By Mark Golaszewski, FirstNet Director of Applications
In an increasingly mobile and networked world, users of wireless communications expect real-time access to services and applications. Having access to what they need, when they need it, is essential to the user experience and consumer satisfaction with wireless services. A network that provides such access must have the capability to authenticate user identities in order to authorize the services and applications for use.
This issue is magnified for the nation’s first responders who often require immediate access to networks for communications and information sharing. Identity, Credential, and Access Management (ICAM) refers to the technology and governance of providing access to a network. Through ICAM, first responders are “identity proofed” by their local agencies and issued credentials that verify their identity and provide access to the resources they need.
ICAM is an important consideration in FirstNet’s planning for a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). FirstNet will need to address a number of challenges to support ICAM that are unique from those faced by commercial providers. For instance, first responders use devices that may be shared by multiple users who work different shifts, or in cases of mutual aid while responding to an incident. As such, in addition to recognizing the device, the NPSBN will be required to verify the identity of the user of that device in order to deliver authorized services.
Furthermore, given that public safety agencies locally control identity and credential management, FirstNet will need to consider ICAM for a diverse set of tens of thousands of public safety agencies. Additionally, access to applications, and the priority of those applications, can be highly dynamic based upon the role of the user and the user’s involvement in an incident. For these and other reasons, ICAM is critical for innovative and cost-effective solutions.
In October 2014, an ICAM National Strategy Summit (Summit) brought together leaders from the public safety community with ICAM subject matter experts from industry, academia, and government. The Summit was co-sponsored by the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Science & Technology Directorate, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). While challenges with ICAM can be prevalent in any cross-organizational or mass market information sharing environment, the Summit focused on the challenges expected to be faced by FirstNet as a model that could be leveraged by other commercial and governmental networks.
The final report from the Summit was recently released with ten recommended principles for FirstNet to consider as it develops its ICAM strategy. Key principles include the creation of a federated ICAM strategy, the modularization and layering of policies, ease of use for first responders, and the importance of consistent governance processes across diverse organizations. In addition, the final report recommends six follow-up actions to facilitate FirstNet’s ICAM strategy, including recommendations to develop an ICAM roadmap, clearly articulate FirstNet’s access requirements, and test potential ICAM solutions with early builders.
The Summit provided an opportunity for FirstNet to hear from many experts on ICAM challenges at federal, tribal, regional, state/territory, and local levels. In particular, FirstNet would like to thank Summit co-chairs Mr. Kshemendra Paul, Program Manager for the ISE, Mr. Daniel Cotter, Director, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, DHS, and Chief Harlin R. McEwen, Chairman, Communications and Technology Committee, IACP. FirstNet looks forward to leveraging the results of the ICAM Strategy Summit as it creates, and ultimately delivers, solutions to ensure access to the nationwide public safety broadband network for those who need it.