Online-ification: The Role of Identity

The Wikipedia entry for Digital Transformation, "refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society".  That is a pretty broad statement.

An increased digital presence however, is being felt across all lines of both public and private sector initiatives, reaching everything from being able to pay your car tax on line, through to being able to order a taxi based on your current location.  This increased focus on the 'online-ification' of services and content, drives a need for a loosely coupled and strong view of an individual or thing based digital identity.

Gartner Security Summit - IoT Review

This week saw the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit being held in London.  A well attended and respected summit, it brought together the great and good of the infosec world, providing attendees, with a vendor and analyst view of governance, malware, identity and firewall related security topics.


Would You Sell Your Privacy for Service Improvement?

When you put the question so bluntly, most people would probably say no.  But in reality this is the common situation many users face when signing up to cloud services, applications and retail sites.

Think of the following common scenario:  you want to get a quote for car insurance / car valuation / current house price or similar.  You will probably be faced with several click through forms where you fill in the necessary product information.  But, and there's always a but, you then need to fill in some personal contact information as a minimum before you are provided with the information you're looking for.  A sort of exchange of data for data.  Just so happens yours is personal.  In addition, you may also need to sign away how that personal data is going to be used.  Perhaps marketing emails or letters via the service provider themselves, or perhaps by a 'trusted' third party.  A final, more subtle exchange of data, is that the service provider now clearly knows you are looking for new insurance / moving house / selling your car.  That is quite a powerful personal context to each of those scenarios.

Is The Exchange of Information Worth It?

This is obviously a subjective question as the information you exchange will have a different value to each data owner.  You could argue that personal contact information is pretty much public domain anyway.  They have been Yellow Page equivalents and directory enquiries facilities for decades.

Finding someones personal or work email address is also pretty trivial these days, simply as they are so commonly used to sign up to so many services.  Many also will take the view, that if someone does send you a marketing or spam email, your ISP filters will simply place it into a junk folder and no harm is done.

If in return, you receive a free white paper, document, quote, temporary access to a new service, or signup to a freemium product perhaps giving away some personal contact information is a good deal?

However, what happens to the data that is harvested?  Where does it end up?  Contact information is one thing, but adding in additional details such as your personal circumstances, how many people live in your property if it's for an insurance quote for example, or perhaps releasing your mobile number, could result in future impacts on your privacy.

Is There An Impact On Privacy?

Again this could be a subjective answer.  There have been many discussions in the past 36 months regarding government surveillance of both individuals and government officials.  I am not an advocate for or against surveillance, but was there a physical impact on the individual during the snooping?  Note the word during.  Many people talked about the invasion of privacy and human rights, but that was only after they knew they had been observed.  The reaction was generally a retrospective one, not an active one.  That is not to say it's less valid, but the context needs to be applied.  The same could be said regarding commercial use of personal data. It's all good, until it isn't.  Whilst no one uses your personal data maliciously, is there a problem to address?  This can probably be classified in the same file as the infamous 'unknown unknowns' approach to threat intelligence by the US government.

eCommerce, Digitization and 'Sticky' Customers

Many organizations have no interest in using personal data maliciously.  The increased digitization of previously physical services and the increased use of online retail, has lead many organizations trying to get a better picture of their consumers, customers and potential customers.  Note the subtle difference between a consumer (who is actively using a service perhaps without registration eg Google), a customer (paying for a service or good) and potential customer.  All have different characteristics from a marketing and customer servicing perspective.  A organisation wants to get the individual perhaps down a consumer --> customer --> repeat/upselling customer route as quickly as possibly, but with a stickiness towards the latter part of the journey - ie when they're a customer keep hold of them.

The information exchange at the beginning of that cycle is key to helping organisations follow that flow.  From a individuals perspective, there needs to be a strong service improvement or cost saving aspect in order to sacrifice some of the data that is being asked for.

By Simon Moffatt



Zero Trust and the Age of Global Connectivity

Global connectivity is omnipresent when it comes to smart phones and tablets.  It's not so much a case of looking for a power adapter when on the road, it's constantly about 3G and 4G signal strength or availability of contract hotspot wifi services.  However, global connectivity has also had a profound impact on enterprises.  There is no longer a rudimentary partitioning of network infrastructure into
public and private areas.  The firewalls of old have been replaced by application firewalls, data loss prevention operations and advanced tracing, tracking and event monitoring.  The internal 'trusted' network no longer exists.  Employees often pose the biggest threat to information assets, even though they are trusted with legitimate accounts on protected internal machines.

Zero Trust as a New Model

Zero Trust is a recent security approach that looks to move away from network segmentation and focus more on data and resources and who can access them, when and from where.  This helps to remove the antiquated approach of being on trusted grounds, which often helps create a singularity point which malware and hackers can focus upon.  By defining more context around individual information assets or services, allows for the opening up of those resources to globally connected devices, whilst securing access based on the who, where and why and not just their network location.  Access is permitted on the traditional 'need to know' basis, whilst being under continual review.  This would require all access to start from a minimal (if none-existent) level, whilst every connection being tracked and monitored.

Internet of Things & Modern Connectivity

I wrote recently of Protection & The Internet of Things and how, with the proliferation of previously 'dumb' devices enriching the Internet, comes a need for increased security context and reliance on the identity of things.  By extending a 'zero trust' model to this brave new world of increased interconnectedness, we can start to see the benefits of things like personalised search results, personalised home and environment settings, dynamic ordering and choice removal.  All devices, services and assets should start from a place of zeroaccess, with trust relations being built between identities and data which the devices can help bridge and create connections.

Zero Trust or Zero Protection?

But should the assumption be of zero trust or zero protection?  Many penetration testing organisations and web security auditors, promote the message that an organisation will be hacked at some point, so it's advisable to put in place recovery plans.  By focusing simply on prevention, an organisation can be opened up to irreversible damage if a breach were to occur.  So, do we take that approach to all services, devices and identities?  Perhaps.  With the increased level of services, API's, identity providers and data being created and consumed, existing models for security relationships are open to many potential failures that could impact the Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability paradigm of traditional security.  Do we follow a zero trust model or simply say, well my phone will be hacked at some point, so I will not rely on it so explicitly?  Time will tell.

By Simon Moffatt







5 Steps To Protecting Customer Identities

Bringing customers closer to an organization's services and applications is a key part of many Chief Digital Officers' (CDO) online strategy.  Organizations that have previously never provided their products and services online - I'm thinking traditional insurance providers, pension providers and other financial services - are now in a place where digitization of customer purchased assets is critical to future business success.

The main priority of the CDO is often to deliver new or improved online services quickly, to allow for market opportunities to be fulfilled.  Their primary concern is not necessarily focused on security, or privacy requirements.  Historically, these functions have been seen as inhibitive to user convenience, or a slowing factor in the software development cycle and are often applied retrospectively via audit and penetration testing.

So what main steps are important to securing customer identities?


1 - Identify & Register


Customers need a mechanism to register and identify themselves before they can access your online services, assets or applications.  This is generally done using a mixture of self-service, call centre and manual registration.  Unique usernames - if not using email address based identification - need to be upheld, as well as the ability to gather other personal attributes such as contact information.  This can be gathered using existing social network accounts using standards such as OAuth2 or OpenID Connect.

2 - Verify, Correlate & Store


If using self-registration, a mechanism needs to be in place to verify that the end user is who they say they are.  This becomes vitally important when dealing with financial assets, policies and so on.  Verification can occur using several methods including correlation of attribute values such as account numbers, ZIP codes and other personal information, back to an internally managed authoritative store.  The use of two-factor verification processes is also common here.  The issuance of verification codes, to either a registered email address, or more securely to a pre-registered physical mailing address, are two options.  The customer identity then needs storing in a globally available, highly scalable directory.  Depending on business requirements existing customers may well be in the hundreds of thousands, whilst potential customers could well be in the 10's of millions. This sort of scale needs to be considered.  The storage of password and other sensitive data also needs to be considered, with a wide use of hashing and salting algorithms put in place.  The algorithms and their implementation should also be done using existing frameworks and be not homegrown.


3 - Context Over Risk


Risk is of course subjective, but methods must be in place to help identify risk and apply the necessary steps to reduce business exposure to things like fake accounts, incorrect access, redundant accounts and so on.  Applying the same rules to all users, only goes to migrate the risk and not identify it.  The use of things like two factor authentication for previously unknown devices for example, is a simple way to tie down previously trusted machines.  The use of device signature printing and user risk scoring based on the time they log in, from which network and which authentication source, goes along way to help provide identity assurance levels.  A user logging in from an unknown device using a social network account, may have a lower assurance level for example, than a fully registered user using your customer directory.

4 - Give Them What They Want - But Not More Than They Need


Bringing customers closer to your brand, service or assets, not only makes good business sense (opportunities for up and cross selling), but also provides the customer with the information they want. Each customer is unique and will require access to their personal policy data, account information, purchases, unique history and service choices.  That information needs to delivered effectively across multiple device types, without the worry of cross pollination of information, or risk of misaligned access.  Provide the customer with the information and services they need, either based on what they have purchased or what you want them to purchase.  This can be done via conditional policies, enforcement points and continual resource access checking.

5 - Be Adaptive


Most digital strategies are based on agile development and rapid go to market approaches. Taking 9-12 months to implement an online service, is often too slow for that to be effective in keeping and gaining new customers.  Generation Y users (not to mention Digital Natives) require mobile ready content that is not inhibited by poorly constructed security and registration processes. The ability to rapidly build out new applications and services on top of the existing customer security platform is key in being able to drive revenue and keep customers close.  The security platform should allow for loosely coupled interfaces, often based on things like REST, that can allow for the integration of key identify and access management services, without inhibiting the agile develop of the key business services.

By Simon Moffatt

[1] Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/photo/854540

Protection & The Internet of Things

The 'Internet of Things' is one of the technical heatwaves that has genuinely got me excited over the last 24 months or so.  I've been playing with computers since I was 8 and like to think of myself as being pretty tech-savvy.  I can code in a number of languages, understand different architectural approaches easily and pick up new technical trends naturally.  However, the concept of the truly connected world with 'things' interconnected and graphed together, is truly mind blowing.  The exciting thing for me, is that I don't see the outcome.  I don't see the natural technical conclusion of devices and objects being linked to a single unique identity, where information can flow in multiple directions, originating from different sources and being made available in contextual bundles.  There is no limit.