Box-ticking mentality leads to insecurity

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Sep 6, 2013

Credit card company fails to understand how authentication works.

Security experts often bemoan a 'box-ticking' mentality and argue that in many cases ticking boxes doesn't address the real issues. In some cases, it can even make things less secure.

Yesterday I received a call from what was probably my credit card company. The caller asked if I was who they thought I was, which I happened to be, and then asked me to answer some security questions.

I explained that I wouldn't answer these questions until I was sure that they were indeed my credit card company - and not some crooks trying to obtain my banking details. However, the caller insisted that he could not proceed with the call, or even tell me what the call was about, until I had answered these questions. 'Data protection' was cited as the reason for this policy.

I thus ended the conversation even though I was, in fact, quite certain this was indeed my credit card supplier. For I had had the very same conversation twice before and in a subsequent email discussion, the company had staunchly defended this policy.

I didn't manage to convince them then, and I didn't manage to convince them this time either that, since they were the ones initiating the call, they were the ones who should authenticate themselves first.

Getting authentication right is surprisingly difficult, so in practice it would probably be easiest if the company just told me to ring them back on the number that is printed on my card. Or, in the quite likely case the call wasn't important at all, just inform me in general terms about possible extras they have on offer.

Of course it is frustrating to see a rather obvious example of security go wrong. But I think it is an example of something bigger.

The company is right to worry about accidentally giving my details to someone else who happens to pick up my phone. This would likely be a breach of the Data Protection Act and, apart from being liable to any losses I would incur as a result, they could also face a hefty fine.

But I too am right to worry about accidentally giving my details to someone else calling me while pretending be the card issuer. I would not be fined for doing so, but could easily lose money as a result. And even if I could avoid making losses by cancelling any rogue payments, it would still dent my trust in the company, which would see both me and it losing.

Security doesn't work by ticking a few boxes to avoid responsibility. It only works if everyone tries to see the bigger picture.

Posted on 6 September 2013 by Martijn Grooten

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