DHS innovation grants focus on securing online identity

(FEMA / Bill Koplitz)

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The latest round of small business innovation research grants from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate focuses on identity management and identity assurance.

The 13 grants, each worth $100,000, were announced last week, and seven of them relate to identity management or assurance.

One set of grants represents the agency’s latest funding foray into blockchain — the so-called “distributed ledger” technology that underlies bitcoin, the anonymous online currency.

Blockchain is essentially a public, cryptographically assured (and therefore unforgeable) record of a series of transactions. The four blockchain grants are for work in the area of “identity management and privacy protection,” according to the announcement. Awardees are:

  • Digital Bazaar, Inc., of Blacksburg, Virginia, is developing a blockchain ledger format and architecture to demonstrate how to publish identity credentials.
  • Respect Network Corporation, of Seattle, Washington, is developing a decentralized registry and discovery service to integrate with public blockchains.
  • Narf Industries LLC, of Washington, D.C., is working to achieve an identity management solution built on a permissionless blockchain ensuring confidentiality (with selective information disclosure), integrity, availability, provenance and pseudo-anonymity.
  • Celerity Government Solutions, LLC, of McLean, Virginia, is researching blockchain solutions to enable users to establish and maintain trusted identity transactions with public and private organizations.

The second set of three grants also focus on identity, aiming to seed the development of “high-assurance alternatives to knowledge-based verification techniques,” such as PINs, passwords or personal data, like social security numbers. Awardees are:

  • CardSmart Technologies, of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, is investigating the effectiveness of alternative identity approaches ranging from online reputation to voice forensics.
  • Pomian & Corella, LLC, of Carmichael, California, is exploring innovations including the use of chip-enabled credit cards, federated identity protocols and cryptographic credentials carrying validated attributes.
  • PreID Inc., of Atherton, California, is investigating several new identity-verification approaches to determine strengths and weaknesses (security, privacy, accuracy) and commercial feasibility (cost, time to market, consumer acceptance) of each.

The other six grants are divided between four projects aiming at predicting and blocking malware, and two that seek to develop apps capable of real-time assessment of community preparedness and resilience in the face of possible disasters.

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