When Do People Care Who You Are Online?

In an article dated April 1, 2011, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, of nextgov, reports on the pitfalls of a "federated authentication" system, which were recently highlighted by Ross Anderson,  a professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University.

Professor Anderson recenlty published a paper entitled "Can we Fix the Security Economic of Federated Authentication?" in which he brings to light two concerns associated with federated authentication.  Firstly, "not all authentications need the same level of assurance," and, to paraphrase the second, the liability associated with getting authentication wrong drives the level of investment made in order to get it right.  

To illustrate the first point, Ms. Herrera-Flanigan points out that "The New York Times online [is not] that concerned (relatively speaking) about me circumventing the newspaper's authentication system [by posing as a friend with an account in order to] post snarky comments about New Jersey in his name."  On the other hand, if Ms. Herrera-Flanigan had that same friend's bank account information, including his log-on identification and password, and used that information to transfer funds from his account, "then concerns about authentication are rightly elevated."  

With regard to the second point raised by Professor Anderson, Ms. Ferrera-Flanigan poses the following question:  ". . . in a federated identity framework, which identity provider makes [the necessary] investments?"  It makes sense for banks to invest heaily in identity authentication because, as illustrated above, the costs of getting authentication wrong could be devestating.  Does it follow then that Facebook should have to bear a portion of that expense when it doesn't require similar assurances of accuracy?  If not, is the banking industry likely to share their assurance technology with other industries for free?  The answer to both questions is, of course, no.

Thus, as the Obama Administration's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NS-TIC) notes:

"To date, the appropriate apportionment of liability has prevented the cross-sector issuance and acceptance of identity credentials. The federal government must address this barrier through liability reform in order to establish the multi-directional trust required by transaction participants. The identity ecosystem promotes models that mitigate liability to an acceptable level relative to the benefits associated with participation in the ecosystem."

According to Ms. Herrera-Flanigan, the NS-TIC has the right framework in mind.  The issue moving forward is "how do we implement operational solutions?"   Additionally, she poses this question, which gets at the heart of reform, "what threshold of liability will participants and users be able to bear before questioning any significant reform?"

 

Ms. Herrera-Flanigan's full article can be found at the link above, or here.  Additionally, Professor Anderson's paper, "Can we Fix the Security Economic of Federated Authentication?" is available at the link provided above, or here

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Authors

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. She is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

is 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography

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