When hackers come for biometric login data, Okta now has a countermove

A new capability for Okta passwordless authentication seeks to ensure that even if login data related to fingerprints or facial scans is intercepted by a malicious actor, “it's no use to them,” according to CEO Todd McKinnon.

Todd McKinnon, chief executive officer of Okta Inc., listens during a Bloomberg Technology television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. McKinnon discussed security, identity protection, and the company's expansion plans. Photographer: David Paul Morris/ Bloomberg

Todd McKinnon, chief executive officer of Okta, spoke exclusively with Protocol about its next moves.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Okta has developed a new capability for its passwordless authentication system aimed at countering the illegitimate use of biometric login data, a move meant to head off a potential route for malicious actors who are becoming increasingly sneaky in their phishing attempts.

"Threat actors are getting better and more sophisticated, and this is kind of a quest to make sure we stay one step ahead of them," Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon said in an exclusive interview with Protocol.

The new capability for Okta's passwordless authentication product, FastPass, is now in an early access preview, and is expected to be generally available in early 2023.

Biometric data is considered an inherently more secure method of authentication given the unique nature of each person's fingerprint or facial scan. But a series of high-profile cases of thwarted multifactor authentication, including the interception of one-time passcodes, shows that login data tied to biometrics could very well become a bigger target for phishing going forward too, according to Okta.

The company’s answer to the looming threat, McKinnon said, is "to make even the biometric authenticators more anti-phishing” by default.

The method that Okta is implementing involves binding biometric login information to a user's device so that only that device can use that information for authentication.

"What that means is if someone puts up a fake phishing site and tricks you into pushing your fingerprint into the fake page, it's no use to them," McKinnon said. "They can't use that to then log in as you."

Specifically, the new capability prevents the reuse of the login keys that are generated in response to a user’s biometric data rather than protecting the biometric data itself, according to Okta. The actual biometrics are already protected since they do not leave the user's device as part of the FastPass system, the company said.

The new capability, Advanced Phishing Resistance for FastPass, comes amid research showing that identity-based attacks are now the largest source of breaches by far. The capability was announced among several Okta product updates Wednesday in connection with the company's Oktane conference.

Another update that is "coming soon" to FastPass, Okta said, will make the service available to an organization's external partners in addition to its direct employees.

Other product updates announced by Okta include another forthcoming anti-phishing service, focused on the use of WebAuthn authenticators such as biometrics or hardware security keys. The new feature will provide organizations with better controls over WebAuthn enrollment in order to prevent phishing attempts, Okta said. It's planned for early access release in the first quarter of 2023.

Meanwhile, Okta also announced several new features meant to enable automated responses to security issues as part of its no-code Okta Workflows product.

The new features include a set of pre-built security templates meant to demonstrate how workflows can be used, which security teams can then tweak to their specific needs. Okta also announced a tool that enables the no-code creation of connectors to additional data feeds in Workflows, such as threat intelligence feeds.

Ultimately, for all organizations, "you want to be able to have a simple way to automatically respond to attacks," McKinnon said. "Having an automated workflow to respond to what's going on — that's what your security operations center really wants."


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories