Return of the Great Zoltan! Our 800-63 FAQs answer life’s most perplexing questions (about digital identity, anyway).

It’s been more than a month since we released Special Publication 800-63: Digital Identity Guidelines, and we have been thrilled by all the positive feedback – we are glad you like it as much as we do! But we’re also fielding a number of questions.

When we started this update to SP 800-63, we promised we’d put stakeholders in more control of the writing and position ourselves to be more hands-on in getting solutions implemented. For the latter, we’ve begun our work on the implementation guides, and today we’re releasing a simple little document to kickstart the continual process of clarifying the document and facilitating all the good work agencies and industry are doing to get digital identity right.

The document included a lot of updates, so it’s only natural that we’ve heard some reoccurring questions from the community. Realizing many have the same questions, we kept track of these and compiled them in a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page.

We will publish updates to the FAQs as more questions roll in and you’ll always be able to find the current version on GitHub.

More questions? Ask us directly!

You can send all your questions to us via GitHub or email. We will keep track of all the questions we receive and add to the FAQs when we see themes emerge.

When we add a new Q & A, we’ll let you know via Twitter. Again, the most up-do-date document will always be located here.

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Mic Drop — Announcing the New Special Publication 800-63 Suite!

Goodbye LOA…Hello IAL, AAL, and FAL (collectively called “xALs”)

More than a year in the making, after a large, cross-industry effort, we are proud to announce that the new Special Publication (SP) 800-63 IS. NOW. FINAL. With your help, Electronic Authentication Guidelines has evolved into Digital Identity Guidelines—a suite of documents covering digital identity from initial risk assessment to deployment of federated identity solutions. Check it out now at or as a PDF at

There is no way a document this comprehensive could have evolved without the direct input of stakeholders, who contributed consistently throughout the drafting process. This revision to SP 800-63 was our first foray into using GitHub to collaborate with stakeholders for a major document, and it was a great success. The community interacted with us—and each other—throughout the course of the year to develop a better final product.

The community participation resulted in a tremendous response: contributors submitted 1,400+ comments for review, and the web version of the publication drew 74,000+ unique visitors between May 2016 and May 2017.

What’s changed, you ask?

Digital identity in both agencies and the market have changed dramatically since the last revision of this document in 2013.

Gone are the days of levels of assurance (LOAs), replaced by ordinals for individual parts of the digital identity flow, enabling implementers more flexibility in their design and operations:

  • Identity Assurance Level (IAL): the identity proofing process and the binding between one or more authenticators and the records pertaining to a specific subscriber
  • Authenticator Assurance Level (AAL):  the authentication process, including how additional factors and authentication mechanisms can impact risk mitigation
  • Federation Assurance Level (FAL): the assertion used in a federated environment to communicate authentication and attribute information to a relying party (RP)

The suite that is now SP 800-63 has four parts—and could have more in the future as digital identity evolves. SP 800-63 is the mothership—your starting point for all things digital identity and risk—with SP 800-63A, 800-63B, and 800-63C covering the various components of a digital identity system:

  • SP 800-63-3 (Digital Identity Guidelines) incorporates risk language that agencies have been following from OMB M-04-04 and updates SP 800-63-2, sections 1-4 (see below for more on that)
  • SP 800-63A (Enrollment & Identity Proofing) updates SP 800-63-2, section 5
  • SP 800-63B (Authentication & Lifecycle Management) updates SP 800-63-2, sections 6-8
  • SP 800-63C (Federation & Assertions) updates SP 800-63-2, section 9

More specifics about each volume:

SP 800-63-3 provides identity-specific input that agencies should consider when taking their system through security assessment and authorization. It provides an overview of general identity frameworks; using authenticators, credentials, and assertions together in a digital system; as well as handy “choose your own adventure” (sorry, we’re old) flowcharts to enhance the process of selecting an xAL. In those flowcharts, organizations can perform a risk assessment, answer a set of functional questions, and, based on their responses, be guided to the most appropriate xAL for their system and users.

We understand some of you may read 800-63-3 and wonder if it conflicts with OMB M04-04. We don’t speak for OMB, but we’ve been working with them and understand that they have been working on a consolidated overarching digital identity policy as part of their effort to simplify existing policy guidance, and that this draft will be out for public comment in the near future.

The inclusion of risk assessment language from 04-04 into 800-63 removes one additional place where agencies need to look for requirements and ensures that the assessment of risk and the available processes and technologies to mitigate that risk are well aligned.

These changes simplify and clarify guidance, better align with commercial markets, promote international interoperability, and focus on outcomes (where possible) to promote innovation and deployment flexibility. Furthermore, removing LOAs and differentiating identity proofing from authentication from federation gives RPs latitude in designing, building, consuming, and procuring identity technology.

Identity proofing

SP 800-63A focuses on arguably the most difficult part of digital identity: strengthening identity proofing while expanding options for remote and in-person proofing. The new guidelines clarify methods for resolving an identity to a single person and enables RPs to evaluate and determine the strength of identity evidence. No longer will agencies be required to ask for “one government-issued ID and a financial account.” The proofing guidance moves away from a static list of acceptable documents and instead describes “characteristics” for the evidence necessary to achieve each IAL. Agencies can now pick the evidence that works best for their stakeholders. In fact, the document no longer differentiates between physical evidence (like a driver’s license) and digital evidence (perhaps a mobile driver’s license or an assertion from another identity provider). You should no longer think “plastic is good” and “digital is bad” for presented evidence; what matters is the process behind the presentation.

SP 800-63A opens the door for a diverse array of proofing options, including virtual in-person (aka “supervised remote”) and trusted referees (e.g., notaries), and offers clearer guidelines on document checking and address confirmation.



On the authentication side, some big changes include:

No more…

    • “what is your mother’s maiden name” to authenticate or to recover a lost, stolen, or forgotten credential
      • email as a place to send one-time-passwords (OTPs)
      • plain old SMS to send OTPs, although SMS is allowable with some risk-based and security measures
      • “token” talk – it’s now “authenticator” … we overload terms in identity all the time, so this was an opportunity to change (plus, “token” has other meanings in cybersecurity that have nothing to do with the device used to log in)
    • more options (to include more usable ones) at higher assurance levels
    • closing the holes of account recovery; if you lost your authenticator and have no backups, you’ll need to get reproofed…the risk otherwise is just too high

The new guidelines also enable server-side biometric matching and include a comprehensive set of biometric performance and security requirements. Biometric sensors are common in the devices that so many of us carry with us every day, so we felt we needed to provide guidelines that can prevent unreliable or weak biometric approaches from sneaking their way into federal digital services, while allowing these powerful tools to play a large role in doing digital identity right.


Federation is when the RP and IdP are not a single entity or not under common administration. Federation enables an IdP to proof and authenticate an individual and provide identity assertions that RPs can accept and trust.

We love federation. In fact, we think you should leverage federated services whenever you can. As such, SP 800-63C lays out the details of identity federation and identity assertions to keep implementation of federation on the level. This section expands federation guidelines from previous versions of 800-63, provides greater detail on how assertions should be used, and includes a host of privacy-enhancing requirements that can make federation appealing to users.

What’s next?

But wait, there’s more!

We know the security and privacy requirements of this revision have changed substantially from past versions, but keep in mind we do not intend to drop this document and walk away. While the guidelines themselves are final, we strongly believe that work on this document isn’t truly complete until, like open standards, it has been implemented to tease out bugs and complexities.

To that end, we hope this revision can set us on a new path to continually improve digital identity. Rather than waiting until agency and market needs have shifted enough to warrant a revision in any of the volumes—then waiting more than a year to complete a revision—we plan to continue engaging with implementers so we can compile, and share, lessons learned and implementation guidance throughout the life of the current revision.

Our ability to predict and respond to changes in the market and technology needs to match the speed of innovation, as well as threats. We look forward to working with agencies and the private sector to improve these guidelines based on real implementation of digital identity services. Over time, we want them to become even more outcome-based and reliant on proven performance metrics, as well as adaptive to innovations in the market so anyone, public or private, can better serve their users.

For us, the immediate next step is preparing implementation guidance to help agencies deploy solutions that meet SP 800-63’s requirements. The first set will focus on identity proofing, and we will release further guidance over the course of the year.

We’re also drafting SP 800-63D, a relatively simple additional volume detailing efforts to align with international technical specifications for interoperable identity in federations—including SAML profiles and an iGov OpenID Connect/OAuth profile developed in partnership with industry and other governments.

Please stay tuned for the implementation guidance and 800-63D, and we look forward to further collaboration!

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REGISTER NOW – Privacy Risk Assessment: Prerequisite for Privacy Risk Management Workshop

We are pleased to announce the next workshop in NIST’s ongoing series on privacy engineering and risk management – Privacy Risk Assessment: A Prerequisite for Privacy Risk Management, to be held in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on June 5, 2017. Registration is open now!

What is this all about? This workshop builds off the introductory concepts from NIST Internal Report 8062 (An Introduction to Privacy Engineering and Risk Management in Federal Systems), intended to establish a common baseline to better understand and communicate privacy risks, as well as to enable effective implementation of privacy principles. Participants will discuss the role of privacy risk models, and what specific guidance and tools are needed for organizations to most effectively do privacy risk assessments as a prerequisite to privacy risk management.

Who should be there? This discussion will help NIST develop a body of privacy risk management guidance that aligns with NIST’s cybersecurity risk management guidance. As such, system design, security, and privacy engineers, security and privacy officers, and security and privacy subject matter experts should attend this interactive workshop. Public and private sector attendees and academics welcome.

Can’t make it? The introductory session will be webcast, and video from the webcast will be archived on the NIST website within a week of the event. Due to the interactive nature of the breakout sessions, they will not be available to remote participants.

Note that feedback is welcome at any time. To provide feeback to NIST on this privacy engineering effort, please send an email to

What are the details? The workshop will be held on NIST’s main campus in Gaithersburg, Md. The current agenda is below – stay tuned for updates on opening session speakers and breakout session topics, which will be updated soon.

  • 7:30-8:30: Registration
  • 8:30-9:25: Opening session
  • 9:30-10:45: Breakout session #1: The relevance and role of risk models in privacy
  • 10:45-11:00: Break
  • 11:00-12:30 Breakout session #2: Necessary guidance and tools for privacy implementation

Please note: Registration closes on May 29, 2017.

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A minor plot twist: Comment period extended for PART of SP 800-63-3

By: Paul Grassi and Mike Garcia

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: this is not an early April Fools Day prank!

Granted, government blogs aren’t the typical medium for getting emotional. But we (Paul and Mike), and the rest of our incredible team at NIST, have truly been moved by the support, encouragement, and engagement you’ve provided as we embarked simultaneously on this major update to the document and – perhaps even bigger – updating our community engagement process to achieve a better result on this document.

We have received your feedback during the open comment period for draft Special Publication (SP) 800-63-3: Digital Identity Guidelines and can’t thank you enough. While we still have many comments to resolve, the feedback we’ve received has been very positive overall. Thanks to your help, we are very close – and will close the comment period as scheduled. Sort of…

But wait, there’s more!

In consultation with the White House Office of Management and Budget, we developed an approach to include normative guidelines to manage digital identity risk directly into SP 800-63-3. Over the years, many of you have asked for a more consistent approach to risk assessment and associated technical risk mitigation guidance.

The changes in this update made this request even more important. We’re extremely grateful for our collaborative relationship with OMB, which enabled us to respond to you and better serve agency and industry needs.

We believe this change will make digital identity management simpler for agency officials, mission owners, and implementers alike. But – consistent with the approach we’ve taken with this update so far – we need your feedback to know if we got it right. To that end, we are extending the comment period for the 800-63-3 volume only until for 30 days, closing on May 1st.

Let’s summarize:

  • We are closing the comment period as scheduled for 800-63A, 800-63B, and 800-63C. Pending comment resolution, we believe these documents are sufficiently stable to finalize.
  • We’re extending the comment period for the parent volume only, SP 800-63-3, until May 1st.
  • Today, we updated the SP 800-63-3 volume on GitHub and in CSRC. The new version is now available and ready for your feedback.
  • We expect to finalize and issue all four volumes together.
  • We will still adjudicate the comments received on SP 800-63-3, though some will no longer apply to the new version. On GitHub, if you’ve already commented or opened any issue, no need to do so again. Once the issue is closed, we encourage you to check the disposition to make sure we didn’t miss something in the version change.
  • If there are flow-down changes into the other volumes, we’ll address them when SP 800-63-3 stabilizes.
  • If something wild happens (not like wild wild…more like identity management standards wild) we’ll assess whether the flow-down changes warrant reopening other volumes, but we don’t anticipate that happening.

And some special notes on the updated version of SP 800-63-3:

  • We ask that you review this document on its merits and do not comment on potential conflicts with existing guidance; we are working with our federal partners to address any such conflicts before finalizing.
  • This volume now contains both normative and informative sections.
  • We’ve incorporated guidelines for supporting the risk assessment process of digital applications.
  • The entire volume is open for comment.

Please check out the updated parent document — and reach out to us if you have questions. You can also submit comments the old-fashioned way, via email. Sorry we’re not accepting comments the old-old fashioned way or the old-old-old fashioned way of fax and post, respectively. Though singing telegrams won’t be turned away.

Follow us on Twitter for updates and reminders to submit feedback on SP 800-63-3, as well as to engage with all our other efforts.

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Closing time! You don’t have to go home … but you can still comment on draft SP 800-63-3

Just 15 days remain in the comment period for draft Special Publication (SP) 800-63-3: Digital Identity Guidelines! The document opened for public comment on January 30th and will close on March 31st. Based on the comments we’ve received so far, we don’t expect to extend the deadline, so get to work and submit your comments before closing time!

To see what we covered during our informational 800-63-3 webinar, check out the recording from February 7th (accompanying slides can be found here).


Why now?

The proposed update more closely matches the way digital services are deployed and utilized today. Our aim for SP 800-63-3 is to help agencies mitigate risk by accepting diverse sets of identity proofing and authentication techniques. The revised draft also more closely aligns with the identity standards work occurring across the globe.

Our process and timeline

Since the start of this public comment period, we’ve already adjudicated more than 50 of your comments – the vast majority of which have been clarifications or the addition of helpful definitions. As always, we welcome more of your comments and plan to review and adjudicate them as quickly as we can once the comment period closes. While we aim to publish the final Digital Identity Guidelines document by early summer, we take this process seriously and won’t go final just yet if requirements fundamentally shift based on insightful comments from the community. That said, we don’t feel that the comments we’ve received so far have reached the threshold that warrants extending the comment period or introducing a second comment period…so you should anticipate that, after first opening for comments on GitHub last May, the end of this comment period on March 31st is truly your last chance to weigh in.

How to comment

GitHub is our preferred tool for the submission of comments; you can read the document here and you can contribute here. We also have a PDF version of the draft and submit email comments to Note that we will make all comments publicly available by converting those shared via email to open GitHub “issues” to maintain an open and transparent process.

We appreciate your collaboration, questions, and thoughts – so please keep the comments coming until the end of the month as we work to make 800-63-3 even better…the sooner you can submit them, the better.

If you’re looking for updates on SP 800-63-3 or other Trusted Identities Group activities, please subscribe to our email updates or follow us on Twitter.


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Build Trust and Verify: New funding opportunity to assess our state pilots!

Last year we issued five grants so state and local jurisdictions could use digital identity technologies to improve delivery of services.

Now, we want to evaluate how well those pilots have done: we’re issuing a new funding opportunity to quantify the benefits these solutions bring to the organization and end users, share lessons learned, and shed light on how successfully similar solutions can be adopted elsewhere, in public sector programs and services at all levels of government. With so many individuals depending on state and local government services for day-to-day activities, these entities can play a critical role in advancing digital identity for large populations. The findings, discoveries, and lessons learned from this funding opportunity will help pave the way for NIST to better inform and improve upon broader cybersecurity efforts in the future.

“NIST is the federal government’s measurement agency,” notes Trusted Identities Group (TIG) director Mike Garcia. “While our office focuses on innovation and adoption in the market, measurement is critical to understanding what solutions work and how effectively we’re spending taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, we expect that these independent assessments of pilot projects will help us—the identity community—understand the most successful technologies and approaches and improve decision making for anyone looking to invest in identity solutions.”

This latest funding opportunity will have an organization conduct an assessment of our five 2016 state pilots – led by the Florida Department of Revenue, Yubico, Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Gemalto, and This will require interacting with each pilot team to establish baseline metrics and collect ongoing data during implementation, with different timelines for each pilot.

We anticipate that the awarded organization will release a report for each pilot and a final report summarizing and comparing the five at the end. Finally, a critical piece of the project will be sharing these reports far and wide, as we remain focused on increasing adoption of these solutions by sharing knowledge and lessons learned.

NIST anticipates funding one award for approximately $750,000 with a project length of three years. To be eligible, applicants may be any U.S.-located non-federal government entity. *However, an applicant will be ineligible if it has been involved in any of the 2016 state pilots.*

Millions of individuals impacted by the 24 TIG pilots through the years

Through 2016, our family of 24 pilot projects has impacted more than 7.4 million individuals. The success of our work is based not just on our direct impact, but also on the network effects and indirect impacts of our work. We’re always looking to extend the reach of these projects to  ensure that as many people as possible have access to trusted identity solutions and a seamless online experience. Part of this process is spreading the word so others can see the benefits and learn how to implement these solutions at their own organizations. Enter our new TIG funding opportunity.

For a detailed discussion of this opportunity and the chance to ask questions, register now for our applicants’ conference webinar on March 28, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Quick links:

The deadline to apply is: Tuesday, May 9, 2017, by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Twitter: @NSTICnpo

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From public preview to public draft: SP 800-63 is open for comment!

Last summer’s efforts on draft SP 800-63-3: Digital Identity Guidelines paved the way for a lot of positive changes – thanks to all who provided feedback. Today we are excited to announce the next step: the official public draft of SP 800-63-3 is out, open for public comment, and we’re anxiously awaiting more great feedback. The public draft will have a 60-day open comment period, closing on March 31st.





GitHub remains the preferred tool for the public comment period; you can read the document here and you can contribute here. We also have a PDF version of the draft and comments can be submitted via email to Note that we will make all comments publicly available by converting those shared via email to open GitHub “issues” to maintain an open and transparent process.

SP 800-63-3, our first foray into using GitHub for communicating with stakeholders, is a prime example of NIST’s history of engaging the community when developing publications. While in the past NIST and the community co-edited documents, we believe SP 800-63-3 is the first example of co-developing a publication.

We were able to engage the community in near real time to more quickly create a better, more innovative product. During the public preview – which ran from May 8 to September 17, 2016 – we had a tremendous response with at least 3,757 unique visitors to our GitHub repository, with contributors submitting 266 items for our review.

We look forward to hearing from you all with additional comments on the public draft of SP 800-63-3. The document enables federal agencies to accept more diverse sets of authentication and identity-proofing in an effort to improve the ability to mitigate risk. The draft also more closely aligns with the identity standards work occurring across the globe.

All about the webinar

Much has changed in SP 800-63 since revision 2, and we realize not everyone had a chance to review the document over the summer (you can find a full rundown of changes HERE). So, we are hosting an informational webinar to share some of the most significant updates we made to the document, highlight our approach during the public comment period, and most importantly, answer your questions about this significant set of updates.

So, mark your calendars for February 7th at 1:00 PM EST! We look forward to you joining us during this webinar to share more about what’s in the new draft and engage you in the document’s evolution. You can register now HERE.

Note: this webinar will be hosted on ReadyTalk; please arrive early in case you need to download and install anything to participate.

We’ll see you then – and happy commenting!

Twitter: @NSTICnpo

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Making Privacy Concrete (Three Words Not Usually Found Together)

By: Sean Brooks, Mike Garcia, Naomi Lefkovitz, Suzanne Lightman, Ellen Nadeau

Most in the IT space won’t know this, but NIST has one of the world’s best concrete engineering programs. Maybe we just have concrete on the mind since a couple of us in the office are doing house renovations, but with today’s publication of the NIST Internal Report 8062, An Introduction to Privacy Engineering and Risk Management in Federal Systems (NISTIR 8062), we are taking a page from the concrete folks’ book with a document that we believe hardens the way we treat privacy, moving us one step closer to making privacy more science than art. NISTIR 8062 introduces the concept of applying systems engineering practices to privacy and provides a new model for conducting privacy risk assessments on federal systems.

There were several reasons for venturing into this territory. Certainly the Office of Management and Budget’s July 2016 update to Circular A-130 gave us a strong impetus, but our ongoing trusted identities pilot program was also a significant earlier driver. The pilots need to demonstrate their alignment with the NSTIC Guiding Principles, but in the first couple of years of the program, grant recipients often had difficulty expressing to us how their solutions aligned with the Privacy Guiding Principle. Even agreeing about the kinds of privacy risks that were of greatest concern in federated identity solutions could drag out over multiple rounds of discussion.

NIST has produced a wealth of guidance on information security risk management (the foundation of which is NIST’s Risk Management Framework), but there is no comparable body of work for privacy. While there are international privacy framework standards that include the need for identifying privacy risk, there are no widely accepted models for doing the actual assessment.

We learned from stakeholders that part of the problem is the absence of a universal vocabulary for talking about the privacy outcomes that organizations want to see in their systems. In information security, organizations understand that they are trying to avoid losses of confidentiality, integrity and availability in their systems. The privacy field has the Fair Information Practice Principles, but as high-level principles they aren’t written in terms that system engineers can easily understand and apply. Oftentimes, privacy policy teams must make ad hoc translations to implement them in specific systems.

To try to bridge this communication gap and produce processes that are repeatable and could lead to measurable results, we began by considering how privacy and information security are related and how they are distinct. The Venn diagram below illustrates how information security operates in the space of unauthorized behavior within the system, whereas privacy can be better described as dealing with the aspects of system processing of personally identifiable information (PII) that is permissible, or authorized. The two fields overlap around security of PII.

Security and Privacy Concerns Venn Diagram

We also reflected on whether having privacy engineering objectives that had some functional equivalency to confidentiality, integrity, and availability could help bridge the gap between privacy principles and their implementation in systems. Here’s what we came up with.

privacy engineering objectives

Lastly, we developed, and confirmed with stakeholders, a privacy risk model to use in conducting privacy risk assessments. We needed a frame of reference for analysis—a clear outcome—that organizations could understand and identify. In information security, the risk model is based on the likelihood that a system vulnerability could be exploited by a threat, and the impact if that occurs. What is the adverse event though when systems are processing data about people in an authorized manner – meaning any life cycle action the system takes with data from collection through disposal? We know that people can experience a variety of problems as a result of data processing such as psychologically-based problems like embarrassment or more quantifiable problems like identity theft. We think that if organizations could focus on identifying whether there was a likelihood that any given action the system was taking with data could create a problem for individuals, and what the impact would be, this would give them a clearer frame of reference for analyzing their systems and addressing any concerns they discovered.

How did this work out for our pilots? Frankly, it exceeded our expectations. Using this privacy risk model, they could identify new privacy risks, prioritize the risks, communicate them to senior management, and implement controls as appropriate (usually some combination of policy-based and technical controls). Shoutout to the pilots—we greatly appreciate your insights!

NISTIR 8062 is only an introduction to privacy engineering and risk management concepts. In the coming months and years, we will continue our engagement with stakeholders to refine these ideas and develop guidance on how to apply them. One of the properties of concrete that makes it so useful is that you can mold it into just about any shape, but once it sets you know exactly what to expect of its performance. This sort of flexible but consistent performance has long eluded those who care about systems-implementable privacy protections.

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2016 Year in Review: (TIG-ing stock of) Innovation in the Identity Ecosystem

When you think about 2016, the first thing that comes to mind is innovation in the identity ecosystem. That can’t just be us, right? While there has been a host of high-profile bad things that happened in digital identity this year, we try to keep our eyes on the prize. And there’s been a lot of progress toward the long-term goal.

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes—just gonna have to be a different man”

Before we take a look at 2016, a quick programming note: the President established a 10-year timeframe for NSTIC implementation. Halfway through, we are tracking well to the benchmarks established in the strategy (more on this in early 2017). Still, as long as there is the internet there will be a need to empower individuals, businesses, and government to leverage digital identities to interact online. Goal four of the NSTIC calls for an ongoing evolution and sustainment of the identity ecosystem and, as such, many of our upcoming initiatives will extend beyond 2021. For that reason, we will be branding most of our work as the Trusted Identities Group, which we lovingly call “the TIG.”

NIST, and specifically the TIG, is proud to remain the National Program Office for implementing a strategy that is widely-recognized as the foundation for a strong and vibrant identity ecosystem. While we’re excited about the increased pun opportunities that the TIG provides over NSTIC NPO, above all, we think of the TIG as the home of the ongoing and persistent partnership model we have built over the last few years. We remain dedicated to working with our partners and advancing this important work.

Nothing has changed besides the name (oh, and the awesome new name for our blog—shout out to office blog-naming champion Danna). We simply think this better reflects our recent new home at NIST, where we’re putting the “applied” in the Applied Cybersecurity Division for the Information Technology Laboratory—making sure everything we do ends in a positive impact for real people with a real need for better digital identity solutions.

“Stop! Look what’s behind you. Fame and love gonna find you. We’re just here to remind you.”

We considered 2016 a transitional year for our office as we turned our focus toward scaling adoption of quality digital identity solutions and making progress in standards and guidelines toward measuring the quality of solutions in the identity ecosystem. This year we released eight different publications—four times as many as last year—on topics ranging from attribute metadata to trust frameworks to strength of biometric authentication.

We saw the introduction of the IDESG’s registry for the Identity Ecosystem Framework, and experienced a stunning level of growth in adoption of our solutions from our pilots program, which (as of just September 30) has impacted more than 6.7 million individuals across 12 sectors.

pilots impact infographic

“Hey, people now, smile on your brother. Let me see you get together.”

We started off 2016 by listening to our community. The Applying Measurement Science in the Identity Ecosystem workshop in January brought together more than 200 security practitioners, identity solution providers, subject matter experts, and policy makers from across sectors to discuss the application of metrics and measurement science to common identity management practices. This laid out some of our main efforts of 2016: projects to advance measurement science in digital identity. We proposed approaches and frameworks and asked for the community’s input. The TIG is all about building partnerships to advance digital identity, so let’s review how we collaborated on projects driving trust, convenience, and innovation in the identity ecosystem in 2016.

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof

A primary focus for the TIG this year was updating Special Publication 800-63-3: Digital Identity Guideline (SP 800-63-3) to simplify the document and better align with Executive Order 13681, market advancements, and the international community. But we needed community feedback to make the document as useful as possible. Between May 8 and September 17, 2016—our first foray into using GitHub—there were more than 3,700 unique visitors to our GitHub repository, with contributors submitting 258 “issues,” i.e., items for our review. The open-source nature of this approach enabled direct communication with commenters and real-time updates so you could tell us if we got it right.

“Me miro en el espejo y veo en mi rostro” (I look at myself in the mirror and see my face)

Measuring the strength of an authenticator can be a thorny issue but it’s one that the TIG is up for tackling. In the Strength of Function for Authenticators – Biometrics (SOFA-B) Discussion Draft, we propose a framework to evaluate and compare the strength of authentication solutions. We are initially focusing on biometric authenticators due to increased availability of biometric sensors in the consumer space. They also represent the ideal initiation point for the SOFA framework: a diverse and emerging set of technologies with varying performance, configurations, and capabilities, which also have limited security guidance in place.

This document attempts to provide a starting point for the overall SOFA framework by identifying the ways biometric authenticator strength can be measured and evaluated. It focuses on three core concepts: False Match Rate, Presentation Attack Detection Error Rate (spoof detection), and Effort, that is, what it takes to break a system. We accepted comments via GitHub through mid-December and held a webinar to engage with the community on their feedback.

“Sometimes clothes do not make the man”

…but attributes do. The TIG provided a metadata schema for attributes that can be asserted about an individual during an online transaction in draft NISTIR 8112: Attribute Metadata. The NISTIR outlines a plan that can be used by relying parties to enhance access control policies and perform real-time evaluation of an individual’s ability to access protected resources. We propose a schema for attribute metadata and attribute value metadata that can convey information about a subject’s attribute(s) so relying parties can better understand how attributes and values are obtained, have greater confidence in applying authorization decisions, and promote federation of attributes.

“Who can you trust, who can ya?”

As the rules of the road for federated identity systems, trust frameworks detail the business, legal, and technical requirements for all parties involved. The TIG explored concepts around trust frameworks and identity federation while also providing areas for discussion when developing these systems in draft NISTIR 8149: Developing Trust Frameworks to Support Identity Federations. The NISTIR is intended to spread knowledge on identity federations and trust frameworks to a more general audience. NIST also seeks to increase standardization of the language around these practices and set a common understanding to facilitate widespread adoption.

“The plan is to stay focused, only then I can grow

In 2016, we saw explosive growth in adoption of our pilots’ solutions and record growth in the number of grant recipients and partners. We added six new pilots across 10 states and Washington, D.C., bringing the grand total of projects funded to 24. In our largest pilot award to date, projects include helping states ease citizen access to online services, issuing mobile driver licenses in four states and D.C., and improving access to health records for patients and practitioners.

United States map showing pilot partner locations

“And take it to the limit, one more time

The TIG has grand plans for the new year, like working with agencies to implement some of the changes in SP 800-63-3. This means the unveiling of a new initiative where we will assist federal agencies in deploying trusted identity solutions for citizen-to-government access. To do so, we’re working with our sibling group, the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE), to launch an effort to make the great solutions in the market and the great progress we’ve made on standards and guidance real and easily implementable for agencies and industry alike.

We’ll also follow up on the documents we released for public comment, starting with the release of SP 800-63-3 for a traditional public comment period before releasing the final version later in the year. Beyond that, we’ve already begun work on the next new aspect of our guidance on digital identity, a companion implementation guide to SP 800-63 that, like our work in the NCCoE, will help bridge the gap between outcome-based guidance and the on-the-wire outcomes themselves.

We also plan to finalize the attribute NISTIR. We’ll continue our work to finalize the SOFA-B framework, of which you can get an early preview at RSA in February. Plus, we’ll carry on and build out our efforts in market intelligence, which help us keep up with the pulse of the market and hone our efforts in on specific market impediments.

To keep pace with our work in 2016, next year we’ll release a recap of how the market has changed since the NSTIC was released in 2011, along with our roadmap for continuing the momentum over the next five years. We’ll release a new pilots-based NISTIR, a lightweight, non-technical document focused on the business aspects of developing and deploying identity and access management solutions.

We’ll also be announcing new ways to engage with the community and new efforts to take NSTIC implementation, under the new TIG banner, global. We have no doubt 2017 will bring more opportunities to work together to advance digital identity and we couldn’t be more excited to continue this great partnership this community has built.

Twitter: @NSTICnpo

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SOFA Talk: Strength of Function for Authenticators Framework Now Open for Comment!

Author: Elaine Newton, Identity and Standards Development Strategist

Back in January, NIST’s Applied Cybersecurity Division hosted the “Applying Measurement Science in the Identity Ecosystem” workshop. Among the knotty issues under consideration, 220+ participants discussed the concept of measuring the strength of authentication.

Through a combination of input from that workshop and analysis performed by experts (both internal and external to NIST) we have developed a proposed framework that can be used to quantify the security of authentication solutions – and now, we want to hear from you again. I’m happy to announce that the Strength of Function for Authenticators – Biometrics (SOFA-B) Discussion Draft is now open for comment.

SOFA is a proposed framework to evaluate and compare the strength of authentication solutions. SOFA-B is the strength of function for biometric authentication. This was our initial focus due to increased availability of biometric sensors in the consumer space. The SOFA model incorporates three aspects, explained further in the draft: matching performance, presentation attack detection (aka spoof detection), and effort (to break a system).


Ready to get involved? NIST plans for the initial input period to run for 60 days, from October 17th to December 16th. Due to the great success we’ve had with GitHub in the recent past, we are excited to use it again! Direct suggestions or comments can be submitted to GitHub as issues following the directions on the SOFA page or via emails sent to Comments will likely be added to GitHub to maximize transparency and collaboration, so please note that emailed feedback will be made public.

We can’t wait to hear from you, and thank you for your ongoing participation and contributions in developing the framework. Happy commenting!

Twitter: @NSTICNPO

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