When Security Locks You Out of Everything
Thought experiment story of someone who lost everything in a house fire, and now can’t log into anything:
But to get into my cloud, I need my password and 2FA. And even if I could convince the cloud provider to bypass that and let me in, the backup is secured with a password which is stored in—you guessed it—my Password Manager.
I am in cyclic dependency hell. To get my passwords, I need my 2FA. To get my 2FA, I need my passwords.
It’s a one-in-a-million story, and one that’s hard to take into account in system design.
This is where we reach the limits of the “Code Is Law” movement.
In the boring analogue world—I am pretty sure that I’d be able to convince a human that I am who I say I am. And, thus, get access to my accounts. I may have to go to court to force a company to give me access back, but it is possible.
But when things are secured by an unassailable algorithm—I am out of luck. No amount of pleading will let me without the correct credentials. The company which provides my password manager simply doesn’t have access to my passwords. There is no-one to convince. Code is law.
Of course, if I can wangle my way past security, an evil-doer could also do so.
So which is the bigger risk?
- An impersonator who convinces a service provider that they are me?
- A malicious insider who works for a service provider?
- Me permanently losing access to all of my identifiers?
I don’t know the answer to that.
Those risks are in the order of most common to least common, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in risk order. They probably are, but then we’re left with no good way to handle someone who has lost all their digital credentials—computer, phone, backup, hardware token, wallet with ID cards—in a catastrophic house fire.
I want to remind readers that this isn’t a true story. It didn’t actually happen. It’s a thought experiment.