PayPal Says It's Time to Ditch Passwords and PINs

PayPal CISO Michael Barrett took the keynote stage at Interop today to announce the impending death of passwords and their replacement with more robust authentication protocols based on an open standard. Apple may lead the way with its next iPhone.

Thu, May 09, 2013

CIO — LAS VEGAS--Will 2013 be the year we say goodbye to passwords? This morning, Michael Barrett, chief information security officer (CISO) of PayPal, took the keynote stage at Interop here to announce the impending end of passwords.

Ditch Passwords

"We have a tombstone here for passwords," Barrett told the audience, pointing to a slide with a tombstone for passwords with the years 1961 to 2013 etched on it.

"Passwords, when used ubiquitously everywhere at Internet scale 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 email accounts, social media accounts, online store accounts and more. Each ostensibly has its own username and password, though Barrett notes that users have so much trouble coping with the multitude of usernames and passwords that they tend to reuse the same ones everywhere they go on the Internet.

Those passwords tend to be poor, he said, pointing to the many passwords that have been published online as a result of numerous data breaches over the past five years. Passwords like "12345" and "password" are among the most commonly used passwords online.

[Related: How Your Authentication Scheme Could Hurt Your Business]

"Users will pick poor passwords and then they'll reuse them everywhere," Barrett said. "That has the effect of reducing the security of their most secure account to the security of 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 password technology we rely on with more robust authentication methods. He's the president of the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance, an organization formed two years ago with the goal of revolutionizing online authentication with an industry-supported, standards-based open protocol that not only makes users more secure but is also easy and convenient to use.

The FIDO Alliance protocol allows users a choice of authentication method while shifting control to providers who can make authentication user-transparent and limit the risk of fraud. Essentially, FIDO combines hardware, software and Internet services. A FIDO user will use a FIDO Authenticator or token that they've chosen or that's incorporated in their device; it could be a built-in fingerprint scanner, a USB memory drive with a password, a voice reader or something else.

[Related: Cisco Inadvertently Weakens Password Encryption in its IOS Operating System]

When a FIDO Authenticator is connected to an online account, it establishes a relationship between the Authenticator, the relying party and the FIDO Validation Service. Once the relationship is established, the Authenticator and the validation service will only exchange one time passwords (OTP).

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