Tipping the balance

Security is often seen as a trade-off for usability – a poor customer experience risks your product being unloved and unused; poor security leaves you at risk of a fine, sanctions, reputational damage or a swift and terminal death of your product, service or organisation.  As a product owner usability issues are usually quite tangible.  We can see through the users eyes the clumsiness that security measures introduce.  Often security is about risk, or intangible issues.  Judgements are made on likelihood and impact; we gaze into the crystal ball to imagine what would happen in the event that the security risks come true or the issues are exploited.  This crystal ball gazing often results in the wrong balance being struck – which invariably leads to poor outcomes regardless of which side we’ve come down on.


Authentication is one such area of functionality that product owners get badly wrong.  As the front door for customers to your product or service, getting authentication right is imperative.  Single factor authentication is generally inadequate for anything important and poor implementations of less important access undermine the entire ecosystem.  Two factor authentication is often clunky and not user friendly – having to run out of the building to get a mobile phone signal to receive your SMS one-time-passcode, carrying around an authentication token that you have with you at all times apart from when you actually need it, or needing to authenticate into another service to be able to authenticate into the service that you actually want to use.
To get authentication right, context is everything – if we factor in what the user is wishing to do, and combine with behavioural knowledge that we have of the user we can increase both security and usability.
Let’s look at a traditional use case: When I get into my car, I place my smartphone into its cradle and it connects itself, via Bluetooth to my car’s audio system.  As I’m driving along, I give a command to the smartphone’s virtual assistant – and recognising my command it says “you’ll have to unlock your phone so I can do that” – which I can’t do… as I’m driving.
Now if we look at the same use case with applied context: my phone is in my car so the chances of someone else using it are less.  While I still might not want to open full functionality – I don’t want someone to steal my phone, car and empty my bank account – I can authorise more functionality without the need for any further authentication.  I can also use behavioural information to further reduce the security risk – do I normally get my schedule narrated while I’m driving to the station?  The introduction of new credential use can be facilitated too – while voice biometrics may not be very reliable in a noisy environment, I can increase the matching tolerance due to the more granular levels of context applied.

This use of multifactor authentication and authorisation allow a much richer balance of security and usability to be achieved.  Behavioural biometrics and multifactor authentication could allow product owners to tip the balance in the favour of both usability and security.

Read my other posts
You don’t know what you’re doing – Poor security practices are putting users at risk 
I didn’t say you could touch me – Biometric authentication and identity
You don’t need to tell me – Impacts of the EU General Data Protection Regulations
Coming together on being alone – The need for a clear government digital strategy
I’m not the person I used to be – Authentication for real world identities
Distributed Identity has no clothes – Will distributed ledger technology solve identity
Bring Your Own Downfall – Why we should embrace federated identity
Unblocking Digital Identity – Identity on the Blockchain as the next big thing
Tick to Agree – Doing the right thing with customer’s data
The Kids Are All Right – Convenient authentication: the minimum standard for the younger generation
The ridiculous mouse – Why identity assurance must be a rewarding experience for users
Big Brother’s Protection – How Big Brother can protect our privacy
I don’t know who I am anymore – How to prove your identity online
Three Little Words – What it means for your business to be agile

Defining the Business Analyst – Better job descriptions for Business Analysis
Unexpected Customer Behaviour –  The role of self-service in your customer service strategy
Rip it up and start again – The successful Business Transformation
Too Big To Fail – Keeping the heart of your business alive
The upstarts at the startups – How startups are changing big business 
One Small Step – The practice of greatness
In pursuit of mediocrity – Why performance management systems drive mediocrity

About me

Bryn Robinson-Morgan is an independent Business Consultant with interests in Identity Assurance, Agile Organisational Design and Customer Centric Architecture.  Bryn has 20 years experience working with some of the United Kingdom’s leading brands and largest organisations.

Follow Bryn on Twitter: @No1_BA



Connect with Bryn on Linked In: Bryn Robinson-Morgan


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