Google's five-year plan for authentication: It's complicated

Google has released a draft of its next five-year plan for loginauthentication that tries to stay at least on par with criminalhackers, but recognizes that strong security requires industrycollaboration.

The draft, which was released Wednesday for security pros,explores where Google might head following its first five-year planissued in 2008. The company declined to comment further onThursday.

Over the last five years, the security landscape has changeddramatically with the broad adoption of smartphones, the rise inhijackings of website accounts and the evolution in hackingtechniques and tools that require innovation in defenses.

This year, Google rolled out atwo-step login process to attach a specific device to anaccountholder. The company is now considering becoming much moreaggressive with the mechanism, which is currently optional.

Users who skip two-factor authentication attached to a mobilephone may have to pass a challenge along with inputting thepassword on nearly all sign-ins.

Google also favors shifting as much of the authentication choresas possible on the device and its operating system. Once peoplesign at the OS level on an Android phone, Google would like to havethose credentials work across all the apps on the device andwebsites accessed from the browser.

Currently, two-factor authentication usually involves a sitesending to a person's mobile phone a text message with a numberthat they input to access services on that device. Google wouldlike to switch to having an approved smartphone authorize anotherdevice through near-field communications over a cryptographicprotocol that cannot be phished.

Google is a supporter of OpenID, an open standard that makes itpossible for a cloud-based identity provider to store credentials,making them available to any website or any app on a mobile phone.Ã'Â However, that technology remains too complicated.

[Also see:Ã'Â Google looks to kill passwords, but experts say not so fast]

"While many sites want to add support for identityproviders, there are still very hard usability problems and accountlinking issues," Googlesaid in the draft. "We still believe that is the approachthat the vast majority of websites should take, so Google willcontinue to support efforts to simplify those issues and definebest practices."

Google also wants to implement the ChannelID open standard thatlocks cookies to the device that receives them. Websites will senda cookie after a visitor logs in to maintain that session. However,there are various techniques a hacker can use to steal that cookiein order to impersonate the accountholder. ChannelID solves theproblem by not allowing any other device to use the same sessioncookie.

Security experts agree that Google's plans to improvesecurity in its environment are solid and follow best practices."They're stepping up to the plate with recognition thatthe current authentication mechanism that users use on the Internettoday with passwords is broken," said Patrick Harding, chieftechnology officer for Ping Identity.

But Jon Oberheide, chief technology officer for Duo Security,said Google needs to put more emphasis on account recovery, whichbecomes necessary when people forget passwords or loose the mobilephone tied to the two-factor authentication system. In the draft,Google acknowledged this problem was the "Achilles heel"of its automated systems.

"Automated recovery mechanisms for two-factor systems tendto be less secure than the native two-factor credential, whichmeans they will be the lowest part of the fence for attackers tojump over," Oberheide said.

Implementing the technologies Google suggests wouldbe very difficult, said Mark Risher, chief executive ofImpermium. For example, some of the technology is interrelated, sothey have to be deployed together for maximum security, making theprocess complicated.

In addition, to really improve security, the majority of websiteoperators will have to be willing to adopt a lot of the sametechnology outlined by Google. "The website owners, thebusinesses, need to care enough to make those kinds ofinvestments," Risher said. "We work with sites of alltypes who are blindly ignorant of the risks that they'reunder."

Read more about access control in CSOonline's Access Control section.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags two-factor authenticationIdentity & Access | Access ControlNetworkingsecurityopenidAccess control and authenticationauthenticationaccess controlIdentity & AccessmanagementGoogle

More about Google

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Antone Gonsalves

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts