Anil John
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Anil John

The Zen of Identity Attributes

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Federating identities across information and security domains is not just a technical problem, and anyone who tells/sells you that it is, is not operating in a frame of reality that is conducive to success!

Please note that, for me, an implementation of an Identity Federation architecture takes into account both Authentication and Authorization as well as a host of other areas. As such I’ve always found it amusing to be informed (usually by a vendor) that this is a straight forward problem and that once I deploy [Insert technology / tool / product / magic pixie dust of choice here], we will have you “federating in no time”. Ha!

We have been wrestling with this and at one of our working meetings recently, one of my team-mates came up with the following representation to describe the challenges of reaching agreement on what information needs to flow across federation boundaries, and what needs to be in place to accomplish it. Based on the same principle as the Boy Scout’s triangle (heat, oxygen, fuel), you take away one side, and the entire Attribute Triangle (or as we call it, “Tom’s Triangle”, in honor of our team-mate who came up with it) collapses.

When you look at it, it seems so obvious and simplistic, but we have found value in thinking thinking about it in this manner. Organizational Policy determines the rules of the road. Those rules in turn are reflected in the choices of attributes and the agreements around their semantics. At the same time, you need to be assured that the agreed upon attributes are not things that you come up out of the blue but are instead drawn from trusted and authoritative sources in the Enterprise.

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This blog post first appeared on Anil John | Blog ( The opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer’s view in any way.

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