On Fri, 20 Feb 2009, Jerry Leichter wrote:
On Feb 19, 2009, at 8:36 AM, Peter Gutmann wrote:
There are a variety of password cost-estimation surveys floating around
I suspect some very biased analysis. For example, people who really need
their passwords reset regularly will probably lose their tokens just as
regularly. The cost of replacing one of those is high - not for the token
itself, but for the administrative costs, which *must* be higher than for a
password reset since they include all the work in a password reset (properly
authenticating user/identifying account probably contribute the largest
costs), plus all the costs of physically obtaining, registering, and
distributing a replacement token - plus any implied costs due to the delays
needed to physically deliver the token versus the potential for an
put the cost of password resets at $100-200 per user per year, depending on
which survey you use (Gartner says so, it must be true).
You can get OTP tokens as little as $5. Barely anyone uses them.
Can anyone explain why, if the cost of password resets is so high, banks
the like don't want to spend $5 (plus one-off background infrastructure
and whatnot) on a token like this?
(My guess is that the password-reset cost estimates are coming from the
place as software and music piracy figures, but I'd still be interested in
information anyone can provide).
I suppose the $100-$200 estimate might make sense for an organization that
actually does password resets in a secure, carefully managed fashion.
Frankly ... I, personally, have never seen such an organization. Password
resets these days are mainly automated, with authentication and
identification based on very weak secondary security questions. Even
organizations you'd expect to be secure "authenticate" password reset
requests based entirely on public information (e.g., if you know the name and
badge number of an employee and the right help desk to call, you can get the
password reset). New passwords are typically delivered by unsecured email.
All too many organizations reset to a fixed, known value.
It's quite true that organizations have found the costs of password resets to
be too high. What they've generally done is saved money on the reset process
itself, pushing the cost out into whatever budgets will get hit as by the
resulting security breaches.
There is nothing technical in the following, but I wanted to reply because
the cost issue isn't the only reason. The format of the token and user
interface are just as important. Think of a user with multiple accounts and
how to have the tokens on a single device with a single user interface
when the banks don't use the same token vendor.
For large banks, cost was cited as a reason - both for deployment and
synchronizations/replacements. Another issue is that even with banks and
brokerage firms in the US that offer tokens to customers, the bank thinks in
term of the customer having a token for one bank (itself) and not the
inconvenience that a token per bank places on a customer. Also, in a
consumer scenario as opposed to a work scenario, the consumer wants to be able to
log into his/her bank account regardless of physical location and PC/laptop.
In a study I did last year with middle-age, well-educated adults, the average number of bank and brokerage accounts accessed online was 6.
One person had 20. No one wanted to carry around multiple hardware tokens
in case they need to access an account from someplace other than home. No one wanted a cup
full of hardware tokens next to their PC at home. For banks that require
certain customers (such as those with an account below some minimum
balance) pay for their token, no one wants to pay $15-$25 every couple years for a single token when they don't
understand what it provides over a static password.
Without commenting on security of software implementations, software-based
tokens offered for browsers and cell phones get rid of the hardware issue
for users. Broswer-based tokens don't solve the problem of users wanting
to log in from anywhere. Tokens on cell phones are more promising in
terms of human factors if the user is not required to install a different application for every bank account and has a standard
interface to all the tokens, and has a way of migrating tokens to a new
cell phone. However, what I've seen so far are vendors charging a small
licensing fee per token per a specific number of years. Thus the bank
either needs to cover the cost or a user pays a fee for every token every
couple of years. To deploy tokens, the bank will need to either install
and start the tokens on the cell phone for the customer or expect a large
percentage of calls to a help desk. An alternative of having an OTP
delivered to the user's cell phone on an as needed basis and
eliminating the user from possessing a token isn't acceptable to users
because a user doesn't always have cell phone connectivity - there are
users in somewhat dense surburban areas who don't have reliable cell phone
service at home because they didn't want cell phone towers in their town.
In the study, participants were given a cell phone that ran 10 software
based tokens on it (using OATH's HOTP) and a menu to access a list
of the tokens. The participants were asked to register for online access then log into a
mock bank account using each of 5 different methods. 4 methods were
replications of existing methods used by US banks, of which two used
ad-hoc methods in addition to the password. The fifth method used a
pin+OTP from the token. The registration for the token method required the user
enter a login name, a pin of their choosing and 8 character value into a
web page then enter the 8 digits into the token on the cell phone to seed
it. This was to see if users could complete a series of simple steps to initialize a token.
Each participant was walked through the instructions (which also appeared on
the web pages they were using to register and log in) then left to
complete the 5 methods. In a set of participants with graduate degrees in
math and cs, and who each uses a hardware token at work, 25% had to ask for help with the
token. It was worse with a general population of adults.
- Debbie Cook
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