SWITCH Identity Blog

The Identity Blog puts the spotlight on identity management, digital identities, identifiers, attributes, authentication and access management.


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SWITCH edu-ID as door opener for libraries

In December 2020, the Swiss Library Service Platform SLSP goes live[1] after six years of preparation.
From then on, library users will use their SWITCH edu-ID account to register with their research libraries and catalogues. This is expected to affect between 0.5 and 1 million users – especially all Swiss university members.

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Thomas Marty (director SLSP)

“In today’s knowledge society, unrestricted and timely access to scientific information is of great importance. By guaranteeing access to diverse information resources, academic libraries play a central role in research and teaching at universities, but also in the lifelong learning of the population. SLSP sees itself as a service provider for all academic libraries and contributes to establishing a seamless flow of information for the knowledge society”.

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SWITCH edu-ID reaching 200’000 users

After reaching 100’000 accounts in March 2019, we were able to report 150’000 accounts eight months later. And today, I have the pleasure to announce that SWITCH edu-ID counts now over 200’000th accounts.

Of course, we intented to stick with our tradition to celebrate new landmarks with a cake featuring the number of accounts and a photo with the team behind the SWITCH edu-ID. The cake was already ordered… and if things went as planned, you would now find its picture in this post.

But we needed to bring our plans in line with the measures against COVID-19. Therefore, we had to cancel the cake and change the way the team photo was taken.

For the time being – and if we trust the figures published by the WHO – we can still claim that there are more confirmed identities in the SWITCH edu-ID than there are confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide (184’975).


Secrets of the edu-ID passwords

Since a few months now, edu-ID users  can secure their account with multi-factor authentication (Two-Step Login). However, currently 99.5% of all edu-ID accounts still rely exclusively on username and password authentication. It is unlikely to quickly change soon in the near future, despite the death of the password has been announced time and time again. The password remains the easiest, best known and – in many cases – the cheapest authentication solution. Therefore, the edu-ID team invests a lot of effort into assisting users to choose a strong password and to store it securely. Continue reading


NOT for university members only

FHNW e-media offering for teachers uses Shared Attribute API

In principle open

Openness is one of the promises made by SWITCH edu-ID. In recent years, universities have increasingly opened up to additional user groups such as continuing education students or MOOC participants. Cooperation with external parties is becoming increasingly important overall, be it with other universities, research institutions or partners from the private sector. Academic institutions are expanding their offerings, and not every person who makes use of university services has to become an official member of the university.

But that’s why you let everyone in?

However, most service providers do not simply want to blindly trust a self-declared identity that users bring with them (i.e. a “naked” edu-ID).
There are many reasons why one wants to protect applications and content from unauthorized access, e.g. to prevent data theft or manipulation or to comply with data protection or license regulations. And if abuse has taken place despite all precautions, one wants to be able to find out who one can hold liable for damages. Of course, this can be difficult with unchecked identities, even if the majority of users behave correctly and have provided the correct personal data for their digital identity. So is this a reason not to trust edu-ID identities?
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Multi-Factor Authentication Reinforced

Since December 2018 the edu-ID login has supported multi-factor authentication in form of a two-step login that relies on SMS codes. However, receiving one-time SMS codes requires a mobile phone. Not all users want to add a mobile phone number to their edu-ID account. Furthermore, SMS messages generally cannot be securely sent. There is always the risk that somebody else intercepts SMS messages. Some edu-ID users also want to use multi-factor authentication for all their edu-ID logins but without entering a one-time code several times per day.
To address the above issues reported by the community, we extended the edu-ID two-step login in the following three areas…

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Trust & Identity WG Meeting / SWITCH edu-ID Update Event 2019

SWITCH invites you on Wed, 15 May 2019 to the 2nd Trust & Identity WG Meeting combined with the SWITCH edu-ID Update Event in Berne.

Registration is open until Tue, 7. May 2019 and required for logistical reasons.
Refer to the registration page for the draft agenda and schedule.

A longer section of the event is dedicated to SWITCH edu-ID. The heads of IT of University of Lucerne and Distance University will talk about their adoption experience.

Administrators of either an Identity Provider or Service Provider registered in SWITCHaai as well as the SWITCHpki registration authority operators and all persons involved in (future) planning and adoption of SWITCH edu-ID are invited to participate.


What’s the SWITCH Trust & Identity WG?
The SWITCH Trust & Identity WG comprises representatives of all SWITCHaai Participants and SWITCHpki Participants in the SWITCH Community and the Extended SWITCH Community.
This group is informally involved with the further development of SWITCHaai/edu-ID and SWITCHpki and has the opportunity to provide feedback if there are questions or changes upcoming.


Switzerland’s E-ID Law clears further hurdles

Creating a new law is a long journey. We already featured several “making of” stages of the Swiss E-ID Law and the contributions of SWITCH in our E-ID category: consultation of an E-ID Concept in 2015, consultation of an early draft E-ID Law in 2017, publication of proposed law in 2018.

Another hurdle was recently cleared with the National Council approving the proposed law with relatively minor changes in March 2019 (for the interested: this business is referenced under 18.049). A minority wanted to change to government-issued Electronic Identities (eIDs), but the proposed market model was upheld.
Next step is the debate in the Commission of Legal Affairs of the Council of States in April 2019. In the absence of major changes, the law can be put in force in 2021.

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Managing User Affiliation with the Organisation Administrator Interface

The edu-ID is a user-centric system in which users generally manage their account data themselves. And yet, some data relates to and is thus asserted by organisations like universities. Therefore, the edu-ID system provides several APIs for organisations so that they can manage data about users they are authoritative for. A new way to manage this data is the edu-ID administration interface for organisations, which is presented in this blog post.

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Two or More Factors for edu-ID

A representative from a larger higher education organisation in Switzerland recently stated that they identify roughly 40 compromised user accounts on average per month. Extrapolating this number for  all Swiss AAI users, this number would grow to more than 1’000 compromised accounts per month. Many of them are probably not even detected. Many of them probably belong to young students who may not always take proper care of their credentials. But every now and then, also staff members and professors learn about the nightmares of impersonation of their digital identity. So, how can edu-ID support SWITCHaai services to enhance authentication security? Continue reading


E-ID law: SWITCH contributing to parliamentary hearing

At its meeting on 1 June 2018, the Federal Council adopted a dispatch to Parliament containing a draft for an E-ID law (see corresponding press release in DE, FR and IT; for follow-ups see “18.049 Business of the Federal Council”).

The National Council’s legal commission now runs the business. On 15.11.2018, it held a hearing with representatives of industry, public corporations, potential providers of E-ID solutions and interested parties from civil society. As a potential provider, SWITCH was able to take part in this hearing.

This draft E-ID law largely follows the preliminary draft consulted last year (press release with link to consultation report at page bottom). It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that the position of SWITCH expressed towards the preliminary draft also applies to the new draft law – including the criticism voiced therein. Continue reading


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There Can Be Only One!

As a child of the 80’s, of course I have seen the movie “Highlander”. In our “clone wars” (referencing Star Wars) against edu-ID duplicate accounts, I therefore remember the famous high lander quote “there can be only one”. Slightly adapted, this quote fits: “There can be only one edu-ID account per person”. Thanks to the automatic merging process described in this article, we now have the weapon in our hands to reach this goal.

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Clone Wars

Duplicate user accounts on a single system are sooner or later causing a nightmare. One ambition of the SWITCH edu-ID has always been the prevention of duplicate user accounts. However, only a few weeks after the edu-ID launch in 2015 we already found indications for a couple of duplicate accounts. How did that come about and what can we do to prevent duplicate accounts?

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Sending Users on the Right Path

In a previous blog post we presented how AAI Service Provider (SP) administrators can customize the edu-ID registration and login pages individually for their service. However, an SP administrator can not only brand the edu-ID pages with a custom logo or custom text but he can also influence the process itself used when users register, login or when they complete their account data. Examples of such process modifications are:

  • To send a user automatically to a specific URL after registration or login
  • To make a user first provide a specific verified or unverified attribute (e.g. mobile number or home postal address) and then send him back to the service

Both of these example scenarios have been used for instance by the Swissbib service for several months. Swissbib users sometimes have to provide a verified mobile number and/or postal address before they get access to national license content, which – by agreement – should be only available to residents of Switzerland.

So, how can an AAI SP administrator customize the edu-ID processes to implement the above and more scenarios? All that is needed is to send the user on the right path, or rather to the right URL. For all those not wanting to get familiar with the technical details of how these URLs have to be composed to achieve a certain process change, we have created a useful tool that makes the URL generation very easy: The edu-ID Login Link Composer.

Screenshot edu-ID Login Link Composer

Screenshot of edu-ID Login Link Composer

The edu-ID Login Link Composer consists of a form with several inputs that are used to generate a link which triggers the requested behaviour. The user then just has to be sent  to the generated URL to start the process.

Try out the edu-ID Login Link Composer with your own AAI service.


Identity Management Evolution

What does it take for a university to adopt the SWITCH edu-ID? This is the question SWITCH and seven partners (EPFL, FHNW, UNIFR, UNIGE, UNIL, UNISG and ZHAW) are addressing in the project “Swiss edu-ID Deployment Step 1” as part of swissuniversities’ program «Scientific information». The project advanced nicely and would justify an article on its own. But let’s draw your attention to an interesting side product of this project: we learned how electronic identities are managed in our community – and how the approaches are evolving over time and why.

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