Identity is a hard problem, so it needs a hard solution
[Dave Birch] There’s an interesting choice of words in the O’Reilly Radar publication on “ePayments 2010”. The report’s subtitle is “Emerging Platforms, Embracing Mobile and Confronting Identity”. I thought that this is expressive: the payments industry is “confronting” identity.
...even as consumers come to expect online systems to know more about them in order to facilitate transactions and reduce friction in accomplishing tasks, they are likely to want to maintain control over which online services have access to distinct aspects of their identity.
Very well put. It illustrates a point that I find myself making in more and more discussions these days: that if the players in the payments industry don’t deal with the identity problem, then someone else will.
Identity is critical in many ways: It ensures the right degree of user personalization, enables the reliable billing of services used across a platform, and provides a strong foundation of trust for any transaction occurring on the platform.
Patrick is right to highlight the key role of identity in constructing the future payments infrastructure, although I would draw a slightly different diagram to illustrate the relationship. He has drawn identity on top of payment services, whereas as I would draw them side-by-side to show that some commerce applications will use identity and some will not, some commerce applications will use payments and some will not. This isn’t just a payments issue, of course. It’s rapidly becoming a major block on the development of the online economy. There’s a Chernobyl coming, and the recent fuss about Sony and Sega will appear utterly trivial in comparison. I’m not smart enough to know where or when it will happen, but it will happen. If I had to take a wild guess, I might be tempted to predict the epicentre if not the cause or symptoms.
I trust Facebook to give the messages that I type to my ‘friends’. I trust Facebook with the login details to my Yahoo email account… Even in the last week at least four of my friends have been link-jacked in Facebook – whereby their accounts start spewing malicious links onto the walls of their friends.
It’s the interlinking via social networking that is precisely the danger, because that means when something goes wrong is goes connectedly wrong and gets out of control in unpredictable ways. Something has got to be done to make identity mischief substantially more difficult. But how?
We need online identities anchored in hardware cryptography. Everybody who does financial cryptography understands that for anything of value, you can’t store the keys in software. You need hardware protected keys, with a cryptoprocessor to operate on them, and very importantly, a trusted UI to the human that doesn’t involve hackable software. EMV is a good basis for this
Hear hear. I’d say that it was the chip with a crypto co-processor that is the basis (EMV is just an application running on such a chip) but the point holds. So where are these chips today? Well, they exist in your chip and PIN card is a sort of autistic form, with limited communication and narrow bandwidth through which we can reach the smart core. And they exist in your mobile phone, in the form of the UICC, where they have high bandwidth, constant connectivity, a UI, huge memory and an ecosystem beyond the device. And they will soon exist in your mobile phone, set-top box and elsewhere in the Secure Element (SE). (As an aside, in some models the SE will be resident in the UICC, so there may only be one physical chip.)
Therefore, there is an opportunity to roll-out an SE-based infrastructure, perhaps in the NSTIC architecture, that sets us down the path to identity security. I’m surprised that, in Europe at least, the mobile operators haven’t already got together to develop their joint response to NSTIC and begun work on the business models that it spawns. The mobile operator is a naturally identity and attribute provider and they already have the tamper-resistant hardware (ie, UICCs) out in the market. They know the customer, they know the network, they know the device. I should be logging on to everything using my handset already, not messing about with passwords and secret phrases and mother’s maiden name.
From the point of view of the UK, where the national identity card scheme has just been scrapped and there is no alternative identity infrastructure in place, there is much to be admired in the US approach.
[From Digital Identity: USTIC]
This may be another area where the ease of use afforded by NFC makes for a big difference in the shape of the marketplace and the trajectory of the stakeholders. There were some early experiments in SIM-based secure PKI, but they were very, very clunky because they needed SMS or Bluetooth to connect the handset to the target device, like a PC or a kiosk (or a POS). But in the new world of NFC, what could be simpler: use menu on phone to select identity, tap and go online. And since the SE can handle the proper cryptography, my phone can tell whether it is talking to the real Barclays as well as Barclays working out whether it is talking to my phone. The NSTIC framework, when combined with the security and ease-of-use of NFC in mobile phones, may not be whole solution, but it’s certainly a plausible hypothesis about what that solution may grow from.
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