Only biometrics can unify the age-old opposing forces of user-experience and digital security, says Isabelle Moeller, Chief Executive, Biometrics Institute. When it happens, the effect will be remarkable.
Thanks, in no small part, to the whims of Hollywood, biometrics have become something of a go-to metaphor for bleeding edge, bullet-proof security. It’s easy to see why: iris scanners make great TV.
Sadly, reality is always different to the big screen. The last five years have lifted biometrics out of Mission Impossible and dropped them into the lives of everyday consumers, where they are fast assuming a central role in digital identity management. Popular engagement with voice recognition in telephone banking and smartphone fingerprint scans, are, thankfully, sobering perceptions. Security breaches, while unfortunate, have underlined that biometrics are far from infallible and most certainly are not an ‘overnight solution’ to the world’s digital ID problems.
Neither are they toothless, however. On the contrary in the right hands biometrics, like chilli peppers, can be powerful ingredients that give real punch to the security mix. What’s more, in the world of digital identity, particularly in user authentication, there is an urgent need to spice things up; the industry faces serious challenges.
The recent proliferation of digital services and cloud-based platforms, each requiring independent user verification, is making mincemeat of the username and password (UNP) model. Ubiquity compels even the diligent to reuse at least some of their UNP credentials, dramatically increasing the security implications of a hack. Indeed, many of the most popular cloud-based services already automate this practice, enabling users to apply their ‘unique’ UNP to a variety of other accounts (a process known as single sign-in, or social login). The risk posed by this kind of identity federation is obvious: a hacker needs only to crack one UNP to gain access to all the user’s associated accounts. Various services exist to help mitigate UNP vulnerability (password ‘vaults’ and management applications) but few would disagree that these are at best sticking plaster solutions; the days of UNPs are numbered.
Two-factor or multifactor authentication solutions are far more impenetrable but, compared to UNPs, adoption rates remain comparatively low, largely because the multifactor approach fails to deliver a smooth and convenient user experience. Physical authentication tokens, often used in e-banking, are easily lost or stolen but more importantly the authentication process itself is laborious. Typically, receipt or generation of a random key or number sequence occurs on one device (a smartphone), which must be combined in some way with another unique piece of information known only to the user, before being inputted into a second device (laptop, tablet, PC etc.). Replacing all UNPs with this multi-step model is no solution at all; today we login to so many different platforms that interruption and end-user frustration would dominate the digital experience.
Enter biometrics. There is little doubt that the future of digital identity lies in using multiple factors to verify a user’s authenticity. The key difference will be that one or more of those factors will be delivered biometrically, enabling the authentication process to be vastly simplified and greatly accelerated. Apple’s Touch ID is an excellent example of how a biometric can make an authentication process both fast and convenient as well as secure. Indeed, with biometrics ‘in play’, a digital world in which the authentication process disappears entirely from the user’s experience could be right around the corner.
When appropriately deployed, behavioural biometrics such as typing styles, app navigation habits, or the pressure applied to touchscreens, leave a data trail almost as distinctive as a fingerprint or face. The identifying power of these behavioural factors can be harnessed by multifactor authentication solutions and, when combined with conventional biometric data, can be used to continually and automatically confirm and reconfirm the user’s identity without interrupting their user experience with off-putting ID challenges.
Adaptive and risk-based authentication solutions are also gathering momentum. These solutions monitor the user’s daily journey through their apps, platforms and devices and use this data to ensure an authentication challenge is only issued when the system deems it absolutely necessary, according to pre-determined policies set by the issuer.
When these fields are mastered, biometric-powered multifactor authentication will finally unify the age-old opposing forces of convenience and security, and a brilliant and incredibly secure end-user experience will be established.
Imagine almost never having to be challenged again when logging into a cloud service, a mobile app, social platform, collaborative workspace, email inbox, remote VPN…
We are not there yet. More work needs to be done to identify and increase the reliability of behavioural biometrics. Capture technologies are still developing and their integration into intelligent solutions must be handled with care if we are to stay ahead of the hackers. Privacy issues also remain a key concern, as does the storage and sharing of biometric data once it has been captured. This is the space inhabited by the Biometrics Institute Digital Services Working Group, which is one of the few places globally where the boundaries of these solutions are being explored in an open, collaborative and commercially neutral forum. Crucially, it encompasses the full spectrum of stakeholders too, including academics, vendors, end-users and privacy advocates.
The importance of this work cannot be overstated. Collaborative efforts are essential to ensure the true enabling power of biometrics can be realised in the digital space without putting the individual’s biometric data at risk. Cross-industry collaboration at the Institute also accelerates the evolution of these technologies, shortening the lead time before full deployments are possible and end users benefit. In this instance, this can’t come soon enough. The world of digital services is evolving at a tremendous pace and the threats to personal data security are increasing as a result. Only when biometrics have been successfully integrated will multifactor authentication solutions be able to deliver the user experience demanded by today’s digital consumer. Mass adoption will then follow and all that inhabit digital world will be safer for it.
‘Spooky’ AI tool brings dead relatives’ photos to life
By Umberto Bacchi
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Like the animated paintings that adorn the walls of Harry Potter’s school, a new online tool promises to bring portraits of dead relatives to life, stirring debate about the use of technology to impersonate people.
Genealogy company MyHeritage launched its “Deep Nostalgia” feature earlier this week, allowing users to turn stills into short videos showing the person in the photograph smiling, winking and nodding.
“Seeing our beloved ancestors’ faces come to life … lets us imagine how they might have been in reality, and provides a profound new way of connecting to our family history,” MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet said in a statement.
Developed with Israeli computer vision firm D-ID, Deep Nostalgia uses deep learning algorithms to animate images with facial expressions that were based on those of MyHeritage employees.
Some of the company’s users took to Twitter on Friday to share the animated images of their deceased relatives, as well as moving depictions of historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Ancient Egypt’s lost Queen Nefertiti.
“Takes my breath away. This is my grandfather who died when I was eight. @MyHeritage brought him back to life. Absolutely crazy,” wrote Twitter user Jenny Hawran.
While most expressed amazement, others described the feature as “spooky” and said it raised ethical questions. “The photos are enough. The dead have no say in this,” tweeted user Erica Cervini.
From chatbots to virtual reality, the tool is the latest innovation seeking to bring the dead to life through technology.
Last year U.S. rapper Kanye West famously gifted his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father congratulating her on her birthday and on marrying “the most, most, most, most, most genius man in the whole world”.
‘ANIMATING THE PAST’
The trend has opened up all sorts of ethical and legal questions, particularly around consent and the opportunity to blur reality by recreating a virtual doppelganger of the living.
Elaine Kasket a psychology professor at the University of Wolverhampton in Britain who authored a book on the “digital afterlife”, said that while Deep Nostalgia was not necessarily “problematic”, it sat “at the top of a slippery slope”.
“When people start overwriting history or sort of animating the past … You wonder where that ends up,” she said.
MyHeritage acknowledges on its website that the technology can be “a bit uncanny” and its use “controversial”, but said steps have been taken to prevent abuses.
“The Deep Nostalgia feature includes hard-coded animations that are intentionally without any speech and therefore cannot be used to fake any content or deliver any message,” MyHeritage public relations director Rafi Mendelsohn said in a statement.
Yet, images alone can convey meaning, said Faheem Hussain, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
“Imagine somebody took a picture of the Last Supper and Judas is now winking at Mary Magdalene – what kind of implications that can have,” Hussain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Similarly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) animations could be use to make someone appear as though they were doing things they might not be happy about, such as rolling their eyes or smiling at a funeral, he added.
Mendelsohn of MyHeritage said using photos of a living person without their consent was a breach of the company’s terms and conditions, adding that videos were clearly marked with AI symbols to differentiate them from authentic recordings.
“It is our ethical responsibility to mark such synthetic videos clearly and differentiate them from real videos,” he said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi in Milan; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Does your institution have operational resilience? Testing cyber resilience may be a good way to find out
By Callum Roxan, Head of Threat Intelligence, F-Secure
If ever 2020 had a lesson, it was that no organization can possibly prepare for every conceivable outcome. Yet building one particular skill will make any crisis easier to handle: operational resilience.
Many financial institutions have already devoted resources to building operational resilience. Unfortunately, this often takes what Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer of TheCityUK, calls a “near death” experience for this conversion to occur. “Recent years have seen a number of cases of loss of reputation, reduced enterprise value and senior executive casualties from operational incidents that have been badly handled,” he wrote.
But it need not take a disaster to learn this vital lesson.
“Operational resilience means not only planning around specific, identified risks,” Charlotte Gerken, the executive director of the Bank of England, said in a 2017 speech on operational resilience. “We want firms to plan on the assumption that any part of their infrastructure could be impacted, whatever the reason.” Gerken noted that firms that had successfully achieved a level of resilience that survives a crisis had established the necessary mechanisms to bring the business together to respond where and when risks materialised, no matter why or how.
We’ll talk about the bit we know best here; by testing for cyber resilience, a company can do more than prepare for the worst sort of attacks it may face. This process can help any business get a clearer view of how it operates, and how well it is prepared for all kinds of surprises.
Assumptions and the mechanisms they should produce are the best way to prepare for the unknown. But, as the boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The aim of cyber resilience is to build an effective security posture that survives that first punch, and the several that are likely to follow. So how can an institution be confident that they’ve achieved genuine operational resilience?
This requires an organization to honestly assess itself through the motto inscribed at the front of the Temple of Delphi: “Know thyself.” And when it comes to cyber security, there is a way for an organization to test just how thoroughly it comprehends its own strengths and weaknesses.
The Bank of England was the first central bank to help develop the framework for institutions to test the integrity of their systems. CBEST is made up of controlled, bespoke, intelligence-led cyber security tests that replicate behaviours of those threat actors, and often have unforeseen or secondary benefits. Gerken notes that the “firms that did best in the testing tended to be those that really understood their organisations. They understood their own needs, strengths and weaknesses, and reflected this in the way they built resilience.”
In short, testing cyber resilience can provide clear insight into an institution’s operational resilience in general.
Gaining that specific knowledge without a “near-death” experience is obviously a significant win for any establishment. And testing for operational resilience throughout the industry can provide some reminders of the steps every organization should take so that testing provides unique insists about their institution, and not just a checklist of cyber defence basics.
The IIF/McKinsey Cyber Resilience Survey of the financial services industry released in March lasy year provided six sets of immediate actions that institutions could take to improve their cyber security posture. The toplines of these recommendations were:
- Do the basics, patch your vulnerabilities.
- Review your cloud architecture and security capabilities.
- Reduce your supply chain risk.
- Practice your incident response and recovery capabilities.
- Set aside a specific cyber security budget and prioritise it
- Build a skilled talent pool and optimize resources through automation.
But let’s be honest: If simply reading a solid list of recommendations created cyber resilience, cyber criminals would be out of business. Unfortunately, cyber crime as a business is booming and threat actors targeting essential financial institutions through cyber attacks are likely earning billions in the trillion dollar industry of financial crime.A list can’t reveal an institution’s unique weaknesses, those security failings and chokepoints that could shudder operations, not just during a successful cyber attack but during various other crises that challenge their operations. And the failings that lead to flaws in an institution’s cyber defence likely reverberate throughout the organization as liabilities that other crises would likely expose.
The best way to get a sense of operational resilience will always be to simulate the worst that attackers can summon. That’s why the time to test yourself is now, before someone else does.
Thomson Reuters to stress AI, machine learning in a post-pandemic world
By Kenneth Li and Nick Zieminski
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Thomson Reuters Corp will streamline technology, close offices and rely more on machines to prepare for a post-pandemic world, the news and information group said on Tuesday, as it reported higher sales and operating profit.
The Toronto-headquartered company will spend $500 million to $600 million over two years to burnish its technology credentials, investing in AI and machine learning to get data faster to professional customers increasingly working from home during the coronavirus crisis.
It will transition from a content provider to a content-driven technology company, and from a holding company to an operational structure.
Thomson Reuters’ New York- and Toronto-listed shares each gained more than 8%.
It aims to cut annual operating expenses by $600 million through eliminating duplicate functions, modernizing and consolidating technology, as well as through attrition and shrinking its real estate footprint. Layoffs are not a focus of the cost cuts and there are no current plans to divest assets as part of this plan, the company said.
“We look at the changing behaviors as a result of COVID … on professionals working from home working remotely being much more reliant on 24-7, digital always-on, sort of real-time always available information, served through software and powered by AI and ML (machine learning),” Chief Executive Steve Hasker said in an interview.
Sales growth is forecast to accelerate in each of the next three years compared with 1.3% reported sales growth for 2020, the company said in its earnings release.
Thomson Reuters, which owns Reuters News, said revenues rose 2% to $1.62 billion, while its operating profit jumped more than 300% to $956 million, reflecting the sale of an investment and other items.
Its three main divisions, Legal Professionals, Tax & Accounting Professionals, and Corporates, all showed higher organic quarterly sales and adjusted profit. As part of the two-year change program, the corporate, legal and tax side will operate more as one customer-facing entity.
Adjusted earnings per share of 54 cents were ahead of the 46 cents expected, based on data from Refinitiv.
The company raised its annual dividend by 10 cents to $1.62 per share.
The Reuters News business showed lower revenue in the fourth quarter. In January, Stephen J. Adler, Reuters’ editor-in-chief for the past decade, said he would retire in April from the world’s largest international news provider.
Thomson Reuters also said its stake in The London Stock Exchange is now worth about $11.2 billion.
The LSE last month completed its $27-billion takeover of data and analytics business Refinitiv, 45%-owned by Thomson Reuters.
(Reporting by Ken Li, writing by Nick Zieminski in New York, editing by Louise Heavens and Jane Merriman)
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