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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

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