Identity Proofing for Verification

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If you’re planning on taking the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of identity proofing.  It is the process of verifying that people are who they claim to be prior to issuing them credentials, or if they later lose their credentials.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. You are logging on to your bank’s website using your email address and a password. What is the purpose of the email address in this example?

A. Identification

B. Authentication

C. Authorization

D. Availability

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? Answer and explanation at end of this post.

Verifying Identities with Identity Proofing

Identity proofing is the process of verifying that people are who they claim to be prior to issuing them credentials, or if they later lose their credentials. Individuals are often required to show other forms of identification, such as their driver’s license, before authorities issue the credentials.

This may occur out of view of the IT person creating the account, but identity proofing still occurs. For example, HR personnel process new hires and ensure all their paperwork is in order, including their identification. Later, HR may simply introduce the new employee to an IT professional to create an account. This introduction by the HR person is the only identity proofing needed by the IT worker.

Some identity proofing is electronic. For example, some banking institutions verify your identity based on information about you in credit reports and other available databases. They then ask you a series of multiple-choice questions based on this data, such as your car payment amount, or your height as it’s listed on your driver’s license.

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Other Use of Identity Proofing

A second use of identity proofing is after issuing credentials. For example, when a user performs some critical activity (such as transferring money between bank accounts), the bank may reverify the user’s identity before transferring the funds.

If you’ve signed up for online banking, you’ve probably seen this. When you sign up and sometimes periodically afterward, the bank provides you with a list of questions and records your answers. Some examples are “What is the name of your first pet,” “What is the name of your closest childhood friend,” “What is the middle name of your oldest sibling,” and so on. The idea is that a criminal wouldn’t know these answers. If you attempt to transfer money, they might pose these questions to you again before they authorize the transfer.

Other Use of Identity Proofing

Many financial institutions record information about the computer you use to access their site. If you later use a different computer, or a computer with a different IP address, the site prompts you to answer one of the identity-proofing questions. If criminals somehow steal your credentials and use them to access your bank account from another computer, identity-proofing techniques help reduce the risk of their success. For example, a criminal from Nigeria shouldn’t know these answers. This technique reduces the chances of success for criminals attempting unauthorized transfers, even if they did discover your credentials.

In the past, identity-proofing questions consisted of very few items, such as your birth date, Social Security number, and your mother’s maiden name. Because so many entities requested this information and didn’t always protect it, it became easy for attackers to obtain this information and use it to steal identities. Some criminals have even stolen identities using information visible on a renter’s application.

Unfortunately, many banks have had security breaches compromising their databases (including your answers to these personal questions). In other words, it’s becoming less likely that only you know these answers, and they may not be valid as identity-proofing tools for very long.

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Self-Service Password Reset Systems

An additional use of identity proofing is with password reset or password recovery systems. These systems provide automated password recovery and are extremely useful in systems with a large number of users. They can actually reduce the total cost of ownership of the system.

Instead of an IT professional spending valuable time resetting passwords, a self-service password reset or password recovery system uses identity proofing to automate the process.

For example, many online systems include a link such as “Forgot Password.”

Identity proofing for verification
If you click on this link, the system might send you your password via email, or reset your password and send the new password via email. Some systems invoke an identity-proofing system. The identity-proofing system asks you questions that you previously provided, such as the name of your first dog, the name of your first boss, and so on. Once you adequately prove your identity, the system gives you the opportunity to change your password.

Of course, an online password reset system won’t help a user who can’t get online. Some organizations utilize phone-based password reset systems. Users who have forgotten their passwords can call the password reset system and reset their password by using a simple identity-proofing method such as a personal identification number (PIN). A PIN is a simple password, typically four to six numbers long.

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Q. You are logging on to your bank’s website using your email address and a password. What is the purpose of the email address in this example?

A. Identification

B. Authentication

C. Authorization

D. Availability

Answer is A. The email address provides identification for you and your account.

The password combined with the email address provides authentication, proving who you are.

Based on your identity, you are granted authorization to view your account details.

Availability is unrelated to identification, authentication, and authorization.

See Chapter 1 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-401 Study Guide for more information on authentication concepts.

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