Technologies to Support Authentication in Higher Education: A Study for the UK Joint Information Systems Committee, August 21th, 1996

A Young, P Kirstein, A Ibbetson

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    This report provides a short and limited study, commissioned by JISC, of the technologies available to support authentication, reviews the needs expressed by a set of people contacted for the study, and provides the beginnings of a road-map on how a National system might be established.

    First a brief overview of the fundamentals of Security technology is provided. As part of the study, we were asked to consult a number of people - particularly from the set of those supported under the JISC Electronic Library initiative. These were supplemented by some people at UKERNA and in Information Services departments in the universities. We present our impressions of the requirements envisioned by the people consulted, and their proposed solutions; with very few exceptions, the needs expressed were very limited, and the solutions limited to specific applications. This reflects, we believe, more the selection of the people consulted, than the true needs of the area. It was also coloured, in our view, by the fact that there was no indication that any finance for a wider initiative might be available.

    A more detailed review of the current methods of authentication, the needs and the status of different applications follows. This includes a brief discussion about the Standards being developed in the Internet Engineering Task Force in conjunction with the wider deployment of the Internet and the status of infrastructure standardisation and deployment. We consider also a number of applications: electronic mail, the World Wide Web, remote log-in, document security, multimedia conferencing, directories, general network facilities and electronic commerce. A brief discussion of a number of ancillary technical and legal issues follow: this includes smart-cards, directory systems and key escrow. The existence of legal considerations is indicated, but little argument is developed other than the appending of proposed Government legislation.

    As a final section, we start on a Road Map of how we might proceed to a National authentication infrastructure for Higher Education. We believe that such a system should be distributed in nature, and could well leverage on the investment already made in an X.500 distributed directory system. It is clear that the current technology would need considerable updating; much broader involvement must be achieved from other sectors of the universities for such an initiative to have broad impact. We mention some of the measures that should be undertaken to enable a successful broader applicability. Based on the existence of a National directory system, we then propose a National authentication infrastructure by proposing a system of Certification Authorities, distributed registration and update, and the retention of the certificates in the National directory system. We propose that existing projects in secure E-mail and electronic libraries be asked how they might be modified if such an infrastructure was developed.

    A substantial distributed infrastructure for authentication could have implication well beyond the university sector. For this reason, it may be possible to co-fund the development and many of the earlier trials from sources outside JISC. We propose that we explore avenues of co-funding both from the British Foresight Programme and from the European Union Telematics programme.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationBath
    PublisherUKOLN, University of Bath
    Commissioning bodyJISC
    Number of pages61
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 1996

    Bibliographical note

    Study commissioned by JISC and originally published by UKOLN on the eLib Programme website:


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