FIDO (Fast Identity Online) definition

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn, David Strom

FIDO (Fast ID Online) is a set of technology-agnostic security specifications for strong authentication. FIDO is developed by the FIDO Alliance, a non-profit organization formed in 2012.  

FIDO specifications support multifactor authentication (MFA) and public key cryptography. A major benefit of FIDO-compliant authentication is the fact that users don't need to use complex passwords, deal with complex strong password rules and or go through recovery procedures when they forget a password. Unlike password databases, FIDO stores personally identifying information (PII) such as biometric authentication data locally on the user's device to protect it. FIDO's local storage of biometrics and other personal identification is intended to ease user concerns about personal data stored on an external server in the cloud. By abstracting the protocol implementation with application programming interfaces (APIs), FIDO also reduces the work required for developers to create secure logins for mobile clients running different operating systems (OSes) on different types of hardware.

FIDO supports the Universal Authentication Framework (UAF) protocol and the Universal Second Factor (U2F) protocol. With UAF, the client device creates a new key pair during registration with an online service and retains the private key; the public key is registered with the online service. During authentication, the client device proves possession of the private key to the service by signing a challenge, which involves a user–friendly action such as providing a fingerprint, entering a PIN or speaking into a microphone. With U2F,  authentication requires a strong second factor such as a Near Field Communication (NFC) tap or USB security token.

The history of the FIDO Alliance

In 2007, PayPal  was trying to increase security by introducing  MFA to its customers in the form of its one-time password (OTP) key fob: Secure Key. Although Secure Key was effective, adoption rates were low -- it was generally used only by few security-conscious individuals. The key fob complicated authentication, and most users just didn't feel the need to use it.

In talks exploring the idea of integrating fingerscanning technology into PayPal, Ramesh Kesanupalli (then CTO of Validity Sensors) spoke to Michael Barrett (then PayPal's CISO). It was Barrett’s opinion that an industry standard was needed that could support all authentication hardware. Kesanupalli set out from there to bring together industry peers with that end in mind. The FIDO Alliance was founded as the result of meetings between the group. The Alliance went public in February 2013 and since that time many companies become members, including Google, ARM, Bank of America, Master Card, Visa, Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Dell and RSA. Microsoft has announced the inclusion of FIDO for authentication in Windows 10.





This was first published in March 2015

Next Steps

The proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices continue to call for standards that support multifactor authentication. Methods such as biometrics are being incorporated into smartphones and PCs to prevent identity theft. Today a variety of products exist on the market ranging from the EMC RSA Authentication Manager, Symantec Verisign VIP, CA Strong Authentication, and Vasco Identikey Digipass.

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