BYOI (Bring Your Own Identity): The Unicorn revealed aka the Catch-22 rule

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 LinkedIn 0 Buffer 0 Email -- 0 Flares ×

BYOI is a series I’ve decided to create to “talk” about #identitymanagement so it is about #security, #governance, #management and many other aspects of the #IAM realm.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. (p. 56, ch. 5)

From the book “Catch-22” – Joseph Heller

On What is an ID

Who are you? seems a silly question isn’t it, what it means after all “who am I ? “ but please give me credit on this and let me extend a little bit the question; so it is clear to everybody who we are, we are humans, men, women, single, married, divorced, employed,etc.. we are what we are based on a multiple set of experiences,errors,wrong&right decisions and so on. Yes we are complex and unique even if we are made of the same material or in other terms:

Humans are characterized by having a large brain relative to body size, with a particularly well developed neocortex, prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes, making them capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, problem solving andculture through social learning. This mental capability, combined with an adaptation to bipedal locomotion that frees the hands for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other living species on Earth. Humans are the only extant species known to build fires and cook their food, as well as the only known species to clothe themselves and create and use numerous other technologies and arts.

wikipedia definition of “human”

So and ID (identity) is the way we are recognized by others contextualizing the “momentum” .


you don’t identify in your dog/cat or any other animal/object (well except your computer but that’s another story…) because they are not “like you”. You identify and get along well with others who got other IDentifiable  signals like being an adult or listen the same music or hanging out at the same places, all these are form of IDentification.

PhysicalID =I am who I am because of the sum of things I do,say,live,share, etc..

We can so say that a physical ID is the result of what you do,think, are, but we live in a digital era don’t we?  Most of us were born in an era where computers where quite different from now and where Internet didn’t exist  as we know it (and not only that for the humoristic side click here )so our “digitalID” was basically a converged model to our Physical ID, but what about today?.

A digital ID is defined as:

Digital identity is a psychological identity that prevails in the domains of cyberspace, and is defined as a set of data that uniquely describes a person or a thing (sometimes referred to as subject or entity) and contains information about the subject’s relationships to other entities.

wikipedia on “digital identity”

Based on this statement the “convergence” between me as physiscalID (pId) and me  as digitalID (dID) should stay in place if only:

  • If only I had a single dID and this could be associated in a uniquely way to my pID
  • if only my multiple dID are related/correlated to me in a public and identifiable way
  • if only  my dID  could be seen/perceived as part of a uniuqe (bigger and complex) dID directly related to my  pID

Somehow all these “if” are true and somehow are false.


Are TRUE because it’s always me no matter if the dID I’m creating/using is job or personal related and are FALSE because, as we all knows, the (as example) twitter account you create do not ask for a pID certification/attestation if you’re not a “public” V.I.P. and so there is no correlation between “that kind” of  dID  and you as  pID.

The authentication process

We defined what is and ID and we are now aware of the difference between a pID  and a dID, we also see, so far, that a pID is a sum of dID but that not “all the” dID could be related or are significant to our dID.

The challenge of a world “full” of dID is to provide a certain level of security/protection that could help an entity (enT) to identify the actor who is asking “permission to enter/use” its informations (in the form of applications,infrastucture,data).

Let’s come back to our pID and consider a “usual”activity we (most of us) do every morning: driving our cars.


As a pID it is quite obvious I know which “application” I need (the car) when I start the process but this do not mitigate the risk that someone else could try to use the same “application”instead of me.

When I press the button on the remote control who disable the alarm I am authenticating myself already (first auth level). What I’m doing is to present my pID as the “owner"” of a specific information that only me and the device/application/system know and allow me to proceed to the next auth level.

It is quite known that a simple frequency “sniffer” could replicate the signal and disable the alarm.

When I press the “second” button I open the “doors” and get into the “application”, this allow me to present myself ready to pass the final auth systems. I insert the key knowing that (or supposing that) only this particular “token” can start the engine.

Like the frequency “cloner” even the key could be cloned or at least there are other ways of start the engine of a car.

That said what we have here is an identification process where through a  multiple authentication system I am able to access to the data I want through the chosen application. Simple and effective isn’t it?

But when it comes to my dID?

  • First of all the authentication system is related to every single application/infrastructure and so could vary from one to another.
  • Second the authentication system could or could NOT try to correlate itself with another dID or even more to your pID.

and it is even worse because of the proliferation of multiple dID we started to “federate” the systems.

It’ s a bit like to say that the “key” that disable the alarm and start the engine of the car is only the “common/social” system used by all the car owners. It’ s similar to all the car model owners but it’s uniquely related to my  pID anyway to drive the car I need another “key” who may identify me as “driver”  and it’s my driver license.

To add more complexity the driver license not only identify with my local “organization” but could be used as unique ID with other foreign “organizations” .

The license ID is a FederatedID (fID) and it is a dID that could be related uniquely to a set of dID who “should” lead to a pID.

The Risk of not knowing

The unicorn start to appear isn’t it? The fact that me is in some case could be “federated” and related to my pID and in other cases could not (because of the personal use I do of that specific dID) makes difficult the use of a so-called “social” dID in a corporate ecosystem but in spite of everything we see a growing trend in this kind of auth/identification methodology.

Let me come back to the “driver” example, so you got the keys, the driver license and, supposedly, you’re able to drive but what do you still miss? Can’t speak for every country but for sure in Italy to drive a car you must apply for a  form of assurance that cover at least damages suffered or inflicted. What is an assurance? it’s an elementary for of risk management where with the term “risk management” we mean:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precaution
  4. Record your findings and implement them
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary

and it’s applicable to the pID and the car example because the perimeter is well known and even the potential threats. It’s the result of many years of analysis on what may happen or not but our “unicorn” live in the digital era and here to work should  know:

  • the potential threat based on a perfectly implemented security management of the multiple dID
  • the correlation between the multiple dID the user have in control even those that are not directly related to the corporate dID
  • the entire stack of security controls made by every single provider of dID involved in the process and how this is able to react to a threat.

If the last one is probably the most easier to find out it depends on who is expected to place in act this control (see my previous post).

In other terms there is not a real risk management when it comes to multiple federated dID because of the lack of knowledge in terms of : experience, number of threats,regulation,technology used.

What we may do (the unicorn) is to learn from our errors and try to develop a better model.

The Catch-22

So  if we try to recap we are saying:

    • The only way to avoid complexity in an multiple complex ecosystems “game” is to introduce a form of federation
    • To provide an acceptable level of security this form of federation must not expose information’s if not those that are relevant to guarantee the ability to authenticate the dID
    • The risk management should be able to guarantee that the federated systems is “threat-proven” or that could react to any threat even to those so-called  “unknown” .
    • The risk management do not know if can guarantee the last point because of its lack of knowledge on the “new” model
    • The Federated login have consequentially potential security breaches because of the lack of information’s that the the risk management entity can provide to the pID that will use the dID authentication/identification system.
    • The simplification of the complex ecosystems can lead to unknown results
    • Without the simplification of the auth/ID ecosystems users (pID) would not be able to work in a profitable way  (see consumerizations, mobility, cloud, etc..)

or in a simpler formula:

I cannot avoid the use of a social federate ID to sign-in into the corporate data but I would be crazy to allow to use this system because of the lack of #security #habits of the users in terms of managing the “public” dID against the way they “use” their “corporate” dID. It’s a catch-22 because if I (as corporate) do not use a federated sign-in systems I do not enable the user to work as they are asking me but if I do I am expose myself consciously.

The unicorn is far from be solved but it is at least revealed and by now is a lovely catch-22 rule.