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New Publications Describe Standards for Identity Credentials and Authentication Systems

Two publications from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) describe new capabilities for authentication systems using smart cards or other personal security devices within and outside federal government applications.

A report describes a NIST-led international standard, ISO/IEC 24727, which defines a general-purpose identity application programming interface (API). The other is a draft publication on refinements to the Personal Identity Verification (PIV) specification.

NIST is responsible for developing specifications for PIV cards required for the government under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. These smart cards have embedded chips that hold information and biometric data such as specific types of patterns in fingerprints called “minutiae” along with a unique identifying number. The goal is to develop methods that allow each worker to have a PIV card that works with PIV equipment at all government agencies and with all card-reader equipment regardless of the manufacturer.

Because there is growing interest in using secure identity credentials like PIV cards for multiple applications beyond the federal workplace, NIST provided its smart card research expertise in the development of an international standard—ISO/IEC 24727 – Identification cards – Integrated circuit card programming interfaces—that provides a set of authentication protocols and services common to identity management frameworks.

The new NIST report, Use of ISO/IEC 24727 is an introduction to that standard. It describes the standard’s general-purpose identity application programming interface, the “Service Access Layer Interface for Identity (SALII)”, which allows cards and readers to communicate and operate with applications seamlessly. The report also describes a proof-of-concept experiment demonstrating that existing PIV cards and readers can work interoperably with ISO/IEC 24727. The applications tested included logging on to Windows or Linux systems, signing and encrypting email, and performing Web authentications.

NIST Interagency Report 7611 Use of ISO/IEC 24727 may be downloaded at

NIST researchers also are involved in improving PIV components and providing guidelines that the private sector and municipalities can use with a similar smart ID card. They have drafted an update to an earlier publication that contains the technical specifications for interfacing with the PIV card to retrieve and use identity credentials.

Special Publication 800-73-3, Interfaces for Personal Identity Verification, provides specifications for PIV-Interoperable and PIV-Compatible cards issued by non-federal issuers, which may be used with the federal PIV system. It also provides specifications designed to ease implementation, facilitate interoperability and ensure performance of PIV applications in the federal workplace. The new publication specifies a PIV data model, card edge interface and application programming interface. The report also provides editorial changes to clarify information in the earlier version. (For background, see “Updated Specification Issued for PIV Card Implementations,” NIST Tech Beat, Oct. 14, 2008.)

The draft version of NIST SP 800-73-3 is open for public comment through Sept. 13, 2009. The document is available online at Comments should be addressed to with “Comments on Public Draft SP 800-73-3” in the subject line.

Evelyn Brown | Newswise Science News
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