Convenience vs. Security vs. (Perceived) Security

Yesterday, @poulpita tweeted a link to a blog explaining that convenience keeps winning against security. The main argument in this blog is about iOS6’s Passbook, which can store credit card numbers, for your convienience.

The reasoning goes on with a comparison of the security merits of a credit card number stored on Passbook and a real card. Read the paper for the details, but an obvious comparison is that a real card is easier to lose/steal (because we stick to our phone more than we stick to our wallet), and also easily accessible (the phone will be at least somehow encrypted, requiring some technical skillls to access the card numbers). In addition, credit cards are easily replaceable, and they usually entail a zero liability insurance for the end-user.

What surprised me is the conclusion: “convenience wins in the consumer mind”, and more specifically, “convenience may win out over a little risk”. From the risk analysis, my feeling is that using Passbook is actually less risky than carrying real cards, and even if one doesn’t agree with that, zero-liability means that, for the customer, the risk is the same: zero.

Although we agreee that security is a way to reduce risk globally, there are many different ways to reduce risk for every actor. For the end-user, in that specific case, the key aspect is the zero-liaility insurance offered by the credit card company. If there is a major security flaw in Passbook, there may be a problem between Apple and credit card companies, but end users should remain largely unaffected. The worst thing that could happen to them is to lose the convenience of Passbook if credit card companies deny to Apple the right to store card numbers in it.

Just another friendly reminder that our job as security providers is not just to randomly increase security of things, but to actually reduce the level of risk for an actor, which should be our customer. Banking smart cards are sold to banks, not to end users, and there is not reason to change this relationshp when the cards are dematerialized into software: our customers are the banks, and we need to reduce their risk (which, hopefully, can help them offer a zero-liability insurance to their customers at a better cost).

Disclosure: I just finished reading Brice Schneier’s Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive, which may explain why I have this unusual high-level view of security. Good book, by the way.

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