OMB releases e-authentication guidance

Officials list five steps for making sure systems have the proper assurance levels.

"E-Authentication Guidance for Federal Agencies"

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Agencies should assess authentication risks for online transactions and determine the required level of assurance for each transaction, Office of Management and Budget officials said today.

In guidance issued to federal agencies today, OMB Director Joshua Bolten outlined steps to assess system risks, identify their proper assurance level and select the right technology to implement it. Today's release updates earlier guidance under the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) and provides direction for the implementation of Section 203 of the E-Government Act.

OMB officials say agencies should make certain a system has the proper assurance level -- the degree of confidence in a user's identity, ranging from little or no confidence to very high confidence -- using five steps:

* Conduct a risk assessment of the system to measure the severity and likelihood of harm that could be caused by technical errors, hackers, human error or other factors. Directions for these assessments are provided through National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance, OMB Circular A-130 and GPEA recommendations.

"Agencies should consider a wide range of possible scenarios in seeking to determine what potential harms are associated with their business process," Bolten said. "It is better to be over-inclusive than under-inclusive in conducting this analysis."

* Find the required assurance level for the risk. There are four levels, based on six areas for potential impact: inconvenience, financial loss, harm to agency programs, unauthorized release of sensitive information, personal safety and criminal or civil violations.

* Select technology based on NIST e-authentication technical guidance to implement the technical requirements.

* Validate that the system has achieved its assurance level as part of the agency's certification and accreditation process.

* Reassess the system to make sure changes in technology or business process haven't changed the authentication requirements. OMB officials suggested agencies do this during the required annual information security assessments.

Agencies should conduct these assessments for all new and existing systems. Major systems should be completed by Dec. 15, 2004, and new authentication systems should begin to be fitted into one of the categories within 90 days of completion of the final e-authentication technical guidance issued by NIST.

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