By Dana Gardner, The Open Group
This BriefingsDirect thought leadership interview comes in conjunction with The Open Group Conference in Washington, D.C., beginning July 16. The conference will focus on how Enterprise Architecture (EA), enterprise transformation and securing global supply chains.
We’re joined in advance by some of the main speakers at the July 16 conference to examine the relationship between controlled digital identities in cyber risk management. Our panel will explore how the technical and legal support of ID management best practices have been advancing rapidly. And we’ll see how individuals and organizations can better protect themselves through better understanding and managing of their online identities.
The panelist are Jim Hietala, vice president of security at The Open Group; Thomas Hardjono, technical lead and executive director of the MIT Kerberos Consortium; and Dazza Greenwood, president of the CIVICS.com consultancy and lecturer at the MIT Media Lab. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: What is ID management, and how does it form a fundamental component of cybersecurity?
Hietala: ID management is really the process of identifying folks who are logging onto computing services, assessing their identity, looking at authenticating them, and authorizing them to access various services within a system. It’s something that’s been around in IT since the dawn of computing, and it’s something that keeps evolving in terms of new requirements and new issues for the industry to solve.
Particularly as we look at the emergence of cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) services, you have new issues for users in terms of identity, because we all have to create multiple identities for every service we access.
You have issues for the providers of cloud and SaaS services, in terms of how they provision, where they get authoritative identity information for the users, and even for enterprises who have to look at federating identity across networks of partners. There are a lot of challenges there for them as well.
Figuring out who is at the other end of that connection is fundamental to all of cybersecurity. As we look at the conference that we’re putting on this month in Washington, D.C., a key theme is cybersecurity — and identity is a fundamental piece of that.
You can look at things that are happening right now in terms of trojans, bank fraud, scammers and attackers, wire transferring money out of company’s bank accounts and other things you can point to.
There are failures in their client security and the customer’s security mechanisms on the client devices, but I think there are also identity failures. They need new approaches for financial institutions to adopt to prevent some of those sorts of things from happening. I don’t know if I’d use the word “rampant,” but they are clearly happening all over the place right now. So I think there is a high need to move quickly on some of these issues.
Gardner: Are we at a plateau? Or has ID management been a continuous progression over the past decade?
Hardjono: So it’s been at least a decade since the industry began addressing identity and identity federation. Someone in the audience might recall Liberty Alliance, the Project Liberty in its early days.
One notable thing about the industry is that the efforts have been sort of piecemeal, and the industry, as a whole, is now reaching the point where a true correct identity is absolutely needed now in transactions in a time of so many so-called Internet scams.
Gardner: Dazza, is there a casual approach to this, or a professional need? By that, I mean that we see a lot of social media activities, Facebook for example, where people can have an identity and may or may not be verified. That’s sort of the casual side, but it sounds like what we’re really talking about is more for professional business or eCommerce transactions, where verification is important. In other words, is there a division between these two areas that we should consider before we get into it more deeply?
Greenwood: Rather than thinking of it as a division, a spectrum would be a more useful way to look at it. On one side, you have, as you mentioned, a very casual use of identity online, where it may be self-asserted. It may be that you’ve signed a posting or an email.
On the other side, of course, the Internet and other online services are being used to conduct very high value, highly sensitive, or mission-critical interactions and transactions all the time. When you get toward that spectrum, a lot more information is needed about the identity authenticating, that it really is that person, as Thomas was starting to foreshadow. The authorization, workflow permissions, and accesses are also incredibly important.
In the middle, you have a lot of gradations, based partly on the sensitivity of what’s happening, based partly on culture and context as well. When you have people who are operating within organizations or within contexts that are well-known and well-understood — or where there is already a lot of not just technical, but business, legal and cultural understanding of what happens — if something goes wrong, there are the right kind of supports and risk management processes.
There are different ways that this can play out. It’s not always just a matter of higher security. It’s really higher confidence, and more trust based on a variety of factors. But the way you phrased it is a good way to enter this topic, which is, we have a spectrum of identity that occurs online, and much of it is more than sufficient for the very casual or some of the social activities that are happening.
But as the economy in our society moves into a digital age, ever more fully and at ever-higher speeds, much more important, higher risk, higher value interactions are occurring. So we have to revisit how it is that we have been addressing identity — and give it more attention and a more careful design, instead of architectures and rules around it. Then we’ll be able to make that transition more gracefully and with less collateral damage, and really get to the benefits of going online.
Gardner: What’s happening to shore this up and pull it together? Let’s look at some of the big news.
Hietala: I think the biggest recent news is the U.S. National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyber Space (NSTIC) initiative. It clearly shows that a large government, the United States government, is focused on the issue and is willing to devote resources to furthering an ID management ecosystem and construct for the future. To me that’s the biggest recent news.
At a crossroads
Greenwood: We’re just now is at a crossroads where finally industry, government and increasingly the populations in general, are understanding that there is a different playing field. In the way that we interact, the way we work, the way we do healthcare, the way we do education, the way our social groups cohere and communicate, big parts are happening online.
In some cases, it happens online through the entire lifecycle. What that means now is that a deeper approach is needed. Jim mentioned NSTIC as one of those examples. There are a number of those to touch on that are occurring because of the profound transition that requires a deeper treatment.
NSTIC is the U.S. government’s roadmap to go from its piecemeal approach to a coherent architecture and infrastructure for identity within the United States. It could provide a great model for other countries as well.
People can reuse their identity, and we can start to address what you’re talking about with identity and other people taking your ID, and more to the point, how to prove you are who you said you were to get that ID back. That’s not always so easy after identity theft, because we don’t have an underlying effective identity structure in the United States yet.
I just came back from the United Kingdom at a World Economic Forum meeting. I was very impressed by what their cabinet officers are doing with an identity-assurance scheme in large scale procurement. It’s very consistent with the NSTIC approach in the United States. They can get tens of millions of their citizens using secure well-authenticated identities across a number of transactions, while always keeping privacy, security, and also individual autonomy at the forefront.
There are a number of technology and business milestones that are occurring as well. Open Identity Exchange (OIX) is a great group that’s beginning to bring industry and other sectors together to look at their approaches and technology. We’ve had Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML). Thomas is co-chair of the PC, and that’s getting a facelift.
That approach was being brought to match scale with OpenID Connect, which is OpenID and OAuth. There are a great number of technology innovations that are coming online.
Legally, there are also some very interesting newsworthy harbingers. Some of it is really just a deeper usage of statutes that have been passed a few years ago — the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, among others, in the U.S.
There is eSignature Directive and others in Europe and in the rest of the world that have enabled the use of interactions online and dealt with identity and signatures, but have left to the private sector and to culture which technologies, approaches, and solutions we’ll use.
Now, we’re not only getting one-off solutions, but architectures for a number of different solutions, so that whole sectors of the economy and segments of society can more fully go online. Practically everywhere you look, you see news and signs of this transition that’s occurring, an exciting time for people interested in identity.
Gardner: What’s most new and interesting from your perspective on what’s being brought to bear on this problem, particularly from a technology perspective?
Hardjono: It’s along two dimensions. The first one is within the Kerberos Consortium. We have a number of people coming from the financial industry. They all have the same desire, and that is to scale their services to the global market, basically sign up new customers abroad, outside United States. In wanting to do so, they’re facing a question of identity. How do we assert that somebody in a country is truly who they say they are.
The second, introduces a number of difficult technical problems. Closer to home and maybe at a smaller scale, the next big thing is user consent. The OpenID exchange and the OpenID Connect specifications have been completed, and people can do single sign-on using technology such as OAuth 2.0.
The next big thing is how can an attribute provider, banks, telcos and so on, who have data about me, share data with other partners in the industry and across the sectors of the industry with my expressed consent in a digital manner.
Greenwood: I would defer to Jim of The Open Group to speak more authoritatively on Jericho Forum, which is a part of Open Group. But, in general, Jericho Forum is a group of experts in the security field from industry and, more broadly, who have done some great work in the past on deperimeterized security and some other foundational work.
In the last few years, they’ve been really focused on identity, coming to realize that identity is at the center of what one would have to solve in order to have a workable approach to security. It’s necessary, but not sufficient, for security. We have to get that right.
To their credit, they’ve come up with a remarkably good list of simple understandable principles, that they call the Jericho Forum Identity Commandments, which I strongly commend to everybody to read.
It puts forward a vision of an approach to identity, which is very constant with an approach that I’ve been exploring here at MIT for some years. A person would have a core ID identity, a core ID, and could from that create more than one persona. You may have a work persona, an eCommerce persona, maybe a social and social networking persona and so on. Some people may want a separate political persona.
You could cluster all of the accounts, interactions, services, attributes, and so forth, directly related to each of those to those individual personas, but not be in a situation where we’re almost blindly backing into right now. With a lot of the solutions in the market, your different aspects of life, unintentionally sometimes or even counter-intentionally, will merge.
Sometimes, that’s okay. Sometimes, in fact, we need to be able to have an inability to separate different parts of life. That’s part of privacy and can be part of security. It’s also just part of autonomy. It’s a good architecture. So Jericho Forum has got the commandments.
Many years ago, at MIT, we had a project called the Identity Embassy here in the Media Lab, where we put forward some simple prototypes and ideas, ways you could do that. Now, with all the recent activity we mentioned earlier toward full-scale usage of architectures for identity in U.S. with NSTIC and around the world, we’re taking a stronger, deeper run at this problem.
Thomas and I have been collaborating across different parts of MIT. I’m putting out what we think is a very exciting and workable way that you can in a high security manner, but also quite usably, have these core identifiers or individuals and inextricably link them to personas, but escape that link back to the core ID, and from across the different personas, so that you can get the benefits when you want them, keeping the personas separate.
Also it allows for many flexible business models and other personalization and privacy services as well, but we can get into that more in the fullness of time. But, in general, that’s what’s happening right now and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
Hardjono: For a global infrastructure for core identities to be able to develop, we definitely need collaboration between the governments of the world and the private sector. Looking at this problem, we were searching back in history to find an analogy, and the best analogy we could find was the rollout of a DNS infrastructure and the IP address assignment.
It’s not perfect and it’s got its critics, but the idea is that you could split blocks of IP addresses and get it sold and resold by private industry, really has allowed the Internet to scale, hitting limitations, but of course IPv6 is on the horizon. It’s here today.
So we were thinking along the same philosophy, where core identifiers could be arranged in blocks and handed out to the private sector, so that they can assign, sell it, or manage it on behalf of people who are Internet savvy, and perhaps not, such as my mom. So we have a number of challenges in that phase.
Greenwood: The Model Trust Framework System Rules project that we are pursuing in MIT is a very important aspect of what we’re talking about. Thomas and I talked somewhat about the technical and practical aspects of core identifiers and core identities. There is a very important business and legal layer within there as well.
So these trust framework system rules are ways to begin to approach the complete interconnected set of dimensions necessary to roll out these kinds of schemes at the legal, business, and technical layers.
They come from very successful examples in the past, where organizations have federated ID with more traditional approaches such as SAML and other approaches. There are some examples of those trust framework system rules at the business, legal, and technical level available.
Right now it’s CIVICS.com, and soon, when we have our model MIT under Creative Commons approach, we’ll take a lot of the best of what’s come before codified in a rational way. Business, legal, and technical rules can really be aligned in a more granular way to fit well, and put out a model that we think will be very helpful for the identity solutions of today that are looking at federate according to NSTIC and similar models. It absolutely would be applicable to how at the core identity persona underlying architecture and infrastructure that Thomas, I, and Jericho Forum are postulating could occur.
Hardjono: Looking back 10-15 years, we engineers came up with all sorts of solutions and standardized them. What’s really missing is the business models, business cases, and of course the legal side.
How can a business make revenue out of the management of identity-related aspects, management of attributes, and so on and how can they do so in such a manner that it doesn’t violate the user’s privacy. But it’s still user-centric in the sense that the user needs to give consent and can withdraw consent and so on. And trying to develop an infrastructure where everybody is protected.
Gardner: The Open Group, being a global organization focused on the collaboration process behind the establishment of standards, it sounds like these are some important aspects that you can bring out to your audience, and start to create that collaboration and discussion that could lead to more fuller implementation. Is that the plan, and is that what we’re expecting to hear more of at the conference next month?
Hietala: It is the plan, and we do get a good mix at our conferences and events of folks from all over the world, from government organizations and large enterprises as well. So it tends to be a good mixing of thoughts and ideas from around the globe on whatever topic we’re talking about — in this case identity and cybersecurity.
At the Washington, D.C. Conference, we have a mix of discussions. The kick-off one is a fellow by the name Joel Brenner who has written a book, America the Vulnerable, which I would recommend. He was inside the National Security Agency (NSA) and he’s been involved in fighting a lot of the cyber attacks. He has a really good insight into what’s actually happening on the threat and defending against the threat side. So that will be a very interesting discussion. [Read an interview with Joel Brenner.]
Then, on Monday, we have conference presentations in the afternoon looking at cybersecurity and identity, including Thomas and Dazza presenting on some of the projects that they’ve mentioned.
Then, we’re also bringing to that event for the first time, a series of cartoon videos that were produced for the Jericho Forum. They describe a lot of the commandments that Dazza mentioned in a more approachable way. So they’re hopefully understandable to laymen, and folks with not as much understanding about all the identity mechanisms that are out there. So, yeah, that’s what we are hoping to do.
Gardner: Perhaps we could now better explain what NSTIC is and does?
Greenwood:The best person to speak about NSTIC in the United States right now is probably President Barrack Obama, because he is the person that signed the policy. Our president and the administration has taken a needed, and I think a very well-conceived approach, to getting industry involved with other stakeholders in creating the architecture that’s going to be needed for identity for the United States and as a model for the world, and also how to interact with other models.
Jeremy Grant is in charge of the program office and he is very accessible. So if people want more information, they can find Jeremy online easily in at nist.gov/nstic. And nstic.us also has more information.
In general, NSTIC is a strategy document and a roadmap for how a national ecosystem can emerge, which is comprised of a governing body. They’re beginning to put that together this very summer, with 13 different stakeholders groups, each of which would self-organize and elect or appoint a person — industry, government, state and local government, academia, privacy groups, individuals — which is terrific — and so forth.
That governance group will come up with more of the details in terms of what the accreditation and trust marks look like, the types of technologies and approaches that would be favored according to the general principles I hope everyone reads within the NSTIC document.
At a lower level, Congress has appropriated more than $10 million to work with the White House for a number of pilots that will be under a million half dollars each for a year or two, where individual proof of concept, technologies, or approaches to trust frameworks will be piloted and put out into where they can be used in the market.
In general, by this time two months from now, we’ll know a lot more about the governing body, once it’s been convened and about the pilots once those contracts have been awarded and grants have been concluded. What we can say right now is that the way it’s going to come together is with trust framework system rules, the same exact type of entity that we are doing a model of, to help facilitate people’s understanding and having templates and well-thought through structures that they can pull down and, in turn, use as a starting point.
Circle of trust
So industry-by-industry, sector-by-sector, but also what we call circle of trust by circle of trust. Folks will come up with their own specific rules to define exactly how they will meet these requirements. They can get a trust mark, be interoperable with other trust framework consistent rules, and eventually you’ll get a clustering of those, which will lead to an ecosystem.
The ecosystem is not one size fits all. It’s a lot of systems that interoperate in a healthy way and can adapt and involve over time. A lot more, as I said, is available on nstic.us and nist.gov/nstic, and it’s exciting times. It’s certainly the best government document I have ever read. I’ll be so very excited to see how it comes out.
Gardner: What’s coming down the pike that’s going to make this yet more important?
Hietala: I would turn to the threat and attacks side of the discussion and say that, unfortunately, we’re likely to see more headlines of organizations being breached, of identities being lost, stolen, and compromised. I think it’s going to be more bad news that’s going to drive this discussion forward. That’s my take based on working in the industry and where it’s at right now.
Hardjono: I mentioned the user consent going forward. I think this is increasingly becoming an important sort of small step to address and to resolve in the industry and efforts like the User Managed Access (UMA) working group within the Kantara Initiative.
Folks are trying to solve the problem of how to share resources. How can I legitimately not only share my photos on Flickr with data, but how can I allow my bank to share some of my attributes with partners of the bank with my consent. It’s a small step, but it’s a pretty important step.
Greenwood: Keep your eyes on UMA out of Kantara. Keep looking at OASIS, as well, and the work that’s coming with SAML and some of the Model Trust Framework System Rules.
Most important thing
In my mind the most strategically important thing that will happen is OpenID Connect. They’re just finalizing the standard now, and there are some reference implementations. I’m very excited to work with MIT, with our friends and partners at MITRE Corporation and elsewhere.
That’s going to allow mass scales of individuals to have more ready access to identities that they can reuse in a great number of places. Right now, it’s a little bit catch-as-catch-can. You’ve got your Google ID or Facebook, and a few others. It’s not something that a lot of industries or others are really quite willing to accept to understand yet.
They’ve done a complete rethink of that, and use the best lessons learned from SAML and a bunch of other federated technology approaches. I believe this one is going to change how identity is done and what’s possible.
They’ve done such a great job on it, I might add It fits hand in glove with the types of Model Trust Framework System Rules approaches, a layer of UMA on top, and is completely consistent with the architecture rights, with a future infrastructure where people would have a Core ID and more than one persona, which could be expressed as OpenID Connect credentials that are reusable by design across great numbers of relying parties getting where we want to be with single sign-on.
So it’s exciting times. If it’s one thing you have to look at, I’d say do a Google search and get updates on OpenID Connect and watch how that evolves.
For more information on The Open Group’s upcoming conference in Washington, D.C., please visit: http://www.opengroup.org/dc2012
Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, an enterprise IT analysis, market research, and consulting firm. Gardner, a leading identifier of software and Cloud productivity trends and new IT business growth opportunities, honed his skills and refined his insights as an industry analyst, pundit, and news editor covering the emerging software development and enterprise infrastructure arenas for the last 18 years.