Yahoo plans to give up passwords

The latest scheme from Yahoo’s Crazy Ideas Department is to dispense with login passwords. Are they going to replace them with a certificate login or something more secure? Nope! The security-gaff prone outfit from Sunnyvale California has had the genius idea of sending a four-character one-time password to your mobile phone, according to an announcement they made at SXSW yesterday (or possibly today if you’re reading this in the USA).

According to Chris Stoned Stoner, their Product Development Director, the bright idea is to avoid the need to memorise difficult passwords by simply sending a new one, each time, to your registered mobile phone.

At first glance, this sounds a bit like the sensible two-factor authentication you find already: Log in using your password and an additional verification code is sent to your mobile. However, Yahoo has dispensed with the first part – logging in with your normal password. This means that anyone that has physical control of your mobile phone can now hijack your Yahoo account too. If your phone is locked, no matter – just retrieve the SMS using the SIM alone. No need to pwn Yahoo accounts the traditional way.

With an estimated 800,000 mobile phones nicked per year in the UK alone (Source inferred from ONS report) and about 6M handsets a year going AWOL in the USA, you’ve got to wonder what Yahoo was thinking.

Apart from the security risk, what are the chances of being locked out of your email simply because you’re out of mobile range (or if you’re phone has gone missing). Double whammy!

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