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October 27, 2014

Is The Death Of The Type-In Password Near?

Posted by Jagdish Vasishtha (View Profile | View All Posts) at 10:57 AM

What does Twitter's `Fabric' tool do for apps? [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKmem1RwheI]

Finally! It took years and several high profile, wide-scale corporate security breaches, but American companies are finally being nudged into issuing credit cards with embedded microchip technology. To Europeans, this technology is nothing new. But the legacy technology characterized by the old magnetic strip put up quite a battle for an extended lifespan in America. We're all glad to see that organizations there are putting it to rest in favor of the technologically superior microchip.

It always seems that cyber-crooks are one step ahead of everyone else, so when consumer-focused organizations take the digital security of its patrons very seriously, it's a positive step for global commerce. In that same spirit I heard the news that Twitter will very soon be offering a new tool for developers that could one day spell the end of the traditional type-in password. I think we can all agree that type-in passwords, like magnetic strips on credit cards, are antiquated. They can also be a pain in the neck. How many times have you visited a Web site only to be forced into clicking on the "Forget Your Password?" link?

We received the news from Twitter's very first conference for mobile apps developers about a new platform called "Twitter Fabric". Part of platform Twitter introduced "Digits," a new way for developers to sign in to their apps that replaces the traditional password. Here's how it works: Twitter figures that the telephone number is a better identifier of a consumer than an email address. In fact, Twitter reckons that as you leave the Western markets and look around both the emerging and frontier markets, which between them account for the vast majority of the planet's population, people rely on smart phones and other mobile devices to get through the day. Not like the traditional email addresses that we tend to use on desktop apps.

Given a global movement towards the smart phone, Twitter's Digits requires only a phone number. When the developer enters the phone number, Twitter sends an SMS code to that phone. Enter the code to start the app and the code never works again. Mobile apps such as WhatsApp have used a similar method for their log-in systems. I think the entire movement towards a two-step verification process that does away with the traditional type-in password is another blow to would-be cyber-thieves.

Twitter gave away the Digits app for free as part of the kit that Flight conference participants received. There's no doubting that part of every major retailer's plans is some kind of expansion into the emerging markets, if they haven't already started the journey. Improved security measures like the one displayed in Digits are going to go a long way in appealing to consumer populations who are connected to the world via their mobile devices, not by desktops with antiquated email accounts.

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