The State of Mobile Security and How Identity Advancement Plays an Essential New Role
The State of Mobile Security and How Identity
Advancement Plays an Essential New Role
Transcript of a BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on establishing identity and authentication in the face of
a growing reliance on mobile devices in the enterprise.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Sponsor: Ping Identity
Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're
listening to BrieﬁngsDirect. Today, we present a sponsored podcast panel discussion on blazing
paths to a secure mobile future, how to make today’s ubiquitous mobile
devices as low risk as they are indispensable.
As smartphones have become de rigueur in the global digital economy, users
want them to do more work, and businesses want them to be more productive
for their employees as well as a powerful added channel to their end users. But
neither businesses nor mobile-service providers have a cross-domain
architecture that supports all the new requirements for a secured, mobile,
digital economy, and the legacy web technology has serious drawbacks.
The fast approaching Cloud Identity Summit 2014 (CIS) July 19 gives us a chance to examine
the problems and solutions for attaining a more functional mobile future. To help us explore the
path to new mobile security, please join me in welcoming our panel. We're here
with Paul Madsen. He is a Principal Technical Architect in the Ofﬁce of the
CTO at Ping Identity. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Madsen: Hey, Dana.
Gardner: We are here also with Michael Barrett. He is President of the FIDO
(Fast Identity Online) Alliance. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Barrett: Great to be here.
Gardner: And we're also here with Mark Diodati, a Technical Director in the Ofﬁce of the CTO
at Ping Identity. Welcome, Mark.
Mark Diodati: Thanks so much, Dana.
Gardner: Mark, let me start with you. We're approaching this Cloud Identity Summit 2014 in
Monterey on July 19 and we still ﬁnd that the digital economy is not really reaching its full
potential. We're still dealing with ongoing challenges for trust, security, and governance across
mobile devices and network.
Even though people have been using mobile devices for decades—and in some markets around
the world they're the primary tool for accessing the Internet—why are we still having problems?
Why is this so difﬁcult to solve?
Diodati: That’s a good question. There are so many puzzle pieces to make the digital economy
fully efﬁcient. A couple of challenges come to mind. One is the distribution of identity. In prior
years, the enterprise did a decent job -- not an amazing job, but a decent job -- of identifying
users, authenticating them, and ﬁguring out what they have access to.
Once you move out into a broader digital economy, you start talking about off-premises
architectures and the expansion of user constituencies. There is a close relationship with your
partners, employees, and your contractors. But relationships can be more distant, like with your
Additionally, there are issues with emerging security threats. In many cases, there are
fraudsters with malware being very successful at taking people’s identities and
stealing money from them.
Mobility can do a couple of things for us. In the old days, if you want more
identity assurance to access important applications, you pay more in cost and
usability problems. Specialized hardware was used to raise assurance. Now, the
smartphone is really just a portable biometric device that users carry without us
asking them to do so. We can raise assurance levels without the draconian
increase in cost and usability problems.
We’re not out of the woods yet. One of the challenges is nailing down the basic administrative
processes to bind user identities to mobile devices. That challenge is part cultural and part
Gardner: So it seems that we have a larger set of variables, end users, are not captive on
network, who we authenticate. As you mentioned, the mobile device, the smartphone, can be
biometric and can be a even better authenticator than we've had in the past. We might actually be
in a better position in a couple of years. Is there a transition that’s now afoot that we might
actually come out better on the other end? Paul, any thoughts about that?
Madsen: Perhaps we focus too much on the security challenges or issues of mobility and less so
on the opportunities, but the opportunities are clear. As Mark indicated, the phones, not just
because of its technical features, but because of the relatively tight binding that users feel for
them, make a really strong authentication factor.
It's the old trope of something you have, something you know, and something you are. Phones
are something you already have, from the user’s point of view. It’s not an additional hard token
or hard USB token that we're asking employees to carry with them. It's
something they want to carry, particularly if it's a BYOD phone.
So phones, because they're connected mobile computers, make a really strong
second-factor authentication, and we're seeing that more and more. As I said,
it’s one that users are happy using because of the relationship they already have
with their phones, for all the other reasons.
Gardner: It certainly seems to make sense that you would authenticate into
your work environment through your phone. You might authenticate in the
airport to check in with your phone and you might use it for other sorts of commerce. It seems
that we have the idea, but we need to get there somehow.
What’s architecturally missing for us to make this transition of the phone as the primary way in
which people are identiﬁed session by session, place by place? Michael, any thoughts about that?
Barrett: There are a couple of things. One, in today’s world, we don’t yet have open standards
that help to drive cross-platform authentication, and we don’t have the right architecture for that.
In today’s world still, if you are using a phone with a virtual keyboard, you're
forced to type this dreadful, unreadable tiny password on the keyboard, and by
the way, you can’t actually read what you just typed. That’s a pretty miserable
user experience, which we alluded to earlier.
But also, it’s a very ugly. It’s a mainframe-centric architecture. The notion that
the authentication credentials are shared secrets that you know and that are
stored on some central server is a very, very 1960s approach to the world. My
own belief is that, in fact, we have to move towards a much more device-
centric authentication model, where the remote server actually doesn’t know
your authentication credentials. Again, that comes back to both architecture and standards.
My own view is that if we put those in place, the world will change. Many of us remember the
happy days of the late '80s and early '90s when ofﬁces were getting wired up, and we had client-
server applications everywhere. Then, HTML and HTTP came along, and the world changed.
We're looking at the same kind of change, driven by the right set of appropriately designed open
Gardner: So standards, behavior, and technology make for an interesting adoption path,
sometimes a chicken and the egg relationship. Tell me about FIDO and perhaps any thoughts
about how we make this transition and adoption happen sooner rather than later?
Barrett: I gave a little hint. FIDO is an open-standards organization really aiming to develop a
set of technical standards to enable device-centric authentication that is easier for end users to
use. As an ex-CTO, I can tell you the experience when you try to give them stronger
authenticators that are harder for them to use. They won’t voluntarily use them.
We have to do better than we're doing today in terms of ease of use of authentication. We also
have to come up with authentication that is stronger for the relying parties, because that’s the
other face of this particular coin. In today’s world, passwords and pins work very badly for end
users. They actually work brilliantly for the criminals.
So I'm kind of old school on this. I tend to think that security controls should be there to make
life better for relying parties and users and not for criminals. Unfortunately, in today’s world,
they're kind of inverted.
So FIDO is simply an open-standards organization that is building and deﬁning those classes of
standards and, through our member companies, is promulgating deployment of those standards.
Madsen: I think FIDO is important. Beyond the fact that it’s a standard is the pattern that it’s
normalizing. The pattern is one where the user logically authenticates to their phone, whether it
be with a ﬁngerprint or a pin, but the authentication is local. Then, leveraging the phone’s
capabilities -- storage, crypto, connectivity. etc. -- the phone authenticates to the server. It’s that
pattern of a local authentication followed by a server authentication that I think we are going to
see over and over.
Gardner: Thank you, Paul. It seems to me that most people are onboard with this. I know that,
as a user, I'm happy to have the device authenticate. I think developers would love to have this
authentication move to a context on a network or with other variables brought to bear. They can
create whole new richer services when they have a context for participation. It seems to me the
enterprises are onboard too. So there's a lot of potential momentum around this. What does it
take now to move the needle forward? What should we expect to hear at CIS? Let’s go to you,
Diodati: There are two dimensions to moving the needle forward: avoiding the failures of prior
mobile authentication systems, and ensuring that modern authentication systems support critical
applications. Both are crucial to the success of any authentication system, including FIDO.
At CIS, we have an in-depth, three-hour FIDO workshop and many mobile authentication
There are a couple of things that I like about FIDO. First, it can use the biometric capabilities of
the device. Many smart phones have an accelerometer, a camera, and a microphone. We can get a
really good initial authentication. Also, FIDO leverages public-key technology, which overcomes
some of the concerns we have around other kinds of technologies, particularly one-time
Madsen: To that last point Mark, I think FIDO and SAML, or more recent federation protocols,
complement each other wonderfully. FIDO is a great authentication technology, and federation
historically has not resolved that. Federation didn't claim to answer that issue, but if you put the
two together, you get a very strong initial authentication. Then, you're able to broadcast that out
to the applications that you want to access. And that’s a strong combination.
Barrett: One of the things that we haven't really mentioned here -- and Paul just hinted at it -- is
the relationship between single sign-on and authentication. When you talk to many
organizations, they look at that as two different sides of the same coin. So the better application
or ubiquity you can get, and the more applications you can sign the user on with less interaction,
is a good thing.
Gardner: Before we go a little bit deeper into what’s coming up, let’s take another pause and
look back. There have been some attempts to solve these problems. Many, I suppose, have been
from a perspective of a particular vendor or a type of device or platform or, in an enterprise
sense, using what they already know or have.
We've had containerization and virtualization on the mobile tier. It is, in a sense, going back to
the past where you go right to the server and very little is done on the device other than the
connection. App wrapping would fall under that as well, I suppose. What have been the pros and
cons and why isn’t containerization enough to solve this problem? Let’s start with Michael.
Barrett: If you look back historically, what we've tended to see are lot of attempts that are truly
proprietary in nature. Again, my own philosophy on this is that proprietary technology is really
great for many things, but there are certain domains that simply need a strong standards-based
There really hasn't been an attempt at this for some years. Pretty much, we have to go back to X.
509 to see the last major standards-based push at solving authentication. But X.509 came with a
whole bunch of baggage, as well as architectural assumptions around a very disconnected world
view that is kind of antithetical to where we are today, where we have a very largely connected
I tend to think of it through that particular set of lenses, which is that the standards attempts in
this area are old, and many of the approaches that have been tried over the last decade have been
For example, on my old team at PayPal, I had a small group of folks who surveyed security
vendors. I remember asking them to tell me how many authentication vendors there were and to
plot that for me by year?
Growing number of vendors
They sighed heavily, because their database wasn’t organized that way, but then came back a
couple of weeks later. Essentially they said that in 2007, it was 30-odd vendors, and it has been
going up by about a dozen a year, plus or minus some, ever since, and we're now comfortably at
more than 100.
Any market that has 100 vendors, none of whose products interoperate with each other, is a
failing market, because none of those vendors, bar only a couple, can claim very large market
share. This is just a market where we haven’t seen the right kind of approaches deployed, and as
a result, we're struck where we are today without doing something different.
Gardner: Paul, any thoughts on containerization, pros and cons?
Madsen: I think of phones as almost two completely orthogonal aspects. First is how you can
leverage the phone to authenticate the user. Whether it’s FIDO or something proprietary, there's
value in that.
Secondly is the phone as an application platform, a means to access potentially sensitive
applications. What mobile applications introduce that’s somewhat novel is the idea of pulling
down that sensitive business data to the device, where it can be more easily lost or stolen, given
the mobility and the size of those devices.
The challenge for the enterprise is, if you want to enable your employees with devices, or enable
them to bring their own in, how do you protect that data. It seems more and more important, or
recognized as the challenge, that you can’t.
The challenge is not only protecting the data, but keeping the usage of the phone separate. IT,
arguably and justiﬁably, wants to protect the business data on it, but the employee, particularly in
a BYOD case, wants to keep their use of the phone isolated and private.
So containerization or dual-persona systems attempt to slice and dice the phone up into two or
more pieces. What is missing from those models, and it’s changing, is a recognition that, by
deﬁnition, that’s an identity problem. You have two identities—the business user and the
personal user—who want to use the same device, and you want to compartmentalize those two
identities, for both security and privacy reasons.
Identity standards and technologies could play a real role in keeping those pieces separate.The
employee might use Box for the business usage, but might also use it for personal usage. That’s
an identity problem, and identity will keep those two applications and their usages separate.
Diodati: To build on that a little bit, if you take a look at the history of containerization, there
were some technical problems and some usability problems. There was a lack of usability that
drove an acceptance problem within a lot of enterprises. That’s changing over time.
To talk about what Michael was talking about in terms of the failure of other standardized
approaches to authentication, you could look back at OATH, which is maybe the last big industry
push, 2004-2005, to try to come up with a standard approach, and it failed on interoperability.
OATH was a one-time password, multi-vendor capability. But in the end, you really couldn’t
mix and match devices. Interoperability is going to be a big, big criteria for acceptance of FIDO.
Mobile device management
Gardner: Another thing out there in the market now, and it has gotten quite a bit of attention
from enterprises as they are trying to work through this, is mobile device management (MDM).
Do you have any thoughts, Mark, on why that has not necessarily worked out or won’t work out?
What are the pros and cons of MDM?
Diodati: Most organizations of a certain size are going to need an enterprise mobility
management solution. There is a whole lot that happens behind the scenes in terms of binding the
user's identity, perhaps putting a certiﬁcate on the phone.
Michael talked about X.509. That appears to be the lowest common denominator for
authentication from a mobile device today, but that can change over time. We need ways to be
able to authenticate users, perhaps issue them certiﬁcates on the phone, so that we can do things
Also, we may be required to give some users access to ofﬂine secured data. That’s a combination
of apps and enterprise mobility management (EMM) technology. In a lot of cases, there's an
EMM gateway that can really help with giving ofﬂine secure access to things that might be
stored on network ﬁle shares or in SharePoint, for example.
If there's been a stumbling block with EMM, it's just been that the heterogeneity of the devices,
making it a challenge to implement a common set of policies.
But also the technology of EMM had to mature. We went from BlackBerry Enterprise Server,
which did a pretty good job in a homogeneous world, but maybe didn't address everybody’s
needs. The AirWatchs and the Mobile Irons of the world, they've had to deal with heterogeneity
and increased functionality.
Madsen: The fundamental issue with MDM is, as the name suggests, that you're trying to
manage the device, as opposed to applications or data on the device. That worked okay when the
enterprise was providing employees with their BlackBerry, but it's hard to reconcile in the
BYOD world, where users are bringing in their own iPhones or Androids. In their mind, they
have a completely justiﬁed right to use that phone for personal applications and usage.
So some of the mechanisms of MDM remain relevant, being able to wipe data off the phone, for
example, but the device is no longer the appropriate granularity. It's some portion of the device
that the enterprise is authoritative over.
Gardner: It seems to me, though, that we keep coming back to several key concepts:
authentication and identity, and then, of course, a standardization approach that ameliorates those
interoperability and heterogeneity issues.
So let’s look at identity and authentication. Some people make them interchangeable. How
should we best understand them as being distinct? What’s the relationship between them and
why are they so essential for us to move to a new architecture for solving these issues? Let’s start
with you, Michael.
Identity is center
Barrett: I was thinking about this earlier. I remember having some arguments with Phil Becker
back in the early 2000s when I was running the Liberty Alliance, which was the standards
organization that came up with SAML 2.0. Phil coined that phrase, "Identity is center," and he
used to argue that essentially everything fell under identity.
What I thought back then, and still largely do, is that identity is a broad and complex domain. In
a sense, as we've let it grow today, they're not the same thing. Authentication is deﬁnitely a sub-
domain of security, along with a whole number of others. We talked about containerization
earlier, which is a kind of security-isolation technique in many regards. But I am not sure that
identity and authentication are exactly in the same dimension.
In fact, the way I would describe it is that if we talk about something like the levels-of-assurance
model, we're all fairly familiar with in the identity sense. Today, if you look at that, that’s got
authentication and identity veriﬁcation concepts bound together.
In fact, I suspect that in the coming year or two, we're probably going to have to decouple those
and say that it’s not really a linear one-dimensonal thing, with level one, level two, level three,
and level four. Rather it's a kind of two-dimensional metric, where we have identity veriﬁcation
concepts on one side and then authentication comes from the other. Today, we've collapsed them
together, and I am not sure we have actually done anybody any favors by doing that.
Deﬁnitely, they're closely related. You can look at some of the difﬁculties that we've had with
identity over the last decade and say that it’s because we actually ignored the authentication
aspect. But I'm not sure they're the same thing intrinsically.
Gardner: Interesting. I've heard people say that any high-level security mobile device has to be
about identity. How else could it possibly work? Authentication has to be part of that, but identity
seems to be getting more traction in terms of a way to solve these issues across all other variables
and to be able to adjust accordingly over time and even automate by a policy.
Mark, how do you see identity and authentication? How important is identity as a new vision for
solving these problems?
Diodati: You would have to put security at the top, and identity would be a subset of things that
happen within security. Identity includes authorization -- determining if the user is authorized to
access the data. It also includes provisioning. How do we manipulate user identities within
critical systems -- there is never one big identity in the sky. Identity includes authentication and a
couple of other things.
To answer the second part of your question, Dana, in the role of identity and trying to solve these
problems, we in the identity community have missed some opportunities in the past to talk about
identity as the great enabler.
With mobile devices, we want to have the ability to enforce basic security controls , but it’s
really about identity. Identity can enable so many great things to happen, not only just for
enterprises, but within the digital economy at large. There's a lot of opportunity if we can orient
identity as an enabler.
Authentication and identity
Madsen: I just think authentication is something we have to do to get to identity. If there were
no bad people in the world and if people didn’t lie, we wouldn’t need authentication.
We would all have a single identiﬁer, we would present ourselves, and nobody else would lay
claim to that identiﬁer. There would be no need for strong authentication. But we don’t live there.
Identity is fundamental, and authentication is how we lay claim to a particular identity.
Diodati: You can build the world's best authorization policies. But they are completely
worthless, unless you've done the authentication right, because you have zero conﬁdence that the
users are who they say there are.
Gardner: So, I assume that multifactor authentication also is in the subset. It’s just a way of
doing it better or more broadly, and more variables and devices that can be brought to bear. Is
Diodati: The deﬁnition of multifactor has evolved over time too. In the past, we talked about
“strong authentication”. What we mean was “two-factor authentication,” and that is really
changing, particularly when you look at some of the emerging technologies like FIDO.
If you have to look at the broader trends around adaptive authentication, the relationship to the
user or the consumer is more distant. We have to apply a set of adaptive techniques to get better
identity assurance about the user.
Gardner: I'm just going to make a broad assumption here that the authentication part of this
does get solved, that multifactor authentication, adaptive, using devices that people are familiar
with, that they are comfortable doing, even continuing to use many of the passwords, single sign-
on, all that gets somehow rationalized.
Then, we're elevated to this notion of identity. How do we then manage that identity across these
domains? Is there a central repository? Is there a federation? How would a standard come to bear
on that major problem of the federation issue, control, and management and updating and so
forth? Let’s go back to Michael on that.
Barrett: I tend to start from a couple of different perspectives on this. One is that we do have to
ﬁx the authentication standards problem, and that's essentially what FIDO is trying to do.
So, if you accept that FIDO solves authentication, what you are left with is an evolution of a set
of standards that, over the last dozen years or so, starting with SAML 2.0, but then going on up
through the more recent things like OpenID Connect and OAuth 2.0, and so on, gives you a
robust backplane for building whatever business arrangement is appropriate, given the problem
you are trying to solve.
Ichose the word "business" quite consciously in there, because it’s fair to say that there are
certain classes of models that have stalled out commercially for a whole bunch of reasons,
particularly around the dreaded L-word, i.e, liability.
We tried to build things that were too complicated. We could just describe this grand long-term
vision of what the universe looked like. Andrew Nash is very fond of saying that we can describe
this rich ecosystem as identity-enabled services and so on, but you can’t get there from here,
which is the punch line of a rather old joke.
Gardner: Mark, we understand that identity is taking on a whole new level of importance. Are
there some examples that we can look to that illustrate how an identity-centric approach to
security, governance, manageability for mobile tier activities, even ways it can help developers
bring new application programming interfaces (APIs) into play and context for commerce and
location, are things we haven’t even scratched the surface of yet really?
Help me understand, through an example rather than telling, how identity ﬁts into this and what
we might expect identity to do if all these things can be managed, standards, and so forth.
Diodati: Identity is pretty broad when you take a look at the different disciplines that might be at
play. Let’s see if we can pick out a few.
We have spoken about authentication a lot. Emerging standards like FIDO are important, so that
we can support applications that require higher assurance levels with less cost and usability
A difﬁcult trend to ignore is the API-ﬁrst development modality. We're talking about things like
OAuth and OpenID Connect. Both of those are very important, critical standards when we start
talking about the use of API- and even non-API HTTP based stuff.
OpenID Connect, in particular, gives us some abilities for users to ﬁnd where they want to
authenticate and give them access to the data they need. The challenge is that the mobile app is
interacting on behalf of a user. How do you actually apply things like adaptive techniques to an
API session to raise identity assurance levels? Given that OpenID Connect was just ratiﬁed
earlier this year, we're still in early stages of how that’s going to play out.
Gardner: Michael, any thoughts on examples, use cases, a vision for how this should work in
the not too distant future?
Barrett: I'm a great believer in open standards, as I think I have shown throughout the course of
this discussion. I think that OpenID Connect, in particular, and the fact that we now have that
standard ratiﬁed, [is useful]. I do believe that the standards, to a very large extent, allow the
creation of deployments that will address those use-cases that have been really quite difﬁcult
[without these standards in place].
Ahead of demand
The problem that you want to avoid, of course, is that you don’t want a standard to show up too
far ahead of the demand. Otherwise, what you wind up with is just some interesting speciﬁcation
that never gets implemented, and nobody ever bothers deploying any of the implementations of
So, I believe in just-in-time standards development. As an industry, identity has matured a lot
over the last dozen years. When SAML 2.0 came along in Shibboleth, it was a very federation-
centric world, addressing a very small class of use cases. Now, we have a more robust sets of
standards. What’s going to be really interesting is to see, how those new standards get used to
address use cases that the previous standards really couldn’t?
I'm a bit of a believer in sort of Darwinian evolution on this stuff and that, in fact, it’s hard to
predict the future now. Niels Bohr famously said, "Prediction is hard, especially when it involves
the future.” There is a great deal of truth to that.
Gardner: Hopefully we will get some clear insights at the Cloud Identity Summit this month,
July 19, and there will be more information to be had there.
I also wonder whether we're almost past the point now when we talk about mobile security, cloud
security, data-center security. Are we going to get past that, or is this going to become more of a
fabric of security that the standards help to deﬁne and then the implementations make concrete?
Before we sign off, Mark, any last thoughts about moving beyond segments of security into a
more pervasive concept of security?
Diodati: We're already starting to see that, where people are moving towards software as a
service (SaaS) and moving away from on-premises applications. Why? A couple of reasons. The
revenue and expense model lines up really well with what they are doing, they pay as they grow.
There's not a big bang of initial investment. Also, SaaS is turnkey, which means that much of the
security lifting is done by the vendor.
That's also certainly true with infrastructure as a service (IaaS). If you look at things like Amazon
Web Services (AWS). It is more complicated than SaaS, it is a way to converge security
functions within the cloud.
Gardner: We're going to have to leave it there I'm afraid. You've been listening to a sponsored
BrieﬁngsDirect podcast panel discussion on blazing paths to a secure mobile future, how to make
today’s ubiquitous mobile devices as low risk as they are indispensable.
While we have seen many new approaches for retaining a safe and protected era, I expect that
we're going to be learning a lot more as this all comes to a head at the Cloud Identity Summit
2014 in Monterey, California beginning July 19.
I want to thank our guests. We've been joined by Paul Madsen, a Principal Technical Architect in
the Ofﬁce of the CTO at Ping Identity. We've also been joined by Michael Barrett, President of
the FIDO Alliance. And then lastly, Mark Diodati, a Technical Director in the Ofﬁce of the CTO
at Ping. Thanks to you all.
And so also a big thank you to our audience for joining this podcast. I appreciate your time and
look for more information coming out of the CIS in just a few weeks.
This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator. Thanks
for listening, and do come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Sponsor: Ping Identity
Transcript of a BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on establishing identity and authentication in the face of
a growing reliance on mbole devices in the enterprise. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC,
2005-2014. All rights reserved.
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