Facebook Authentication and a Potential Security Risk
The idea of a “universal login” is not new by any means. Since the early days of the internet, many people have longed for the ease of having to only remember one login and password to access all of their favorite member-based sites.
Over the years, there have been a number of companies/organizations that have tackled this problem, and recently a couple of solutions have bubbled to the top in popularity. OpenID, Google Friend Connect, MySpaceID, and even the Twitter Login API have all been used as “universal login” methods which can be integrated with a web site.
None of these solutions, however, have even come close to the adoption rate boasted by the Facebook Authentication system. Practically everyone has a Facebook account these days, regardless of age, gender, education level, location, favorite web browser, email address, or internet provider! Facebook embraced this fact and built a nicely packaged authentication system which enables developers to integrate Facebook Authentication into pretty much any app or web site they can imagine. You can now find the Facebook universal login method in everything from iphone apps and desktop applications, to normal run-of-the-mill web sites.
This brings me to my point: Potential Security Risks
While logging into my Facebook account via all the different web sites and various applications which I use on a daily basis, I became acutely aware of a glaring security risk with the Facebook Authentication system. Basically, the way how Facebook instills a sense of security is via a recognizable blue bar which has a gray bar and diagonal stripes underneath it. This familiar imagery is displayed whenever you are asked to provide your Facebook login information. The idea that is consequently trained and reinforced in end-users’ minds is that the familiar imagery represents a genuine Facebook login screen. As such, if you are being asked for your Facebook information in a login popup, but the unique blue and gray bar is missing, you would immediately suspect that something was wrong.
Notice, however, that the Facebook URL is nowhere to be seen in the login popup. There is literally no easy way to verify where the contents of the login form are actually going. This is especially true in the countless iphone applications and computer programs which are making use of the Facebook Authentication system. A rogue developer could easily create a form which displayed the blue and gray bar, but that actually transmitted the login information somewhere else entirely (such as a database on their own server) before it sent the information to Facebook.
The exact same thing could be easily accomplished by any semi-competent web developer with 15 minutes worth of spare time. All they would have to do is make a mock-up copy of the legitimate Facebook login popup, but have it submit somewhere else entirely. The end user wouldn’t know the difference.
In summary: Facebook’s way of instilling a *false* sense of security via their blue/gray bar is totally flawed and easily exploited. They need to come up with some sort of method which enables end-users to verify the form’s authenticity before they enter their login information.