Four Puzzling Issues of Identity Authentication – Part 2

Caveats about ‘Password’

Continued from Part 1…

Sometimes the word ‘Password’ is narrowly interpreted as ‘remembered text password’ and sometimes it’s taken broadly as ‘whatever we remember for authentication’.

We are of the view that it would be desirable to define ‘Password’ broadly enough. As a denotational definition, it could be ‘Whatever we remember and recall volitionally for identity authentication.

As a connotation, it could be “A shared secret known only by two consenting parties. The secret will be submitted by one party to the other on request. It is used to verify legitimate access to an asset of shared interest.” (This is suggested by my British friend.)

By the way, password-like texts written on a memo or stored in a physical device should desirably be given other names than ‘Password’. For now I would like to call it ‘physically possessed password’ as against ‘password’ or ‘remembered password’.

Physically possessed high-entropy passwords have a potential merit of being strong against brute force attacks but it is as vulnerable to physical theft as other physically possessed objects like cards and tokens.

We do not see any difference against wiretapping between the remembered and physically possessed passwords.

Caveats about Biometrics

Biometrics is a useful tool for forensic and other purposes of personal identification in physical space. As for identity authentication in cyber space, it brings not just better convenience but also some protection, which is better than nothing although lower than a password-only protection. .

We would reiterate that biometrics could be recommended where convenience matters, but must not be recommended where security matters.

Caveats about ID federations

ID federations such as single-sign-on services and password managers indeed help us mitigate the burden of managing so many passwords. On the other hand, ID federations create a single point of failure like putting all the eggs in a single basket. It manages all my passwords when un-hacked and loses all my passwords to criminals when hacked.

ID federations should be operated in a decentralized formation or should be considered mainly for relatively lower-security accounts, not for the highest-security business accounts which should desirably be protected by all different strong passwords unique to each account. Needless to say, the strength of the master-password is crucially important in any case.

Caveats about Two/multi-factor authentication

It certainly could have a big merit for better security. It should, however, be operated with caveats.

Firstly, ‘2’ and ‘3’ are indeed larger than ‘1’ on paper, but we should not forget that two or three weak children may well be much weaker than a single tough guy. Secondly, physical tokens, cards, phones and memos are easily left behind, lost, stolen and abused. Then the remembered password would be the last resort.

The two/multi-factor authentication could be reliable only when it comes with a reliable password. A truly reliable two/multi-factor solution desired for most important accounts requires the use of the most reliable password.

Incidentally, we would like to repeatedly emphasize that all the factors of two/multi-factor authentications must be deployed ‘in series’, not ‘in parallel’. Biometrics deployed ‘in parallel’ instead of ‘in series’ must not be counted as a factor of the two/multi-factor authentications. We need to harbor a serious doubt when we hear of a two/multi-factor authentication that is claimed to have a biometrics as a factor of it.

Outstanding Features of Expanded Password System

People who enjoy handling images will gain better security and convenience. The only extra effort required is to get the images registered. But people already do that across social media platforms and seem to love it.

So far, only texts have been accepted. It was, as it were, we have no choice but to walk up a long steep staircase. With Expanded Password System, we could imagine a situation that escalators and elevators are provided along with the staircase. Or, some of us could think of all those ladders we have for climbing in Donkey Kong.

Where we want to continue to use textual passwords, we could opt to recall the remembered passwords, although the memory ceiling is very low, Most of us can manage only up to several of them.

We could opt to recognize the pictures remembered in stories where we want to reduce the burden of textual passwords. The memory ceiling is high, say, we would be able to manage more and more of them.

Where we choose to make use of episodic image memory, we would only need to recognize the unforgettable images, say, KNOWN images. There is virtually no memory ceiling, that is, we would be able to manage as many passwords as we like, without any extra efforts.

The role of episodic memory

It is known that the episodic memory is the cognitive core of our continuous identity. It ensures the continuity of our perception of our self.

It is obvious that our bone, flesh, fat or skin does not make our identity as a citizen living in societies. We could be more rational in defining our identity as a social being.

Changeability of Episodic Memory

It’s known that episodic memories are easily changeable. What we remember as our experience may have been transformed and not objectively factual. But it would not matter for Expanded Password System. What we subjectively remember as our episodic memory could suffice. From confidentiality’s point of view, it could be even better than objectively factual memories since no clues are given to attackers.

Competition to Expanded Password System

Competition could be thinkable only among the different products of Expanded Password System since:

  • Biometrics requires passwords as a backup means.
  • Password-managers and single-sign-on services require passwords as the master-password.
  • Multi-factor authentications require passwords as one of the factors.
  • Pattern-on-grid and conventional/emoji-passwords can all be deployed on our platform.

Position of Our Proposition

We make identity authentication schemes better by leveraging the time-honored tradition of seals and autographs. The underpinning principle of Expanded Password System shall not go away so long as people want our own volition and memory to remain involved in our identity assurance.

Why have people been sticking to characters for password authentication?

Frankly, we have no answer. It is now broadly known that human beings are far better at remembering and recalling visual memories than doing the same for texts. We have hundreds of millions of years of history for the visual memory whereas the history of our text memories is no more than hundreds of years for most of us.

It is also known that CPUs are now fast enough, connection band broad enough, data storage cheap enough and digital cameras affordable enough. There is absolutely no reason to hesitate to use images for identity authentication.

And yet, people apparently think only about texts when they talk about passwords. We could only think of ‘momentum’, ‘sheer force of habit’ or cognitive bases like ‘normalcy bias’. We may need to ask for the help of researchers of cognitive science and behavioral economics

Why has Expanded Password System been so unknown for as long as 17 years?

People who were carried away by the hyped attractiveness of biometrics and the inflated hi-tech image of password-less solutions would not listen to us.

Actually, over the period of 2003 to 2008 we were successful in Japan. We saw several commercial adoptions amounting to some US$1 million, even though the CPU was slow, the band narrow and the storage expensive in those days.

It then ceased to grow as people were more and more carried away by the biometrics and password-less solutions which the advocates alleged would kill the likes of passwords altogether, even though we knew that biometrics have to depend on the password as a fallback measure against false rejection and that a real password-less society would only mean Dystopia.

After struggling in vain to fight back for several years, we chose to get out of Japan where biometrics vendors were overpoweringly dominant, and started to look for bigger chances worldwide. We now have a lot of friends and supporters globally. Expanded Password System is now acknowledged as ‘Draft Proposal’ for OASIS Open Projects, with us given the chances to speak in front of the professional audience of Consumer Identity World 2018.

Why have so many security professionals tried not to listen for so long?

Our view is that those professionals, who had loudly advocated, promoted and endorsed biometrics and password-less authentications, might well suspect that listening to us could throw them into an awkward psychological situation that is extremely inconvenient and embarrassing to them.

We could think of ‘cognitive dissonance’ coupled with such cognitive biases as ‘sunk-cost bias’, ‘confirmation bias’ and ‘normalcy bias’. It could well provide a very good research theme for sociology, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics.

More topics are discussed here.

Conclusion

Expanded Password System that we advocate is supportive of:

1. Biometrics that require passwords as a fallback means against false rejection

2. Two/multi-factor authentications that require passwords as one of the factors

3. ID federations such as password managers and single-sign-on services that require passwords as the master-password.

4. Simple pictorial/emoji-passwords and patterns-on-grid that can all be deployed on our platform

All with the effects that handling memorable images make us feel pleasant and relaxed and that it enables us to easily manage the relation between accounts and the corresponding passwords.

5. And, nothing would be lost for the people who want to keep using textual passwords.

6. Lastly but not the least, it is democracy-compatible by way of providing the chances and means to get our volition confirmed in having our identity authenticated.

By Hitoshi Kokumai

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