Mobile as the digital identity for India

Without giving it much thought – we have increasingly started to live double lives. There is our physical, everyday “organic” life and then there is our “digital” life. Slowly or maybe not that slowly, the boundary between the two has started to become more and more blurred. This brings on a very exciting new world and at the same time some interesting challenges, the most important and interesting one is about the “identity” and everything around it, including “proving” the identity. Questions like “How do I know you are who you say you are?” no longer becomes absurd and starts to be in the mainstream.

 

Source: Peter Steiner’s cartoon, as published in The New Yorker

In the physical “organic” life, we consciously or subconsciously use psychological mechanisms to “create a proof in our mind” that the “identity” is correct, based on personal story, contextual experiences referred as the “past personal narrative”. So we know the person is Sunil, based on our past experience with the individual, our personal memory of the associated facial recognition, voice, behavior and so on. The “proving” of the identity is “authentication”. In the “digital” life – it’s not based on “past personal narrative”, but with the little box that asks us to “prove” we “know something” …………


Looks familiar, right ? This little text box has survived over 5 decades!! Passwords were first used in 1961 in MIT, in a time sharing system CTSS (Compatible Time Sharing System). The purpose of the “Password” was to test “Is it really you?” and surprisingly, it is still used for the same purpose, even after more than 5 decades. This is absolutely amazing, as we hear regular stories about the high profile security breaches involving passwords, still that little text box has survived so long !! As per the Verizon’s 2014 Data Breach Investigations Report, 2 out of every 3 data breaches involve passwords. The problem has been amplified with the massive proportion of our lives involved in the “digital” world. A survey published by Password Boss in July 2015 suggests that 59% percent of users reuse their passwords and the reason being “its too hard to remember them”. This is not surprising, as this is basic human psychology – we normal humans generally can only remember limited number of different combinations.

Here is an interesting report from Splashdata, published in January 2015, which lists the most popular passwords for 2014.

What does that mean – the compromise of the passwords at the weakest link in our “digital” life impacts the strongest and most secure sites as well, as we start to reuse our passwords between the sites [If my banking site password is reused at my grocery store site, then a compromise at the grocery store site impacts directly the banking site – as I am reusing the password at these sites].

The GSMA Consumer Research 2015 found out that 68% of consumers say that forgetting passwords is a significant problem, which then leads to reusing. Given a choice between security and convenience – users tend to lean towards convenience in this case, and balancing the two is critical for our “digital” lives. This is extremely important for India, as there are 350 million Internet users in India, which is growing at a staggering rate and predicted to reach 503 million by 2017.

So where is the problem? The problem is much more fundamental and not just about security implementation, as otherwise the “password” would not have survived that long.

The problem is not about “security” – it’s about the “identity”. We almost forget that there is a service that we use several times a day, a service that is omnipresent, a service that we almost cannot live without and something that is always with us – and still, we do not need to use password to prove our identity – it’s the Mobile Phone. That does not mean that its not secure – on the contrary its extremely secure, hardened by the Mobile Network Security mechanisms, business processes and fraud prevention mechanisms. Mobile Services are an excellent example of balancing “convenience” and “security”. The question then comes to mind – “Hey, why don’t we use this to solve the Password problem?” That’s exactly what “Mobile Connect” is, a global mobile industry solution that provides “conveniently secure and a private” way to replace passwords, utilising the mobile device and the mobile network assets. For India, it is even more critical, as 50% of the Internet users in India use it only from mobile.

So, what exactly is Mobile Connect? Mobile Connect is a simple, secure and convenient authentication mechanism in our “digital” lives, which uses the mobile device as the “authentication device”. It uses the inherent security associated with the possession of the mobile device, which proves “Something I Have” along with adding additional security with “Personal PIN” to prove “Something I Know”.

Here is a journey of Sunil in his “digital” life – Sunil wants to access his online banking site, he needs to prove his digital identity, i.e. he needs to be authenticated. The banking site offers Sunil to use Mobile Connect for authentication. Sunil clicks on the Mobile Connect button, he is been asked to enter his mobile phone number. He gets a prompt at his mobile device to enter his “Personal PIN”. He is authenticated and starts to use his online banking service – No passwords to use. The same “Personal PIN” is used by Sunil when he needs to buy a gift from the online shop, again no passwords to use.

The Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, Government of India has published the “Guidelines on Mobile as Digital Identity” in July 2015, which suggests the same. It even suggests the linkage of the Aadhaar numbers with Mobile ID.

Linking the Mobile Connect account of the user with the Aadhaar creates a “Conveniently Secure” link between the user and the Aadhaar number, using the Mobile Device, so that Authenticating using Mobile Connect links the user’s Aadhaar number, without the user needing to remember or proving that the user has the possession of the Aadhaar number.

This opens up massive opportunities for India, lowering the barriers for proving identities in our “Digital” lives in a convenient and secure way, so that we can all live a “Happy Digital Life” in India.