European Research Consortium to Pilot Digital Privacy Solutions at University and Secondary School

This year, the 28th January was designated “Data Privacy Day”. So it was fitting that a major research initiative was announced to pilot cryptographic technologies that enable European citizens to better protect their privacy and identities. The project, called ABC4Trust, uses privacy-enabling technology that will be piloted at a university in Greece and a secondary school in Sweden.

According to comScore, European and United States citizens spend a monthly average of 25-32 hours surfing the Internet. During this time they access thousands of different Internet services, such as online banking, e-shopping, and social networks. For virtually every service, users have to create a personal user profile and get access to the service after a login via username and password, – or for stronger security – via cryptographic certificates. Although such certificates can offer sufficient security for many purposes, they do not typically provide any level of privacy for the user. Therefore, users often reveal their identity and personal data to the service provider even though it is not necessary for the service to know the identity of the acting user.

“Revealing more information than necessary not only harms users’ privacy but also increases the risk of abuse of information such as identity fraud when personal information falls in the wrong hands. The goal of ABC4Trust is to show that systems of Attribute-Based Credentials can support both secure authentication as well as privacy, for example, in mobile communities. This directly supports the European Union’s Digital Agenda,” states Prof. Dr. Kai Rannenberg of the T-Mobile Chair of Mobile Business & Multilateral Security at Goethe University Frankfurt who coordinates the new initiative.

The four-year project will test privacy-preserving Attribute-Based Credentials (ABC) that allow the user to prove just the required information, without giving away a full identity. For example, instead of sharing the exact birthday or address by providing a copy of an identification card users only prove that they are over 18 years of age, a student of a university or a citizen of a specific municipality, state or country. The ABC system will make use of IBM’s Identity Mixer and Microsoft’s U-Prove technologies.

“With technologies like Identity Mixer, we provide the technical capabilities to bring not only strong security to Internet services, but – at the same time – also better privacy,” states Dr. Jan Camenisch, privacy technology scientist at IBM Research – Zurich. “Making use of more than ten years of research and development, we are now going to deploy these solutions in practice and address usability and interoperability.”

“Minimal disclosure technologies, such as U-Prove and Identity Mixer, provide important building blocks for the realization of a sustainable Identity Metasystem,” says Kim Cameron, Microsoft Chief Architect of Identity. “The ABC4Trust project will be a great forum for various stakeholders to address the problem of privacy for a safer, more trusted Internet.”

“With our Identity Management (IDM) solution, communication service providers are in a very good position to act as identity brokers for their customers, protecting the personal data of the users on one side and enabling more relevant, personalized services and a better customer experience on the other,” states Robert Seidl, responsible for IDM research at Nokia Siemens Networks.With ABC4Trust, two great privacy-respecting technologies from IBM and Microsoft will be truly interoperable with the help of Nokia Siemens Networks’ IDM Solution being the party that integrates with both.”

The first pilot application will be implemented at Norrtullskolan, a secondary school in Soderhamn, Sweden. The pilot will deploy the ABC system to allow pupils and parents to securely authenticate themselves towards services offered by the school such as communicating with the school’s medical and social counselors as well as accessing a social network limited to a specific group of pupils while preserving their privacy.

The second pilot, conducted at the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute in Patras, Greece, will enable students to poll and rank the courses they took and the respective lecturers. While course evaluations have become standard practice at most universities, they are typically either conducted without the use of computers or by independent third parties to protect the students’ privacy. The ABC system will allow limiting the rating process to students that have participated in a lecture without revealing the identity of the students. Beyond this example, the pilot also demonstrates a solution to maintain accuracy and credibility in computer-supported polls, for instance in marketing surveys, while still providing the necessary privacy.

In both pilots ABC4Trust will allow each education facility to issue credentials to its users, including pupils, parents and students, enabling them to, prove that they have attended a certain class, are members of a specific group such as a sports team, or have a given sex or age. Stored on a smartcard or mobile phone, users may use these digital credentials to authenticate towards services. At the Patras pilot, the university will be able to run its own computerized feedback system and students can take comfort in knowing that ABC4Trust is protecting their identity.

As electronic personal identification cards and electronic driving licenses are becoming more widespread for identification, authentication, and payment in a broad range of applications, the users’ privacy will become an even greater challenge. Privacy technologies, such as the ones piloted in ABC4Trust, will be necessary to build sustainable privacy solutions into these systems and realize their benefits for tomorrow’s information society.

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