The road to derived mobile credentials

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Programs in both the civilian and military sectors are starting to deliver on earlier promises to give government workers credentials on their mobile devices.

The effort to provide government workers who use mobile devices with personal identity verification credentials is picking up momentum, with programs in both the civilian and military sectors starting to deliver on earlier promises.

Solutions for mobile users are long overdue. As the swing away from the desktop and onto the mobile device became obvious some years ago, government agencies found themselves without any clear direction to take when it came to security. Providing the level of security that comes with smart cards, which workers can use to authenticate their system and network access using card readers on the desktop, is not easy with mobile devices.

That spurred various programs to try and take those smart card credentials and convert them for use for mobile devices, which is where the term “derived” comes from. It’s not been easy, and both the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Defense Information Systems Agency have been working for several years to come up with answers.

NIST, for example, released guidelines for derived PIV credentials nearly two years ago, basically an update to Special Publication 800-157, which describes ways to implement credentials on mobile devices. More recently, the Derived PIV Credentials Project  from NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) will build on SP 800-157 and describe practice guides that agencies can use to start implementing a derived credential program.

On the military side, DISA earlier this year implemented Purebred as a way for Defense Department public-key infrastructure subscribers to use their common access cards to generate derived credentials on their mobile devices. A three-year, phased program designed to overcome specific DOD issues with PKI mobile provisioning, Purebred is currently available for iOS, Android and BlackBerry phones and tablets.

How derived credentials might be created in the future is not clear, however, since the DOD a year ago said it would eliminate CACs in favor of a new, multifactor authentication system as early as 2018.

Sean Frazier, chief technical evangelist for mobile security firm MobileIron, said the NCCoE practice guides will help to accelerate agencies’ use of derived PIV credentials. It’s not just a technology problem, he said, and the guides “will also provide guidance for workflows for enrollment and credential lifecycle management.”

The practice guides work in conjunction with a reference architecture “to assist agencies in being able to get to see how to get to the top of the mountain,” Frazier said. “Otherwise, PIV-D is rather daunting.”

MobileIron, along with its technology partner Entrust Datacard, was recently chosen by NIST to provide a derived credential solution for the NCCoE program. Last year, the two companies announced their first derived credential product after a two-year development process. Frazier said at the time that civilian agencies would likely be the first users of the product, though it also recently announced its derived credential solution would integrate with Purebred.

As well as providing better security for mobile devices, the government is also hoping that the use of derived credentials will help to open up a broader use of devices across all agencies.

With the influx of younger workers into government, bring-your-own-device issues have become a major thorn in the side of agency security professionals. They hope use of derived credentials will provide a level of security that can free up the use of BYOD, which most agencies now view as a desirable goal.

This article was changed May 1 to correct the name of the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence.

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