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Thingteraction: Identity and Devices

This week was the EMEA IRM Summit over in Dublin and whilst the Guinness was flowing there were a few things ticking over in my mind, especially after some of the great Internet of Things related talks and demo's we had.

The 'R' in Identity Relationship Management, is often now referring to the relationships between people and the things they either own, share or have access to: the IoT explosion.  People to people relationships are still a massive underpinning in the IoT world and the real person behind machine and device interaction is still a priority.  However, how can we start handling authentication and authorization services for devices?

I think there are several key high level points:

  • Identity Registration - the simple case of a person providing attribute values to a store.  The basic self-service form, or perhaps social media registration service.  A web service ultimately gets to know about a 'real' person.  Nothing too knew here.
  • Device Registration - Ok, so we know about the person, but now they've gone and bought a widget / pair of tech trainers / a 'wearable' / car / fridge... you get the picture.  Each of these 'smart' devices have the capability to be networked, are likely to contain a manufactured GUID and perhaps some data publishing or subscribing capabilities.  So how does the device register? And to what to do they register?  The device is going to need network and the ability to send a JSON object, or some other representation of itself, to a service that can capture that data. Perhaps the device identity data will need to be verified or reconciled to confirm that thing attempting registration is actually a real thing and not a fake.
  • Device to Identity Linking - so, now we have two identities if you like.  One is a set of attributes that map to a person, another set of attributes to a thing.  Certain attributes in each object are likely to have been verified to a certain degree of assurance.  Now we can start the 'R' bit - relationship building.  Here you're probably likely to have this as being person driven. The person being the device owner and wants to link / claim / show ownership of the device. Perhaps via a linking process, entering a code, the GUID or some other way to provide a) they're in possession of the thing and b) the thing is real.
  • Device Authentication - now comes a bit more magic.  We now want to start doing something with our devices.  Perhaps allowing them to capture and send data on our behalf. To do that, the device needs to authenticate to a service to prove that the device is real and has authority to act on our behalf.  So how does a thing authenticate?  Shared secrets and passwords are dead here. We're looking at crypto in some shape.  Perhaps JWT tokens, perhaps PKI in some shape, but something with big numbers that requires limited human involvement and limited computational power.
  • Device Data Sharing - Ok, so we've got a device, that is authenticated to something and perhaps is also acting either on the users behalf to a 3rd party service, or is at least capturing data that can be shared to a 3rd party service.  But can we share that data effectively in a transparent and simple way?  The likes of OAuth2 and the more recent UMA can help here. We want all of these 3rd parties, that we can't control or manage effectively to be able to either gain access to our data, data that the device has captured or perhaps even a level of access to the device itself.  This 3-way interaction requires simple registrations and authorization decisions to be made in a way that both the human and device can understand, easily revoke and sustain.
  • Multifaceted Relationships - the 'graph' in IRM.  Ah ha! But there is no graph.  Well there is, it just isn't defined yet.  The more relationships the individual has with their things, the more chance there will be requirements for relationships between things and certainly many-to-many relationships between other people and your device.  How can that be handled?

If you're building an IoT platform, there are certain basic identity relationship patterns that need to be implemented and the registration, linking and authN/authZ components are key.  You're certainly going to need the ability to register, store and reconcile data (provisioning), have the ability to authenticate (be that crypto, JWT or whatever...) (access management) and then provide OAuth2/UMA style token services (authorization management).  All of which is likely to be done in a REST style mash-up that can easily be spun up and torn down as and when new services are required.


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