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Building a modern shared authentication platform

A conceptual diagram showing a user using a single token to authenticate with several .gov domains

A shared login platform creates easier and more secure transactions for the public

Last week, GSA launched a new, permanent home for 18F — the Technology Transformation Service, whose mission is to improve the public’s experience with the American government by helping federal agencies build, buy, and share technology. One of the new organization’s first undertakings is to tackle the inconsistent, difficult experience that the public has logging in and proving their identity when interacting with the government online. Spearheaded by 18F, this effort to create a seamless, secure, and user-friendly “lock” to the government’s digital services is the critical next step in the government’s movement to go digital.

To that end, 18F is working iteratively with a team of technologists from across the government to build a platform for users who need to log in to government services. We’re also coordinating with the Federal Acquisition Service, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology on the specifics of the platform. This platform is part of a government-wide initiative stemming from a White House plan to improve the public’s online safety and security.

There are many important services people want the federal government to provide online — from accessing Social Security benefits to working through the immigration process. Every consumer-facing service the government offers will benefit from this platform, enhancing the privacy and security of online interactions for the public and for agencies.

In addition to making logging in to government sites easier, the public will also benefit from a more streamlined and efficient interaction with the federal government in general. This system is designed to be your one account for government, giving you control over how you want to interact with agencies, and breaking down critical barriers between participating agencies, if you so choose. The end goal is a drastic reduction in both the time it takes to accomplish certain tasks and a significant reduction in the amount of paperwork or forms that need to be submitted. Our early research shows that this will enhance access for all parts of the American public — from the elderly and disabled who may not be able to leave their residence, to all types of people with limited access to transportation or technology.

Because we want to build what people need while also increasing the public’s confidence in the government, this new platform will focus on creating a user experience that is painless and intuitive, thus lowering any barriers to entry for people who depend on access to their online information without compromising security. Further, this project builds off of the hard work that was already done to create and implement connect.gov, a project with similar goals. The groundwork laid by the connect.gov pilot will help us ensure that this product can be adopted successfully by a number of agencies across government.

To build this login platform, we’re using modern, user-friendly, strong authentication and effective identity proofing technology. This new platform will leverage the extensive lessons we’ve gained from agency efforts in the past, including lessons learned from our counterparts in the UK who built GOV.UK Verify. More specifically, we will accomplish our goals by:

  • Creating a simple, elegant way for the public to verify their identity, log in to federal government websites, and, if necessary, recover their account
  • Building experiences, processes, and infrastructure that will use the latest available technology to safeguard all user data
  • Delivering software that will allow government developers to integrate it within hours rather than weeks
  • Leveraging private sector innovation and capabilities wherever possible
  • Preserving privacy by mitigating privacy risks and adhering to all federal privacy guidelines

President Obama’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan calls for, among other things, an initiative to empower Americans to secure their online accounts by shifting from just passwords to easy-to-use multi-factor authentication so they can further safeguard their personal data in online transactions. This new platform directly aligns with these critical cybersecurity priorities.

These are critically important goals, and we’re blending a top-notch team of technologists from across the country to deliver this platform using agile development and user-centered design. We’re looking at each and every technology component and deciding what to build, what to buy, and what to leverage from the open source community based on what’s going to give us the best possible outcome for the public.

What’s next

We’ll regularly share our progress with the public and the industry community through our blog and other channels. We will be looking for feedback to ensure we capture and incorporate the best ideas to deliver the best solution.

If you’re interested in helping us deliver this platform for millions of Americans, we would love to talk to you! Please look for our upcoming communications for ways you can engage with us.

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