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OMB Memorandum M-04-04

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Citation Edit

Office of Management and Budget, E-Authentication Guidance for Federal Agencies (OMB Memorandum M-04-04) (Dec. 16, 2003) (full-text).

Overview Edit

This Memorandum defines four levels of authentication — Levels 1 to 4 — in terms of the consequences of the authentication errors and misuse of credentials. Level 1 is the lowest assurance and Level 4 is the highest. The OMB guidance defines the required level of authentication assurance in terms of the likely consequences of an authentication error. As the consequences of an authentication error become more serious, the required level of assurance increases. The OMB guidance provides agencies with the criteria for determining the level of e-authentication assurance required for specific applications and transactions, based on the risks and their likelihood of occurrence of each application or transaction.

After completing a risk assessment and mapping the identified risks to the required assurance level, agencies can select appropriate technology that, at a minimum, meets the technical requirements for the required level of assurance. In particular, the memorandum sets forth specific technical requirements for each of the four levels of assurance in the following areas:

A summary of the technical requirements for each of the four levels is provided below.

Level 1 — Although there is no identity proofing requirement at this level, the authentication mechanism provides some assurance that the same claimant is accessing the protected transaction or data. It allows a wide range of available authentication technologies to be employed and allows any of the token methods of Levels 2, 3, or 4. Successful authentication requires that the claimant prove through a secure authentication protocol that he or she controls the token.

Plaintext passwords or secrets are not transmitted across a network at Level 1. However this level does not require cryptographic methods that block offline attacks by an eavesdropper. For example, simple password challenge-response protocols are allowed. In many cases an eavesdropper, having intercepted such a protocol exchange, will be able to find the password with a straightforward dictionary attack.

At Level 1, long-term shared authentication secrets may be revealed to verifiers. Assertions issued about claimants as a result of a successful authentication are either cryptographically authenticated by relying parties (using Approved methods), or are obtained directly from a trusted party via a secure authentication protocol.

Level 2 — Level 2 provides single factor remote network authentication. At Level 2, identity proofing requirements are introduced, requiring presentation of identifying materials or information. A wide range of available authentication technologies can be employed at Level 2. It allows any of the token methods of Levels 3 or 4, as well as passwords and PINs. Successful authentication requires that the claimant prove through a secure authentication protocol that he or she controls the token. Eavesdropper, replay, and on-line guessing attacks are prevented.

Long-term shared authentication secrets, if used, are never revealed to any party except the claimant and verifiers operated by the Credentials Service Provider (CSP); however, session (temporary) shared secrets may be provided to independent verifiers by the CSP. Approved cryptographic techniques are required. Assertions issued about claimants as a result of a successful authentication are either cryptographically authenticated by relying parties (using Approved methods), or are obtained directly from a trusted party via a secure authentication protocol.

Level 3 — Level 3 provides multi-factor remote network authentication. At this level, identity proofing procedures require verification of identifying materials and information. Level 3 authentication is based on proof of possession of a key or a one-time password through a cryptographic protocol. Level 3 authentication requires cryptographic strength mechanisms that protect the primary authentication token (secret key, private key or one-time password) against compromise by the protocol threats including: eavesdropper, replay, on-line guessing, verifier impersonation and man-in-the-middle attacks. A minimum of two authentication factors is required. Three kinds of tokens may be used: “soft” cryptographic tokens, “hard” cryptographic tokens and “one-time password” device tokens.

Authentication requires that the claimant prove through a secure authentication protocol that he or she controls the token, and must first unlock the token with a password or biometric, or must also use a password in a secure authentication protocol, to establish two-factor authentication. Long-term shared authentication secrets, if used, are never revealed to any party except the claimant and verifiers operated directly by the Credentials Service Provider (CSP), however session (temporary) shared secrets may be provided to independent verifiers by the CSP. Approved cryptographic techniques are used for all operations. Assertions issued about claimants as a result of a successful authentication are either cryptographically authenticated by relying parties (using Approved methods), or are obtained directly from a trusted party via a secure authentication protocol.

Level 4 — Level 4 is intended to provide the highest practical remote network authentication assurance. Level 4 authentication is based on proof of possession of a key through a cryptographic protocol. Level 4 is similar to Level 3 except that only “hard” cryptographic tokens are allowed, FIPS 140-2 cryptographic module validation requirements are strengthened, and subsequent critical data transfers must be authenticated via a key bound to the authentication process. The token shall be a hardware cryptographic module validated at FIPS 140-2 Level 2 or higher overall with at least FIPS 140-2 Level 3 physical security. By requiring a physical token, which cannot readily be copied and since FIPS 140-2 requires operator authentication at Level 2 and higher, this level ensures good, two-factor remote authentication.

Level 4 requires strong cryptographic authentication of all parties and all sensitive data transfers between the parties. Either public key or symmetric key technology may be used. Authentication requires that the claimant prove through a secure authentication protocol that he or she controls the token. The protocol threats including: eavesdropper, replay, on-line guessing, verifier impersonation and man-in-the-middle attacks are prevented. Long-term shared authentication secrets, if used, are never revealed to any party except the claimant and verifiers operated directly by the Credentials Service Provider (CSP), however session (temporary) shared secrets may be provided to independent verifiers by the CSP. Strong Approved cryptographic techniques are used for all operations. All sensitive data transfers are cryptographically authenticated using keys bound to the authentication process.

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