A case where we need to think very deeply about security.

Have you seen this dialog when using your iPhone or iPad?


Now a very simple solution to this problem (and it occurs on a number of other operating systems as well) is to extend the API so that the alert warns the user which application is asking for the password:


But the problem with this variation (or any other variation which explains which task is asking for the password) is that the prompt could be a lie.

My own thinking is that alerts of this nature which ask for a response should never be handled through a pop-up alert that may appear over other applications. This destroys discoverability; it prevents you from figuring out which application asked for the prompt.

Instead, I would rather see that we use notifications for asking for a password.

A notification that an application requires a password to continue has several nice properties.

  • A notification does not get in the way. It does not force the user to provide a password in order to continue whatever it was he was doing.
  • A notification provides greater space for information explaining why the password is needed, and perhaps even to provide alternative actions if the user does not wish to provide the password.
  • In responding to the notification, the application actually asking for the password can be brought forward, so the user can evaluate which application is asking, and if the request is reasonable.

Now of course I don’t mean we should do away with using the UIAlertController class to obtain the user’s password. The API behind that is far simpler than constructing a complete navigation controller, especially when the prompt occurs as part of a network request deep in the network stack of the application.

But those UIAlertController objects should never surface outside of the application requesting the alert.

And this also applies to Apple’s own applications.

You know the principle that you never give your credit card to someone who calls you?

Well, the same principle applies to passwords; you never give your password to an application that alerts you. Instead, you bring up the application and you give it your password.

And given how common this operation is, I wouldn’t mind if Apple were to take the lead and provide an API to do all of this for the application developer. A standard API has a way of standardizing application behavior–and this is a place where application behavior standardization is desirable.

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