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Improving online consumer confidence through mutual authentication

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Improving online consumer confidence through mutual authentication

When the first cars were produced it is a pretty safe bet that they weren't fitted with an alarm, immobiliser or tracking device. Such advances in car security were introduced in response to escalating car crime and now car crime is at an all-time low. Today it seems that online security threats emerge almost daily, threats that are eroding fragile consumer confidence. Without consumer confidence the cost-effective and efficient online business model could well become marginalized, while the growing fraud losses that online service providers from banks to e-tailers are suffering are pushing up costs. This combination could render the on-line business model ineffective for many.

With this in mind, two industry led initiatives are being implemented to create the trust that consumers need and the security that online retailers and Banks require. The first helps consumers understand where it is safe to interact online and is based on SSL technology. SSL can provide two things; security and authenticity. When an SSL session begins, a secure link between the browser and the web site's server is created, preventing anyone who intercepts the data in transit from using it for nefarious purposes. SSL on its own, however, cannot tell the consumer who they are dealing with. For that an SSL certificate, issued by a trusted Certificate Authority such as VeriSign, is required. Trusted Certificate Authorities only issue certificates to companies that can prove that they are who they say they are. Consumers have grown accustomed to looking for the padlock appearing in the bottom right hand corner of their browser but that does not mean that the site is authentic. To make sure it is they have to click on the padlock and see who has issued the certificate before deciding whether to trust the site, something most consumers fail to do. To help educate the consumer VeriSign introduced the “VeriSign Secured” seal which, when shown on a web site, lets consumers click on it to verify in real time that the site has been authenticated by VeriSign. Whilst this has no doubt increased consumer security awareness it still requires consumer interaction to click the seal. Something easier was needed.

Easy recognition of secured and authenticated sites

To make it easier for consumers to recognise when they are at a secure AND authenticated site, the SSL industry has worked closely with the browser manufacturers to develop a new industry standard which creates a level of authentication that SSL Certificate authorities must apply before issuing a “High Assurance” certificate to a website. The new generation of browsers, such as Internet Explorer 7 from Microsoft, will turn the address bar green when a secure session with a high assurance certificate from a trusted certificate authority (such as VeriSign) is initiated. In conjunction with this the browser manufacturers are putting in place measures to ensure that this “green for go” toolbar cannot be spoofed so a consumer will be able to tell very quickly that they are transacting in a secure manner. The second industry initiative is based on work completed by OATH, an open standards organisation promoting two factor or “strong” authentication. Strong authentication provides a second layer of authentication on top of the usual “User Name” and “Password”, usually through a small handheld token which creates a “One Time Password” valid for a single transaction. By dynamically changing the second factor of authentication the risk of online fraud is dramatically reduced. Traditionally a strong authentication token has not been able to be shared across multiple sites, a severe inhibitor to adoption as the consumer would require multiple tokens.

Using the OATH Standards, VeriSign has introduced the VeriSign® Identity Protection (VIP) Network which enables a single token to be used across multiple sites. VeriSign has signed up high profile partners including PayPal, Microsoft, Yahoo and eBay, all of which have agreed to either issue or accept VIP tokens as the second factor of authentication. Others have agreed to include the VIP technology in their consumer devices, negating the need to carry separate VIP token, such as Motorola (mobile phones) and Sandisk (USB devices). With this second factor providing strong authentication of consumers to the sites coupled with increased consumer confidence from the new generation of browsers our goal of mutual authentication is in sight. We will never eliminate car crime, we can only keep it within acceptable levels. We will never eliminate online crime, but with these new approaches it can be kept it within acceptable levels.

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