IBM researchers have delivered a new security wrinkle that will enhance the company's MobileFirst strategy by providing two-factor security for mobile transactions.
Big Blue scientists developed the new mobile authentication security technology based on the radio standard known as near-field communication (NFC). The technology provides an extra layer of security when using an NFC-enabled device and a contactless smartcard to conduct mobile transactions, including online banking and digital signatures when accessing a corporate intranet or private cloud.
"Our two-factor authentication technology based on the Advanced Encryption Standard provides a robust security solution with no learning curve," said Diego Ortiz-Yepes, a mobile security scientist at IBM Research, in a statement.
According to a recent report by ABI Research, the number of NFC devices in use will exceed 500 million in 2014. This statistic and the fact that 1 billion mobile phone users will use their devices for banking purposes by 2017—according to a Juniper Research report—make for an increasingly opportune target for hackers, IBM said.
To address these challenges, IBM scientists in Zurich, Switzerland, also known for inventing an operating system used to power and secure hundreds of millions of smartcards, developed an additional layer—a so-called two-factor authentication—for securing mobile transactions.
Consumers are already used to using two-factor authentication from a computer, for example, when they are asked for both a password and a verification code sent by Short Message Service (SMS). IBM scientists are applying the same concept using a personal identification number (PIN) and a contactless smartcard. The contactless smartcard could be a bank-issued ATM card or an employer-issued identity badge.
To make it work, a user holds the contactless smartcard next to the NFC reader of the mobile device and after keying in his or her PIN, a one-time code will be generated by the card and sent to the server by the mobile device.
The IBM technology is based on end-to-end encryption between the smartcard and the server using the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) scheme. Current technologies on the market require users to carry an additional device, such as a random password generator, which is less convenient and in some instances less secure, IBM noted.
The new technology, which is available now for any NFC-enabled Android 4.0 device, is based on IBM Worklight, a mobile application platform that is part of the IBM MobileFirst portfolio. Future updates will include additional NFC-enabled devices based on market trends.
IBM officials said they believe mobile computing is the first new technology platform for business to emerge since the World Wide Web, and it represents one of the greatest opportunities for organizations to expand their business. IBM's MobileFirst strategy is based on nearly 1,000 customer engagements, more than 10 mobile-related acquisitions in the last four years, a team of thousands of mobile experts and 270 patents in wireless innovations, the company said. It combines the key elements of an application and data platform with the management, security and analytics capabilities needed for the enterprise.
IBM acquired Worklight, which is a key element of MobileFirst, in early 2012.