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Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

Created: 20 Apr 2011 • Updated: 08 Aug 2012
nicolas_popp's picture
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Last week, the White House announced its official National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). NSTIC is the largest-ever effort by the federal government and private sector partners (including Symantec) to develop a secure, standards-based and interoperable online identity system. The goal: Improve the security and privacy of online interactions and more effectively fight cybercrime. Today's announcement marks the culmination of two years of effort by VeriSign (first as an independent company and later as part of Symantec) to help bring this important initiative to life.

At the heart of NSTIC is the concept of an Identity Ecosystem based on trusted identity frameworks. Trusted identity frameworks are the lynchpin to trusted interactions online, for everything from e-commerce to electronic health records to online voting. These frameworks will require all participating service providers to ensure the credentials they offer adhere to the same standards for identification, authentication, security and privacy. This wouldn't be a "national online identity" setup, but rather interoperability among many market offerings.

The initiative recognizes that public-private partnerships are essential for success. Symantec and other private sector companies have already created the technology for strengthening and sharing high assurance identities. Government leadership will promote, facilitate and coordinate industry to further NSTIC goals.
The government can also help overcome the three big impediments this kind of initiative faces:

1. Privacy concerns: The government can define and deploy standardized trust frameworks that help ensure citizens privacy (e.g. by working through the private sector, leveraging organizations such as the Online Identity Exchange).

2. Liability concerns: Data breaches involving personally identifiable information (PII) can easily run into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the number and kind of records affected. Once trust frameworks are in place, Congress can pass legislation to cap liability for organizations certified under those frameworks.

3. Business concerns: The federal government can create business incentive for trusted identity providers to join the eco-system by becoming the initial customer. That would basically prime the pump for a trusted identity service business model.

NSTIC's goals for FY11 include:

• Convene the private sector by hosting workshops on governance, privacy and technology
• Establish a governance model, standards and models for addressing liability
• Develop criteria, assess potential programs and prepare for formal funded pilot launches in FY12

These plans are ambitious, certainly, but are necessary given the escalating data breach and cybercrime threats people face every day. NSTIC will provide the means to dramatically improve online authentication and the security, privacy and business benefits it provides.