Customer Data: Convenience versus Security

Organisations in both the public and private sector are initiating programmes of work to convert previously physical or offline services, into more digital, on line and automated offerings.  This could include things like automated car tax purchase, through to insurance policy management and electricity meter reading submission and reporting.

Digitization versus Security

This move towards a more on line user experience, brings together several differing forces.  Firstly the driver for end user convenience and service improvement, against the requirements of data security and privacy.  Which should win?  There clearly needs to be a balance of security against service improvement.  Excessive and prohibitive security controls would result in a complex and often poor user experience, ultimately resulting in fewer users.  On the other hand, poorly defined security architectures, lead to data loss, with the impact for personal exposure and brand damage.

Customer Confidence, Brand Damage & Ethics 

Any on line service, needs to provide a layer of confidence to the end user.  The delivery of on line government services for example, could require the collection and storage of deeply personal data such as social security numbers, dates of birth, previous postal addresses, car registration details, health care numbers and so on.  Data, that in the wrong hands, could lead to a proliferation of identity fraud.

A flip side to distilling confidence in the end user, that their personal identifiable information (PII) is being kept secure, is that if (and when) a breach occurs, the potential damage to the service provider will be significant.

An ethical question is also raised - how will the data submitted by an end user be actually used? Initially, there has to be an "exchange of wants", when personal information is asked for.  For example, what does the end user get in return for revealing their email address, data of birth or address?  There has to be a service improvement, increased convenience aspect or price reduction, to make the exchange of information worth while.  But once that exchange has been implicitly agreed upon, the service provider then has an ethical duty to manage that data in accordance to transparent conditions published to the end user.  This would include the redistribution or selling of that data to third parties.

Customer Data Storage - Repositories, Hashes & Migration

There are clearly several physical requirements to how data is transferred and storage.  The use of transport level encryption (SSL/TLS) is a given, as is the symmetric encryption of sensitive data. Password data should be stored using a well known and modern hashing algorithm, possibly along with a salt.

End user or customer data is likely to exist in several different internal service provider repositories, with varying levels of detail.  Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are popular as are marketing and analytics databases, especially in the e-commerce world.  Other authoritative sources of data are likely to exist, most likely in large scale relational databases, with master data management and reporting services integrated into them.  That data may well need to be migrated into a new, highly scalable and highly available directory, possibly after consolidation and data cleansing activities have taken place.

Identifying High Risk Users - Device Printing & OTP

From a service provider perspective, once data has been securely captured and stored, there often needs to be a level of risk analysis integrated into the user login journey.  This can help to identify users of high risk - such as those accessing with stolen credentials or devices or users that have registered with fraudulent details.

Contextual login processes can help here.  This refers to things like identifying trusted networks or devices and mixing with environmental factors such as time.  The key is to identify high risk, then act upon it - perhaps by reducing that users capabilities within the service, or making them go through more rigorous levels of assurance, such as having to supply a one time password (OTP) via a token, mobile or email address.

Frictionless Signup & Login

The introduction of new digital services is a complex process.  Even if the security architecture has been agreed upon and implemented effectively, it cannot interfere with the end user journey from both a signup and login perspective.  Most users now assume a one-click style approach to registration - perhaps through the re-use of social media credentials.  The login approach needs to be equally simple, and seamless across a range of different platforms and devices, from laptops, mobile and tablets.

As more and more organisations go through digital transformation programmes, there needs to be a fine balance between end user convenience and security, that benefits and protects, not only the service provider, but the end user too.

By Simon Moffatt

5 Steps To Protecting Customer Identities

Bringing customers closer to an organization's services and applications is a key part of many Chief Digital Officers' (CDO) online strategy.  Organizations that have previously never provided their products and services online - I'm thinking traditional insurance providers, pension providers and other financial services - are now in a place where digitization of customer purchased assets is critical to future business success.

The main priority of the CDO is often to deliver new or improved online services quickly, to allow for market opportunities to be fulfilled.  Their primary concern is not necessarily focused on security, or privacy requirements.  Historically, these functions have been seen as inhibitive to user convenience, or a slowing factor in the software development cycle and are often applied retrospectively via audit and penetration testing.

So what main steps are important to securing customer identities?

1 - Identify & Register

Customers need a mechanism to register and identify themselves before they can access your online services, assets or applications.  This is generally done using a mixture of self-service, call centre and manual registration.  Unique usernames - if not using email address based identification - need to be upheld, as well as the ability to gather other personal attributes such as contact information.  This can be gathered using existing social network accounts using standards such as OAuth2 or OpenID Connect.

2 - Verify, Correlate & Store

If using self-registration, a mechanism needs to be in place to verify that the end user is who they say they are.  This becomes vitally important when dealing with financial assets, policies and so on.  Verification can occur using several methods including correlation of attribute values such as account numbers, ZIP codes and other personal information, back to an internally managed authoritative store.  The use of two-factor verification processes is also common here.  The issuance of verification codes, to either a registered email address, or more securely to a pre-registered physical mailing address, are two options.  The customer identity then needs storing in a globally available, highly scalable directory.  Depending on business requirements existing customers may well be in the hundreds of thousands, whilst potential customers could well be in the 10's of millions. This sort of scale needs to be considered.  The storage of password and other sensitive data also needs to be considered, with a wide use of hashing and salting algorithms put in place.  The algorithms and their implementation should also be done using existing frameworks and be not homegrown.

3 - Context Over Risk

Risk is of course subjective, but methods must be in place to help identify risk and apply the necessary steps to reduce business exposure to things like fake accounts, incorrect access, redundant accounts and so on.  Applying the same rules to all users, only goes to migrate the risk and not identify it.  The use of things like two factor authentication for previously unknown devices for example, is a simple way to tie down previously trusted machines.  The use of device signature printing and user risk scoring based on the time they log in, from which network and which authentication source, goes along way to help provide identity assurance levels.  A user logging in from an unknown device using a social network account, may have a lower assurance level for example, than a fully registered user using your customer directory.

4 - Give Them What They Want - But Not More Than They Need

Bringing customers closer to your brand, service or assets, not only makes good business sense (opportunities for up and cross selling), but also provides the customer with the information they want. Each customer is unique and will require access to their personal policy data, account information, purchases, unique history and service choices.  That information needs to delivered effectively across multiple device types, without the worry of cross pollination of information, or risk of misaligned access.  Provide the customer with the information and services they need, either based on what they have purchased or what you want them to purchase.  This can be done via conditional policies, enforcement points and continual resource access checking.

5 - Be Adaptive

Most digital strategies are based on agile development and rapid go to market approaches. Taking 9-12 months to implement an online service, is often too slow for that to be effective in keeping and gaining new customers.  Generation Y users (not to mention Digital Natives) require mobile ready content that is not inhibited by poorly constructed security and registration processes. The ability to rapidly build out new applications and services on top of the existing customer security platform is key in being able to drive revenue and keep customers close.  The security platform should allow for loosely coupled interfaces, often based on things like REST, that can allow for the integration of key identify and access management services, without inhibiting the agile develop of the key business services.

By Simon Moffatt

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