Archives for posts with tag: identity-management

To access an online account you need to sign in. Traditionally, this requires you to enter a username and password. Typically, these are different for each service you have access to. In a business context, it makes sense to centralise the management of both user accounts and the services they are authorised to access. This has given rise to a form of federated identity management, where users sign in to one single central identity provider. This identity provider usually also manages the user authorisation and seamlessly logs the user in to the desired service. The advantages are obvious: the user only needs to remember a single username and password, and the business manages service authorisations in a single place.

Unfortunately, this federated model of identity management is used more in more in a consumer setting as well. Examples are services like Facebook Connect which: “makes it easier for you to take your online identity with you all over the Web, share what you do online with your friends and stay updated on what they’re doing. You won’t have to create separate accounts for every website, just use your Facebook login wherever Connect is available”. This is an incredibly bad idea.

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Technically it is feasible to provide privacy friendly identity management, for example by using attribute based credentials (ABCs). We are currently demonstrating their applicability in practice, even on smart cards, in the IRMA (I Reveal My Attributes) project. However, the use of ABCs in the real world is still very limited. One of the factors is the lack of a business case that supports the (substantial) cost of establishing an identity management infrastructure. In this (rather long) post I will sketch the issues, and indicate certain ways in which I think money can be made in an identity management infrastructure. The analysis is sketchy, primarily because I am not an economist. I would love a discussion on this topic, to advance the ideas in this post further.

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In a previous blog post I discussed the difference in security and flexibility between attribute based credentials (used in our IRMA project) and the German eID system. Now I will discuss the additional privacy protection offered by attributed based credentials, compared to a more centralised approach where attributes are stored on one or more central servers.

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In our IRMA project we develop a platform to support attribute based credentials (ABC) on a smart card. We believe the IRMA scheme is more secure and more flexible than the attestation based approach (as used by the German eID system, that use the placeholder name Mustermann on their sample cards). Below I will explain why.

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Many countries that have an electronic identity (eID) system attach the eID chip to a classical identity card. From a historical perspective this is a natural approach (eIDs have evolved from the electronic or biometric passports). However, as a consequence, people can only own at most a single eID, and a significant group of citizens are excluded from owning an eID at all. This severely affects the coverage and inclusiveness of eID applications, and even prevents the implementation of certain types of eID applications.

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Ideally, a relying party that needs to verify certain attributes of a user would do so all by himself. However, in the new German eID system there are currently 7 so called eID service providers that handle this task on behalf of many relying parties. The Germans did this to allow service providers to quickly adopt the new eID system, because they can simply contract an eID service provider instead of implementing the functionality themselves. However, this creates a hotspot. For all users the eID service provider sees all attributes verified for all relying parties it services. The eID service provider is therefore in principle able to link a user to all the relying parties it visits, together with the relevant attributes. This appears to be a serious privacy risk. Or isn’t it?

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In a previous blog post I argued that identity cards should not be used to store anonymous credentials. The reason being that users may not believe that a card that is used to identify them in one context, can also be used anonymously in another. But last Friday, in a meeting with Martijn Oostdijk among others, I heard an interesting reason why anonymous credentials perhaps should be stored on an identity card anyway.

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