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Incubator Program Yields BLE and NFC Credentialing

The Kantara Initiative has completed a project with Exponent in which the credentials of an emergency responder or other individual can be loaded onto a smartphone and then be accessed securely via BLE or NFC using another phone.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 07, 2018

Technology consulting company Exponent has finished the second phase of a project for the Kantara Initiative, Identity and Privacy Incubatory (KIPI) program to provide mobile authentication and credentialing for emergency responders. The system enables the use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communication (NFC) with NIST's OPACITY standard so that individuals can identify themselves automatically via their smartphone.

This is the second phase of the Kantara First Responder Mobile Authentication Project, which is being undertaken by KIPI. The first phase focused on OPACTIY-standard technology using NFC-enabled smartphones to provide access control. The system proved to work well, the company reports, but NFC technology solutions at this point still only work with Android-enabled phones. Phase two takes the capacity a step further, with BLE functionality between two devices, including interoperability with Android- and iOS-based devices.

The Kantara Initiative is a non-profit industry consortium and trade association aimed at providing strategic vision and real-world innovation for digital-identity and data-privacy solutions. The association drafts specifications and makes recommendations for identity management. It collaborates with Rutgers University's Command, Control and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA), which serves the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Centers of Excellence. With support from CCICADA, KIPI intends to advance the development of products and services with mass adoption potential, according to Colin Wallis, the organization's executive director and project manager.

Exponent has now undertaken two projects as part of the KIPI program. The company provides engineering and scientific consulting and employs 900 workers, approximately half of whom have Ph.D. degrees in 90 different technology areas. The firm has been providing consulting and testing services for smart-card-based ID programs for the past several decades, says John Fessler, Exponent's principal engineer. "We see the writing on the wall," he explains, "that people would rather use phones than cards for credentialing. Working with a mobile device is the way people want to go."

Recently, therefore, Exponent began engineering a solution using contactless technology in smartphones to enable authorized individuals to enter a locked door. Exponent had already developed a system by which NFC ID cards could be authenticated via an NFC reader built into a mobile phone, so now it developed a system by which a phone could authenticate an electronic ID stored on that phone, via a reader, such as the type used for physical access or built into another smartphone.

The firm built a system complying with the OPACITY protocol, Fessler explains, which is designed for rapid communication over a secure, encrypted channel. It operates with the ANSI 504 standard, as well as the NIST SP 800-73-4 standard used for government smart cards. With OPACITY, the company was able to set up a system that would enable a very fast transaction, such as one that would allow a person access through a turnstile at the tap of a phone or card.

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