Strong Electronic Identification: scenarios for the future

Today, a person’s ability to prove their identity is seen as an important basis for participation in the society and life in general. In most countries around the world, establishing a person’s identity whether online or offline, is mandatory to access a wide range of services, including education, healthcare, voting, banking, mobile communications, housing, etc.

With the continuing shift from face-to-face interactions to Internet-based interactions in governance, business, and several other areas, the major challenge becomes “how do we ensure a reliable and trustworthy match between an online identity and a physical one?” In addition, as mobile devices become the primary and dominant device for communication and Internet access, another challenge is understanding “What strong electronic identity solutions could be implemented and how do such solutions support a mobile-first future?”

These constraints and questions demand solutions that are not only mobile-based but also provide the highest Levels of Assurance (LoA) to achieve a similar level of trust and acceptance as a trusted identity document used in the physical world.

In addition, as a stakeholder looking to implement a strong electronic identity solution, another decision gate is universality and interoperability of the solution. In the world today, we have seen several implementations fail due to lack of interoperability. The world is filled with identity silos which are not suitable for a truly global Internet where services and people are dispersed in several countries. With increasing service and person mobility as well as cross-border trade and collaboration, stakeholders must include the design of universality at the foundation of the solution.

Many electronic identity solutions have been implemented around the world including simple 2FA solutions (e.g. using OTP/TANs); symmetric cryptography based solutions such as GSMA’s Mobile Connect solution; PKI based solutions including those implemented on USB keys, physical e-ID cards, SIM cards (Mobile PKI), Server-side signing/Remote signing (where user PKI credentials are stored in a cloud-based HSM) and different implementations of software-based certificates (e.g. smartphone applications).

Technically, solutions that make use of PKI certificates, tamper-resistant hardware tokens and strong identity verification processes are found to be most secure and provide the highest levels of identity and authentication assurance. Therefore, tamper-resistance of the security token will continue to influence key choices in the design and implementation of strong electronic identity in the future.

On the other hand, not all PKI based implementations are particularly suited for use in mobile environments. A mobile-focused approach will take advantage of the reach, usability, built-in technologies and popularity of mobiles as primary communication devices used by citizens. Strong electronic identity solutions must, therefore, be designed to support available mobile technologies to succeed.

Mobile PKI solutions promise the most security for Mobile environments albeit with less flexibility based on today’s technologies. New developments in the mobile space such as the expected surge in the number of devices with tamper-resistant, PKI eUICC cards, promise a huge opportunity for the mass implementation and delivery of strong electronic identity to end users.

Other proposed solutions such as TEE-based electronic identity is another promising prospect for delivering strong electronic identity to citizens. Used with biometrics, it promises more flexibility to e-ID implementations, however technology standardization, and maturity of TEE implementations will take time.

ETSI defined Mobile Signature Service (MSS or more commonly Mobile ID/PKI) as “A Universal method using a Mobile device to confirm a Citizen’s intention to perform a Transaction.” At the core of Mobile PKI solutions is universality, allowing stakeholders to design electronic identity solutions that resolve the currently incompatible identity silos which encompass the Internet.

Given the maturity, available open standards and interoperability frameworks available, Mobile PKI solutions are well suited to provide a secure, tamper-resistant and universal strong electronic identity solution. Stakeholders will do well to adopt Mobile PKI solutions to implement mass market strong electronic identity solutions that will scale into the future.

Glossary

  • eUICC – Embedded Universal Integrated Circuit Card (or commonly known as eSIM)
  • HSM – Hardware Security Module
  • OTP – One Time Passwords
  • PKI – Public Key Infrastructure
  • SIM – Subscriber Identity Module
  • TAN – Transaction Authentication Number
  • TEE – Trusted Execution Environment

Bibliography

  1. Agbede O.M. “Strong Electronic Identification: Survey & Scenario Planning.” Aalto University Master’s thesis, August 2018.
  2. Clarka J., Dahana M., Desaia V., Iencob M., Labriollec S., Pellestorc J., Reidb K. and Y. Varuhakic. “Digital Identity: Towards Shared Principles for Public and Private Sector Cooperation.” A joint World Bank Group, GSMA, Secure Identity Alliance Discussion Paper, July 2016.
  3. Sandeep T., Jan-Erik E., and P. Laitinen. “On rehoming the electronic id to TEEs.” Trustcom/BigDataSE/ISPA, Vol. 1. IEEE, 2015.
  4. Secure Identity Alliance. “Enabling the eGovernment 2020 Vision: The Role of Trusted Digital Identity.” A research report and position paper by the Secure Identity Alliance & Boston Consulting Group, March 2014.
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