Multi-factor Authentication and the Metaverse (S1:E2)

Humans in Tech

We are seeing shifts in identity authentication as our physical and digital lives merge and the “phygital” experience becomes more prevalent. Manfred Mueller, COO and GM Identity at Identiv, joins us to discuss multi-factor authentication (MFA), two-factor authentication, the passwordless movement, the metaverse, and what else is on the horizon for identity verification in the phygital world.

Full Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00):
You are listening to Humans in Tech, our podcast explores today’s most transformative technology and the trends of tomorrow. Bringing together the brightest minds in and outside of our industry. We unpack what’s new in physical access, identity verification, cybersecurity and IoT ecosystems. We reach beyond the physical world, discuss our digital transformation as a species and dive into the emerging [phygital 00:00:30] experience. Join us on our journey as we discover just how connected the future will be and how we will fit into that picture.

Our physical and digital worlds have become interchangeable. Making verification, the currency to ensure people, product services and systems fulfill their intended purpose and have access to the right environment at the right time. When unauthorized users access sensitive information, they steal personal data, plant malicious code or introduce ransomware. Cybercrime is powerful and impacts places, people may not initially consider a cyber attack target. Leigh Dow, VP of Global Marketing and Identiv and Dr. Manfred Mueller, COO and GM of Identity at Identiv are here today to talk about the shifts they are seeing in identity authentication as our physical and digital experiences merge.

Leigh Dow (01:25):
Early in 2021, we saw two cyber attacks on critical US Industries operating heavily in the physical realm, fuel pipelines and meat processing. And this type of crime is no longer just about stealing personal data. It really threatens our physical existence and there’s some talk right now and content being created around a phygital experience that blend of the physical and digital world really crosses Identiv’s core business segments between physical access control and video logical access control and identity solutions, credentials, wireless devices, including RFID, NFC and IoT based ecosystems. We’re so lucky today to have Manfred on, his breadth and depth of knowledge and experience and identity verification will provide some really keen insight on what’s on the horizon for authentication in the phygital world. So thank you for joining us. You’ve been with Identiv for over 20 years, can you tell our listeners about your journey?

Manfred Mueller (02:23):
Yeah. Thank you, Leigh and thanks for having me on this today. Well, I’ve been with the company for nearly 22 years, actually and it has been a fascinating ride so far. I had started the entire journey when the founder wanted to have a right hand guy. I was hired away from one of their suppliers and back then I started to handle special projects, [M and A 00:02:48] and other activities. And then I eventually took over the Investor Relations department, the Public Relations department, they pushed me into marketing. Then I moved into Product Management and eventually, they forced me into a chop rotation program to get into sales. And eventually, I became a Business Unit Manager and that’s basically, what I’m still doing today. Identiv, formerly SCM Microsystems had evolved substantially during those past two decades since I had come on board and we are turning this into a true global leader in the Identity RFID and IoT space.

Leigh Dow (03:28):
Nice. Definitely, quite a journey. So during the past two decades, what are the biggest shifts you’ve noticed in the industry?

Manfred Mueller (03:39):
There were quite a few but when it comes to identity verification and related fields, the biggest change always has been the move from traditional contact based smart car technologies and the respective reader and token infrastructure. And in many use cases, they shift to RFID base contactless solutions. And that shift that came about very naturally with a very widespread adoption of touch less applications. So everybody gets more used to let’s say, touchless things. And on the other hand, the overall awareness of identity theft and cyber security has also penetrated into nearly every household. So everybody has already dealt with an issue eventually and it all had started with government entities being the initial early adopters. And then it was followed by banks and by corporations. Basically, all these guys that really took care of identity, security and related of things. Today, most end users like both you and I, and all our listeners here are incredibly familiar with the need to verify their identity on the internet.

Leigh Dow (04:54):
We have to ask, obviously, the pandemic has affected identity. You referenced that earlier, have you noticed any big, new security issues arise as a result?

Manfred Mueller (05:05):
Yeah. I mean, the pandemic has significantly impacted the overall IoT and cybersecurity scene and just starting with everybody working remotely. And with operation being happening from anywhere and not just the working models to be implemented by a company, there is a need of better means. And we have the demand for readers and tokens that has skyrocketed and they are used and utilized everywhere because with everybody logging into the systems from home, they were basically outside of their safe corporations and safe environments over there. And our devices allow identity verification from anywhere and it lets people securely log in to their corporate networks. And that means that employees really adhere the same security requirements when working from home as if they were physically in a corporate office. And yes, there have been a lot of additional issues out there.

And I believe the use of similar technologies either in corporate or in home environments had helped to protect people and organizations. And then further on, the adoption of NFC, Near-Field communication and RFID technologies also had boosted as a consequence of the pandemic. So not only have contactless, touchless applications been much more widely accepted and deployed on the whole but we also have seen a huge uptick in our clients when they were serving the healthcare sector. So our RFID solutions are used for COVID test kits in supplies for ventilators and with other critical infrastructures directly related to helping fight the pandemic.

Leigh Dow (06:59):
So what security measures are imperative then for all organizations to adopt today?

Manfred Mueller (07:06):
For sure, organizations need to continue to move away from a pure password usage, especially, simple ones. At the minimum, every corporate IT department has to require their employees to pretty frequently change their passwords and implement rules to enforce so-called strong passwords. But quite frankly, in my mind, that’s not enough MFA, Multi-Factor Authentication. And in particularly 2FA, Two-Factor Authentication is a rather straightforward and easy to be handled technology. And it’s a much more secure way to verify identities and protect one system. So you need something you know, the password plus something you own, like a card or a token or anything similar to properly secure your identity in access a system. So the added factor of a physical device eliminates the option for people to simply share their passwords, which I guess one or the other person has done already.

Leigh Dow (08:08):
So is MFA really the future of identity verification?

Manfred Mueller (08:14):
I’m truly a very, very big believer in MFA. So [phyto 00:08:18] tokens and similar hardware-based solutions, they really will continue to penetrate the market and allow each of us to securely verify our identity. So eventually, our phones will handle most of these verifications using built in cameras or RFID readers. Secure elements already today are built into most of our phones that basically, the same sort of chips you have in a government issued ID card or passport. And in those allow a maximum level of security. So when it comes to biometrics, we have been involved in several fingerprint authentication and face recognition projects in the past. And we’ve always seen a widespread adoption of it. Today, you really authenticate yourself with your thumbprint at an Immigration Officer’s desk, for example, walk through the automated gate at a passport control and then you unlock your phone with your finger or face. So over the next few years, we will see much more applications rolled out and in particularly biometric technologies will become omnipresent.

Leigh Dow (09:21):
So this piece of the business is growing so rapidly. You know, what’s next for Identity business over the next year or five or 10 years?

Manfred Mueller (09:33):
When it comes to our idea entity related activities, you guys should be seeing the release of our hardware token, based mobility solutions. In particularly, we will be launching our government FIT certified fighter tokens in the next couple of months. And then we also will be relaunching our SIM-based tokens, which are straightforward to be used out there. And then on the NFC side of things, I expect new use cases in medical, Mechtech pharma, in smart packaging, brand authenticity and consumer convenience. So we are really continued to significantly, invest in that part of our business and we will be expanding the global organization to help us drive that growth. So in general, over the coming 5 to 10 years, people’s awareness to avoid identity theft also will grow. So it’ll become a very normal thing for all of us.

Leigh Dow (10:31):
We talked to Tim [Daly 00:10:34] earlier and just listening his perspective on smart packaging was really interesting. Obviously, he’s at the forefront of being an advocate for that in the cannabis industry. So tell us a little bit more about tokens? When we talk about the metaverse people have categorized that as we’re moving from web two to web three. So moving from the platform economy to a token economy. So tell us a little bit more about tokens and how do you see them transforming the way we authenticate ourselves?

Manfred Mueller (11:05):
Right. Tokens are a super easy and simple form to use. They carry, as I explained before the same type of chips we know very well from credit cards being issued by banks or from ID, eID cards or electronic passports being issued by government. Clearly, it’s super protected and impossible to be clone or copied. So it’ll address many types of issues we are facing today. When let’s say, toys and [inaudible 00:11:33] are stored passwords and the bad guys thereby get access to all sort of our online accounts. So what tokens and other means of security allows to… They allow us to remain safe in the real world. In my mind also can be moved into the cyber space or so-called metaverse. So folks appearing in such virtual environments certainly want to be assured that all the virtual counterparts ID is somewhat authenticated, enhanced certified. So there is certainly, a need for such secure authentication whether in the real world or eventually in the virtual world.

Leigh Dow (12:09):
How do you see the correlation between the new token economy and the move towards the metaverse?

Manfred Mueller (12:14):
Well, that’s a fairly loaded question. I expect, the metaverse to further, let’s say expedite the development of further means. The tokens might be an interim’s piece of technology to be basically allow similar levels of security in the metaverse. But eventually, I wouldn’t be surprised if other means of security, whether it’s your phone or whether it’s biometric things that are going to be used in that area.

Leigh Dow (12:50):
Well, thank you so much for participating today. I mean, I always learned so much every time I speak with you and it’s always educational. So we appreciate that.

Manfred Mueller (12:59):
Yeah. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1 (13:00):
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