Open Banking, PSD2 & Screen Scraping

Open Banking & PSD2

PSD2 is due to come into force September 2018, meanwhile the UK is forging ahead with Open Banking which is due to come into force even earlier in January 2018. Both regulations are all about cracking open banking APIs to increase digital competitiveness an improve consumer choice.

The 9 biggest UK banks have been collaborating in the form of the Open Banking Working Group (OBWG) to define the solution for Open Banking in the UK. After much discussion and deliberation the OBWG has determined that Open Banking should be achieved through the use of open standards and specifically the use of the OAuth 2.0 family of standards.

OAuth 2.0

OAuth 2.0 is something I use just about every day and it’s something that all of us have probably used at one time or another though we may not have realised it. OAuth is a standard designed for Delegated Authorization.

We commonly refer to Authentication as proving who you are, whereas Authorization determines what you are allowed to do. Authentication is typically achieved with some sort of username and password (and ideally a second factor). Authorization is generally concerned with the policy and permissions that apply once I have authenticated.

Effectively, Delegated Authorization is a way to permit someone to do something on my behalf. A very common example can be seen with Instragram and Twitter when a user gives Instagram permission to post to their Twitter feed.

With OAuth 2.0, Instragram will redirect you to Twitter, you will authenticate with Twitter and consent to Instragram posting to your Twitter account. Twitter will then share an authorization code with Instagram that Instagram will exchange for an access token. This access token can only be used to post to your Twitter account, Instagram for example could not use it to delete your tweets.

In a world without OAuth 2.0, Twitter would have to know your Facebook username and password in order to post a Tweet to your Facebook account. This would allow them to post to your Twitter feed but it would also enable them to do anything else that you could do if you authenticated. More crucially your username and password have now been shared with a third party who you have to trust. Propagating passwords is never a good thing for security and is really the very definition of a security anti-pattern. This is how screen scraping works.

Screen Scraping

Up to now there has been no standards based mechanism for sharing account data. There are services at the moment that can aggregate your financial data in one place. These services are convenient for many however to use them you have to share your credentials with them. So, if you want the aggregator to be able to report on your bank account. You need to share your banking credentials with the aggregator. You have to trust a third party with your banking credentials.

Putting aside the issues of trust, massive credential leaks are now a weekly occurrence and the more you share your credentials around the more vulnerable those credentials become.

Open Banking aims to put an end to this by using secure, trusted open standards such as OAuth. As a security professional and as a customer I feel very strongly that this is the right way to do Open Banking and it ensures I remain in control of my account data and enables me to revoke third party access at any time.

Right now there is much debate and discussion as to whether screen scraping should be permitted in both PSD2 and Open Banking. There are a number of groups who are right now petitioning for it to remain a valid approach for data sharing under the new regulations.

I can appreciate the difficulties many organisations may face in transitioning from screen scraping to an OAuth 2.0 based model but I cannot in good conscience support the screen scraping approach and I suspect that if it were to be adopted as an acceptable interim solution that it would persist for the longer term and undermine the benefits that an API driven approach to Open Banking would bring.

The Kantara Initiative is a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing digital identity and data privacy. If you feel as strongly as I do about this, please visit the Kantara Initiative and sign the pledge against screen scraping:

1 Comment

Comments are closed.

  1. Scott Heger 5 years ago

    Good stuff.

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