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Who Are You? From Meat to Electrons and Back Again

Michael Schwartz March 11, 2014

SXSW 3/10/14


From our perspective, websites are in cyberspace. But from the website perspective, you and I… are in “meat-space.” In 1984, William Gibson coined the term “MeatSpace” in his book Neuromancer. “Meat Space” is the physical world where our bodies (“pieces of meat”) move around and do meat-like things, like go shopping, brush our teeth, and go to SXSW.

In Texas, we have a lot of meat (i.e. longhorns!). When you have a non-human piece of meat in front of you, its easy for a computer to identify it if it has an RFID chip! You can also chip your dog, and your racing pigeon. Recently Disney announced a new technology for their theme parks. It uses the same technology that we use to track animals. What I found interesting is that this is an example of the “meat space” imitating cyberspace. In cyberspace, you can be “cookied”–in other words a domain can track you (actually your browser) as you move around on their various websites. The Disney band is like a meat-cookie. It’s a long range RFID tag, so it enables Disney to track you move as you move around the park.

After reading a blog that mentioned that “for the first time at a festival, you have data capture”
, I decided to peak into my own SXSW Gold Badge and found an RFID chip. Is it long range? Am I being tracked? One the one had, it could be great if I could know where my friends are at all times. On the other…

However, network authentication, where the piece of meat is not in front of you, but is connected remotely over the network presents additional challenges. In our time, the best way to identify a piece of person meat has been to ask it if it knows its password. However, in the preceding two decades, there has been a lot of innovation in the area of person meat identification. As the authors of one of the leading open source security platforms, I have been lucky to talk to a wide array of strong authentication engineers, entrepreneurs and researchers. What I’d like to share with you today is a high level, helicopter tour of the diversity of current authentication approaches, and to highlight some of the opportunities and challenges to expand use of these technologies.



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Mike Schwartz

Mike has been an entrepreneur and identity specialist for more than two decades. He is the technical and business visionary behind Gluu. Mike is an application security expert and has been a featured speaker at RSA Conference, Gartner Catalyst, Cloud Identity Summity (now "Identiverse") and many other security conferences around the world.