17:08
TEDxSussexUniversity

David Birch: A new way to stop identity theft

Filmed:

Bartenders needs to know your age, retailers need your PIN, but almost no one actually needs your name -- except for identity thieves. ID expert David Birch proposes a safer approach to personal identification -- a "fractured" approach -- that would almost never require your real name.

- Digital money and identity consultant
David Birch is a digital money and ID consultant paving the way for a 21st-century identity. Full bio

So I thought I'd talk about identity.
00:13
That's sort of an interesting
enough topic to me.
00:15
And the reason was,
because when I was asked to do this,
00:18
I'd just read, in one of the papers,
I can't remember,
00:21
something from someone at Facebook
saying, well,
00:24
"we need to make everybody
use their real names."
00:28
and then that's basically
all the problems solved.
00:29
And that's so wrong,
00:32
that's such a fundamentally,
reactionary view of identity,
00:34
and it's going to get us
into all sorts of trouble.
00:38
And so what I thought I'd do
00:40
is I'll explain four
sort of problems about it,
00:41
and then I'll suggest a solution,
00:45
which hopefully you
might find interesting.
00:47
So just to frame the problem,
00:49
what does authenticity mean?
00:51
That's me, that's
a camera phone picture of me
00:53
looking at a painting.
00:58
[What's the Problem?]
00:59
That's a painting that was painted
01:00
by a very famous forger,
01:01
and because I'm not very good
at presentations,
01:03
I already can't remember the name
that I wrote on my card.
01:05
And he was incarcerated
in, I think, Wakefield Prison
01:08
for forging masterpieces by,
I think, French Impressionists.
01:12
And he's so good at it,
that when he was in prison,
01:15
everybody in prison,
the governor and whatever,
01:19
wanted him to paint masterpieces
to put on the walls,
01:20
because they were so good.
01:23
And so that's a masterpiece,
01:24
which is a fake of a masterpiece,
01:26
and bonded into the canvas is a chip
which identifies that as a real fake,
01:28
if you see what I mean.
01:34
(Laughter)
01:36
So when we're talking about authenticity,
01:37
it's a little more fractal than it appears
and that's a good example to show it.
01:39
I tried to pick four problems
that will frame the issue properly.
01:45
So the first problem, I thought,
01:49
Chip and PIN, right?
01:50
[Banks and legacies
bringing down the system from within]
01:52
[Offline solutions do not work online]
01:53
I'm guessing everyone's got
a chip and PIN card, right?
01:54
So why is that a good example?
01:57
That's the example of how
legacy thinking about identity
01:59
subverts the security
of a well-constructed system.
02:02
That chip and PIN card
that's in your pocket
02:05
has a little chip on it
that cost millions of pounds to develop,
02:08
is extremely secure,
02:11
you can put scanning
electron microscopes on it,
02:13
you can try and grind it down,
blah blah blah.
02:15
Those chips have never been broken,
whatever you read in the paper.
02:17
And for a joke,
we take that super-secure chip
02:20
and we bond it to a trivially
counterfeitable magnetic stripe
02:24
and for very lazy criminals,
we still emboss the card.
02:27
So if you're a criminal in a hurry
and you need to copy someone's card,
02:31
you can just stick a piece of paper on it
and rub a pencil over it
02:34
just to sort of speed things up.
02:37
And even more amusingly,
and on my debit card too,
02:38
we print the name and the SALT code
and everything else on the front too.
02:41
Why?
02:44
There is no earthly reason why your name
is printed on a chip and PIN card.
02:47
And if you think about it,
02:51
it's even more insidious and perverse
than it seems at first.
02:53
Because the only people that benefit
02:56
from having the name
on the card are criminals.
02:58
You know what your name is, right?
03:00
(Laughter)
03:02
And when you go into
a shop and buy something,
03:03
it's a PIN, he doesn't care
what the name is.
03:05
The only place where you ever have
to write your name on the back
03:08
is in America at the moment.
03:11
And whenever I go to America,
03:12
and I have to pay with a mag stripe
on the back of the card,
03:13
I always sign it Carlos Tethers anyway,
03:15
just as a security mechanism,
03:17
because if a transaction
ever gets disputed,
03:19
and it comes back and it says Dave Birch,
03:21
I know it must have been a criminal,
03:23
because I would never sign it Dave Birch.
03:25
(Laughter)
03:28
So if you drop your card in the street,
03:29
it means a criminal
can pick it up and read it.
03:31
They know the name,
03:33
from the name they can find the address,
03:34
and then they can go off
and buy stuff online.
03:35
Why do we put the name on the card?
03:38
Because we think identity
is something to do with names,
03:40
and because we're rooted
in the idea of the identity card,
03:44
which obsesses us.
03:47
And I know it crashed and burned
a couple of years ago,
03:49
but if you're someone in politics
or the home office or whatever,
03:51
and you think about identity,
03:56
you can only think of identity
in terms of cards with names on them.
03:57
And that's very subversive
in a modern world.
04:00
So the second example I thought I'd use
04:04
is chatrooms.
04:06
[Chatrooms and Children]
04:08
I'm very proud of that picture,
that's my son
04:09
playing in his band with his friends
for the first-ever gig,
04:11
I believe you call it, where he got paid.
04:15
(Laughter)
04:17
And I love that picture.
04:18
I like the picture of him
getting into medical school a lot better,
04:20
(Laughter)
04:22
I like that picture for the moment.
04:23
Why do I use that picture?
04:25
Because that was very interesting,
watching that experience as an old person.
04:26
So him and his friends,
04:31
they get together, they booked a room,
like a church hall,
04:33
and they got all their friends
who had bands,
04:35
and they got them together,
04:37
and they do it all on Facebook,
04:39
and then they sell tickets,
and the first band on the -
04:40
I was going to say "menu,"
04:44
that's probably
the wrong word for it, isn't it?
04:45
The first band on the list of bands
04:47
that appears at some
public music performance of some kind
04:49
gets the sales from the first 20 tickets,
04:54
then the next band gets the next 20,
04:56
and so on.
04:58
They were at the bottom of the menu,
04:59
they were like fifth,
I thought they had no chance.
05:00
He actually got 20 quid. Fantastic, right?
05:02
But my point is,
that all worked perfectly,
05:04
except on the web.
05:06
So they're sitting on Facebook,
05:09
and they're sending these messages
and arranging things
05:11
and they don't know who anybody is, right?
05:14
That's the big problem
we're trying to solve.
05:17
If only they were using the real names,
05:18
Then you wouldn't be worried
about them on the Internet.
05:20
And so when he says to me,
05:23
"Oh, I want to go to a chatroom
to talk about guitars" or something,
05:24
I'm like, "oh, well,
I don't want you to go into a chatroom
05:28
to talk about guitars, because
they might not all be your friends,
05:32
and some of the people
that are in the chatroom
05:35
might be perverts and teachers
and vicars."
05:37
(Laughter)
05:41
I mean, they generally are,
when you look in the paper, right?
05:43
So I want to know who
all the people in the chatroom are.
05:46
So okay, you can go in the chatroom,
05:49
but only if everybody in the chatroom
is using their real names,
05:50
and they submit full copies
of their police report.
05:53
But of course, if anybody
in the chatroom asked for his real name,
05:58
I'd say no.
You can't give them your real name.
06:01
Because what happens
if they turn out to be perverts,
06:03
and teachers and whatever.
06:06
So you have this odd sort of paradox
06:09
where I'm happy for him
to go into this space
06:10
if I know who everybody else is,
06:13
but I don't want anybody else
to know who he is.
06:15
And so you get
this sort of logjam around identity
06:17
where you want full disclosure
from everybody else,
06:19
but not from yourself.
06:21
And there's no progress, we get stuck.
06:22
And so the chatroom thing
doesn't work properly,
06:24
and it's a very bad way
of thinking about identity.
06:26
So on my RSS feed,
I saw this thing about -
06:31
I just said something bad
about my RSS feed, didn't I?
06:34
I should stop saying it like that.
06:36
For some random reason, I can't imagine,
06:38
something about cheerleaders
turned up in my inbox.
06:40
And I read this story about cheerleaders,
06:42
and it's a fascinating story.
06:44
This happened a couple of years ago
in the U.S.
06:45
There were some cheerleaders
in a team at a high school
06:47
in the U.S., and they said mean things
06:50
about their cheerleading coach,
06:53
as I'm sure kids do
about all of their teachers
06:54
all of the time,
06:56
and somehow the cheerleading coach
found out about this.
06:58
She was very upset.
07:00
And so she went to one of the girls,
and said,
07:01
"you have to give me
your Facebook password."
07:03
I read this all the time,
where even at some universities
07:06
and places of education,
07:09
kids are forced to hand over
their Facebook passwords.
07:10
So you've got to give them
your Facebook password.
07:12
She was a kid!
07:15
What she should have said
07:15
is, "my lawyer will be calling you
07:17
first thing in the morning.
07:18
It's an outrageous imposition
07:19
on my 4th Amendment right to privacy,
07:21
and you're going to be sued
07:23
for all the money you've got."
07:23
That's what she should have said.
07:24
But she's a kid,
07:25
so she hands over the password.
07:26
The teacher can't log into Facebook,
07:28
because the school
has blocked access to Facebook.
07:30
So the teacher can't log into Facebook
until she gets home.
07:33
So the girl tells her friends,
07:35
guess what happened?
07:37
The teacher logged in, she knows.
07:37
So the girls just all logged into Facebook
on their phones,
07:39
and deleted their profiles.
07:41
And so when the teacher logged in,
there was nothing there.
07:43
My point is, those identities,
they don't think about them the same way.
07:45
Identity is, especially when
you're a teenager, a fluid thing.
07:51
You have lots of identities.
07:55
And you can have an identity,
you don't like it,
07:56
because it's subverted in some way,
or it's insecure, or it's inappropriate,
07:59
you just delete it and get another one.
08:02
The idea that you have an identity
that's given to you by someone,
08:04
the government or whatever,
08:08
and you have to stick with that identity
and use it in all places,
08:09
that's absolutely wrong.
08:11
Why would you want to really know
who someone was on Facebook,
08:12
unless you wanted to abuse them
and harass them in some way?
08:15
And it just doesn't work properly.
08:18
And my fourth example is
there are some cases
08:21
where you really want to be -
08:23
In case you're wondering,
that's me at the G20 protest.
08:26
I wasn't actually at the G20 protest,
but I had a meeting at a bank
08:29
on the day of the G20 protest,
and I got an email from the bank
08:33
saying please don't wear a suit,
because it'll inflame the protesters.
08:36
I look pretty good in a suit, frankly,
08:41
so you can see why it would drive them
08:43
into an anti-capitalist frenzy.
08:44
(Laughter)
08:46
So I thought, well, look.
08:46
If I don't want to inflame the protesters,
08:47
the obvious thing to do
08:50
is go dressed as a protester.
08:51
So I went dressed completely in black,
08:53
you know, with a black balaclava,
08:55
I had black gloves on,
08:57
but I've taken them off
to sign the visitor's book.
08:57
(Laughter)
08:59
I'm wearing black trousers, black boots,
09:00
I'm dressed completely in black.
09:02
I go into the bank at 10 o'clock,
09:03
go, "Hi, I'm Dave Birch,
09:04
I've got a 3 o'clock
with so and so there."
09:05
Sure. They sign me in.
09:07
There's my visitor's badge.
09:08
(Laughter)
09:11
So this nonsense
09:12
about you've got to have real names
on Facebook and whatever,
09:13
that gets you that kind of security.
09:15
That gets you security theater,
where there's no actual security,
09:17
but people are sort of playing parts
in a play about security.
09:22
And as long as
everybody learns their lines,
09:25
everyone's happy.
09:26
But it's not real security.
09:28
Especially because I hate banks
more than the G20 protesters do,
09:31
because I work for them.
09:34
I know that things are actually worse
than these guys think.
09:35
(Laughter)
09:38
But suppose I worked
next to somebody in a bank
09:41
who was doing something.
09:46
Suppose I was sitting
next to a rogue trader,
09:56
and I want to report it
to the boss of the bank.
09:58
So I log on to do
a little bit of whistleblowing.
10:01
I send a message,
this guy's a rogue trader.
10:02
That message is meaningless
10:05
if you don't know
that I'm a trader at the bank.
10:06
If that message just comes from anybody,
10:09
it has zero information value.
10:11
There's no point in sending that message.
10:14
But if I have to prove who I am,
10:18
I'll never send that message.
10:21
It's just like the nurse in the hospital
reporting the drunk surgeon.
10:22
That message will only happen
if I'm anonymous.
10:26
So the system has to have ways
of providing anonymity there,
10:29
otherwise we don't get
where we want to get to.
10:34
So four issues.
So what are we going to do about it?
10:36
Well, what we tend to do about it
10:39
is we think about Orwell space.
10:43
And we try to make electronic versions
10:46
of the identity card
that we got rid of in 1953.
10:49
So we think if we had a card,
10:51
call it a Facebook login,
10:54
which proves who you are,
10:55
and I make you carry it all the time,
10:57
that solves the problem.
10:58
And of course, for all those reasons
I've just outlined,
10:59
it doesn't, and it might, actually,
11:01
make some problems worse.
11:02
The more times you're forced
to use your real identity,
11:03
certainly in transactional terms,
11:06
the more likely that identity
is to get stolen and subverted.
11:09
The goal is to stop people
from using identity
11:11
in transactions which don't need identity,
11:14
which is actually almost all transactions.
11:16
Almost all of the transactions you do
11:18
are not, who are you?
11:21
They're, are you allowed to drive the car,
11:22
are you allowed in the building,
11:24
are you over 18,
11:26
etcetera, etcetera.
11:27
So my suggestion-I, like James,
11:29
think that there should be
a resurgence of interest in R & D.
11:31
I think this is a solvable problem.
11:34
It's something we can do about.
11:35
Naturally, in these circumstances,
11:37
I turn to Doctor Who.
11:39
Because in this,
11:40
as in so many other walks of life,
11:42
Doctor Who has already shown
us the answer.
11:44
So I should say,
11:47
for some of our foreign visitors,
11:47
Doctor Who is the greatest
living scientist in England,
11:50
(Laughter)
11:54
and a beacon of truth and enlightenment
to all of us.
11:55
And this is Doctor Who
with his psychic paper.
11:58
Come on, you guys must have seen
Doctor Who's psychic paper.
12:02
You're not nerds if you say yes.
12:04
Who's seen Doctor Who's psychic paper?
12:06
Oh right, you were in the library
the whole time studying I guess.
12:08
Is that what you're going to tell us?
12:11
Doctor Who's psychic paper
12:13
is when you hold up the psychic paper,
12:14
the person, in their brain,
12:16
sees the thing that they need to see.
12:18
So I want to show you a British passport,
12:20
I hold up the psychic paper,
12:23
you see a British passport.
12:24
I want to get into a party,
12:25
I hold up the psychic paper,
12:27
I show you a party invitation.
12:28
You see what you want to see.
12:30
So what I'm saying is we need
to make an electronic version of that,
12:32
but with one tiny, tiny change,
12:35
which is that it'll only show you
the British passport
12:37
if I've actually got one.
12:40
It'll only show you the party invitation
12:41
if I actually have one.
12:42
It will only show you that I'm over 18
if I actually am over 18.
12:44
But nothing else.
12:47
So you're the bouncer at the pub,
you need to know that I'm over 18,
12:49
instead of showing you my driving license,
12:54
which shows you I know how to drive,
12:56
what my name is, my address,
all these kind of things,
12:58
I show you my psychic paper,
13:00
and all it tells you is
am I over 18 or not.
13:02
Right.
13:05
Is that just a pipe dream?
13:07
Of course not, otherwise
I wouldn't be here talking to you.
13:08
So in order to build that
and make it work,
13:10
I'm only going to name these things,
I'll not go into them,
13:13
we need a plan,
13:15
which is we're going to build this
13:17
as an infrastructure for everybody to use,
13:18
to solve all of these problems.
13:20
We're going to make a utility,
13:22
the utility has to be universal,
13:24
you can use it everywhere,
13:25
I'm just giving you little flashes
of the technology as we go along.
13:26
That's a Japanese ATM,
13:29
the fingerprint template
is stored inside the mobile phone.
13:31
So when you want to draw money out,
13:34
you put the mobile phone on the ATM,
13:35
and touch your finger,
13:36
your fingerprint goes through
to the phone,
13:38
the phone says yes, that's whoever,
13:40
and the ATM then gives you some money.
13:41
It has to be a utility
that you can use everywhere.
13:44
It has to be absolutely convenient,
13:47
that's me going into the pub.
13:49
All the device on the door
of the pub is allowed is,
13:52
is this person over 18
and not barred from the pub?
13:54
And so the idea is,
you touch your ID card to the door,
13:58
and if I am allowed in,
it shows my picture,
14:01
if I'm not allowed in,
it shows a red cross.
14:03
It doesn't disclose any other information.
14:05
It has to have no special gadgets.
14:07
That can only mean one thing,
14:08
following on from Ross's statement,
14:10
which I agree with completely.
14:12
If it means no special gadgets,
14:13
it has to run on a mobile phone.
14:14
That's the only choice we have,
14:16
we have to make it work on mobile phones.
14:17
There are 6.6 billion
14:19
mobile phone subscriptions.
14:20
My favorite statistic of all time,
14:21
only 4 billion toothbrushes in the world.
14:23
That means something,
14:25
I don't know what.
14:26
(Laughter)
14:27
I rely on our futurologists to tell me.
14:27
It has to be a utility
which is extensible.
14:31
So it has to be something
14:32
that anybody could build on.
14:34
Anybody should be able
to use this infrastructure,
14:35
you don't need permissions,
licenses, whatever,
14:37
anyone should be able
to write some code to do this.
14:40
You know what symmetry is,
14:45
so you don't need a picture of it.
14:46
This is how we're going to do it.
14:48
We're going to do it using phones,
14:49
and we're going to do it
14:50
using mobile proximity.
14:51
I'm going to suggest to you
14:52
the technology to implement
14:53
Doctor Who's psychic paper
14:55
is already here, and if any of you
14:56
have got one of the new
Barclay's debit cards
14:58
with the contactless interface on it,
15:00
you've already got that technology.
15:01
If you've ever been up to the big city,
15:03
and used an Oyster card at all,
15:05
does that ring any bells to anybody?
15:06
The technology already exists.
15:09
The first phones
15:09
that have the technology built in,
15:11
the Google Nexus, the S2,
15:11
the Samsung Wifi 7.9,
15:14
the first phones that have
15:14
the technology built into them
15:16
are already in the shops.
15:17
So the idea that the gas man
15:18
can turn up at my mom's door
15:19
and he can show my mom his phone,
15:22
and she can tap it with her phone,
15:24
and it will come up with green
if he really is from British Gas
15:25
and allowed in,
15:28
and it'll come up with red if he isn't,
15:29
end of story.
15:30
We have the technology to do that.
15:31
And what's more,
15:33
although some of those things
sounded a bit counter-intuitive,
15:34
like proving I'm over 18
without proving who I am,
15:36
the cryptography to do that
not only exists,
15:39
it's extremely well-known
and well-understood.
15:41
Digital signatures, the blinding
of public key certificates,
15:43
these technologies have been around
for a while,
15:46
we've just had no way
of packaging them up.
15:48
So the technology already exists.
15:50
We know it works,
15:53
There are a few examples
of the technology being used
15:56
in experimental places.
15:58
That's London Fashion Week,
16:00
where we built a system with O2,
16:01
that's for the Wireless Festival
in Hyde Park,
16:03
you can see the persons
16:06
walking in with their VIP band,
16:07
it's just being checked
16:09
by the Nokia phone
that's reading the band.
16:09
I'm only putting those up to show you
16:10
these things are prosaic,
16:12
this stuff works in these environments.
16:13
They don't need to be special.
16:15
So finally, I know that you can do this,
16:16
because if you saw
the episode of Doctor Who,
16:23
the Easter special of Doctor Who,
16:26
where he went to Mars in a bus,
16:28
I should say again
for our foreign students,
16:31
that doesn't happen every episode.
16:33
This was a very special case.
16:35
So in the episode where
he goes to Mars in a London bus,
16:36
I can't show you the clip,
16:39
due to the outrageous restrictions
of Queen Anne-style copyright
16:41
by the BBC,
16:44
but in the episode
where he goes to Mars in a London bus,
16:46
Doctor Who is clearly shown
getting on to the bus
16:49
with the Oyster card reader
16:53
using his psychic paper.
16:54
Which proves that psychic paper
16:56
has an MSE interface.
16:58
Thank you very much.
17:00

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About the Speaker:

David Birch - Digital money and identity consultant
David Birch is a digital money and ID consultant paving the way for a 21st-century identity.

Why you should listen

David G.W. Birch is a Director of Consult Hyperion, an electronic identity and transactions consultant. He is the Chairman of the annual Digital Money Forum and Digital Identity Forum in London and he has written for several publications including more than a hundred Second Sight columns for The Guardian newspaper. In 2007, he published Digital Identity Management: Technological, Business and Social Implications under Gower Publishing Ltd. He hosts the Consult Hyperion podcast -- conversations with identity and digital transaction experts.

More profile about the speaker
David Birch | Speaker | TED.com