? Take Steps to Protect Your Information!
If your computer runs Windows XP, you must update it now!
Why Should You Report Security Incidents? And How Do You Report One?
Photo and Video Privacy Issues
The Password is Dead, Long Live the Password!
Data Privacy Month: NSA Surveillance Panel at the National Constitution Center
Protecting Your Finances During This Year’s Holiday Shopping Season
Beware of Phishing E-mails in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan
No E-mail from Penn Will Ask For Your Username/Password or SSN
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act: Does It Apply to Your Website?
October: National Cyber Security Awareness Month; Free Secure Disposal of Paper and Electronics
What Basic Rules Protect Student Information at Penn? (September 2013)
Protecting Privacy and Security on Penn + Box
Tagged with passwords
Tuesday, November 4, 2008 - Almanac Vol. 55, No. 11
Beyond Passwords: Strong Authentication
As more and more sensitive and confidential information makes its way into online systems and databases, “strong authentication” is a term we’re all going to be hearing more about in the coming months and years. The need for computer users to select and protect “strong” passwords has been a recurring topic of our One Step Ahead series, and it remains a fact that the overwhelming majority of systems in the world still rely on passwords as a single method to authenticate users despite the well-known problems and vulnerabilities.
Discussions about authentication usually center around three commonly identified “factors” that can be used to verify identity:
- Something you know. The most obvious example of this, of course, is a password/passphrase that, in theory, is known only by the user.
- Something you have. For computers, this usually is some sort of electronic “token” or “Smart Card” that displays a short-term code (which changes every minute or so) that is synchronized with the system. While it may seem like a password, the purpose is to verify that the user is in physical possession of the token.
- Something you are. This refers to “biometric” verification of identity using devices that scan physical attributes like fingerprints or irises. While technology-based measures like these are not yet generally ready for mass-market (the “Mythbusters” TV show has recently demonstrated that consumer-level fingerprint scanners can be deceived), the time is coming when it will be commonplace to log on in part by touching or looking into something.
A system that uses two or more of these factors is said to be “strongly authenticated”. Like our peer institutions, Penn is investigating ways to employ strong authentication, especially on critical systems. If you regularly work with data that is sensitive or confidential, chances are that “strong authentication” will become part of your life in the not-too-distant future.