Nov 10 2022

Application Platform Infrastructure Is Critical to Digital Identity Success

Agencies can use digital IDs and individual identity scores to shore up their vetting processes.

It’s a precarious time for state and local governments. Bad actors have grown more sophisticated and discovered new ways to attack agencies, resulting in several notable incursions. Meanwhile, identity fraud has become a serious problem for local agencies.

Many states have turned to digital solutions such as identity and access management (IAM) to vet applicants and combat threats. The technology allows prospects and people seeking assistance to use secure single sign-on to access different government agencies and services.

For example, in theory, a person could apply for a job at the local DMV, while also applying for a benefits program such as child welfare from a human services department, all through one portal.

But IAM is just the beginning. Agencies need an even better way to understand who is applying for a job, benefits or other services, so they can minimize vulnerabilities — regardless of which portal a person is using.

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Siloed Legacy Infrastructure Can’t Support Digital Identity

Fortunately, modern digital IDs can include information about a person’s name, date and place of birth, criminal record, credit rating, social media postings, and more. Digital IDs create a complete picture of an individual and give agencies the information they need to answer the all-important question: Is this person who they say they are?

But another question must be answered too: Do agencies have the infrastructure necessary to support collecting, analyzing and sharing this information? 

In many cases, the answer is, unfortunately, no.

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That’s because many state and local organizations’ IT systems were never designed to process or share digital IDs. These systems tend to be siloed, comprising legacy technologies that do not integrate or operate well with each other. As such, information shared via a state’s revenue department is seen only by members of that department, not by, for instance, representatives of the board of elections or health department.

If states and local municipalities are to band together and protect themselves against fraud, malicious insiders or other threats, they need to be able to do more than just collect the wealth of information stored in a digital ID — they must be able to analyze, score and share that information with each other across agency boundaries.

Of course, extending legacy systems to support real-time sharing of information is a big modernization effort that most agencies probably do not have the time, resources or budgets to attack in one fell swoop. But there is a smarter, more efficient and cost-effective way to do it.

An Incremental Approach May Benefit IT Modernization

Instead of attempting to modernize their systems all at once, agencies should consider adopting an incremental approach that starts with employing the appropriate underlying application platform infrastructure. This infrastructure should be cloud-based and open so that any siloed systems can easily connect to each other. Using an open-source abstraction layer can effectively connect old hardware with modern software, regardless of the system, allowing agencies to access and exchange information.

Next, agencies should use open application programming interfaces to share information easily and securely. Open APIs work with the infrastructure and allow agency systems to communicate and share data with each other. They negate the need for developers to continually create new ways of connecting disparate systems every time a bit of information is shared.

These are simple, basic solutions that can yield big results. By taking this approach, agencies can easily start with a common fabric that connects organizations and portals and allows for streamlined access and sharing of digital ID information. They can immediately benefit from their use of digital IDs by sharing and gaining greater knowledge about their applicants.

Once this basic but powerful framework is established, agencies can continue to build out and modernize as necessary. But they’ll already have a solid platform for maximizing the potential of digital IDs.

Shared Identity Scores Can Determine High Risks

That potential is far-reaching and potentially game-changing.

For example, modern digital IDs can enhance the IAM tooling via platform-based custom application development incorporating risk scoring similar to that which is found in national security background checks. By integrating information and allowing software algorithms to sort through massive amounts of data, states can come up with a much more reliable picture of a person.

This enhanced single digital ID can be used to build identity scores for prospective employees or individuals seeking social services. Identity scores are used to determine if a person is who they say they are. When designed and implemented well, they’re dynamic and similar to credit scores, with lower numbers indicating higher risk factors.

For instance, if a person applying for child welfare or Medicaid benefits has a very low identity trust score, then that may indicate greater potential for the applicant to use a false identity. With this information in hand, automation may be able to make a confident decision, saving human intervention time. However, if the identity confidence score is too low, then a caseworker can intervene to investigate further to make a more informed decision about whether or not to grant the applicant benefits.

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If the agency has the appropriate infrastructure in place, that person’s identity score can be shared with other agencies. This knowledge can prove useful, especially if the person in question attempts to access other benefits. Not only does it save other agencies significant time that would otherwise be spent vetting the candidate, but it also effectively extends protection across the entire agency network, thereby promoting cross-agency collaboration.

Digital IDs are very powerful tools for better security and fraud prevention, but their positive impact is blunted without the appropriate infrastructure and connections to support them. Without connectivity, digital IDs themselves become siloed. That won’t work in an environment where single sign-on has become a default option.

Instead, agencies must build shared, open frameworks that allow the information collected and analyzed in one place to flow into another. That’s the way to protect all agencies and keep bad actors out of every state and local organization.

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