Manfred Mueller, Identiv: “physical and digital worlds have become interchangeable”

As more companies adopt “work from anywhere” policies, the cybersecurity industry drives innovation forward, offering more solutions to protect one’s privacy today than ever before.

The Internet of things is constantly evolving, with new smart home devices and other technologies being released to simplify our daily lives. However, they are associated with an array of vulnerabilities and potential cyber threats. Luckily, Identiv provides seamless authentication and security solutions to make sure your devices and data are protected.

Manfred Mueller, COO of Identiv, talked to us about the significance of identity verification in today’s world and discussed essential cybersecurity practices that should be implemented by businesses worldwide.

Identiv has been in business for more than three decades. Can you tell us more about your journey?

I have been with the company for 21 years, and it has been quite a ride. My journey started as the founder’s right-hand man, handling M&A and other special projects before I took over the IR and PR department. I then ran Marketing and Product Management for about ten years before moving into a Sales and BU management role, which I am essentially still doing today. Identiv has evolved substantially during the past two decades since I came on board, turning into a true global leader in the identity, RFID, and IoT space.

What were the main changes you’ve witnessed throughout the years in the identity verification field?

When it comes to the identity verification field, the biggest change has been the move from traditional, contact-based technologies (i.e., smart cards and their respective readers and tokens) in many use cases to RFID-based contactless solutions. This shift came about pretty naturally with the widespread adoption of touchless applications. On the other hand, the overall awareness of identity theft and cybersecurity has now penetrated into nearly every household. It all started with government entities as the initial early adopters, followed by banks and corporations. Today, most end-users like you and I are incredibly familiar with the need to verify our identity on the web.

You mention the term “phygital” quite often when describing your work. Can you briefly explain what that means?

Physical and digital worlds have become interchangeable, making verification the currency to ensure people, products, services, and systems fulfill their intended purpose and have access to the right environment at the right time. When unauthorized users access sensitive information, they steal personal data, plant malicious code, or introduce ransomware. Cybercrime is powerful and impacts places people may not initially consider a cyberattack target. Early in 2021, we saw two cyberattacks on critical U.S. industries operating heavily in the physical realm: fuel pipelines and meat processing. A “phygital” experience (blending the physical and digital worlds) crosses many of our core business segments, like physical access control and video, logical access control, credentials, and wireless devices, including RFID, NFC, and IoT-based ecosystems.

It is evident that operating sustainably and taking environmental responsibility is extremely important for Identiv. Can you tell us more about your approach?

This is an incredibly important topic for us. From a corporate point of view, we chose not only to pursue ISO 9001 certification but also to become ISO 14001-certified, as well. The internationally acknowledged ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification recognizes companies that have adopted environmentally responsible practices in their business processes. On the product side, we have also developed eco-friendly products, like our paper-based NFC and RFID inlays. The clean, green RFID and NFC inlays are part of a sustainable IoT ecosystem aimed to protect the planet with the industry’s lowest carbon footprint. One key use case would be green logistics, also called eco-logistics, which refers to the set of sustainable policies and practices targeted to reduce the environmental impact caused by the logistical activities of companies. Today, the logistics industry is notorious for its low sustainability level. Businesses face substantial problems in applying eco-friendly policies in the field of logistics. We aim to make it easy and cost-effective for them to adopt more sustainable practices.

How did the pandemic affect the IoT scene? Have you noticed any new security issues arise as a result?

The pandemic has significantly impacted the overall IoT and cybersecurity scene. Remote work and operations from anywhere are not just working models to implement in your company; they are the need of the hour. We have seen the demand for our readers and tokens that facilitate anywhere operations go through the roof. Our devices allow identity verification from anywhere, letting people securely log into their corporate networks. This means employees adhere to the same security requirements when working from home as if they were physically in a corporate office. The adoption of NFC and RFID technologies was also boosted as a consequence of the pandemic. Not only have contactless/touchless applications been more widely accepted and deployed on the whole, but we have also seen a huge uptick in clients we are serving in the healthcare sector. Our RFID solutions are used for COVID test kits, in supplies for ventilators, and with other critical infrastructure directly related to helping fight the pandemic.

What physical security measures would you consider a must for organizations nowadays?

We need to continue moving away from passwords, especially simple ones. At the minimum, every corporation’s IT department must require their employees to frequently change passwords and implement rules to enforce so-called strong passwords. But quite frankly, in my mind, that is not enough. MFA (multi-factor authentication), and in particular, 2FA (two-factor authentication), is a much more secure way to verify identity and protect your systems. You need something you know (the password) plus something you own (like a card, a token, or similar) to properly secure your identity. The added factor of a physical device eliminates the option for people to simply share their passwords.

In your opinion, where can we expect to see NFC and RFID technology be used more often in the near future?

I personally believe that RFID, and NFC in particular, will make it into every aspect of our daily lives. The fact that every smartphone features a built-in NFC reader makes it a powerful tool to conveniently and securely interact with any item or device. End-consumer convenience is one major driver of the global adoption of NFC technology. For corporations, the protection of goods is vital, so NFC-based brand authentication ecosystems will continue to grow exponentially. Eventually, every barcode or QR code could be replaced by RFID.

What do you think the future of identity verification methods is going to be like? Do you think the use of biometrics is going to catch on?

I am a big believer in MFA. FIDO tokens and similar HW-based solutions will continue to penetrate the market and allow each of us to securely verify our identity. Eventually, our phones will handle most of those verifications using built-in cameras or RFID readers. Secure Elements, already built into most phones, will allow the maximum level of security. When it comes to biometrics, we have been involved in several fingerprint authentication and face recognition projects, and we have already seen widespread adoption. Today, you authenticate yourself with your thumbprint at an immigration officer’s desk, walk through an automated gate at passport control, and unlock your phone with your finger or face. Over the next few years, we will see more and more applications rolled out; biometric identification methods will become omnipresent.

Would you like to share what’s next for Identiv?

When it comes to identity-related activities, you will see new releases in our HW token-based mobility solutions. We will launch our FIPS-certified FIDO token in early 2022, and we will also re-launch our SIM-based tokens. On the NFC side of things, expect new use cases in MedTech/pharma, smart packaging, brand authenticity, and consumer convenience. We are continuing to significantly invest in that part of our business and will be expanding the global organization to help us drive that growth.