Suppose you have your own website, for instance of a webshop or of a service provider, and you would like to know something more about your users. This “something” can be an email address or a (mobile) phone number, or a home address, or a minimum age, or a membership number. IRMA provides a mechanism that allows users to prove to you in a reliable manner what these personal attributes are.
The Privacy by Design foundation has developed IRMA software that allows you to verify such attributes. This software is open source and is freely available. In principle, the only thing that you have to do to start using IRMA is to integrate this software into your own webpage.
In practice, a bit more is required. Below, several topics are discussed which are directly relevant for verification of IRMA attributes. General explanations about how IRMA works can be found elsewhere.
- Which attributes of my users can I verify?
- How do I integrate IRMA software in my webpage?
- Can I also issue attributes myself to my customers?
- What are the costs of using IRMA?
- What level of certainty does IRMA provide?
- Is the foundation certified? Which guarantees exist?
Below, these questions will be answered one by one.
In principle you can choose yourself which attributes you wish to verify in order to authenticate a user. A practical requirement is that users must be able to somehow obtain the attributes that you want to verify. The Privacy by Design Foundation offers IRMA users, after registration, the possibility to load a number of attributes into their IRMA app — see the issuance webpage. Subsequently, you can verify these attributes.
It is expected that the range of attributes will grow in the future. Other parties than the foundation can issue attributes as well. Maybe you yourself, see below.
In the current initial phase, only relatively simple, general attributes are available, like name, email address, phone number, home address, age limits (below 16, or 18, or 65), or student. This can already be very useful in many situations, for instance in order to give discounts to special groups of users (students, the elderly), and bind them to you in this manner. But this can also be useful to obtain certainty about an address for delivery.
In case you would like to verify an attribute that a particular user does not possess — or that has expired — you can redirect this user to a website where the attribute is available. After loading the relevant attribute, the user can authenticate at your website.
It is up to you to ask for all sorts of attributes from your users. But please be careful: upon logging into your website with IRMA, your customers must explicitly agree to reveal these attributes to you. When you ask too many, non-relevant or non-necessary, attributes, you may scare away (potential) customers. An important idea underlying IRMA is that only strictly necessary attributes should be requested at login. European privacy laws require data minimization and purpose binding, so that you are allowed to process only those personal data of your customers that are strictly necessary for the service that you offer.
All software for verification of IRMA attributes is open source and freely available to everyone. There are several ways to deploy this software.
If you have ICT skills yourself, or have people with such skills in your organization, you can install the software on your own computers and integrate it in your web-pages.
If your website has been built and is operated by an external company, you can ask this company to do the integration for you.
Possibly, commercial parties will emerge that will offer verification of IRMA attributes as a service.
In particular, existing Payment Service Providers may start offering such attribute verification services, together with their existing payment processing services.
The Privacy by Design foundation will not offer attribute verification services. The foundation focuses on operating the IRMA infrastructure and on issuing a basic set of attributes. In the current initial phase the foundation can offer advice, but it will not do this free-of-charge. For more information, feel free to get in touch.
To summarize: IRMA can be used without any costs, at least if you do everything yourself.
The video below provides a tutorial for integrating IRMA attribute verification in your website. For more information, see the technical documentation.
Suppose you wish to give customers your own attributes, belonging to your own organization, such as membership numbers or specific loyalty statuses, like bronze, silver, gold, platinum, etc. This is possible, but requires some preparation.
The Privacy by Design foundation runs the IRMA infrastructure. An important part of this work is keeping a register of all possible attributes. This register must provider transparency and clarity, so that each user knows the meanings of the various attributes. New attributes must become part of this register. It requires contact with the foundation. The foundation will charge for (continued) registration of new attributes.
Once this has been organized, there are several ways to actually issue attributes to your customers. This involves providing these attributes with a digital signature. For this purpose as well open source software is freely available. There are several options.
You can do this yourself, in case you possess sufficient ICT-expertise.
You can have a deal with the Privacy by Design foundation, whereby the foundation does the issuing of new attributes for you — just like it already now issues several attributes.
Possibly, service providers will emerge who issue IRMA attributes for others on a commercial basis.
For the time being the usage of IRMA is free of charge, both for users and for verifiers (like web-shops). Of course you will have your own costs for setting up and maintaining your own web-pages in which IRMA is integrated. Those costs depend on who does the actual work, in which manner, see above.
The Privacy by Design foundation is a non-profit organization. However, if it comes to large scale usage of IRMA, it is important that the foundation has a stable financial position in order to maintain the IRMA infrastructure. As described above, the foundation does ask money for certain activities (advice, issuing of attributes, software adaptations). In addition, the foundation depends on subsidies and support of third parties.
Within the area of identity management different assurance levels for authentication are distinguished, such as “low”, “substantial”, “high”. Often such levels are assigned to specific authentication means (such as a chip-card). Within the IRMA ecosystem assurance levels can be assigned to attributes, or, to be more precise, to credentials (sets of attributes). The assurance level of such a credential is determined by the manner of authentication that precedes attribute issuance. The level is for instance low for an email attribute that has been issued via a confirmation link sent to a user-provided email address. The level substantial could be assigned to an attribute that is issued after e-banking authentication. And the level high could be used for attributes that are issued (on the spot) only after face-2-face authentication at a counter.
Because there are many ways to issue IRMA attributes, the IRMA platform does not standardly use such levels of assurance. Every verifier can determine itself which attributes it does or does not accept. A verifier can, for instance, accept an “older than 18” attribute if it has been issued by the foundation, but not if it has been issued by, say, Facebook.
Experiments are being carried out with issuance of IRMA attributes for specific applications that require higher assurance levels.
The Privacy by Design foundation is not certified, for instance, according to the ISO 27010 norm. At this stage the foundation is too small for this — and insufficiently wealthy. The foundation intends, at some time in the future when IRMA is being used more extensively, to obtain such certification.
At this stage the foundation offers its operational services for free, as “best effort”. The foundation offers no guarantees and accepts at this stage no liability for matters that possibly go wrong in IRMA usage. The foundation tries to solve (reported) problems as soon as possible. The responsibility for IRMA usage lies entirely with the user (the carrier or IRMA attributes), with the verifier of attributes, and with the issuer of attributes (if any), not being the foundation itself.