Friday, November 7, 2008

Transcending Authentication

While technology and computers are great, keeping them secure has become somewhat of a nuisance. In order to provide users with privacy protection, computers and software are increasingly in need of authentication with usernames and passwords in order to limit access. Over the years the Internet and other networks have allowed more and more companies to provide their patrons with remote access to their information and files. These websites include ones like Amazon, retail company sites, banks, financial trading systems, and medical insurance providers. As these companies utilize the Internet and provide their patrons with access from the Internet, large amounts of personal and private information have become accessible via this computer network. In order to ensure the security of this data, these companies require patrons to set up usernames and passwords with specific requirements. Many times, these requirements vary from company to company resulting in one person having a myriad set of usernames and passwords that are needed to access their information. Now, frankly, my memory sucks, so I am constantly forgetting my passwords and which one I use at which site. This unfortunately means that I am all too familiar with that “Forgot your password?” link, and it probably takes me just as long to log onto the website as it would to travel to the company’s nearest site.
It would be wonderful for everyone (OK, mainly for the likes of me) if computer security could move past all these troublesome passwords and offer other means of authentication. This is why my jaw dropped when I saw a description of Transcend’s JetFlash USB with fingerprint readers. These little gadgets, which are the same size as normal thumb drives and cost a comparable amount, read and analyze fingerprints as a means of verification. Instead of remembering a bunch of passwords, it would be amazing if I could just walk around with this little thumb drive, and when I am required to access secure information on a computer or over the internet, I could whip out my thumb drive, plug it in, and put my finger on it. It would then verify that I am actually me and allow me access to my information. There. No more wasting time over failing to remember passwords. Heck, I’d even carry around a retina scanner, if it would mean that I did not have to remember any more passwords. There seems like there are so many possible ways that could be used to provide authentication in the place of the old password system. Why haven’t they caught on yet? If they want to develop DNA readers for authentication, I will gladly submit to the bloodletting each time I log in as long as there are no passwords. I know many people will see these measures as an invasion of privacy or as some government conspiratorial plot. However, they should not stand in the way of progress, and if they want to remain tied to passwords, they will have that choice available. But for the rest of us that are simply hindered by this infernal passwords driven society, allow that progress to be made. Hopefully these biometric identification systems continue to come down in price and are eventually accepted by society. When done right, they represent a very secure authentication system that will have a much higher convenience factor, but they will still offer powerful protection of our personal information that needs to stay private.

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