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Winfrasoft touts pattern-based password alternative

Sudoku for secure remote access

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UK software developer Winfrasoft is pushing visual patterns as an alternative to traditional passwords.

Users would select, or be allocated, a pattern of squares on a six-by-six grid. Each time they logged onto a system, they would be presented with a grid of numbers (as illustrated here), from which they would have to enter the digits that correspond to their memorised visual pattern.

The numbers in the grid users are offered changes every 60 seconds, while the position of the squares in their memorised pattern remains the same. Winfrasoft execs said people find patterns easier to remember than PINs and passwords, which seems plausible enough, even though the firm wasn't able to point to secondary evidence in support of this point. "Lots of people are visual and remember patterns better than password or code," Steven Hope, a director at Winfrasoft told El Reg

The firm says the system offers a defence against phishing, pattern-cracking, screen-scraping or replay attacks, without the need for expensive hardware tokens or card readers. "An eavesdropper would have no idea of the pattern a user had selected even if they shoulder surfed," Hope added.

Winfrasoft is initially targeting the remote access market with its matrix-pattern authentication technology, via a product called AuthCentral and a corresponding mobile phone login appliance sibling, dubbed ActiveSync Gateway. At launch, this mobile technology only works with Windows-based mobile phones but the firm is also working on versions that support iPhone, Blackberry and Android.

The technology comes in various flavours and configurations. The basic 6x6 matrix can be extended to 10x10. The technology can be used as a web-based login system or, for added security, logins can be made only via a pre-authorised device. In addition, AuthCentral offers a static PIN option, which allows users to increase security by inserting an additional fixed PIN code. This PIN number can be inserted either before or after they input the numbers corresponding to their matrix pattern.

We're assured some fiendishly complicated sums are involved in making sense of this at the server end.

This pin+ technology appears to us to be the main difference between Winfrasoft and GRIDsure, another UK developer that has also been targeting the remote access market with an alternative to passwords. In GRIDsure's case, this entails a memorised pattern mapped onto a grid of numbers and letters. GRIDSure also offers its technology as a means for secure logins for Windows machines onto intranets, a market not currently on Winfrasoft's roadmap.

Winfrasoft's tech plugs into Microsoft UAG (Universal Access Gateway) while GRIDSure also supports SSL VPN platforms from the likes of Juniper.

Winfrasoft's main business involves developing security add-ons for Microsoft server-based security products.

Winfrasoft has applied for a patent for its technology and hopes to create an "eco-system of pattern-based authentication". In particular, it wants to license its technology to software-as-a-service outfits, which would re-sell it to businesses for secure access to Exchange email servers or SSL VPNs, for example. ®

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