University of California, Riverside

InCommon Federation: Participant Operational Practices



Additional Notes and Details


As a community of organizations willing to manage access to on-line resources cooperatively, and often without formal contracts in the case of non-commercial resources, it is essential that each participant have a good understanding of the identity and resource management practices implemented by other participants. The purpose of the questions above is to establish a base level of common understanding by making this information available for other participants to evaluate.

In answering these questions, please consider what you would want to know about your own operations if you were another participant deciding what level of trust to place in interactions with your on-line systems. For example:

  • What would you need to know about a Credential Provider in order to make an informed decision whether to accept their assertions to manage access to your on-line resources or applications?
  • What would you need to know about a Resource Provider in order to feel confident providing it information that it might not otherwise be able to have?

It also might help to consider how identity management systems within a single institution could be used among its organizations.

  •  What might your central campus IT organization, as a Resource Provider, ask of a peer campus Credential Provider (e.g. Computer Science Department, central Library, or Medical Center) in order to decide whether to accept its identity assertions for access to resources that the IT organization controls?
  • What might a campus department ask about the central campus identity management system if the department wanted to leverage it for use with its own applications?

The numbered paragraphs below provide additional background to the numbered questions in the main part of this document.

[1.2] – InCommon Credential Providers are strongly encouraged to post on their web site the privacy and information security policies that govern their identity management system. Resource Providers are strongly encouraged to post their policies with respect to use of personally identifying information.

[1.3] – Other InCommon Participants may wish to contact this person or office with further questions about the information you have provided or if they wish to establish a more formal relationship with your organization regarding resource sharing.

[2] – Many organizations have very informal processes for issuing electronic credentials. For example, one campus does this through their student bookstore. A Resource Provider may be more willing to accept your assertions to the extent that this process can be seen as authoritative.

[2.1] – It is important for a Resource Provider to have some idea of the community whose identities you may represent. This is particularly true for assertions such as the eduPerson "Member of Community" or "student," etc. A typical definition might be "Faculty, staff, and active students" but it might also include alumni, prospective students, temporary employees, visiting scholars, etc. In addition, there may be formal or informal mechanisms for making exceptions to this definition, e.g. to accommodate a former student still finishing a thesis or an unpaid volunteer.

This question asks to whom you, as a Credential Provider, will provide electronic credentials. This is typically broadly defined so that the organization can accommodate a wide variety of applications locally. The reason this question is important is to distinguish between the set of people who might have a credential that you issue and the subset of those people who fall within your definition of "Member of Community" for the purpose of InCommon attribute assertions.

[2.2] – The assertion of "Member of Community" is often good enough for deciding whether to grant access to basic on-line resources, e.g. library-like materials or web sites. InCommon encourages participants to use this assertion only for "Faculty, Staff, and active Students" but some organizations may have the need to define this differently. InCommon Resource Providers need to know if has been defined differently.

[2.3] – For example, if there is a campus recognized office of record that issues such electronic credentials and that office makes use of strong, reliable technology and good database management practices, those factors might indicate highly reliable credentials and hence trustworthy identity assertions.

[2.4] – Different technologies carry different inherent risks. For example, a userID and password can be shared or "stolen" rather easily. A PKI credential or SecureID card is much harder to share or steal. For practical reasons, some campuses use one technology for student credentials and another for faculty and staff. In some cases sensitive applications will warrant stronger and/or secondary credentials.

[2.5] – Sending passwords in "clear text" is a significant risk and all InCommon Participants are strongly encouraged to eliminate any such practice. Unfortunately this may be difficult, particularly with legacy applications. For example, gaining access to a centralized calendar application via a wireless data connection while you are attending a conference might reveal your password to many others at that conference. If this is also your campus credential password, it could be used by another person to impersonate you to InCommon Participants.

[2.6] – "Single sign-on" (SSO) is a method that allows a user to unlock their electronic identity credential once and then use it for access to a variety of resources and applications for some period of time. This avoids people having to remember many different identifiers and passwords or to continually log into and out of systems. However, it also may weaken the link between an electronic identity and the actual person to whom it refers because someone else might be able to use the same computer and assume the former user’s identity. If there is no limit on the duration of a SSO session, a Federation Resource Provider may be concerned about the validity of any identity assertions you might make. Therefore it is important to ask about your use of SSO technologies.

[2.7] – In some identity management systems, primary identifiers for people might be reused, particularly if they contain common names, e.g. Jim Smith@MYU.edu. This can create ambiguity if a Resource Provider requires this primary identifier to manage access to resources for that person.

[2.8] – Security of the database that holds information about a person is at least as critical as the electronic identity credentials that provide the links to records in that database. Appropriate security for the database, as well as management and audit trails of changes made to that database, and management of access to that database information are important.

[2.9] – Many organizations will make available to anyone certain, limited "public information." Other information may be given only to internal organization users or applications, or may require permission from the subject under FERPA or HIPAA rules. A Resource Provider may need to know what information you are willing to make available as "public information" and what rules might apply to other information that you might release.

[2.10] – In order to help a Resource Provider assess how reliable your identity assertions may be, it is helpful to know how your organization uses those same assertions. The assumption here is that you are or will use the same identity management system for your own applications as you are using for InCommon purposes.

[2.11] – Your answer to this question indicates the degree of confidence you have in the accuracy of your identity assertions.

[2.12] – Even "public information" may be constrained in how it can be used. For example, creating a marketing email list by "harvesting" email addresses from a campus directory web site may be considered illicit use of that information. Please indicate what restrictions you place on information you make available to others.

[2.13] – Please indicate what legal or other external constraints there may be on information you make available to others.

[3.1] – Please identify your access management requirements to help other Participants understand and plan for use of your resource(s). You might also or instead provide contact information for an office or person who could answer inquiries.

[3.2] – As a Resource Provider, please declare what use(s) you would make of attribute information you receive.

[3.3] – Personally identifying information can be a wide variety of things, not merely a name or credit card number. All information other than large group identity, e.g. "member of community," should be protected while resident on your site.

[3.4] – Certain functional positions can have extraordinary privileges with respect to information on your systems. What oversight means are in place to ensure incumbents do not misuse such privileges?

[3.5] – Occasionally protections break down and information is compromised. Some states have laws requiring notification of affected individuals. What legal and/or institutional policies govern notification of individuals if information you hold is compromised?

[4.1] – Most InCommon Participants will use Internet2 Shibboleth technology but this is not required. It may be important for other participants to understand whether you are using other implementations of the technology standards.

[4.2] – As a Credential Provider, you may wish to place constraints on the kinds of applications that may make use of your assertions. As a Resource Provider, you make wish to make a statement about how User credentials must be managed. This question is completely open ended and for your use.

More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Department Information

Computing & Communications
Computing & Communications Bldg.

Tel: (951) 827-4741
Fax: (951) 827-4541
E-mail: helpdesk@ucr.edu

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