Facebook Advances Delegated Account Recovery Protocol

After several months of early deployment, Facebook is now providing more options for sites to benefit from the Delegated Account Recovery model for account and password resets.

password security

In February, Facebook announced its initial plans for Delegated Account Recovery, providing sites with an open-source protocol and method to securely retrieve and reset account and password information. At Facebook's F8 conference today, the social networking giant expanded its Delegated Account Recovery effort with software development kits and tools to help any site deploy the technology.

Delegated Account Recovery provides a more secure mechanism for resetting a lost or forgotten account password. Many websites today provide email-based reset options, which are generally considered to be insecure. With Delegated Account Recovery, rather than emailing a password or account reset link to a user, a site or service delegates the capability to recover an account to an account controlled by the same user at a third-party service provider. That service provider to date has been Facebook and until today the only site using Delegated Account Recovery has been GitHub.

It's not clear at this point how many users have benefited from Delegated Account Recovery at GitHub. Brad Hill, security engineer at Facebook, said the initial protocol was released a few months back, but GitHub has not disclosed figures around its usage or engagement.  

The protocol itself hasn't changed much since its release.

"We have had the protocol available for study by the security community and our bug bounty researchers since February and have not uncovered any security issues so far," Hill told eWEEK. "This is not unexpected, but it is always good to have others test your assumptions."

With today's update and SDK release, Delegated Account Recovery can be more broadly used, though there are still some limitations. Hill said that any site can use the SDKs and documentation to build a recovery flow that integrates with Facebook. 

"At the moment, however, developers will only be able to try it out with test users," Hill said. "Once you have a working implementation, applying for the early access beta program allows you to turn it on for use by real people."

It's now also possible for individuals and organizations other than Facebook to be Delegated Account Recovery service providers, though there might be an issue of trust to overcome.

"The question of trust is an interesting one that both services and individuals have to make," Hill said. "Today, most services trust any email provider that their customers choose for recovery, and we hope that because Delegated Account Recovery offers a higher level of security for recovery than email, there will eventually be broad customer choice in what services you can use beyond Facebook.

"We are encouraging other identity providers to explore offering Delegated Account Recovery, and we hope that for the accounts that matter to you most, you'll be able to use Facebook in combination with one or more other accounts to help you recover," he added.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.