Friday, June 22, 2012

Mobile Device Remote Identity Proofing Part 2 - The requirement for ownership

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I.  Introduction

Although it is unlikely that development and adoption of a single ubiquitous identity will occur in the next five years it is reasonable to assume that various manifestations of a individuals identities are, and will continue to be established at various and increasing levels of trust and assurance.  The challenge to be faced is to fast track the ecosystems ability to work at moderate and high levels of assurance.  Historical barriers to widespread use of trusted identities at a high level of assurance are predominantly based on the high cost and limited availability of “approved” identity proofing “tools” and the infrastructure requirements in the security and maintenance of the “representation” of that identity.  This concept paper explorers the former challenge, the later being a topic that deserves its own attention.  

II.  Origins

Being able to establish and prove an identity and then use that proof of identity to ones advantage is as old as humanity itself.  It could be argued that gender, a genotype, as a biometric identifier was first used in the Garden of Eden when Adam, on being asked if he took fruit from the tree of knowledge, said “she gave it to me”.  The story in Genesis involves the only two living humans on earth and an omnipotent creator which makes identification straight forward.  This did not deter Adam from making a clear identification in order to shift guilt away from him.   Traditional methods of establishing and/or confirming the identity of an unknown person have relied on secret knowledge or possession of a token of some type.  Passwords and pins, the proverbial what you know, used so commonly today date back to the Roman Empire. The Hellenistic Greek Historian Polybius chronicled how passwords were used among the Roman Legions.

The way in which they secure the passing round of the watchword for the night is as follows: from the tenth maniple of each class of infantry and cavalry, the maniple which is encamped at the lower end of the street, a man is chosen who is relieved from guard duty, and he attends every day at sunset at the tent of the tribune, and receiving from him the watchword - that is a wooden tablet with the word inscribed on it - takes his leave, and on returning to his quarters passes on the watchword and tablet before witnesses to the commander of the next maniple, who in turn passes it to the one next him. All do the same until it reaches the first maniples, those encamped near the tents of the tribunes. These latter are obliged to deliver the tablet to the tribunes before dark. So that if all those issued are returned, the tribune knows that the watchword has been given to all the maniples, and has passed through all on its way back to him. If any one of them is missing, he makes inquiry at once, as he knows by the marks from what quarter the tablet has not returned, and whoever is responsible for the stoppage meets with the punishment he merits.  (, 2012)

Tokens, what you have, date to the Bronze Age.  “A. Leo Oppenheim of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago reported the existence of a recording system that made use of counters, or tokens. According to the Nuzi texts, such tokens were used for accounting purposes; they were spoken of as being deposited, transferred, and removed.” (Schmandt-Besserat, 1977) 
Today the pin, password, and token are synonymous with modern society.  There are seemingly endless equipments for passwords from the moment you turn on your computer through the moment you click on the accept agreement or purchase icon.  Where would you be without your ATM card, pin, and the ability to access your cash anywhere, at any time, worldwide?  The problem is that the methodology we are using in modern America has changed little since its antiquarian origins.  We are still only commonly testing for knowledge or possession, not ownership.  Enter Biometrics

III. The requirement for ownership

Testing for possession or knowledge has become the standard for commercial identity management.  In the 21st century most people have a virtual identity presence, one that resides in the World Wide Web.  This is the identity they use to move among the social networking sites, bank, pay bills, and shop.   With the massive increase in the use of the web has come a corresponding increase in identity theft.  “In 2011 identity fraud increased by 13 percent.  More than 11.6 million adults became a victim of identity fraud in the United States, while the dollar amount stolen held steady”. (Javelin Strategy & Research, 2012)  Steps have been taken to strengthen identity security especially in the financial sector with the addition of images, secret questions, and a plethora of additional knowledge based steps that are far more effective at frustrating users than they are at increasing security.  Each of these additional security features is still nothing more than additional knowledge and additional knowledge can easily be stolen.  What is required is something that is definitively tied to the identity holder, something that cannot be forged, lost or stolen.  That something is biometrics.

Biometrics, like passwords and tokens are not a 21st or even 20th century phenomenon. Handprints were used for identification purposes nearly four thousand years ago when Babylonian Kings used an imprint of the hand to prove the authenticity of certain engravings and works.  Babylonia had an abundance of clay and lack of stone which led to the extensive use of mudbrick.  Ancient Babylonians understood that no two hands were exactly alike and used this principle as a means of identity verification.  Modern dactylosscopy, the science of fingerprints was used as early as 1888 when Argentinean police officer Juan Vucetich published the first treatise on the subject. (Ashbourn, 2000)

Biometrics can be defined as observable physical or biochemical characteristics that can typically be placed into two categories, phenotype and genotype.  The phenotype biometrics category contains the identifiers most commonly used for transactional identification today.  Fingerprints, iris, facial features, signature patterns, are all phenotype identifiers based on features or behaviors that are influenced by experiences and physical development.  From the owners perspective these are often viewed as non-threatening and non intrusive.  The Genotype category measures genetically determined traits such as gender, blood type, and DNA, the collection of which is generally viewed as very intrusive.  DNA, the ultimate biometric signature, is generally considered the most intrusive often vilified in popular fiction.  In the 1997 film Gattaca DNA determines an individual’s status in society with each person categorized as a Valid or In-valid. In the 2012 blockbuster The Hunger Games DNA serves as a signature for children entering the Reaping, a lottery culminating in a morbid death match. Both of these examples of pop culture reflect the underlying distrust society has in the government’s possession of such an intimate identifier.  

Biometrics is primarily used in two modes, each with a different purpose; identification, and verification.  The term recognition is a generic one encompassing the one to one and one too many modes in which biometric systems operate.   Biometric identification is the process of associating a sample to a set of known signatures.  For example, the US Visit program which checks a presented set of fingerprints [sample] against multiple databases, containing known signatures.  The results of a one to many searches are usually displayed as a group of the most probable matches often associated with a probability score as a percentile that illustrates the degree of match between the sample and the matched group.  Biometric verification is the process of authenticating the sample to the record of a specific user with the results delivered in binary fashion, yes or no.  Real world examples of this one to one verification include fingerprint match on card in the PIV program or as a third factor of authentication to an access control system where what you have and what you know needs to be validated against ownership.  Most commercial systems operate in verification mode.

Before identification or verification can ever occur some type of enrollment process must take place in order to establish to some level of trust that the biometric signature is owned by a specific individual.  Only then can varied rights and privileges (attributes) be assigned to that owner and subsequently secured by means of PKI or similar technology.   One of the primary impediments to broad scale use of biometric signatures is the expense and inconvenience of enrollment programs.  But what if it were as easy as using your mobile phone in your living room?

Using a mobile device to establish the validly of the claim of a specific identity is simple in principle but problematic in execution.  The capture of the required information can be divided into the following two steps: creation of a claimant’s profile, and binding a known identity to the claimant.    Creation of the profile typically includes the identification and capture of two data types.  The first is biographical /descriptive data, the second is biometric data.  For the purposes of this paper, we shall refer to these combined datasets as the Individual Profile or IP.  

This concept is based on leveraging the rapidly increasing level of hardware technology and network availability incorporated into the worldwide wireless telecommunications system to provide a mechanism for the validation of claims to a specific identity, binding that identity to the claimant, and securing the identity for use in an environment requiring various levels of trust by a wide array of relying parties. 

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