Several vendors already offer the option of one-time-password distribution via SMS as a cost-effective alternative topassword-generating tokens. Whilst it is neither authenticated nor encrypted, it is in practice infeasible for an attacker to compromise both the SSL/TLS channel and the SMS channel to a particular user simultaneously. This independent channel also offers a way around the man-in-the-middle.
In this scenario, the user would log on using his username and password, exactly as he does today. For each transaction entered, a summary would be returned to the user together with a one-time-password, in the form of an SMS. For example, 'Pay £50 to British Gas a/c 12345? Confirm: ADJPEQ'. Any tampering with the transaction details would be evident at this point. Assuming all is correct, the user enters the one-time-password into his PC to confirm the transaction.
As well as thwarting man-in-the-middle attacks, this approach defends against another significant emerging threat, namely malicious 'Trojans' on the user's PC. Apart from being used in direct attacks, a user may claim infection in an attempt to repudiate a legitimate transaction. The mobile phone is a separate user interface, independent of the (possibly infected) PC, thereby effectively closing this vulnerability.
Adoption of SMS-based security measures must be carefully managed, particularly the procedures used for registering and maintaining records of users' mobile phone numbers. The benefits, however, are great: there is no other cost-effective system offering defence against phishing, man-in-the-middle and Trojan attacks whilst maintaining a simple and intuitive user experience.
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