Twitter announces text message-based password initiative

Twitter has announced a service that enables users to replace static passwords with a text message-based one-time passcode service

Twitter has announced a service that enables users to replace static passwords with a text message-based one-time passcode service.

The announcement of the Digits service, made at Twitter’s Flight developer conference in San Francisco, came just hours after Google announced its USB Security Key to replace passwords.

For several years, security experts have been urging online service providers to find an alternative to passwords that can be easily guessed or stolen by cyber attackers.

Like Google’s Security Key, Digits offers app developers an alternative to passwords. The service enables app developers to give users the option of logging in using their mobile number as an identifier.

Users will then receive a one-time passcode by text message to access an app, eliminating the security vulnerabilities associated with static passwords.

However, the idea for Digits was prompted by Twitter drive to boost user numbers and because many potential users in developing countries lack an email address.

Twitter decided to use mobile phone numbers as identifiers after a user research project revealed many potential users are put off by the lack of an email address, reports Techspot.

According to Twitter, phone numbers are the primary identity for the fastest growing mobile demographics, including emerging markets, which account for over 70% of the world’s mobile population.

Twitter chief, Dick Costolo, told developers: “This is a new native mobile sign-up service that makes mobile-first sign-up frictionless, and creates an identity relationship entirely between you and your users.

“We power it – we make it easy for you to communicate with your users – but that identity relationship is between you and them, not some third party. We power it and then we get out of the way,” he said.

Twitter can provide this service because it has relationships with almost every major mobile operator in the world, according to the Telegraph.

The Digits service allows developers to use Twitter's existing distribution network, making the whole process quicker and less expensive, the paper said.

A excerpt on Twitter’s developer website read: “Phone-based onboarding has been limited to large companies who can afford the time to build the infrastructure to deliver SMS – until now.

“With Digits, you gain the same level of security and SMS capabilities by simply plugging into Twitter’s own trusted, global infrastructure.”

Digits is one of the features of Twitter's new mobile development platform, called Fabric, which aims to give developers a comprehensive toolkit for developing apps that integrate with Twitter.

This includes a new syndication tool that makes it easier for app developers to embed filtered streams of tweets in their apps and web pages, and new crash-reporting tools.

But security and ease of use are not the only motivating factors behind Digits and the other tools in the Fabric platform.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Fabric could also open up fresh revenue streams for the social media service beyond advertising on only its website and app.

“In exchange for the free tools, developers may be more willing to give Twitter a spot somewhere within their apps, quietly allowing the company to expand its ad presence across the 2 million apps that populate the stores run by Apple and Google,” the paper said.

Fabric will be available in 216 countries and 18 languages, and will be free to use. However, Digits will be available initially in only 191 countries with support for 28 languages.

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