GCN INTERVIEW—Gary Gordon

CAIMR takes on the many facets of identity management

Gary Gordon, the center's executive director, discusses the challenges in managing online identities

Gary Gordon, executive director of the Center for Applied Identity Management Research, was a professor of economic crime programs at Utica College in 1988 when he developed the country’s first undergraduate major in economic crime investigation and helped found the Economic Crime Institute. In 2006, he co-founded the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection. He had previously founded the International Journal of Digital Evidence and co-founded the Journal of Economic Crime Management.

He has been a senior research consultant at LexisNexis since 2002 and holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University.

GCN: What is the Center for Applied Identity Management Research?

GORDON: CAIMR is a nonprofit public/private partnership whose mission is conducting actionable research in identity management. We have two academic partners who are our co-hosts, Indiana University and the University of Texas at Austin. CAIMR is based on a six-step model to tap into the expertise of our membership. The steps start with convening identity management thought leaders from all sectors of society to identify the core challenges and using that to define an applied research agenda. From that, specific projects will be chosen. Because of the trusted public/private partnership, we believe we can gain access to data that would otherwise not be available to academics. The fourth step is to conduct the research and then to discuss the findings and use the partners to disseminate that information.

Who makes up the membership?

It is a partnership of government, corporate and academic organizations with specific interests in identity management. We are actively recruiting new members to fill gaps where we don’t have representation. In the last few months, we’ve added several new partners. Our newest government partner is the Veterans Affairs Department. In the academic community, we have added the University of Tulsa and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, both of which have specific research agendas that add to the expertise of CAIMR.

So government agencies are actively involved?

Yes. Right now, we have four agencies who are actively involved with CAIMR. We have the Defense Department; in the law enforcement community, we have the Secret Service and the Marshals Service; and, as I mentioned, the Veterans Affairs Department. We are in the process of talking to several other agencies that have significant interests in identity management.

Why is online or electronic identity management such a difficult issue?

There are a number of problem areas that we face in identifying people in a digital world as opposed to the physical world. People have multiple digital identities. Most people don’t have strong passwords, and they don’t keep their information safe. They are dealing with multiple systems that are all different in terms of how people have to log on. The infrastructure itself is relatively insecure. And we certainly have a lot of information leaked out there, so it is difficult to use this information for authentication purposes.

What are the key challenges CAIMR is addressing?

CAIMR held a workshop last year to look at some of the key issues: information use, information sharing, and policy and privacy issues. We took a broad sweep initially, and we are in the process now of defining that in a much more granular perspective. Early this summer, we began the Identity Management Dynamic Risk Assessment project, which looks at the current and near future threats in identity management, what capabilities exist to mitigate those threats, and what are the needed capabilities to address threats not covered presently. We are going to have a second meeting in November to review that material and home in on a very specific research agenda.

CAIMR chairman Norm Willox said last year that the intent of the organization was to produce results quickly rather than spend years studying problems. Have you achieved this?

I believe we are on the right course. Forming an organization and bringing together the partners has consumed some of our time. We did hold an identity management summit in May of this year at the University of Texas at Austin to bring the interested parties together to begin to address the challenges. We realized what we needed to do was begin to be more focused, and that is where the risk assessment project came from because there is no real road map at this point. That is what we are attempting to do with this project.

What have you accomplished so far?

We are using sophisticated software developed at the University of Texas at Austin to model and link the information around identity management. Our members are providing input into this system in terms of reports, white papers and internal documents, so that we can begin to gain a perspective on identity management. That first cut at this will be accomplished at the end of October and utilized in the workshop in early November to direct where we will go in the next year.

Moving forward, our immediate goals are to define a specific research agenda and target specific areas to develop research projects over the next couple of quarters.

Is identity management better today than it was a year ago?

There are a number of indicators that would lead me to say things are better. First of all, the issue has been raised at that national level. That was done in the Hathaway report. And initially, there was a great deal of optimism that this would have a significant impact on identity problems. Unfortunately this appears to have slowed, as have many other issues at the national level beyond health care. But there are a number of groups working on specific parts of the identity management problem, and there appears to be more organizations developing identity management practices. Many are focused on the solution space, and some others are now looking at policy and privacy.

What we don’t know, and what we believe the CAIMR project will begin to answer, is how well the solutions map to the threat, and what needs to be done. There is also more discussion on research and development in this space than there has been previously.

How is government benefiting from CAIMR?

It is twofold. In terms of interacting with our corporate partners, there has been considerable discussion on information use. The corporate world has focused a lot on certain areas of information use I think the government can benefit from. One of the other areas is that identity management involves large volumes of data, and the corporate world has had a lot of experience in that, and this kind of information would be very useful to the government. Also, they are learning how other entities are handling the identity management challenge. That is a benefit that has been pointed out to me by our government partners: having the opportunity to talk to organizations about identity management problems.

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