Geo-fencing: securing authentication?

Micro Focus is leading the industry in geo-fencing and Advanced Authentication with it’s NetIQ portfolio. Simon Puleo looks at this fascinating new area and suggests some potential and very practical uses for this technology in his latest blog

Are you are one of the 500 million users who recently had their account details stolen from Yahoo?

Chances are that criminals will use them for credential stuffing – using automation to try different combinations of passwords and usernames at multiple sites to login to your accounts.

So you’re probably thinking the same as me – that a single username and password is no longer sufficient protection from malicious log-in, especially when recycled on multiple sites.

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Is your identity on the line?

Indeed, 75% of respondents to a September 2016 Ponemon study agreed that “single-factor authentication no longer effectively protects unauthorized access to information.”

Biometric authentication is one solution and is already a feature of newer iPhones. However, skimmers and shimmers are already seeking to undermine even this.

Perhaps geo-fencing, the emerging alternative, can address the balancing act between user experience and security? It provides effective authentication and can be easily deployed for users with a GPS device. Let’s take a closer look at what this technology is, and how it can be used.

What is geo-fencing?

Geo-fencing enables software administrators to define geographical boundaries. They draw a shape around the perimeter of a building or area where they want to enforce a virtual barrier.  It is really that easy. The administrator decides who can access what within that barrier, based on GPS coordinates. In the example below, an admin has set a policy that only state employees with a GPS can access systems within the Capitol Building.

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Let’s dive deeper, and differentiate between geo-location and geo-fencing. Because geo-location uses your IP it can be easily spoofed or fooled, and is not geographically accurate. However geo-fencing is based on GPS coordinates from satellites tracking latitude and longitude.

While GPS can be spoofed it requires loads of expensive scientific equipment and certain features to validate the signal. Using geo-coordinates enables new sets of policies and controls to ensure security and enforce seamless verification, keeping it easy for the user to log-in and hard for the criminal to break in. Consider the below example:

Security Policy: Users must logout when leaving their work area.

Real-world scenario: Let’s go and get a coffee right now. Ever drop what you are doing, leaving your PC unlocked and vulnerable to insider attacks? Sure you have.

Control: Based on a geo-fence as small as five feet, users could be logged out when they leave their cube with a geo device, then logged back in when they return. It’s a perfect combination of convenience, caffeine and security.

Patient safety, IT security 

This scenario may sound incredible, but Troy Drewry, a Micro Focus Product Manager, explains that it is not that far-fetched. Troy shared his excitement for the topic – and a number of geo based authentication projects he is involved in – with me. One effort is enabling doctors and medical staff to login and logout of workstations simply by their physical location. This could help save valuable time in time-critical ER situations while still enforcing HIPAA policies.

Another project is working with an innovative bank that is researching using geo-fencing around ATMs to provide another factor of validation.  In this scenario, geo-fencing could have the advantage of PIN-less transactions, circumventing skimmers.

As he explained to me, “What is interesting to me is that with geo-fencing and user location as a factor of authentication, it means that security and convenience are less at odds.” I couldn’t agree more. Pressing the button on my hard token to login to my bank accounts seems almost anachronistic; geo-fencing is charting a new route for authentication.

Micro Focus is leading the industry in geo-fencing and Advanced Authentication. To learn more, speak with one of our specialists or click here.