It has been one year since I joined Transmit Security. To be totally transparent, it’s a bit of a blur given the state of the world over these last few years. Like many, I’ve suffered from “pandemic brain” — that twilight dimension where time loses meaning due to an acute overdose of takeout and true crime podcasts.
But it’s because of this whirlwind of change that I feel compelled to tell you about my journey and why you should care about what Transmit Security is doing. I promise that by the end of this brief post, you will understand why I’m so invested in our mission to help rid the world of passwords. First, I need to tell you about the tragedy of the SS Eastland.
On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland sank in Lake Michigan, claiming the lives of 844 passengers and crew. To date, it is the greatest loss of life from a shipwreck on the Great Lakes. Though the Eastland had gained a reputation as a jinx due to a string of safety incidents, the greatest contributing factor was the addition of destabilizing lifeboats that threw off the ship’s balance. This caused it to list until it eventually capsized. But why would they add a safety mechanism that posed such risks?
Comparing the tragedy of the SS Eastland and the current security measures within technology, it’s clear that overcompensation in all forms can pose serious safety threats. Transmit Security’s mission to eliminate passwords and focus on an individualized user experience wipes out this dangerous overcompensation.
After the sinking of the Titanic, support for the “lifeboats for all” movement swelled. Legislators acted quickly to stem public outcry, and ships like the Eastland were retrofitted with more lifeboats in order to meet the new regulations. There were some who prophesied that the added weight would cause problems — but people wanted an easy answer.
In short, the ship sank because of thoughtlessly applied safety measures. In the same way that a driver on icy roads can fishtail out of control due to repeated overcorrections, the Eastland capsized mostly due to an attempt to correct what happened to the Titanic.
Imagine for a moment the passengers boarding the Eastland that day. They placed total trust in the ship’s safety, perhaps even noticing the significantly increased number of lifeboats. Yet this was an illusion of safety, one that would have a tragic human cost.
If you know anything about Transmit Security, you can probably see where I’m going with this. In our digital environment, we are surrounded by overcorrections. We have two-factor authentication, CAPTCHA, complex password requirements, and a laundry list of authenticator apps. We are constantly assured that these measures are necessary and effective, and yet we see account takeovers and fraud rising year after year.
Like the lifeboats aboard the Eastland, some of these security measures work against us. For example, if you don’t activate 2FA on an account, and a hacker compromises your credentials, they can easily set up 2FA for their own benefit. They can use the safety mechanism against you, locking you out for as long as it takes to get a customer service rep to believe that you’re really you.
Many things could have saved the Eastland, but the only surefire way they could have prevented the catastrophe would have been to scuttle the ship. Its very design made it impossible to carry a sufficient number of lifeboats. That’s what I’ve come to realize about the incumbent methods of authentication. There is no way to fix passwords, and like an overloaded boat from the early 20th century, we are all one bad jolt away from capsizing.
I know that sounds quite macabre, but this is the reality into which we are descending. The more technocratic and inaccessible we make online environments, the closer we get to a digital dark age. Who really stands to benefit from holding the status quo? Certainly not consumers. Definitely not people living with disabilities. We have over-rotated in our desire for an easy answer to security, and in so doing, we have locked ourselves out of our own front door.
I, for one, am not happy with the way the majority of authentication methods stand. Neither is Transmit Security, a company that actually cares about who people are. My one year at this organization has taught me so much, but the thing that stands out above it all is that who you really are should matter.
You are not a combination of symbols, letters and numbers. You’re you, quirks and all. You’re the one who takes board game night way too seriously, but it’s okay because everyone else loves your energy. You’re the one who drinks their morning coffee with one of those little umbrellas in the mug because it’s fancy.
I’m profoundly grateful to be part of an organization that values identities over how many complicated passwords people can memorize. So, it’s with this urgency and understanding that I ask you to look again at the state of authentication today. Are we really safe, or are we barely staying afloat while the extra lifeboats weigh us down?
Passwords are a sinking ship, and it’s time for adaptive passwordless customer authentication that eliminates the age-old sacrifice between customer experience and security. With a full range of passwordless options, we can now strongly authenticate all customers — even those who are not able or ready to use fingerprint or facial biometrics. The most critical step is to remove passwords completely. This remains our core mission, and our technology leads the industry in seamless and secure authentication. No more overcorrection. No more shipwreck anxiety.