New ID standard is just the first of two-part plan

New ID standard is just the first of two-part plan

The debate over specifications for federal and contractor employee identification cards did not end with the Commerce Department’s release of the Personal Identity Verification standard late last month.
Locked in a small room somewhere are federal and industry experts discussing technical details for biometrics, card interfaces and encryption requirements.

And it is these details that agencies, manufacturers of cards and card readers, and systems integrators are fretting over.

“The devil will be in the details, and there are a few different details that need to be clarified for what will work and what will not,” said Jeremy Grant, enterprise solutions vice president at Maximus Inc., a card manufacturer in Reston, Va. “The proposed changes worried a lot of people because it would necessitate new cards and new certification processes.”

Maximus is one of four contractors for the General Services Administration’s Smart Access Common ID program. GSA awarded the smart-card pacts in 2000.

President Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 Aug. 27, ordering the National Institute of Standards and Technology to produce within six months a federal standard for secure and reliable IDs for federal employees and contractors.

NIST will issue separate publications for biometric, card encryption and card interface technical specifications. NIST considered including them in the Federal Information Processing Standard 201 but needed more time, said Ed Roback, chief of NIST’s Computer Security Division.

More to come

FIPS-201 spells out the common ID and security requirements for applications that will use the new cards. Agencies must implement it by Oct. 25.

The second section of the standard discusses the technical specifications of the card and components required for interoperability across all agencies.

The Office of Management and Budget has not set the deadline for implementing the second part of the document. Many industry experts said the administration likely will choose October of next year as the deadline.

Agencies have until June 25 to submit a program to OMB for compliance with the standard. Within another four months, agencies must be in initial compliance.

“We tried to make sure we came out with something that was a consistent whole,” Roback said. “We were quite pleased we were able to get something out in the time the president required. There is a lot more work ahead for NIST, the agencies and industry.”

And it is what NIST did not address that is causing the most concern among agencies and vendors. Although no federal smart-card officials would discuss their concerns publicly, most said they are withholding judgment until NIST completes the final card interface specifications.

In a draft version of these specs, NIST recommended that agencies slowly migrate to the new federal ID cards. This would let agencies use the existing Government Smart Card Interoperability Standards, developed by NIST and the Government Interoperability Advisory Board, during the first phase of compliance with FIPS-201.

“This approach is most favorable to those agencies who have currently implemented smart-card-based identity applications,” NIST said in the draft Special Publication 800-73. “The near-term solution may also be acceptable to agencies who plan to adopt an existing solution. Agencies that currently do not implement smart-card solutions may elect to implement long-term solutions from the beginning and avoid the step of near-term solutions.”

NIST officials had hoped to get both standards finished by March 1, but the controversy over the need for a migration strategy delayed the final release of SP 800-73.

Another benefit of letting agencies migrate to the standard over a long period of time, Grant and others said, is that it would give vendors more time to develop products.

Besides the lack of a plan for moving to the new standards, another issue that agencies and industry have is the format of the fingerprints for the cards. NIST’s draft version called for a fingerprint image, which creates a larger file than the fingerprint template many experts believe is the easiest and best way to store the information.

“If the cards hold 64K of information and you want to take up between 30K and 40K for just the fingerprints, that doesn’t leave much room for other information,” Grant said. “Templates take about 1K of space.”

NIST’s Roback said there have to be adjustments to GSCIS because the standard does not provide all the needed technology specifications for interoperability. “A few functions are not addressed in the GSCIS, like key management,” he said.
Jim Dray, leader of NIST’s Government Smart-Card Program, said blending the new specifications with GSCIS has been the biggest challenge for NIST’s team.

“There isn’t a lot of time to work out the security architecture of the chip and the biometric issues,” said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance, an industry association in Princeton Junction, N.J. “Developing specifications is hard because so many products and processes are already in place.”

The new cards will be used both for physical and systems access, and NIST specifies a handful of technologies. Each card must have an embedded programmable chip, contact and contactless (wireless) interfaces, and support for four levels of security.
It will use cryptographic tools for higher levels of security and will contain biometric data to verify identity.

Because biometric standards now exist only for fingerprints, FIPS-201 calls for their use, although other forms of biometrics could be added later.

Each card can also include a magnetic stripe and a bar code, too.
NIST received comments from more than 90 agencies and private-sector organizations and finished FIPS-201 in six months. Computer security specialists at NIST said recently that preparing such a standard generally is a two-year process.

In the end

Roback said NIST made a number of changes to the final document, including removing the requirement for a digital photo because it would take up too much space.

Privacy and security also were major concerns, he said.

“We are only requiring a minimum amount of information for wireless reading, and when the card is not in use, it should be stored in an electromagnetic holder to prevent inadvertent reading,” Roback said. “We also added a section requiring agencies to hire a privacy official and conduct a privacy impact assessment.”

OMB is developing an implementation guidance that will address privacy issues, Roback added.

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