Mar 07

Revisiting Security UI – Part 2

So we need to get better. We need to start fixing our messages to users so that we are more accurately communicating security information, while being mindful to not bury them in technicalities they neither want nor need. We need cues that are persistent (not relying on people to notice their absence), that are difficult to spoof, and that don’t mix metaphors.

We also, difficult as it is, need to get out of the “safety” game. We can’t tell users “this site is safe” because we don’t know that. Even ignoring the liabilities that might come with such a claim, there isn’t a good technological way to tell, right now, whether a particular site is safe in the way users care about. Do they handle credit card information properly? Do they ignore angry customers? Are they a front for stolen goods? These kinds of naughty people could get SSL certificates (and accompanying padlocks) and even the extended validation practices being discussed wouldn’t really stop them.

What we can do is equip people to make the safety decision for themselves, just as they often have to in the physical world, because we do have some information. It’s like putting ingredients labels on food. What we can do is change the conversation to be about identity instead of safety. This is important, so pay attention:

We need to change the conversation to be one about identity, not safety.

Identity is something we can verify. The padlock conflated identity with other things like encryption status and security, and while that conflation is almost natural to PKI-veterans, it has proven misleading for users.

So what might identity look like?

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Mar 07

Revisiting Security UI – Part 1 of 2

I tend to get excited about things. I’d say one of the key problems I have when writing – blogs, articles, books will probably be even worse here – is that, since I tend to be excited about things, my writing tends to wander to whichever dog has a puffy tail at the moment, and I sometimes look back and end up wishing each piece was tighter and more single-minded.

Take my post last week. Right now I’m excited about Firefox security UI, and about how to do a better job with the way we give users information. This is a good thing for me to be excited about, since it pays my bills. But I want to engender conversation about it, and to build context around my thoughts on the matter, and meandering isn’t necessarily the best way to do that.

So. This is the first of two posts I will write in the next week or so about this stuff. The goal is to outline:

  1. The way things are, and why we need to change them
  2. My thoughts on where we need to be looking to go

This is the first. What are we, as browser builders, doing for the user today when it comes to security UI?

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Feb 07

2.8 Billion Reasons to Do Better

Padlock by JohnathSo PC World is running an article by Robert McMillan about phishing. It’s not a bad article or anything, it cites the antiphishing workgroup and various Gartner research in non-inflammatory ways (phishing is up 700% year over year, losses for 2006 estimated at $2.8B USD), and basically concludes that the current state of the internet, vis a vis your[1] financial information, is somewhere towards the “festering cesspool of thievery from which no good thing can escape unscathed” end of the spectrum. Pretty standard stuff.

If Robert McMillan should be chastised for any part of it, it is his closing sentence, wherein he takes the too-obvious way out, no doubt because he was reaching his wordcount ceiling, and what the hell else is he going to say:

But to combat ever-adapting phishers, your best protection remains…you.

It’s not Bob’s fault, but this is a pretty awful way to leave things. How on earth are people supposed to do what he asks, particularly when all the evidence he’s just cited points to how profoundly they can’t?

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