InCommon Federation: Participant Operational Practices

Updated 4/14/2016 (1.3 Contact Information)

Participation in the InCommon Federation ("Federation") enables a federation participating organization ("Participant") to use Shibboleth identity attribute sharing technologies to manage access to on-line resources that can be made available to the InCommon community. One goal of the Federation is to develop, over time, community standards for such cooperating organizations to ensure that shared attribute assertions are sufficiently robust and trustworthy to manage access to important protected resources. As the community of trust evolves, the Federation expects that participants eventually should be able to trust each other's identity management systems and resource access management systems as they trust their own.

A fundamental expectation of Participants is that they provide authoritative and accurate attribute assertions to other Participants, and that Participants receiving an attribute assertion protect it and respect privacy constraints placed on it by the Federation or the source of that information. In furtherance of this goal, InCommon requires that each Participant make available to other Participants certain basic information about any identity management system, including the identity attributes that are supported, or resource access management system registered for use within the Federation.

Two criteria for trustworthy attribute assertions by Identity Providers are: (1) that the identity management system fall under the purview of the organization's executive or business management, and (2) the system for issuing end-user credentials (e.g., PKI certificates, userids/passwords, Kerberos principals, etc.) specifically have in place appropriate risk management measures (e.g., authentication and authorization standards, security practices, risk assessment, change management controls, audit trails, etc.).

InCommon expects that Service Providers, who receive attribute assertions from another Participant, respect the other Participant's policies, rules, and standards regarding the protection and use of that data. Furthermore, such information should be used only for the purposes for which it was provided. InCommon strongly discourages the sharing of that data with third parties, or aggregation of it for marketing purposes without the explicit permission[1] of the identity information providing Participant.

InCommon requires Participants to make available to all other Participants answers to the questions below.[2] Additional information to help answer each question is available in the next section of this document. There is also a glossary at the end of this document that defines terms shown in italics.

1. Federation Participant Information

1.1 The InCommon Participant Operational Practices information below is for:

InCommon Participant organization name: Northern Illinois University

The information below is accurate as of this date: 1 November 2011

1.2 Identity Management and/or Privacy information

Additional information about the Participant's identity management practices and/or privacy policy regarding personal information can be found on-line at the following location(s).

NIU Technology Policies

1.3 Contact information

The following office can answer questions about the Participant's identity management system or resource access management policy or practice.

DoIT Infrastructure Applications or 815-753-8100

2. Identity Provider Information

The most critical responsibility that an Identity Provider Participant has to the Federation is to provide trustworthy and accurate identity assertions.[3] It is important for a Service Provider to know how your electronic identity credentials are issued and how reliable the information associated with a given credential (or person) is.


2.1 If you are an Identity Provider, how do you define the set of people who are eligible to receive an electronic identity? If exceptions to this definition are allowed, who must approve such an exception?

Our community of people consists of students, faculty, staff, and affiliates.

"Students" are people who have applied to and been accepted by the University via the Office of Registration and Records.

"Employees" (faculty, staff) are people who work for the University.

"Affiliates" are other people that are somehow related to the University, but are neither Students nor Employees. These include members of the governing Board Of Trustees, volunteers, members of the local community that are engaged in some function with the University, and participants in various on-campus and off-campus programs run by the University.

Exceptions have to be approved by the Director of the Information Security Office.

2.2 "Member of Community"[4] is an assertion that might be offered to enable access to resources made available to individuals who participate in the primary mission of the university or organization. For example, this assertion might apply to anyone whose affiliation is "current student, faculty, or staff."

What subset of persons registered in your identity management system would you identify as a "Member of Community" in Shibboleth identity assertions to other InCommon Participants?

All members of the community of people defined in 2.1.

Electronic Identity Credentials

2.3 Please describe in general terms the administrative process used to establish an electronic identity that results in a record for that person being created in your electronic identity database? Please identify the office(s) of record for this purpose. For example, "Registrar's Office for students; HR for faculty and staff."

Students: The Office of Registration and Records inserts new records for applicants in to the student information system. Back end automated processes use the data entered to provision an electronic identity for the person at that time.

Employees: Human Resources inserts new records for employees in the HR system. Back end automated processes use the data entered to provision an electronic identity for the person at that time.

Affiliates: After collecting the necessary information, Accounts Administration provisions an electronic identity for the person.

2.4 What technologies are used for your electronic identity credentials (e.g., Kerberos, userID/password, PKI, ...) that are relevant to Federation activities? If more than one type of electronic credential is issued, how is it determined who receives which type? If multiple credentials are linked, how is this managed (e.g., anyone with a Kerberos credential also can acquire a PKI credential) and recorded?

All authentication and authorization is done via UserId / Password credentials.

2.5 If your electronic identity credentials require the use of a secret password or PIN, and there are circumstances in which that secret would be transmitted across a network without being protected by encryption (i.e., "clear text passwords" are used when accessing campus services), please identify who in your organization can discuss with any other Participant concerns that this might raise for them:

Clear text transmission of passwords is actively discouraged, and disabled or blocked wherever possible.

2.6 If you support a "single sign-on" (SSO) or similar campus-wide system to allow a single user authentication action to serve multiple applications, and you will make use of this to authenticate people for InCommon Service Providers, please describe the key security aspects of your SSO system including whether session timeouts are enforced by the system, whether user-initiated session termination is supported, and how use with "public access sites" is protected.

No SSO system is in use.

2.7 Are your primary electronic identifiers for people, such as "net ID," eduPersonPrincipalName, or eduPersonTargetedID considered to be unique for all time to the individual to whom they are assigned? If not, what is your policy for re-assignment and is there a hiatus between such reuse?

The primary electronic identifier for people is unique as assigned and is not reassigned to a different person in the future.

Electronic Identity Database

2.8 How is information in your electronic identity database acquired and updated? Are specific offices designated by your administration to perform this function? Are individuals allowed to update their own information on-line?

Students: Changes made in the student information system are propogated to all other systems.

Employees: Changes made in the human resources system are propogated to all other systems.

Affiliates: Changes can be made by contacting Accounts Administration.

Other authoritative sources for data are used to update records, and the changes are propogated to all other systems. This includes email address (email system) and telephone number (telephone switch management system).

Some limited self-updates are allowed for attribute data where the person is the best source of that information (eg: personal cell phone), or where personalization is allowed (eg: email alias).

2.9 What information in this database is considered "public information" and would be provided to any interested party?

First Name (Given Name), Last Name (Surname), Telephone Number, Email Alias, Title, Department, and Office Address are considered public information, but may be limited by FERPA restrictions for students.

Uses of Your Electronic Identity Credential System

2.10 Please identify typical classes of applications for which your electronic identity credentials are used within your own organization.

Enterprise Systems - Systems with university-wide data accessibility presence across various departments or academic units. These systems, considered business-essential, require a high degree of availability. Examples include, but are not limited to, PeopleSoft application systems, BlackBoard eLearning, OneCard, and GroupWise.

Department Critical Systems - Systems with a localized departmental presence, essential for conducting business processes or delivery of academic content.

Department Servers - Servers that provide an academic and/or administrative function that may house Restricted or Sensitive Information.

Reference: NIU Information Security Policy

Attribute Assertions

Attributes are the information data elements in an attribute assertion you might make to another Federation participant concerning the identity of a person in your identity management system.

2.11 Would you consider your attribute assertions to be reliable enough to:

[ X ] control access to on-line information databases licensed to your organization?

[ X ] be used to purchase goods or services for your organization?

[ X ] enable access to personal information such as student loan status?

Privacy Policy

Federation Participants must respect the legal and organizational privacy constraints on attribute information provided by other Participants and use it only for its intended purposes.

2.12 What restrictions do you place on the use of attribute information that you might provide to other Federation participants?

Third-party Vendors and Consultants - Employees involved with out-sourcing, shall mandate that third-party vendors and consultants implement appropriate information protection and security measures as a condition of receipt or use of university information. When receiving and using university information, third-party vendors and consultants are expected to follow the guiding principles of this policy and (1) provide for the security of information during transmission, (2) safeguard information while in their possession and control, and (3) properly dispose of or return the information to the university at the completion of, and in compliance with, the contractual arrangement. In the event that a third-party vendor or consultant discovers any breach of the security of university information in its possession and control, the third-party vendor or consultant shall notify the university immediately upon discovery when the information was, or is reasonably believed to have been, acquired by an unauthorized person.

Reference: NIU Information Security Policy

2.13 What policies govern the use of attribute information that you might release to other Federation participants? For example, is some information subject to FERPA or HIPAA restrictions?

Student information is subject to FERPA restrictions.

4. Other Information

4.1 Technical Standards, Versions and Interoperability

Identify the version of Internet2 Shibboleth code release that you are using or, if not using the standard Shibboleth code, what version(s) of the SAML and SOAP and any other relevant standards you have implemented for this purpose.

Shibboleth Identity Provider 2.3.4 (current version as of 27 October 2011).

4.2 Other Considerations

Are there any other considerations or information that you wish to make known to other Federation participants with whom you might interoperate? For example, are there concerns about the use of clear text passwords or responsibilities in case of a security breach involving identity information you may have provided?

Covered in section 2.12.

Additional Notes and Details on the Operational Practices Questions

As a community of organizations willing to manage access to on-line resources cooperatively, and often without formal contracts in the case of non-commercial resources, it is essential that each Participant have a good understanding of the identity and resource management practices implemented by other Participants. The purpose of the questions above is to establish a base level of common understanding by making this information available for other Participants to evaluate.

In answering these questions, please consider what you would want to know about your own operations if you were another Participant deciding what level of trust to place in interactions with your on-line systems. For example:

  • What would you need to know about an Identity Provider in order to make an informed decision whether to accept its assertions to manage access to your on-line resources or applications?
  • What would you need to know about a Service Provider in order to feel confident providing it information that it might not otherwise be able to have?

It also might help to consider how identity management systems within a single institution could be used.

  • What might your central campus IT organization, as a Service Provider, ask of a peer campus Identity Provider (e.g., Computer Science Department, central Library, or Medical Center) in order to decide whether to accept its identity assertions for access to resources that the IT organization controls?
  • What might a campus department ask about the central campus identity management system if the department wanted to leverage it for use with its own applications?

The numbered paragraphs below provide additional background to the numbered questions in the main part of this document.

[1.2] InCommon Participants who manage Identity Providers are strongly encouraged to post on their website the privacy and information security policies that govern their identity management system. Participants who manage Service Providers are strongly encouraged to post their policies with respect to use of personally identifying information.

[1.3] Other InCommon Participants may wish to contact this person or office with further questions about the information you have provided or if they wish to establish a more formal relationship with your organization regarding resource sharing.

[2] Many organizations have very informal processes for issuing electronic credentials. For example, one campus does this through its student bookstore. A Service Provider may be more willing to accept your assertions to the extent that this process can be seen as authoritative.

[2.1] It is important for a Service Provider to have some idea of the community whose identities you may represent. This is particularly true for assertions such as the eduPerson "Member of Community." A typical definition might be "Faculty, staff, and active students" but it might also include alumni, prospective students, temporary employees, visiting scholars, etc. In addition, there may be formal or informal mechanisms for making exceptions to this definition, e.g., to accommodate a former student still finishing a thesis or an unpaid volunteer.

This question asks to whom you, as an Identity Provider, will provide electronic credentials. This is typically broadly defined so that the organization can accommodate a wide variety of applications locally. The reason this question is important is to distinguish between the set of people who might have a credential that you issue and the subset of those people who fall within your definition of "Member of Community" for the purpose of InCommon attribute assertions.

[2.2] The assertion of "Member of Community" is often good enough for deciding whether to grant access to basic on-line resources such as library-like materials or websites. InCommon encourages participants to use this assertion only for "Faculty, Staff, and active Students" but some organizations may have the need to define this differently. InCommon Service Providers need to know if this has been defined differently.

[2.3] For example, if there is a campus recognized office of record that issues such electronic credentials and that office makes use of strong, reliable technology and good database management practices, those factors might indicate highly reliable credentials and hence trustworthy identity assertions.

[2.4] Different technologies carry different inherent risks. For example, a userID and password can be shared or "stolen" rather easily. A PKI credential or SecureID card is much harder to share or steal. For practical reasons, some campuses use one technology for student credentials and another for faculty and staff. In some cases, sensitive applications will warrant stronger and/or secondary credentials.

[2.5] Sending passwords in "clear text" is a significant risk, and all InCommon Participants are strongly encouraged to eliminate any such practice. Unfortunately this may be difficult, particularly with legacy applications. For example, gaining access to a centralized calendar application via a wireless data connection while you are attending a conference might reveal your password to many others at that conference. If this is also your campus credential password, it could be used by another person to impersonate you to InCommon Participants.

[2.6] "Single sign-on" (SSO) is a method that allows a user to unlock his or her electronic identity credential once and then use it for access to a variety of resources and applications for some period of time. This avoids people having to remember many different identifiers and passwords or to continually log into and out of systems. However, it also may weaken the link between an electronic identity and the actual person to whom it refers if someone else might be able to use the same computer and assume the former user's identity. If there is no limit on the duration of a SSO session, a Federation Service Provider may be concerned about the validity of any identity assertions you might make. Therefore it is important to ask about your use of SSO technologies.

[2.7] In some identity management systems, primary identifiers for people might be reused, particularly if they contain common names, e.g. Jim This can create ambiguity if a Service Provider requires this primary identifier to manage access to resources for that person.

[2.8] Security of the database that holds information about a person is at least as critical as the electronic identity credentials that provide the links to records in that database. Appropriate security for the database, as well as management and audit trails of changes made to that database, and management of access to that database information are important.

[2.9] Many organizations will make available to anyone certain, limited "public information." Other information may be given only to internal organization users or applications, or may require permission from the subject under FERPA or HIPAA rules. A Service Provider may need to know what information you are willing to make available as "public information" and what rules might apply to other information that you might release.

[2.10] In order to help a Service Provider assess how reliable your identity assertions may be, it is helpful to know how your organization uses those same assertions. The assumption here is that you are or will use the same identity management system for your own applications as you are using for federated purposes.

[2.11] Your answer to this question indicates the degree of confidence you have in the accuracy of your identity assertions.

[2.12] Even "public information" may be constrained in how it can be used. For example, creating a marketing email list by "harvesting" email addresses from a campus directory web site may be considered illicit use of that information. Please indicate what restrictions you place on information you make available to others.

[2.13] Please indicate what legal or other external constraints there may be on information you make available to others.

[3.1] Please identify your access management requirements to help other Participants understand and plan for use of your resource(s). You might also or instead provide contact information for an office or person who could answer inquiries.

[3.2] As a Service Provider, please declare what use(s) you would make of attribute information you receive.

[3.3] Personally identifying information can be a wide variety of things, not merely a name or credit card number. All information other than large group identity, e.g., "member of community," should be protected while resident on your systems.

[3.4] Certain functional positions can have extraordinary privileges with respect to information on your systems. What oversight means are in place to ensure incumbents do not misuse such privileges?

[3.5] Occasionally protections break down and information is compromised. Some states have laws requiring notification of affected individuals. What legal and/or institutional policies govern notification of individuals if information you hold is compromised?

[4.1] Most InCommon Participants will use Internet2 Shibboleth technology, but this is not required. It may be important for other participants to understand whether you are using other implementations of the technology standards.

[4.2] As an Identity Provider, you may wish to place constraints on the kinds of applications that may make use of your assertions. As a Service Provider, you may wish to make a statement about how User credentials must be managed. This question is completely open ended and for your use.

[1] Such permission already might be implied by existing contractual agreements.

[2] Your responses to these questions should be posted in a readily accessible place on your web site, and the URL submitted to InCommon. If not posted, you should post contact information for an office that can discuss it privately with other InCommon Participants as needed. If any of the information changes, you must update your on-line statement as soon as possible.

[3] A general note regarding attributes and recommendations within the Federation:

[4] "Member" is one possible value for eduPersonAffiliation as defined in the eduPerson schema. It is intended to include faculty, staff, student, and other persons with a basic set of privileges that go with membership in the university community (e.g., library privileges). "Member of Community" could be derived from other values in eduPersonAffiliation or assigned explicitly as "Member" in the electronic identity database. See