What are FICAM Technical Profiles and Identity Schemes?

A critical technology underpinning of the FICAM Trust Framework Solutions process is the need to enable the ability of the federal government to utilize industry standards. This blog post provides an overview of the FICAM protocol profiling work that enables the federal government to utilize industry standards in a secure and interoperable manner.

As anyone who has been involved in technical protocol standards development will know, a finalized standard is often a compromise. In particular there is a great tension around the need to provide flexibility and extensibility, security and privacy, and interoperability in the standards development process. The result often ends up being a standards document that provides multiple ways of accomplishing the same thing, all of which are "compliant" to the standard but often may not be interoperable.

FICAM Profiles and SchemesFor the federal government to utilize industry standards, they need to be widely deployed by multiple vendors, interoperable, and meet the security and privacy policy requirements articulated by authoritative federal government bodies such as OMB, NIST, CIO Council etc.

This requires the standard to undergo a "Profiling" process that:

  • DOES NOT change the standard in any way
  • DOES take into consideration security requirements of the federal government
  • DOES take into consideration privacy requirements of the federal government
  • Locks down the MUSTs, SHOULDs, SHOULD NOTs etc. in the specification language so that there is assured interoperability between profile implementations
  • Results in a "Test-able" product

When this process was initially envisioned, we were very much focused on authentication.  As such, the end result of the profiling process was the development of "portable identity schemes" which enabled the use of identity federation protocols to convey information for the purpose of authentication.

The "FICAM Profile of SAML 2.0 for Web SSO (PDF)" and the "FICAM OpenID 2.0 Profile (PDF)" are clear examples of portable identity schemes that incorporate standards profiling. We will continue to utilize identity schemes as an item that an identity provider needs to implement in order to interoperate securely with a federal government relying party (service provider).

As our requirements have grown, we have found it necessary to expand beyond authentication to areas such as attribute exchange, authorization and more. Profiles such as the "SAML 2.0 Identifier and Protocol Profiles for BAE v2.0 (PDF)" and "SAML 2.0 Metadata Profile for BAE v2.0" stand on their own and are not authentication related.

We expect this to continue and expand in the future.

As an example, the currently underway work on the "FICAM Profile of OAUTH 2" is not an identity scheme, given that OAUTH 2 requires an additional authentication layer to convey identity information. Once the OAUTH 2 profiling is complete, we will be working to identify and profile the pieces that make up that additional identity layer. The combination may result in a FICAM approved portable identity scheme that utilizes OAUTH 2.

In short, going forward we expect to continue our work to profile protocol standards such that they are usable by themselves, as well as use profiles as building blocks to enable portable identity schemes.


:- by Anil John