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New Report: Online Identity Projects are Creating More Options for Businesses, Individuals

Organizations and individuals have more options for securely and conveniently confirming identity online, thanks to a grant program that has been funding pilot projects in support of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). A new report on the pilots by the NSTIC program office at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says that the projects also are revealing and overcoming barriers to a marketplace for obtaining online credentials that can be used instead of passwords for shopping, banking and other interactions.

The benefits and challenges to online authentication discovered so far in the NSTIC program are laid out in NSTIC Pilots: Catalyzing the Identity Ecosystem. Since 2012, NIST has awarded approximately $30 million to fund 15 pilot projects in the health care, financial, education, retail, aerospace and government sectors, among others.

"We've designed our grant program to focus on complete solutions, not just technologies," said Mike Garcia, deputy director of the NSTIC National Program Office. " As important as it is to make available new technologies, the pilots are also helping to foster new infrastructure and policy mechanisms that will make areal difference in the way we approach online identity as a whole."

The strategy calls for the private sector to lead development of an "identity ecosystem" where individuals and organizations can choose from a variety of credentials to prove who people are online. The pilots are, in effect, seeding the marketplace with identity solutions that are aligned with the strategy to enhance privacy, security, interoperability and convenience.

Each set of pilot grantees seems to be building on the successes and lessons learned from the previous round of awardees, according to the report. The program itself is evolving from addressing broad challenges to overcoming more specific gaps in the market.

The lessons learned from the pilots also are informing other online authentication efforts; in particular, the work of the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG), which received grant funding from NIST. Members of the pilot teams have been actively engaged in the IDESG and are helping to advance the organization's work by informing and testing materials it has produced.

The report provides specific examples of the impact of the pilot projects. For example, 2012 grantee the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators' Cross-Sector Digital Identity Initiative exposed the need for legislation to address online identity and informed Virginia's recently passed Electronic Identity Management Act. ID.me's pilot project, which enables nearly one million military, first responders, teachers and students to verify their affiliations to receive discounts and more, has increased the number of companies relying on its service by 167 percent. Using ID.me, sports clothing and accessories maker Under Armour increased revenue from the military and first responder market by more than 30 percent.

This year, NIST plans to fund a fourth and fifth round of pilot projects. The NSTIC National Program Office is reviewing abbreviated applications for an opportunity announced in February, 2015. Through May 28,2015, it will accept submissions for a new funding opportunity focused on privacy-enhancing technologies announced in March. NIST will hold a webinar on April 15, 2015, to offer general guidance on preparing applications and to answer questions about NSTIC and the grants process.

The full report, NSTIC Pilots: Catalyzing the Identity Ecosystem (NISTUIR 8054) can be found at www.nist.gov/manuscript-publication-search.cfm?pub_id=918380.

Released April 14, 2015, Updated January 8, 2018