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Mobile Identity—WTF?

By Adrian Lane

Identity management on mobile devices: How do we do it?

I have been taking a lot of calls on mobile identity issues and solutions over the last three months, and I am just as confused now as when I started looking into this subject. And I think the vendors I have spoken with are reaching, in their assessments of the right course of action and where the market is heading. If you want to implement identity on a mobile device, what do you do?

  • Option 1, Crawl: Use a mobile browser and capture user names and passwords just like we do on the desktop. But mobile browsers kinda suck. People don’t want to use them and they suffer many of the same security problems we have had for a decade (see OWASP Top 10).

  • Option 2, Toddle: Augment with OAuth tokens. Is OAuth 2.0 even a standard? But what about the security issues of encryption, digital signatures, and bi-directional verification of trust?

  • Option 3, Walk: Adopt the ‘App’ model, and create an IAM app, which handles all the complicated identity stuff on your behalf. How does that app cooperate with other apps? How do we deal with personal and corporate personas? How do we deal with knowing the user is who they are supposed to be, and not a random person who found your phone?

  • Option 4, Run: Use special features of the mobile platform, such as voice recognition on phones, or cameras for facial recognition? Will that work when I am on the subway or in Starbucks? Does Joe User want that – enough to pay for it – or will they look at such things as privacy violations?

These are the options I am hearing about. And none of them seem to be fully thought out. And once we get past Toddle, who’s the buyer?

Seeking wisdom, I scaled the mountain to discuss the topic with Securosis’s IAM guru, Gunnar Peterson. What I got was:

“Mobile Identity? Ooohhh – it’s early days and it’s an unholy mess”.

Yes, that pretty much summed it up. Gunnar agreed that this is the current progression, and that Identity definitely gets ‘stronger’ with each progressive step outlined, but it also gets much more complicated.

Do you think I am over-reacting? Did I miss anything that concerns you? This is a topic we will dive into over the coming weeks, so I would like to hear from the community.

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The concept of micro-payments has been around for a long time: we are talking a decade before payment providers like TextPayMe, PayMate or any of the other current payment providers started to morph the concepts of ‘micro’ payments, ‘XMS’ and ‘mobile’ payments into one.

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