Click here to close now.


Cloud Security Authors: Pat Romanski, Mike Tierney, Liz McMillan, Cloud Best Practices Network, Teresa Schoch

Related Topics: Cloud Security

Cloud Security: Blog Feed Post

Why Passwords Will Remain Relevant: Duress

Duress password expiry is an interesting policy issue

With the continued rise in home-based and mobile working, the possibility of people being forced to access and potentially modify data during encounters with ne’er-do-wells becomes a genuine security issue.

For example, while there haven’t been many cases reported yet, the time will come when the kid lurking in the alley with the switchblade, isn’t just going to want to part you from your smartphone or tablet, but is also going to want to part you from the contents of your bank account, with it. A recent issue of FSTech (, a UK-based financial services technology magazine, stated that banks are concerned about the lack of uptake of mobile banking solutions; my guess is that the duress situation, is one of the reasons people are averse to doing their banking “on the go”.

There are actually three categories of duress, these being:

  • local: a threat to your person, which will be exercised unless you do what you are told (eg: a gun to your head)
  • divorced: a threat to your family or other people you personally care about (and who are in a different location), which will be exercised unless you do what you are told (eg: a gun to your wife’s head)
  • remote: a threat to individuals unknown to you, which will be carried out unless you do what you are told (eg: a bomb in a populated area).

Taking this into account, it’s possible that a well-designed system which authenticates users based on a username and password would require up to 4 passwords per user – one for legitimate login in a normal situation, and three more, one for each type of duress! All these different categories may be required, as different workflow actions would be desirable based on the nature of the duress; although depending on differences in actions between duress types, some categories may be collapsible. For example: Local duress:

  • log me in, increase the level of user activity logging on my account, start signing logs to ensure evidential integrity (if not done already)
  • take snapshots of databases to which I have access, my home directory, etc, such that activities I perform can be rolled back
  • alert security or law enforcement personnel as to my location and the fact I’m in peril, request their intervention

Divorced duress:

  • log me in, increase the level of user activity logging on my account, start signing logs to ensure evidential integrity (if not done already)
  • take snapshots of databases to which I have access, my home directory, etc, such that activities I perform can be rolled back
  • alert security or law enforcement personnel to my location and the fact that folk I care about are in peril, ensure appropriate authorities are informed, but remain on standby

Remote duress:

  • log me in, increase level of user activity logging on my account, start signing logs if not done already
  • start backups / snapshots of databases to which I have access, my home directory, etc, such that activities I perform can be rolled back
  • alert security or law enforcement personnel to the fact that there is a threat to some remote location which can’t be disclosed right now, ensure appropriate authorities are informed, and remain on standby

…or whatever is considered appropriate for the situation, by organisational policy; in the case of a bank being alerted of a duress situation by a customer, transactions between institutions across the SWIFT network would need to be flagged as being allowed to proceed, but in such a manner that they could be reversed once the situation is resolved. While tokens, biometrics etc can all be employed to authenticate individuals to systems, only a password – or some other secret known only to the legitimate user, such as an order in which to press fingers to a biometric reader or a PIN to type into a token – can be substituted for an equivalent but different password to indicate duress, in a manner which cannot be observed and identified by whomever is present and causing the duress. In this respect, in a classic “defence in depth” approach to security, a duress password is “the last line of defence” available to an imperiled user. With access to data and services now being available to a typical individual anywhere there is a 3G signal, the likelihood of users finding themselves under duress at times when they have the ability to connect to systems and engage in transactions will only increase. In terms of implementation, there are three primary places where changes would need to be made in order to implement a duress system:

  1. The user directory schema would need to be extended to include duress passwords
  2. the authentication system itself would need to be extended to support entry and change of duress passwords, as well as requiring a command / control interface to the user transaction systems in order to implement logging and snapshot / rollback changes as required
  3. an out of band alerting system will need to be either installed or updated, to meaningfully communicate duress details

Duress password expiry is an interesting policy issue; I would expect a password would only be required to be changed after use if at all, as its use will hopefully be a very rare event indeed.

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi's VP Business Development and Engineering, will explore the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context w...
Electric power utilities face relentless pressure on their financial performance, and reducing distribution grid losses is one of the last untapped opportunities to meet their business goals. Combining IoT-enabled sensors and cloud-based data analytics, utilities now are able to find, quantify and reduce losses faster – and with a smaller IT footprint. Solutions exist using Internet-enabled sensors deployed temporarily at strategic locations within the distribution grid to measure actual line loads.
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new data-driven world, marketplaces reign supreme while interoperability, APIs and applications deliver un...
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, will explore the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
You have your devices and your data, but what about the rest of your Internet of Things story? Two popular classes of technologies that nicely handle the Big Data analytics for Internet of Things are Apache Hadoop and NoSQL. Hadoop is designed for parallelizing analytical work across many servers and is ideal for the massive data volumes you create with IoT devices. NoSQL databases such as Apache HBase are ideal for storing and retrieving IoT data as “time series data.”
The IoT market is on track to hit $7.1 trillion in 2020. The reality is that only a handful of companies are ready for this massive demand. There are a lot of barriers, paint points, traps, and hidden roadblocks. How can we deal with these issues and challenges? The paradigm has changed. Old-style ad-hoc trial-and-error ways will certainly lead you to the dead end. What is mandatory is an overarching and adaptive approach to effectively handle the rapid changes and exponential growth.
Today’s connected world is moving from devices towards things, what this means is that by using increasingly low cost sensors embedded in devices we can create many new use cases. These span across use cases in cities, vehicles, home, offices, factories, retail environments, worksites, health, logistics, and health. These use cases rely on ubiquitous connectivity and generate massive amounts of data at scale. These technologies enable new business opportunities, ways to optimize and automate, along with new ways to engage with users.
The IoT is upon us, but today’s databases, built on 30-year-old math, require multiple platforms to create a single solution. Data demands of the IoT require Big Data systems that can handle ingest, transactions and analytics concurrently adapting to varied situations as they occur, with speed at scale. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chad Jones, chief strategy officer at Deep Information Sciences, will look differently at IoT data so enterprises can fully leverage their IoT potential. He’ll share tips on how to speed up business initiatives, harness Big Data and remain one step ahead by apply...
There will be 20 billion IoT devices connected to the Internet soon. What if we could control these devices with our voice, mind, or gestures? What if we could teach these devices how to talk to each other? What if these devices could learn how to interact with us (and each other) to make our lives better? What if Jarvis was real? How can I gain these super powers? In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, will show you!
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ProfitBricks boasts flexible cloud servers and networking, an integrated Data Center Designer tool for visual control over the cloud and the best price/performance value available. ProfitBricks was named one of the coolest Clo...
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, will keynote at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Developing software for the Internet of Things (IoT) comes with its own set of challenges. Security, privacy, and unified standards are a few key issues. In addition, each IoT product is comprised of at least three separate application components: the software embedded in the device, the backend big-data service, and the mobile application for the end user's controls. Each component is developed by a different team, using different technologies and practices, and deployed to a different stack/target - this makes the integration of these separate pipelines and the coordination of software upd...
Mobile messaging has been a popular communication channel for more than 20 years. Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen invented the idea for SMS (Short Message Service) in 1984, making his vision a reality on December 3, 1992 by sending the first message ("Happy Christmas") from a PC to a cell phone. Since then, the technology has evolved immensely, from both a technology standpoint, and in our everyday uses for it. Originally used for person-to-person (P2P) communication, i.e., Sally sends a text message to Betty – mobile messaging now offers tremendous value to businesses for customer and empl...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
WebRTC converts the entire network into a ubiquitous communications cloud thereby connecting anytime, anywhere through any point. In his session at WebRTC Summit,, Mark Castleman, EIR at Bell Labs and Head of Future X Labs, will discuss how the transformational nature of communications is achieved through the democratizing force of WebRTC. WebRTC is doing for voice what HTML did for web content.
The broad selection of hardware, the rapid evolution of operating systems and the time-to-market for mobile apps has been so rapid that new challenges for developers and engineers arise every day. Security, testing, hosting, and other metrics have to be considered through the process. In his session at Big Data Expo, Walter Maguire, Chief Field Technologist, HP Big Data Group, at Hewlett-Packard, will discuss the challenges faced by developers and a composite Big Data applications builder, focusing on how to help solve the problems that developers are continuously battling.