Why Banks Should Consider Taking a Page from Facebook on Security Keys

By Yurcan, Bryan | American Banker, January 27, 2017 | Go to article overview

Why Banks Should Consider Taking a Page from Facebook on Security Keys


Yurcan, Bryan, American Banker


Byline: Bryan Yurcan

If Facebook brings physical security keys to the masses, is it time for online banking to finally adopt them too?

Facebook announced Thursday it is giving its users the option of authenticating with hardware security keys that meet the standards of the Faster Identity Online Alliance. These devices are typically the size of a thumb drive and can be plugged into the USB drive of a desktop computer. When logging in, after typing in their passwords, users would press a button on the device as a second factor of authentication.

Banks have long offered similar physical authentication devices to larger commercial clients, but rarely if ever to retail customers. The second factor of authentication is more likely to be a one-time code sent via email or text message.

Among consumers, usage of physical security tokens may be largely confined to computer geeks. But if Facebook brings these devices to a wider consumer audience, demand for such features may pick up. People using public wi-fi in places like coffee shops could then browse sensitive information -- such as personal banking data -- without fear of it falling into the wrong hands.

"Using hardware tokens in nothing new, but this could bring it to a mainstream consumer base," said Ben Knieff, a senior analyst with Aite Group.

He pointed out that the iPhone made Touch ID fingerprint authentication technology ubiquitous. Facebook's move "could be another example of that."

To be sure, in a world where bank customers are migrating from online banking to mobile banking -- on phones and tablets that don't feature USB ports -- physical security keys may seem to have missed their moment.

In a blog post Thursday, Brad Hill, a security engineer at Facebook, wrote that using a hardware key makes an account "practically immune to phishing because you don't have to enter a code yourself and the hardware provides cryptographic proof that it's in your machine. …

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