By Ben Bain

Blog archive

The urgency behind solving the cyber identity problem

White House Cyber Coordinator Howard Schmidt used a keynote speech at a well-attended conference in Washington yesterday to make the case for improving how people and systems are identified in cyberspace—an indication of how important the Obama administration considers identity management to overall cybersecurity efforts.

While a focus on better verifying the identities of feds that use government computer systems isn’t new—after all, that was a key aim of the Bush administration’s Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 smart card initiative—Schmidt wants to improve online identification outside of government as well.

Schmidt framed the problem of accurately identifying people and systems in cyberspace as one that affects security and economics. The ability to conduct cyber transactions involves everything from electronic medical health records to online banking, and he called for the creation of an identity ecosystem.

“Not only do we have to worry about who we are interacting with, but those on the other side [that] we’re doing business with—whether it’s business with government, business with banking, business with transportation—that those computer systems have to trust that it’s really us, and with the botnets we’ve seen, the comprised computer systems, that’s been as much of a challenge as anything else,” Schmidt told a crowd at the Symantec Government Symposium in Washington.

Schmidt previewed a draft national strategy for improving the trustworthiness of digital identities in cyberspace that the White House plans to release June 25. He said improving how people are identified in cyberspace shouldn’t make things harder on end users; rather, solutions should be cost-effective, easy to use, and voluntary.

“We should not have to dramatically change the way we do business,” he added.

According to Schmidt, the use of the public key infrastructure will enable enhancements. He said that the roughly 17 or so passwords that he has aren’t getting any easier to remember.

“The end user shouldn’t have to sit there and figure out [whether] this is something that has the ability to have somebody infringe upon my privacy. Is this something that I could lose my credit card number over, they shouldn’t have to think about that so as a consequence we’re looking to make it more convenient?” he said.

In the end, the extent that the White House’s strategy, the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, leads to developments that make things simpler for the vast majority of Internet users who aren’t technologists will likely play a big role in whether Schmidt’s vision for an online identity ecosystem is realized.

“We all know in this room the more complex security is the less people that are going to use it, so if we make security part of things they’re used to doing anyway, they’ll use it,” Schmidt explained.


Posted by Ben Bain on Jun 23, 2010 at 12:12 PM

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Thu, Jun 24, 2010 Kevin Dayton

Still waiting for all state driver licenses and ID cards to be PKI smartcards. Smartcard readers in phonebooths in Europe are commonplace.. as are the smartcard phonecards at every gas station. Health insurance and banking smartcards too. IMHO, USA is great but this is all bass-ackwards.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group