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Schmidt Touts Choices in National Identity Ecosystem

White House cybersecurity czar Howard Schmidt, Photo: whitehouse.gov

Hot on the heels of the announcement of an Identity Ecosystem — a national strategy for secure online identity solutions, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt is talking details of the plan.

Schmidt, who is noted for relative reclusiveness when it comes to speaking to the media, sat down for an interview with online business journalist Herb Weisbaum, known as ConsumerMan, on the Internet’s “trust issues,” the role of the private sector and the technology behind secure identities.

Online trust is a two-way street, Schmidt suggested.

“Trust has always been a challenge because as we know, someone can put up a website in a relatively short period of time that looks very, very legitimate and can be used to harvest credit card numbers from consumers,” he explained. “By the same token, small businesses don’t always know exactly who they’re dealing with and they become the victims of fraud.”

As for the “heavy lifting” in terms of who will take the lead in building solutions, Schmidt said the private sector will spearhead efforts at creating many different ways to authenticate themselves online.

“You can have a fob (a security token), you can have a smart card or you could have an application on a mobile device,” he explained. And, for some “it may be as easy as having a certificate on their system that allows that system to talk reliably with the e-commerce sites they’re going to.”

Schmidt deflected any hint that the Identity Ecosystem would amount to a national ID card or other surreptitious surveillance technique.

“It’s a matter of letting the private sector, through the normal course of doing business, give people choices, including multiple choices,” he said.

And one size does definitely not fit all.

“If I want an identity to deal with my bank, that is something that requires a higher level of validation,” he added. “But if I want nothing at all, so I can blog about things on the Internet, I also have the ability to do that.”

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