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Why Your Biometrics Are Your Best Password

Why Your Biometrics Are Your Best Password

Bottom Line: Biometrics are proving to be better than passwords because they’re easier to use, provide greater privacy and security, and are gaining standardization across a broad base of mobile, desktop, and server devices that users rely on to access online services.

In keeping with the theme of this year’s RSA Conference of Human Element, vendors offering passwordless authentication were out in force. Centrify, Entrust Datacard, HID Global, Idaptive, ImageWare, MobileIron, Thales, and many others promoted their unique approaches to passwordless authentication, leveraging the FIDO2 standard. FIDO2 is the latest set of specifications from the FIDO Alliance, an industry standards organization that provides interoperability testing and certification for servers, clients, and authenticators that meet FIDO2 specifications.

The Alliance has introduced a new Universal Server certification for servers that interoperate with all FIDO authenticator types (FIDO UAF, WebAuthn, and CTAP). The following graphic explains how the FIDO2 architecture authenticates every account requesting access to resources on a secured system:

Why Your Biometrics Are Your Best Password

The security industry has been trying to kill the password for decades. It has long been viewed as a weakness, primarily because of the human element: people continue to use weak passwords, on multiple accounts, at work, and in their personal lives. 81% of data breaches involve weak, stolen, default, or otherwise compromised credentials, according to a Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

Usernames and passwords (“something you know”) was the best factor of authentication available for decades yet didn’t provide enough of a barrier to hackers. Then came two-factor authentication, which added “something you have” as a second factor, such as a smartphone, key card, token, or other tangible item associated with the user.

Today everyone lives in a multi-factor authentication (MFA) world where cybersecurity technologists have added another factor: “something you are.” This is where biometrics come in, and facial recognition, fingerprint scanning, retinal scanning, and other forms of bio-identification have become normal thanks to technologies like Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID. Many people have already been using these technologies for years on their iPhones.

The reality is that these additional factors based on “something you have” or “something you are” are both much stronger than “something you know,” such as a password or PIN. Not only can the latter be easily stolen, guessed, or phished for, but authentication based on biometrics is very hard to fake or duplicate.

In short, by using the two newer factors of authentication, everyone who uses an electronic device daily is moving closer to a passwordless reality. Cybersecurity technologists are going to continue making authentication easier and more secure to improve user experiences and reduce the threat of a breach.

Privileged Admin Passwords Need To Be The First To Go  

Key lessons learned from visiting with the 30 or so vendors who claimed to support passwordless authentication include the following:

  • Centrify was the only vendor who prioritized enforcing FIDO2-based privileged administrator logins. It was also one of the few that specifically mentioned support for Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID, as well as Windows Hello, showing full support for the FIDO2 standard.
  • Windows Hello and Windows Hello for Business are table stakes in passwordless authentication, all vendors claim and can demo this capability.
  • Combining multiple forms of biometrics is proving problematic for the majority of vendors, as evidenced by the inconsistent demos on the show floor. No one could conclusively demo multiple types of biometrics for their solutions on the fly in a demo environment while at RSA. Of the many vendors claiming this capability, Centrify’s approach is the most unique in that privileged user identities are verified, satisfying a valuable pillar of its Identity-Centric PAM approach.
  • All vendors claiming FIDO2 compliance were able to demonstrate Apple’s Touch ID electronic fingerprint recognition, while Apple Face ID facial recognition product demos were hit or miss. If you are evaluating biometrics vendors who claim FIDO2 compliance be sure to stress-test facial recognition, as the demos on the show floor made it clear there’s work to do in this area.
  • Product management teams have been studying the NIST 800-53 high-assurance authentication controls standard and integrating it into their roadmaps. The 170 controls that comprise the NIST 800-53 standard are being adopted quickly across the vendors who claim passwordless authentication as a core strength in their product strategies. Using biometrics eliminates the risk of credential theft techniques and provides better alignment with the NIST 800-53 high-assurance authentication controls standard.
  • Vendors are at varying levels of maturity when it comes to being able to capitalize on the metadata biometrics provides, with a few claiming to have real-time analytics. Every vendor had a different response to how they manage the massive amount of metadata being generated by their biometrics, which all claim also to support analytics. After speaking with the vendors at RSA, analytics used to authenticate rather than just report activity is far more effective. I had a chance to talk to Dr. Torsten George, Cybersecurity Evangelist at Centrify, who said, “Centrify’s support for the FIDO2 standard is a direct result of our ongoing commitment to our customers and their requests for biometric authentication of privileged user identities. Combining our support for the FIDO2 standard with our existing multi-factor authentication and real-time analytics capabilities, we’re able to greatly reduce the risk of security breaches that might exploit weak, default, or stolen privileged credentials.”

Conclusion

RSA’s theme Human Element was prescient from the heavy emphasis on passwordless authentication at this year’s conference. FIDO2 is getting solid support across the cybersecurity vendors who chose to exhibit there, which is great for enterprises, organizations, and small businesses who need to defend themselves. Of the many vendors there, Centrify’s approach stood out based on its unique approach to authenticating privileged user identities for its Identity-Centric PAM platform.

FIDO2 ultimately makes security stronger and less disruptive because it can not only eliminate passwords but also make the user experience more seamless and less likely to be circumvented. Passwordless authentication ensures that login credentials are unique across every website, never stored on a server, and never leave the user’s device. This security model helps eliminate the risks of phishing, as well as all forms of password theft and replay attacks.

We’re closer than ever before to the elusive goal of a passwordless future.

Five Interesting Takeaways From RSA Conference 2020

Five Interesting Takeaways From RSA Conference 2020

 

Bottom Line: Passwordless authentication, endpoint security, cloud-native SIEM platforms, and new API-based data security technologies were the most interesting tech developments, while keynotes focusing on election security, industrial control systems’ vulnerabilities and the persistent threat of state-sponsored ransomware dominated panel discussion.

This year’s RSA Conference was held February 24th to 28th in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, attracting more than 36,000 attendees, 704 speakers, and 658 exhibitors unified by the theme of the Human Element in cybersecurity. The conference’s agenda is here, with many session recordings and presentation slides available for download. Before the conference, RSA published the RSAC 2020 Trend Report (PDF, 13 pp., no opt-in). RSA received 2,400 responses to their Call for Speakers and based their report on an analysis of all submissions. The ten trends in the RSAC 2020 Trend Report are based on an analysis of all papers submitted to the conference. It’s a quick read that provides a synopsis of the main themes of the excellent sessions presented at RSAC 2020.

The following are the five most interesting takeaways from the 2020 RSA Conference:

  • Endpoint security products dominated the show floor, with over 120 vendors promoting their unique solutions. There were over 50 presentations and panels on the many forms of endpoint security as well. Instead of competing for show attendees’ attention on the show floor, Absolute Software took the unique approach of completing a survey during RASC 2020. Absolute’s team was able to interview 100 respondents, with most holding the position of a manager/supervisor or C-level executive. More than three in four respondents reported their organizations are using endpoint security tools, multi-factor authentication, and employee training and education to protect data, devices, and users. You can review their survey results here.
  • The number of vendors claiming to have Zero Trust solutions grew 50% this year, from 60 in 2019 to 91 in 2020. There continues to be a lot of hype surrounding Zero Trust, with vendors having mixed results with their product and messaging strategies in this area. A good benchmark to use for evaluating vendors in the Zero Trust market is the Forrester Wave™: Zero Trust eXtended Ecosystem Platform Providers, Q4 2019, written by Chase Cunningham and published on October 29, 2019. I’ve summarized the lessons learned in the post, What’s New on the Zero Trust Security Landscape In 2019.
  • Over 30 vendors claimed to have passwordless authentication that met the current FIDO2 standard. In keeping with the theme of this year’s RSA Conference of Human Element, vendors offering passwordless authentication were out in force. Centrify, Entrust Datacard, HID Global, Idaptive, ImageWare, MobileIron, Thales, and many others promoted their unique approaches to passwordless authentication, leveraging the FIDO2 standard. FIDO2 is the latest set of specifications from the FIDO Alliance, an industry standards organization that provides interoperability testing and certification for servers, clients, and authenticators that meet FIDO2 specifications. I’ve written a separate post just on this topic, and you can find it here, Why Your Biometrics Are Your Best Password. 
  • Cloud-based security information and event management (SIEM) systems capable of integrating with 3rd party public cloud platforms reflect the maturity nature of this market. Of the several vendors claiming to have cloud-based SIEM, Microsoft’s Azure Sentinel’s demo showed in real-time how fusion AI technology can parse large volumes of low fidelity signals into a few important incidents for SecOps teams to focus on. Microsoft said that in December 2019 alone, Azure Sentinel evaluated nearly 50 billion suspicious signals, isolating them down to just 25 high-confidence incidents for SecOps teams to investigate. The following graphic explains how Azure Sentinel Fusion works.
  • One of the most interesting startups at RSA was Nullafi, who specializes in a novel API-based data security technology that combines data aliasing, vaulting, encryption, and monitoring to create an advanced data protection platform that makes hacked data useless to hackers. What makes Nullafi noteworthy is how they’ve been able to build a data architecture that protects legacy and new infrastructures while making the original data impossible for a hacker to reverse engineer and gain access to. It desensitizes critical data so that it’s useless to hackers but still useful for an organization to keep operating, uninterrupted by a breach to your business. Nullafi is built to AWS GovCloud standards. The Nullafi SDK encrypts the data before sending it to the Nullafi API. It then re-encrypts the data within their zero-knowledge vault in the cloud (or on-premises). The result is that no sensitive data in any format is shared with Nullafi that could be used or lost, as their architecture doesn’t have visibility into what the actual data looks like. The following graphic explains their architecture:

 

5 Ways To Demystify Zero Trust Security

Bottom Line: Instead of only relying on security vendors’ claims about Zero Trust, benchmark them on a series of five critical success factors instead, with customer results being key.

Analytics, Zero Trust Dominated RSA

Analytics dashboards dominated RSA from a visual standpoint, while Zero Trust Security reigned from an enterprise strategy one. Over 60 vendors claimed to have Zero Trust Security solutions at RSA, with each one defining the concept in a slightly different way.

RSA has evolved into one of the highest energy enterprise-focused conferences today, and in 2019 Zero Trust was center stage in dozens of vendor booths. John Kindervag created the Zero Trust Security framework while at Forrester in 2010. Chase Cunningham, who is a Principal Analyst at Forrester today, is a leading authority on Zero Trust and frequently speaks and writes on the topic. Be sure to follow his blog to stay up to date with his latest research. His most recent post, OK, Zero Trust Is An RSA Buzzword — So What?, captures the current situation on Zero Trust perfectly. Becca Chambers’ blog post, Talking All Things Zero Trust at RSA Conference 2019, includes an insightful video of how the conferences’ attendees define Zero Trust.

With so many vendors claiming to offer Zero Trust solutions, how can you tell which ones have enterprise-ready, scalable solutions?  The following are five ways to demystify Zero Trust:

  1. Customer references are willing to talk and case studies available. With the ambitious goal of visiting every one of the 60 vendors who claimed to have a Zero Trust solution at RSA, I quickly realized that there’s a dearth of customer references. To Chase Cunningham’s point, more customer use cases need to be created, and thankfully that’s on his research agenda. Starting the conversation with each vendor visited by asking for their definition of Zero Trust either led to a debate of whether Zero Trust was needed in the industry or how their existing architecture could morph to fit the framework. Booth staffs at the following companies deserve to be commended for how much they know about their customers’ success with Zero Trust: AkamaiCentrifyCiscoMicrosoftMobileIronPalo Alto NetworksSymantec, and Trend Micro. The team at Ledios Cyberwho was recently acquired by Capgemini, was demonstrating how Zero Trust applied to Industrial Control Systems and shared a wealth of customer insights as well.
  2. Defines success by their customers’ growth, stability and earned trust instead of relying on fear. A key part of de-mystifying Zero Trust is seeing how effective vendors are at becoming partners on the journey their customers are on. While in the Centrify booth I learned of how Interval International has been able to implement a least privilege model for employees, contractors, and consultants, streamline user onboarding, and enable the company to continue its rapid organic growth. At MobileIron, I learned how NASDAQ is scaling mobile applications including CRM to their global sales force on a Zero Trust platform. The most customer-centric Zero Trust vendors tend to differentiate on earned trust over selling fear.
  3. Avoid vendors who have a love-hate relationship with Zero Trust. Zero Trust is having an energizing effect on the security landscape as it provides vendors with a strategic framework they can differentiate themselves in. Security vendors are capitalizing on the market value right now, with product management and engineering teams working overtime to get new applications and platforms ready for market. I found a few vendors who have a love-hate relationship with Zero Trust. They love the marketing mileage or buzz, yet aren’t nearly as enthusiastic about changing product and service strategies. If you’re looking for Zero Trust solutions, be sure to watch for this and find a vendor who is fully committed.
  4. Current product strategies and roadmaps reflect a complete commitment to Zero Trust. Product demos at RSA ranged from supporting the fundamentals of Zero Trust to emulating its concepts on legacy architectures. One of the key attributes to look for is how perimeterless a given security application is that claims to support Zero Trust. How well can a given application protect mobile devices? An IoT device? How can a given application or security platform scale to protect privileged credentials? These are all questions to ask of any vendor who claims to have a Zero Trust solution. Every one of them will have analytics options; the question is whether they fit with your given business scenario. Finally, ask to see how Zero Trust can be automated across all user accounts and how privileged access management can be scaled using Identity Access Management systems including password vaults and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).
  5. A solid API strategy for scaling their applications and platforms with partner successes that prove it. One of the best questions to gauge the depth of commitment any vendor has to Zero Trust is to ask about their API strategy. It’s interesting to hear how vendors with Zero Trust-based product and services strategies are scaling inside their largest customers using APIs. Another aspect of this is to see how many of their services, system integration, technology partners are using their APIs to create customized solutions for customers. Success with an API strategy is a leading indicator of how reliably any Zero Trust vendor will be able to scale in the future.

Conclusion

RSA is in many ways a microcosm of the enterprise security market in general and Zero Trust specifically. The millions of dollars in venture capital invested in security analytics and Zero Trust made it possible for vendors to create exceptional in-booth experiences and demonstrations – much the same way venture investment is fueling many of their roadmaps and sales teams. Zero Trust vendors will need to provide application roadmaps that show their ability to move beyond prevention of breaches to more prediction, at the same time supporting customers’ needs to secure infrastructure, credentials, and systems to ensure uninterrupted growth.

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