Friday, July 20, 2007

Tips for avoiding bad authentication challenge questions

I’m excited to share the news about a brand new white paper that I wrote for Security PS. The paper is called Tips for Avoiding Bad Authentication Challenge Questions. To be clear, a challenge question is a question used for authentication that asks you for personal information. Examples are “what is your mother’s maiden name” and “what is your pet’s name”. Financial institutions, including many of our clients, have implemented challenge questions in an effort to improve online authentication for higher risk applications.

My goal with this paper was to review how well these questions actually succeed in effectively authenticating users. I subjected challenge questions to a framework for evaluating authenticators that I developed several years ago. I also gathered a variety of examples from clients and public sources so I could illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of different questions. I think you may be surprised by our conclusions.

If your organization has implemented challenge question authentication or are simply interested in how much security they provide, I encourage you to give it a read. I’d love to get your feedback about the paper. Please enter your comments on this blog entry or send me an email directly. You’ll find my contact information at the end of the paper.

Paper link:

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