Can Technology Stop Social Engineering Tricks -- Or Does It Make It Worse?

from the questions-questions-questions dept

There's been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about new guidelines from federal officials designed to help prevent online banking fraud by requiring some form of two-factor authentication, such as a security token that changes the code every sixty seconds. At a first pass, this may sound like a good idea. It helps get past the single username/password setup that is so easy to break (especially if you can get someone to cough up their password for the simplest of trinkets, or just by asking them for the password). However, some are suggesting that this new plan for two-factor authentication isn't such a good one. First of all, it will be expensive to implement. Banks will need to send customers the tokens or scratch off cards or whatever other system they use. They'll have to upgrade their own systems to handle that. Then, it makes life more difficult for users. Customers have to figure out how the token/card works, always carry it around with them and try not to lose it. Then, if the banks don't agree on a standard system, customers may be required to carry around a bunch of tokens with them at all time -- which won't be much fun. However, the worst of it is that the scammers will adjust so that such methods may not help very much at all. The problem is that most bank fraud is really done by social engineering: tricking people into giving up the info necessary to get into their account. So, now, all the scammers need to do is to trick them into giving up the token/scratch card info as well, or just using a standard man in the middle attack. Yes, it may be more time-limited, but that might not matter. In fact, the article notes that customers of a Scandinavian bank using two-factor authentication have already been scammed. What it comes down to is that most banking scams are done by social engineering -- and that's pretty difficult to stop by technology means.

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  1. identicon
    Nick Owen, 3 Nov 2005 @ 5:23am

    Re: Smart Chip

    Bill:
    This is what we have done with WiKID. We use asymmetric encryption and a PIN, which gives you the ability to work across multiple servers. It also makes token distribution simple because the keys are generated on the device and then key pairs are swapped.
    We have also extended the PC client to validate the SSL certificate of the site for the user, which will help prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. You can test this on the open source version which is on sf.net:
    http://sourceforge.net/projects/wikid-twofactor/
    Nick

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