Just say it! User Experience Trumps Security!

I was about to file The Register’s mobile security article into my “just another article on mobiles and security” when I noticed what I believe to be a half-witted quote.

So, in context. The Register published an article titled “Banks defend integrity of passcode-less TouchID login”. The banks and the quote in question are from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and NatWest.

What’s the half-witted quote then?

I will address the first two statements for this blog piece.

We do everything we can to make banking secure for our customers and we've tested this to make sure it was safe before launch. Other banking institutions across the world are also using this technology with their customers.

Where is the proof that the above statement is true? The banks could have chosen to have the BSI Kitemark Secure Digital Transaction. Barclays appears to be the only bank that has some of its products approved by the BSI (you can check this on the BSI site)

API spoofing and access to data held in the secure keychain is only possible on a jail-broken iPhone. We strongly advise customers against tampering with the security of their phone.

Really! Blaming it on jail-broken iPhones and users. Most non technical customers would not, in my opinion, know if their iPhone is jail broken or not. In addition the banks are appearing to acknowledge that there is a problem by admitting jail-broken phones are susceptible. So why not configure their app to check for and block installations on jail-broken iPhones?

Also maybe the banks and their outsourcer should have read the recent Mobile Threat Assessment report from FireEye that discusses the increasing ease by which hackers can bypass Apple’s strict review process and invoke risky private APIs. This on non jail-broken iPhones! (the report is titled OUT OF POCKET: A Comprehensive Mobile Threat Assessment of 7 Million iOS and Android Apps)

Be Nice to the Banks.. Come on. Surely they know what they are doing, right?

Let’s give the banks the benefit of the doubt for a minute. They value their customer’s right? During their countless requirements workshops, user experience would have been at the forefront of all their requirements. Right?

“What would our users want?” may have been one of their primary questions during their multiple brain storming sessions. Surely security would have come up during these discussions, right?

So, what about security?

Now I know banks, like most organisations, have to balance security versus cost. Banks have a risk appetite and tolerance and must make trade-offs when it comes to security versus usability. The 4 digit pin is a great example. I get that view and in many cases agree with that approach.

I am guessing there must have been some trade-off with this Touch ID based app too. They must have made assumptions that there will be those who will hack and abuse the system for monetary gain. However, I am guessing, with their compute and brain power, they would have calculated the likelihood and the financial impact to be negligible. The risk acceptable and within their appetite.

So why not come out with one of the first Touch ID only banking apps!

On the other hand it could just be that no one actually thought about security! Maybe because they wrongly assumed that Apple products are super secure or they simply forgot about it altogether.

What’s truly disappointing is that the bank had an opportunity to get both user experience and security right without necessarily sacrificing either. Sadly, it seems, security was again a second thought.



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