Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison is the Chief Technology Officer at Layer 7 Technologies, providing the visionary innovation and technical direction for the company. He has extensive technical and scientific experience in a number of industries and universities, including senior architect positions at IBM. He is one of the four co-editors for the WS-I Basic Security Profile. Scott is a much sought-after author and speaker. He has published over 50 book chapters, magazine articles, and papers in medical, physics and engineering journals.

February 22nd, 2013

Cisco & the Internet of Everything

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Category API Management, M2M
 

Cisco and the Internet of EverythingJohn Chambers, CEO of Cisco, just published a good blog entry about the potential for change caused by universal connectivity – not just of our mobile gadgets but of pretty much everything. Recently, much has been said about the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT), of which Cisco is expanding the scope, going so far as to make a bold estimate that 99.4% of objects still remain unconnected. This, of course, is great fodder for late-night talk show hosts. I’ll leave this softball to them and focus instead on some of the more interesting points in Chambers’ post and the accompanying white paper.

It strikes me that there might be more to Cisco’s “Internet of Everything” (IoE) neologism than just a vendor’s attempt to brand what still may be a technology maverick. Internet of Everything sounds so much better than the common alternative when you append “Economy” to the end – and this is how it first appears in Chambers’ post. And that’s actually important because adding economy in the same breath is an acknowledgement that this isn’t just marketing opportunism as much as a recognition that, like mobility, the IoE could potentially be a great catalyst for independent innovation. In fact, Cisco’s white paper really isn’t about technology at all but is instead an analysis of the market potential represented in each emerging sector, from smart factories to college education.

It is exactly this potential for innovation – a new economy – that is exciting. The combination of Mobile Access and APIs was so explosive precisely because it combined a technology with enormous creative potential (APIs) with a irresistible business impetus (access to information outside the enterprise network). The geeks love enabling tools and APIs are nothing if not enabling; mobile just gives them something to build.

I0E, of course, is the ultimate business driver and –  with APIs as the enabler – it equals opportunity of staggering proportions. Like mobile before it – and indeed, social Web integration before that – IoE will come about precisely because the foundation of APIs already exists.

It is here where I disagree with some IoT pundits who advocate specialized protocols for optimizing performance. No thank you; it isn’t 1990 and opaque binary protocols no longer work for us, except when streaming large data sets (I’m looking at you, video).

Security in the IoE will be a huge issue and Cisco has this to say on the topic :

“IoE security will be addressed through network-powered technology: devices connecting to the network will take advantage of the inherent security that the network provides (rather than trying to ensure security at the device level).”

I agree with this because security coding is still just too hard and too easy to implement wrongly. One of the key lessons of mobile development is that we need to make it easy for developers to automatically enable secure communications. Take security out of the hands of developers, put it in the hands of dedicated security professionals and trust me, the developers will thank you.

As IoE extends to increasingly resource-constrained devices, the simpler we can make secure development, the better. Let application developers focus on creating great apps and a new economy will follow.

January 3rd, 2013

CES 2013 Panel: Privacy & Security in the Cloud

CES 2013The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013 is starting in Las Vegas next week and cloud computing is on the agenda. You can be sure that a technology has moved out of the hype cycle and into everyday use when it shows up at a show like CES, known more for the latest TVs and phones than computing infrastructure. People don’t really need to talk about cloud any more; it’s just there and we are using it.

Of course there will always be a place for a little more talking and I’ll be doing some of this myself as part of the CES panel Privacy & Security in the Cloud. This discussion will take place on Monday Jan 7, 11am-12pm, in LVCC, North Hall N259. The panel is chaired by my good friend Jeremy Geelan, founder of Cloud Computing Expo, who honed his considerable moderation skills at the BBC.

I’m planning on exploring the intersection between the cloud and our increasingly ubiquitous consumer devices. We will highlight the opportunities created by this technological convergence but we will also consider the implications this has for our personal privacy. I hope you can join us.

December 19th, 2012

Do You Agree to the Terms & Conditions? Mobile Devices & the Tipping Point of Informed Consent

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End-User License AgreementSometimes, I wonder if anyone in the entire history of computing has every bothered to read and consider the contents of a typical end-user license agreement (EULA). Some Product Manager, I suppose (though truthfully, I’m not even sure of this one).

The EULA, however, is important. It’s the foundation of an vital consent ceremony that ends with only one effective choice: pressing OK. This much-maligned step in every software installation is the only real binding between an end user and a provider of software. Out of this agreement emerges a contract between these two parties and it is this contact that serves as a legal framework for interpretation should any issues arise in the relationship.

Therein lies the rub, as the emphasis in a EULA — as in so much of contract law — is on legal formalism at the expense of end-user understanding. These priorities are not necessarily mutually exclusive but as any lawyer will tell you, it’s a lot more work to make them coexist on a more-or-less equal footing.

Mobile devices may provide the forcing function that brings change into this otherwise moribund corner of the software industry. Mobility is hot right now and it is demanding that we rethink a wide span of business processes and technologies. These new demands are going to extend to the traditional EULA and the result could be good for everyone.

Case in point: the New York Times reported recently on a study conducted by the FTC examining privacy in mobile apps for children. The researchers found that parents were not being adequately informed about what private information was being collected and the extent to which it could be shared. Furthermore, many mobile app developers are channeling data into just a few commercial analytics vendors. While this may not sound like too big a deal, it turns out that, in some cases, these data are tagged with unique device identifiers. This means that providers can potentially track behavior across multiple apps, giving them unprecedented visibility into the online habits of our children.

Kid plus privacy equals a lightning rod for controversy but the study is really indicative of a much greater problem in the mobile app industry. Just the previous week, the State of California launched a suit against Delta Airlines alleging the company failed to include a privacy policy in its mobile app, placing it in violation of that state’s 2004 privacy law.

You could argue that there is nothing new about this problem. Desktop applications have the same capacity for collecting information and so pose similar threats to our privacy. The difference is mostly the devil we know. After years of reading about the appalling threats to our privacy on the Internet, we have come to expect these shenanigans and approach the conventional Web guarded and wary. Or we don’t care (see Facebook).

But the phone, well the phone is just… different.  Desktop computers — or even laptops — just aren’t as ever-present as phones. Your phone goes with you everywhere, which makes it both a triumph of technology and a tremendous potential threat to your privacy.

The problem with the phone is that it is the consumer device that isn’t. Apple crossed a chasm with the iPhone, taking the mobile device from constrained (like a blender) to extensible (like a Lego set) without breaking the consumer-orientation of the device. This was a real tour de force — but one with repercussions both good and bad.

The good stuff we live every day — we get to carefully curate our apps to make the phone our own. I can’t imagine traveling without my phone in my pocket. The bad part is we haven’t necessarily recognized the privacy implications of our own actions. Nobody expects to be betrayed by their constant companion but it is this constant companion that poses the greatest threat to our security.

The good news is that the very characteristics that make mobile so popular also promise to bring much needed transparency to the user/app/provider relationship. Consumer-orientation plus small form factor equals a revolution in privacy and security.

Mobile devices tap into a market so vast it dwarfs the one addressed by the humble PC. And this is the market for which consumer protection laws were designed. As we’ve seen in the Delta Airlines case above, the states have a lever and apparently they aren’t afraid to use it.

But legislation is only part of the answer to reconciling the dueling priorities of privacy and consent. The other element working in favour of change is size — and small is definitely better here. The multi-page contract just isn’t going to play well on a four-inch screen. What consumer’s need is a message that is simple, clear and understandable. Fortunately, we can look to the Web for inspiration on how to do this right.

One of the reasons I get excited about the rise of OAuth is because it represents much more than yet another security token (God knows we have enough of those already). OAuth is really about granting consent. It doesn’t try to say anything about the nature of that consent but it does put in the framework to make consent practical.

Coincident with the rise of OAuth on the Web is a movement to make the terms of consent more transparent. This will need to continue as the process moves to the restricted form factor of the mobile phone. I have no doubt that, left to their own devices, most developers would take the easy route and reduce mobile consent to a hyperlink pointing to pages of boilerplate legalese and an OK button. But add in some regulatory expectations of reasonable disclosure and I can see a better future of clear and simple agreements that flourish first on mobile devices but extend to all software.

Here at Layer 7, we are deeply interested in technologies like OAuth and the role these play in a changing the computing landscape. We are also spending lots of time working on mobile because, more than anything, mobile solutions are driving uptake around APIs. When we built our SecureSpan Mobile Access Gateway, we made sure this solution made OAuth simple to deploy and simple to customize. This way, important steps like consent ceremonies can be made clear, unambiguous and — most importantly — compliant with the law.

October 25th, 2012

The iPad Mini is for Cars

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Category Apps, Mobile Access
 

Mini Cooper on an iPad MiniOn Tuesday, Apple launched the iPad mini. Apple events in the fall of 2012 may no longer command the social anticipation they did just a few years ago but they remain flash points for technology reporting. This release brought on more than its share of speculation that the mini is simply an overdue acknowledgement that Amazon got something right with Kindle and that Apple has quietly slipped into following mode. Some pundits have seized on the angle that Apple’s new tablet appeared to contradict Steve Jobs’ famous trashing of the 7″ form factor. But in all of the hullabaloo, one observation seems to be missing: that a tablet of this size is tailor-made for inclusion into the dashboard of your car.

Nothing dates a car like its electronics. And nothing is more tragic that the user experience of pretty much every single in-car navigation and music system. The luxury car segment can do Corinthian leather and wood grain appointments like no industry on earth. They can build a magnificent driving machine that powers through rain and snow like it was a sunny day in LA. But ask them to do a screen-based app and you get something that looks like it was designed on a TRS-80.

I didn’t renew the trial SiriusXM in my 4Runner because I couldn’t stand its programming compared with what I could stream from my iPhone using Bluetooth. Every time I rent a car, I use my phone-based Navigon app over any provided GPS because my app is just better. I’m hooked on Waze, despite how few people use it up here in Vancouver (you should sign up — the more people who use it, the better the traffic data is). The apps on my phone are always up-to-date and I replace the hardware every couple of years for the latest model (which is good enough for me; after all, it’s only a phone).

All cars need is a standard, lockable frame where you can plug in the device of your choice, plus a standardized connector. Then let free market competition and innovation prevail over apps. Tomorrow’s gear heads aren’t going to be like the hot rodders of my Dad’s generation or the tuner kids of a decade ago. They are going to be geeks with apps using APIs.

That’s what the iPad mini is for.

(It’s interesting to note that the wifi-only mini does not have GPS but the cellular version does…)

July 30th, 2012

Why I Still Like OAuth

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OAuth 2.0 ControversyThat sound of a door slamming last week was Eran Hammer storming out of the OAuth standardization process, declaring once and for all that the technology was dead and that he would no longer be a part of it. Tantrums and controversy make great social media copy, so it didn’t take long before everyone seemed to be talking about this one. In some quarters, you’d hardly know the London Olympics had begun.

So what are we to really make of all this? Is OAuth dead or at least on “the road to Hell”, as Eran now-famously put it? Certainly, my inbox is full of emails from people asking if they should stop building their security architecture around such a tainted specification.

I think Tim Bray, who has vast experience with the relative ups and downs of technology standardization, offered the best answer in his own blog:

“It’s done. Stick a fork in it. Ship the RFCs.”

Which is to say sometimes you just have to declare a reasonable victory and deal with the consequences later. OAuth isn’t perfect, nor is it easy. But it’s needed and it’s needed now, so let’s all forget the personality politics and just get it done. And hopefully, right across the street from me here in Vancouver, where the IETF is holding it’s meetings all this week, this is what will happen.

In the end, OAuth is something we all need and this is why this specification remains important. The genius of OAuth is that it empowers people to perform delegated authorization on their own, without the involvement of a cabal of security admins. And this is something that is really quite profound.

In the past, we’ve been shackled by the centralization of control around identity and entitlements (a fancy term which really just describes the set of actions your identity is allowed, such as writing to a particular file system). This has led to a status quo in nearly every organization that is maintained first because it is hard to do otherwise but also because this equals power, which is something that is rarely surrendered without a fight.

The problem is that centralized identity admin can never effectively scale, at least from an administrative perspective. With OAuth, we can finally scale authentication and authorization by leveraging the user population itself — and this is the one thing that stands a chance of shattering the monopoly on centralized identity and access management (IAM). OAuth undermined the castle and the real noise we are hearing isn’t infighting on the spec but the enterprise walls falling down.

Here is the important insight of OAuth 2.0: delegated authorization also solves that basic security sessioning problem of all apps running over stateless protocols like HTTP. Think about this for a minute: The basic Web architecture provides for complete authentication on every transaction. This is dumb, so we have come up with all sorts of security context tracking mechanisms, using cookies, proprietary tokens etc. The problem with many of these is that they don’t constrain entitlements at all; a cookie is as good as a password because it really just linearly maps back to an original act of authentication.

OAuth formalizes this process but adds in the idea of constraint with informed user consent. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why OAuth matters. In OAuth, you exchange a password (or other primary security token) for a time-bound access token with a limited set of capabilities to which you have explicitly agreed. In other words, the token expires fast and is good for one thing only. So you can pass it off to something else (like Twitter) and reduce your risk profile or — and this is the key insight of OAuth 2.0 — you can just use it yourself as a better security session tracker.

The problem with OAuth 2.0 is that it’s surprisingly hard to get to this simple idea from the explosion of protocol in OAuth 1.0a. Both specs too-quickly reduce to an exercise in swim lane diagram detail, which ironically runs counter to the movement towards simplicity and accessibility that drives today’s Web. And therein lies the rub. OAuth is more a victim of poor marketing than bad specsmanship. I have yet to see a good, simple explanation of why, followed by how. (I don’t think OAuth 1.0 was well served by the valet key analogy, which distracts from too many important insights.) As it stands today, OAuth 2.0 makes Kerberos specs seem like grade school primer material.

It doesn’t have to be this way. OAuth is actually deceptively simple; it is the mechanics that remain potentially complex (particularly those of the classic 1.0a, three-legged scenario). But the same can be said of SSL/TLS, which we all use daily with few problems. What OAuth needs is a set of dead simple (but nonetheless solid) libraries on the client side and equally simple, scalable support on the server. This is a tractable problem and it is coming. It also needs much better interpretation, so that people can understand it fast.

Personally, I agree in part with Eran Hammer’s wish buried in the conclusion of his blog entry:

“I’m hoping someone will take 2.0 and produce a 10-page profile that’s useful for the vast majority of Web providers, ignoring the enterprise.”

OAuth absolutely does need simple profiling for interop. But don’t ignore the enterprise. The enterprise really needs the profile too because the enterprise badly needs OAuth.