Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Whose credentials are they? Mine, or yours?

I've been spending a bunch of time lately thinking about usernames and passwords, and other types of credentials, and concept of "ownership".

When you get a credit card, on the back it typically says something like - "Your card is issued and serviced by XYZ Bank pursuant to a license from Visa USA.  Its use is subject to the terms of your Cardmember agreement".

The credit card isn't really your property, it is the property of the bank, and you are just being allowed to use it for payments.

When you sign up for an account online and create a username and password, that website has a decision to make:

  1. Those credentials belong to the website.  They aren't the users property, they are the property of the website and their use, etc.  is subject entirely to the terms-of-service of that website.
  2. Those credentials belong to the user.  Their use, when the user should use them, where else the user uses them, etc.  are entirely in control of the customer.
Since users often (always?) reuse credentials across websites, etc.  any individual websites attitude towards user credentials is dictated a lot about how they view user credentials.

A website that would like to pretend that credential reuse doesn't occur, or isn't its concern, might not protect them in the same way as a website that believes users maintain a sort of property interest in those credentials, might use them at other sites, and only the user themselves can make a decision about exactly how important those credentials are.

I'm not suggesting that one is right or wrong, but that I think this attitude towards credentials and who owns them can play a major role in how websites view their rights and obligations as it relates to their users.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why do people expect so much more from mobile platforms?

Reading Veracode's recent post: Mobile Security – Android vs. iOS, which is an infographic comparing Android and iOS security, I'm left with a few questions, some of which I posted as a comment on their site.

While the graphic does a good job of summarizing the notable differences between these two mobile platforms, I think it approaches the problem with a set of underlying assumptions:

  1. They assume that mobile platforms are fundamentally different that desktop platforms, in terms of what services/facilities/etc.  they should provide.
  2. The assume a different/new/enhanced level of responsibility by the mobile platform vendor for security and privacy than we've typically expected from platform providers.
For example, in the section on basic security capabilities they say - "Security and privacy aren't thoroughly tested and unauthorized access to sensitive data has already occurred in both the App store and Android Marketplace."

While this is undoubtedly true, the same can be said about the PC, the Mac, Linux, and any other software/OS platform that is "open" and doesn't try to control and lock down all third-party software distribution.   

Perhaps the underlying argument is that new platforms should come with more security controls and the ecosystem should be more secure and guaranteed to be so by the platform provider.  I haven't seen those promises made explicitly by mobile platform vendors though they do make it implicitly a lot of times.  

Mostly what I see are people expecting much more from their mobile phone platform than they do from their desktop/laptop platform, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Are there a few new threats?  Sure.   Location privacy, and the ability to perform actions that cost money.  The latter not really being new though as malware that used people's modems to call premium phone numbers is a pretty old-school attack.

I'm all for platforms themselves becoming more secure over time.  Most/all of the mobile platforms have made huge strides in this area over legacy desktop platforms.  

What I don't quite understand is why folks are trying to hold mobile platforms to a higher standard for third-party software that it isn't clear they should be in the business of policing in the first place.