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A person holds a mobile device in one hand and a credit card in the other, ready to use apps that need to be secure.
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Apps Implement Multifactor Authentication After Mobile Breaches

Mobile apps that take on the work of online banks need also take on the responsibility of security. This could be seen in the recent Slate article detailing the hack of a web developer’s account with Venmo, a mobile app that lets you send free and instantaneous payments to anyone using bank account or debit card number.

The web developer was notified by his bank of a pending transaction on his debit card for nearly $3,000 via his Venmo account. He tried to log into his Venmo account to investigate, but his password had been changed. When he used the reset option to log in, he found that someone had changed his email address to a different one, and had sent money to a user he didn’t recognize.

Venmo was lacking in some basic security requirements, such as notifications whenever your account’s email address or password is changed. They also did not offer two-factor authentication for securing their users’ account logins.

After about a month of rising concerns about their security, Venmo released a blog stating that they would put more safeguards in place in order to secure their users’ transactions and accounts, including:

  • Notifications and email verifications whenever the primary account email or phone number is changed
  • Notification whenever your password is changed
  • Multifactor authentication and other product features to enhance user security and experience (future)

Similar criticisms from the security industry plagued Apple after the celebrity iCloud hacks last year. As a result, Apple implemented several basic security features, including:

  • Push notification alerts whenever someone tries to change iCloud passwords
  • Upload backed-up account data to a new device
  • Logs into their account for the first time from an unknown device

In addition to what they call “two-step” verification to protect iCloud account logins (opt-in).

iCloud Two-Factor Authentication

Users can set up two-factor authentication on their iCloud accounts, sending a four-digit code to your phone via the Find My iPhone app or SMS. Any mobile or cloud login that allows access to private data or conducts monetary transactions should be protected by these basic security standards, at the very least.

Hopefully, when Venmo rolls out their multifactor authentication solution, they’ll offer a real two-factor solution, unlike Intuit’s solution for TurboTax. Intuit’s multi-factor solution requires a user to log in with their primary username and password, then complete secondary authentication by submitting a passcode sent to an email address associated with the account.

However, this seemingly rushed solution (in time to save them for this year’s tax season, I’m sure) has some obvious flaws - if users reused their TurboTax credentials as their email login, online criminals could log into both accounts and easily bypass both primary and secondary authentication. This particular type of multi-factor authentication solution is also prey to a man-in-the-browser (MiTB) attack, in which attackers can bypass one-time passcode (OTP) two-factor solutions in a variety of ways.

This type of solution carries out your second factor of authentication over the same channel as your first (via the Internet). A more secure method of authentication would involve more than one channel - for example, for a web application like TurboTax, using the Internet for primary auth and push notifications via a mobile app for secondary auth requires the use of a physical device to verify the auth request.

An article from argues that Venmo’s lack of two-factor authentication is barely “a unique vulnerability,” citing a number of banks that don’t offer the security service. The article also points out that typing in four digits for security ruins the app’s convenience.

But if security was as easy as tapping one button on a push notification, that may change the user’s experience from a security and usability perspective. Learn more about different two-factor solutions in our Two-Factor Authentication Evaluation Guide.

Two-Factor Evaluation Guide This guide walks through some of the key areas of differentiation between two-factor authentication solutions and provides some concrete criteria for evaluating technologies and vendors.

In this guide, you will learn:

  • How to evaluate the security, reliability and scalability of a two-factor solution.
  • What kind of solution allows you to detect and react to potential threats.
  • How to determine the time and costs involved in rolling out a two-factor solution.
  • Key criteria to drive user adoption and increase productivity.

And more! Download our free guide today for a deep-dive into evaluating a modern two-factor authentication solution that can meet your organization's security needs.