EIC 2008: Takeaways from Europe's biggest <i>identity</i> event

Bill Nagel

Several weeks on and I'm still digesting the massive amount of information and insight from the second European identity conference in Munich, organized by Kuppinger Cole. Five days chock-full of content (7 am to 7 pm every day!), 50 exhibitors, 130 speakers, four workshop tracks, five theme tracks, and 25 best-practice sessions. Hundreds of delegates showed up from all over, even though Infosecurity 2008 was raging in London the same week. EIC 2008 was a superbly run event, with the seemingly inexhaustible Martin Kuppinger at the center of the storm.

It's difficult to sum up the content: Internet-scale identity, identity-driven security, federation, single sign-on (SSO), provisioning, context-based authentication, mobile and user-centric identity, SOA, entitlement management, and information risk management all commanded their own tracks. But some unifying themes emerged, chief among them that well-planned and -implemented identity and access management (IAM) is increasingly a must-have if we want to have effective information security, information risk management, and even GRC in today's and tomorrow's enterprises. 2008 may not be the tipping point for IAM, but we're getting close. A few highlights:

  • It seemed that every third presentation contained the words "Société Générale" or "Jérôme Kerviel". Nothing like an(other) egregious breach of policy, procedure, and trust to concentrate the mind! Suddenly everyone is rediscovering the Barings debacle of a decade ago and recalling the name "Nick Leeson" — and realizing that, while we have made great technological strides in the past decade, all too often the people and process elements get short shrift. (If the control framework breaks down, it matters little what tech was used to enact it...). So while there was plenty of forward-looking technology-centric discussion, the thread of policy and process ran through every conversation — there was even an entire track session devoted to avoiding internal fraud via rogue trading and the changing threat landscape.
  • A lot of the Identity 2.0 discussion was still quite fuzzy. There was little agreement on what mobile identity really means and how companies offering consumer services can provide it to customers, and what the role of mobile operators (who at the moment look like the weak link in the security chain) might ultimately be. User-centric identity is a great idea, but needs to be implemented in a way that gives users meaningful control over their identities and associated credentials in a way that doesn't also shift all of the liability for financial fraud (identity abuse) from institutions to individuals. This has significant implications for things like mobile commerce.
  • There was a great physical/logical convergence case study from City College Coventry (UK), which is providing converged smart-card credentials to more than 10,000 students and staff. The card will function as an ID badge across the College, parking pass, building pass, cashless payment card, library card, etc. It will also be required to use any computer, printer, or photocopier connected to the College's network, and will allow lecturers secure access to classroom resources. The College does have the luxury of setting up this system in the context of moving to brand-new facilities, but it shows that if the IT and physical security folks can agree to pull in the same direction, convergence is a wholly attainable goal.
  • Results of an enterprise IAM study were presented; one of the most troubling findings was that half of the respondents reported that their biggest obstacle to implementing IAM was that the business was just not ready for it. User management is often in place, but downstream functions like auditing and monitoring are still far from mature in a holistic IAM context. Firms also report big gaps between expected and actual benefits from implementing IAM. That last bit is one reason we advise not trying to do it all at once; rather, break a planned IAM implementation into manageable project chunks, focusing on one set of short-term, tangible, demonstrable benefits at a time.

One panelist put it best: Technology maturity and integration are all well and good, but we need workflow integration and organizational maturity. The need to implement IAM provides an opportunity to share information, define new policies and processes, and streamline existing ones. The CEO and CIO/CSO/CISO need to sit at the same table, commit to eliminating organizational silos, and devise a cooperative approach.