Much of what we do on the Internet – purchasing books and music, banking, interacting with the IRS – requires trusted mechanisms for establishing and protecting our identities. Other Internet interactions often are better supported through anonymity. How do we square these seemingly incompatible goals?

Members of SFI’s Business Network will focus on identity and trust on the Internet at the Network’s next topical meeting on April 17 at Fidelity Investments in Boston. Speakers will provide an overview of the Obama Administration’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) and its efforts to bring together the private sector, advocacy groups, government agencies, and other organizations to improve the privacy, security, and convenience of online transactions.

The core of the NSTIC’s vision is the “Identity Ecosystem,” a process for authenticating the digital identities of individuals, organizations, and devices in the online environment. Like an ecosystem that exists in nature, the Identity Ecosystem will involve a network of interactions among organizations and individuals working toward their own goals, with a defined set of authentication standards forming the structure of the network.

NSTIC’s approach is not without its critics; other speakers will challenge some of NSTIC’s assumptions and proposed strategies and recommend improvements.

“The challenge of developing strategies for a trusted, secure identity in cyberspace is related to SFI’s work on novel forms of computation and computer security inspired by biology,” says Chris Wood, SFI Director of the Business Network.

Applying the lessons of biology and natural systems to computers and other human-created systems is a recurring theme at SFI. External Professor Stephanie Forrest and her colleagues, for example, have used the immune system to develop an important new perspective on computer security, one with quite different assumptions and organizing principles than those of conventional computer security.

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