US Carriers Team Up to Axe Passwords

ZenKey project targets mobile authentication

In 2018, the Mobile Authentication Taskforce, a group that includes the four major US wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, announced Project Verify, a secure identification method that lets subscribers use a smartphone to authenticate their identity in online services (see US Carriers Partner for Project Verify).

As it nears commercialization, Project Verify has been rebranded as ZenKey. The service will be demonstrated at Mobile World Congress Americas in Los Angeles and at the Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas later in October 2019.

The goal of ZenKey is to simplify the digital experience and beef up security by addressing the headache of numerous passwords. For a business on the other side of a password-protected site, ZenKey could offer a smoother customer experience and less lost revenue. It can also reduce fraudulent transactions. The tool brings added protection for service providers that want to have passwords as a security factor, with a more secure second- or third-factor authentication than one-time PINs sent through a text message. SMS authentication has in the past few years become especially vulnerable to hacks.

Rather than just verifying a PIN or password, ZenKey also checks a user’s credentials using information from their mobile service. This includes data such as their IP address, type of phone account and mobile device number. Depending on the app that a user is logging into, ZenKey may also need biometric authentication. The technology uses multifactor authentication, including unique network signals, that not only verifies a user’s device but also proves the person’s identity.

With ZenKey, users don’t have to fill out basic information in every app or online service. Their carrier shares attributes such as their name and e-mail address, to pre-approved app and online service providers. Users can securely log into apps and websites and proceed with transactions without needing to remember or store passwords.

Services like ZenKey can help grease the wheels of mobile commerce and banking, but for the platform to succeed, consumers will have to understand the service and trust their wireless service providers. That’s not guaranteed. Wireless carriers have a vested interest in reducing fraud, and this could lead to a stronger mobile ecosystem.