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Establishing Trust in the NSTIC

This is part of an ongoing series on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The introduction to this series can be found here.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) proposes a large ecosystem of identity providers, attribute providers, and relying parties that must establish trust with each other in various ways. NSTIC requires various types of trust within the identity ecosystem. These include:

  • Users must trust that their Identity Provider will manage their credentials securely and in their best interest.
  • Relying Parties must trust in the attributes provided by Attribute Providers.
  • Attribute Providers must trust Identity Providers and Relying Parties to handle attributes, which may include proprietary data such as credit scores, in accordance with their terms of use.
  • Relying Parties must trust Identity Providers to provide the requested strength of authentication and to manage credentials and attributes correctly.

The term “federated identity” is widely used to refer to identity systems that span multiple organizations, each of which maintains its own identity information. That arrangement is typically used between an enterprise and its business partners, such as contract manufacturers, channel partners, and consulting firms. Trust is established individually with each. A fully meshed federation of n participants would require n(n-1) such agreements, which does not scale well beyond small federations, especially considering that these agreements often take the form of contractual negotiation between each party.

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Adapting Levels of Assurance for the NSTIC

This is part of an ongoing series on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The introduction to this series can be found here.

One of the goals of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) is to support a wide range of use cases. These might include everything from low-value purchases to making adjustments to critical infrastructure, like power systems, where someone might get hurt if an unauthorized action takes place.

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Credential and Attribute Providers in the NSTIC

This is part of an ongoing series on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The introduction to this series can be found here.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) describes two types of intermediaries between subjects (users) and relying parties: identity providers and attribute providers. This is a separation not frequently found in identity systems. In order to emphasize this distinction, I often use the term “credential provider” or “authentication provider” rather than identity provider to refer to a service that provides authentication services and makes assertions resulting from authentication but does not directly provide attributes about the subject.

A credential provider can be thought of as a key cabinet. The subject authenticates to the credential provider in order to “unlock” the cabinet of credentials. As with a physical key cabinet where different keys inside are used for different things, the credential provider serves different credentials to different services. Ideally, the identifiers used for each of these services would be different; a good identifier is also opaque, meaning that the identifier itself provides no additional information about the subject. Provided that the choice of credential provider itself does not reveal significant information about the subject, a subject can be generally pseudonymous with respect to the relying party until the subject authorizes the release of identifying attributes.

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Identity Intermediaries and the NSTIC

This is part of an ongoing series on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.  The introduction to this series can be found here.

A couple of months ago, I spoke with a security researcher at a conference about the NSTIC.  He questioned the need for an intermediary to manage users’ identity information; he asked why we don’t just do this at the user’s endpoint, eliminating the need for the user to trust an external party.  This is a good place to begin a discussion about the NSTIC architecture.

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NSTIC Strategy Released

Last June, I blogged about a draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) that had been released for public comment. This past April 15, the finalized NSTIC strategy document was released at an event at the US Chamber of Commerce.

For those of you that aren’t already familiar with the NSTIC, it is a US government-facilitated initiative that seeks to simplify and strengthen user authentication and to provide trustable assertions about principals in online transactions through the creation of an ecosystem that includes identity and attribute providers. More information is available at the NIST NSTIC website, particularly the animation video. NSTIC seeks to improve trust in use in the Internet and to enable new uses that depend on trusted attributes and higher assurance transactions.

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