PayPal has declared war on the password - and wants a better way for folks to perform open sesame on their own internet accounts.
Speaking at the Interop security conference in Las Vegas yesterday, Michael Barrett, chief information security officer at PayPal, talked about his work to create an open standard that could remove the need for passwords.
As well as working for the online cash handler, Barrett is president of the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance, which aims to devise ways to break netizens' reliance on memorising strong passwords.
During a keynote speech at Interop, Barrett said: "Our intention is to really obliterate, within a certain number of years, both passwords and PINs and see the whole internet — including internally in enterprises — obliterate user IDs and passwords and PINs from the face of the planet."
The FIDO solution works by using an authentication device that connects to websites to verify a person's identity. These devices could be USB keys, fingerprint sensors or embedded hardware, and require some user interaction, such as swiping a card, stroking their finger over a sensor or scanning their eyes.
"There is a FIDO client or a FIDO stack that has to be on the device concerned," Barrett added (perhaps momentarily confusing anyone old enough to remember the unrelated Fido BBS).
"That piece of software knows how to talk the FIDO protocol back to the relying parties' server. Say you show up to PayPal.com once PayPal becomes FIDO-enabled, which we're in the process of doing. Once you come to our site, we will ping the device."
After this initial communication, the user is then told what sort of input is needed to verify their identity.
"For most people, they authenticate to a very small set of devices. The notion is you authenticate to your device and the device authenticates securely to a [website]," Barrett continued. "The credentials that authenticate you to your device are stored securely in the device and do not leave it."
Single-factor authentication using a password is a fairly weak way to protect highly sensitive information - on top of hackers raiding corporate password databases for hashes to crack or unprotected passphrases to swipe, people really aren't helping themselves by using flimsy login secrets: the most used password of 2012 was revealed to be simply "password". ®