Authentically verifying an individual's identity can be much more challenging than it might seem. For centuries, identities were generally confirmed via the use of documents and paperwork which could almost always be forged. The documents were sometimes backed by various devices such as a seal or ring, but those could also be stolen, faked or forged. As technology advanced, identity verification documents were generally accompanied by a photo but photos can be easily changed out, used by someone bearing a vague resemblance to the legitimate person or used by someone who simply alters their appearance to resemble the real person in the photo.
There are a number of physical identifiers which are unique to every individual, such as fingerprints and facial structures but until now, they haven't exactly been convenient ways to verify someone's identity on a daily basis. Obviously, one of the most important times to authentically verify someone's identity is whenever a financial transaction of some kind takes place or when sensitive information is being accessed. The larger the financial transaction or the more sensitive the data, the more important it is to verify that the person initiating the transaction or accessing the data is actually authorized to do so.
Convenience, Privacy and Security Have Always Had an Uneasy Relationship
The more secure something is, the less convenient it generally tends to be to access it. The more information required to verify someone's identity, the more invasive it can be. While credit cards and debit cards certainly make things more convenient for cardholders, the data they contain can wreak havoc in the hands of unauthorized users. Usernames and passwords, which have long been the only way that online accounts have been secured, are also becoming a highly ineffective way of verifying the identity of the person attempting to access an account.
What is Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication and Why is it Important?
Two-factor authentication is a means of verifying someone's identity by requesting two of three different factors. These include knowledge (something you know), possession (something you have) and inherency (something you are). Two-factor authentication is actually nothing new. Individuals attempting to cash a check (something they have) have long been asked to show identification to prove who you are. ATMs are accessed via a debit card (something you have) and a PIN (something you know). Online, two-factor authentication is one of the best protections against data dumps that have exposed millions of login credentials. With two-factor authentication, just having login credentials is not enough to gain access to an account.
Smart Devices are Finally Providing the Trifecta of Security, Privacy and Convenience
Smart devices are finally able to do what those tasked with securing sensitive or financial information have long struggled to do. Smart devices are "secured" to an individual via a SIM card which are also tied to specific devices which can be individually identified by digital serial numbers. The devices are also locked with biometric scanners of some kind. If they are lost or stolen, they cannot be easily or readily accessed by anyone who happens to stumble across them. Since all of these identifiers are both digital and randomly issued to an individual, they also help maintain the user's privacy while still authenticating their identity.
With smart devices, long, complicated passwords can be stored and secured with biometrics that are also device-specific. All a user knows is that they can simply hold the device up to their face or press their finger on a home button and access all of their accounts. What they don't recognize are all of the security checks taking place "under the hood." Once a biometric scan occurs, the device actually inputs login credentials automatically. The site they are trying to access can register the unique device ID and compare it with previous logins. If a user attempts to access an account from a different device, it can trigger secondary protocols. These secondary protocols can be answering pre-arranged security questions or sending a one-time passcode to a registered cell phone or email account. Not only does this one-time passcode help verify the identity of the user but it will also alert them if an unauthorized user is attempting to access their accounts.
Smart devices are already being used to create more secure financial transactions with digital wallets like Apple Pay or Google Pay. They are quickly taking the place of physical keys and granting users access to homes, automobiles and even offices. Soon, devices will be used to initiate cardless transactions at ATM's and may even be used to authenticate even larger purchases like homes and cars. While individual devices can certainly be stolen and potentially even "cracked," there are few (if any) ways to mass access devices and the accounts they protect, which is where the real havoc generally occurs.
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