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Identity assurance is the ability of an online organization or service to determine that the electronic credential you are presenting to begin a transaction or log in to the service actually belongs to you. Assurance levels (ALs) speak to the varying degrees of trust given to specific credentials depending on the authorization process, associated technology and stated policy.
Identity assurance gives service providers and organizations confidence that you are the person attached to your identity credentials. Identity assurance relates to the concept of “degree of certainty.” There are four different levels of assurance (LOAs) detailed by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):
These four levels have been subsequently implemented by Canada and the U.K. for government services.
SureID®, the leading provider of identity assurance, is an approved LOA-4 issuer of Personal Identity Verification-Interoperable (PIV-I) credentials. PIV-I is the federal government’s most rigorous protocol for commercial high-assurance credentials, and allows a single credential to be interoperable across multiple federal government agencies. SureID is also cross-certified to the Federal Bridge as a LOA4 provider, earning the company the highest level of assurance rating possible.
Having different levels of identity assurance provides the option of higher security depending on the situation. Many online transactions are initiated with a basic email address and password. At the same time, third parties issuing a credential to you prefer to use additional means of authentication such as:
Identity providers and services are found in many forms including:
The benefits of higher identity assurance are that it makes it harder for bad actors, hackers and thieves to access your vital data.
You need identity assurance in situations where the data and information require corollary security protocols to be protected. For some, financial and banking data may need a higher assurance level than a gaming site, for example.
At the same time, consumers tend to use the same email addresses and passwords on every service, so if a criminal can determine the password used on one service, it's much easier for them to access others. For this reason, it's important to use the highest assurance level possible for the service being accessed. For example, online SaaS providers like Evernote, Google, Microsoft and others encourage consumers to use two-step verification to provide a higher assurance level than a simple email address and password can give you.
When assessing system vulnerabilities, unapproved third parties represent a significant threat. Having sufficient levels of identity assurance offers effective ways to counter threats from unknown sources.