The federal government's draft National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, or NSTIC, outlines a strategy for creating an "identity ecosystem" that would let the public make credit card purchases, retrieve medical records, file taxes, and conduct all manner of business online with a portable, secure electronic identity. Users would be able to complete these transactions with minimal exchange of personal information. A service provider could leverage the identification and authentication previously done by a like-minded business. Transactions could even be made via cell phones because all parties involved would have their digital identities authenticated by an authoritative third party of their choice. The NSTIC document outlines a step-by-step plan to establish and cultivate the identity ecosystem.
In support of this effort, IT and security pros in government will be called on to help establish a trusted identity infrastructure in their agencies and to tie those systems into the ecosystem. This vision is built on identity management policy and technology standards developed by both the government and private sector over the last two decades.
Similar to the way the driver's license is used by "relying parties," the administration seeks to create an environment in which online credentials issued by trusted private or public identity providers are used to access online applications outside the domain of their intended use. For example, a user ID and password, one-time password device, or PKI issued by your cell phone provider could be used to make online purchases, retrieve medical information, or conduct other business because the original entity--in this case, your cell phone provider--is trusted.
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Use of the ecosystem would be voluntary, and users could determine whether or not the identity provider releases their information. Communities of interest and technology-specific profiles would be used and interactions performed based on needs and risk tolerances of the relying party and permissions granted by the end users.
By creating a user-centric electronic world, characterized by interoperability and easy-to-use, risk-based authentication and authorization, the ecosystem will promote many benefits, including increased security, efficiency, and privacy, and opportunities for innovation.
The identity ecosystem has roots in the previous two administrations' policies and practices for doing business online. Many private sector companies have built on this policy foundation to implement technologies that comply, creating mini ecosystems or federations, but the capability to deploy a full identity ecosystem has never materialized. NSTIC seeks to thrust the ecosystem to the next level.
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