General

Note: Going forward, we will be sending out this newsletter on a bimonthly schedule.

Events

Just before the summer period, SeamlessAccess was discussed in a number of events and conferences. In case you missed it, slides and recordings are available:

Here are some upcoming events where SeamlessAccess will be presented as we head towards the fall:

  • 14 Sept: Presentation about SeamlessAccess at the “Trust and Identity” track of the 31st NORDUnet Conference, focusing on value for federation operators.
  • 18 Oct: Frankfurt: SeamlessAccess will be one of the services discussed during a panel session about “New Collaborations” at the 2022 STM Frankfurt conference.
  • 2-4 Nov: Charleston Conference. SeamlessAccess will be featured in a session called “In It Together: Bold New Collaborations for Researchers and Publishers” - more details to follow!

Also, Heather Staines will be attending the ALPSP annual conference (14-16 Sept) and the SSP New Directions Seminar (Sept 21-22) - don’t hesitate to say hi when you’re there!

WAYF Entry Disambiguation recommendations

We’re happy to report that the WAYF Entry Disambiguation Working Group, which we introduced in last October’s newsletter, has finalized its recommendations. This Working Group has looked at an important usability challenge in federated authentication, namely when different identity providers (IdP) present themselves with identical, or very similar, names to the end-user - which is a well-known source for confusion and broken user journeys.

GIven the significance of this problem, we are very glad that the Working Group has now delivered recommendations for institutions, federations and other stakeholders to address this problem. You will find the recommendations here (PDF doc) or here (HTML, including recommendations together with the earlier ‘challenges’ white paper).

Advanced Integrator workshop

At the end of June, we organized a workshop for Advanced Integrators to discuss the expected impact of upcoming changes to browser technology, in particular changes that will break current mechanisms for third-party access to cookies and other information held by the browser. The workshop provided valuable insights into how services are using the Advanced Integration pattern today, and how the different organizations are preparing for the upcoming changes in the face of many uncertainties.

If you find yourself wondering “what browser changes?”, we’d highly ecommend checking out these references:

In addition, the W3C Federated Identity Community Group, who offer a forum to discuss incubating web features that will both support federated identity and prevent untransparent, uncontrollable tracking of users across the web, recently published a draft report.

SeamlessAccess will continue to monitor and update stakeholders as the situation unfolds.

Cambridge University Press and De Gruyter join SeamlessAccess

SeamlessAccess continues to grow with two additional academic publishers implementing the service: Cambridge University Press and De Gruyter.

Cambridge University Press has integrated SeamlessAccess with their Higher Education platform. Peter White, Digital Partnerships Manager, explains: “The implementation of the SeamlessAccess button on the Higher Education login page is the latest step in a programme of development from Cambridge that aims to transform the experience of end-users of Shibboleth-based institutional authentication. Back in March we released a new Discovery Service – or WAYF (‘Where-Are-You-From’) display – designed to speed up and improve the authentication journey of end-users who choose to start the institutional login process on either Cambridge Core or the Higher Education website.” In the coming months, Cambridge University Press will add the SeamlessAccess button to Cambridge Core, accelerating access to more than 1.8 million journal articles and more than 46 thousand monographs and other books.

De Gruyter, an independent academic publisher disseminating excellent scholarship since 1749, has completed an Advanced Integration on their platform degruyter.com. “De Gruyter is excited to now provide our customers with an easier login experience through SeamlessAccess. With the help of LibLynx, who provide our authentication and identity management system, we have integrated SeamlessAccess and now show the SeamlessAccess button on our WAYF page and on all product pages. This integration also gives us more control of the institution names as they appear in our institution selector, which helps our customers finding the correct entry for their login”, says Ulrike Engel, Product Owner Delivery Platform at De Gruyter.

We’re excited to have these two publishers joining SeamlessAccess!

Welcome, Bojhan and Zacharias

SeamlessAccess has two new team members: Bojhan Somers (UX) and Zacharias Törnblom (Product Manager).

Bojhan joins the team as User Experience Designer. He brings many years of experience in academic publishing as well as working with (open-source) communities. He is passionate about bringing simplicity to complex design challenges, and eager to apply that passion to SeamlessAccess.

Zacharias joins SeamlessAccess as Product Manager with a background in the public transportation sector, where he has been managing end-user facing products with a focus on accessibility, usability and privacy. Upon joining, Zacharias noted, “I’m impressed by the ease of use with SeamlessAccess, and excited for the coming changes we have planned. These will make the SeamlessAccess-button easier to implement and maintain and will grant users access whether their login method of choice is through a federated institution or a non-federated service.”

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Events

We have several events coming up where you can learn more about SeamlessAccess and have an opportunity to interact with the team:

And a reminder for two other upcoming opportunities where you can meet us in person:

  • Council of Science Editors meeting, May 1-3 in Phoenix, AZ
  • Society for Scholarly Publishing in Chicago, June 1-3.

Drop us a line if you’re planning to attend these events and we will be delighted to meet up!

SeamlessAccess is now available in multiple languages

We’re thrilled to announce that SeamlessAccess now supports internationalization. We believe this is an important value-add for the service, given that SeamlessAccess has a very international user base and is all about providing those users with easy, intuitive access journeys. Internationalization features for SeamlessAccess were made available for testing in Beta back in February, and have now been deployed to the main SeamlessAccess service.

At this moment SeamlessAccess is available in two languages: English and Spanish. We hope that, with the help from the wider SeamlessAccess community, many other languages will follow soon. If you are willing to support this effort, please consider contributing to the set of translations via our GitHub repository.

Access Apocalypse: Be Prepared for Anything (NISO+ video)

Several members of the SeamlessAccess team, including Heather Flanagan, Tim Lloyd, and Jason Griffey presented at the NISO Plus 2022 conference in February on the topic of upcoming browser technology changes and their effects on access to resources. That presentation, entitled “Access Apocalypse: Be Prepared for Anything”, is now available in the Seamless Access Learning Center. This session walks through current and evolving changes in access methods to explore how the information community can maintain workflows that minimize access friction for users, deliver an engaging and personalized experience for service providers, and protect data privacy.

STM Trends 2026

The latest STM Trends infographic entitled “The Beauty of Open at Scale” is now available. Based on discussions with dozens of experts, the STM Trends series have proven to be an engaging and informative way to identify technology-driven trends that are likely to impact the scholarly communications ecosystem in the next three to five years - which helps set the scene for how services like SeamlessAccess can continue to add value in the future.

Introduction to the graphic and a lively panel discussion around its themes took place on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, with a recording available here. Speakers took a deep dive into lessons from OA publishing; Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility; author engagement; metadata and discoverability; and more.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Maintenance April 19

Note: updated date! SeamlessAccess has scheduled maintenance on:

April 19, 2022 8:00AM - 12:00PM UTC

We have booked a four-hour maintenance window to upgrade SeamlessAccess to version 1.6.2. We expect that end-users will not experience any interruptions during this maintenance window, however it is possible that there may be some caching issues.

Please refer to the SeamlessAccess status page for more details: https://status.seamlessaccess.org/

Update: Maintenance was succesfully completed

Maintenance

SeamlessAccess has planned maintenance on:

March 29, 2022 8:00AM - 12:00PM UTC

We have booked a four-hour maintenance window to move the front-end service from GitHub Pages to a new infrastructure. The team will try to make sure that end-users won’t experience any issues during the maintenance, however it is possible that, at moments during this time window, the service is temporarily unavailable.

Please refer to the SeamlessAccess status page for more details: https://status.seamlessaccess.org/

Update: Maintenance was succesfully completed

Model License Agreement Call for Comments

We are pleased to announce the second output from the Contract Language Working Group, whose job it is to build on the Entity Category work to produce a toolkit for use in contracts between libraries and service providers (and for service providers to have as a reference for library requirements). This group is working to develop a toolkit that can be used to update contracts and documentation to help libraries and providers choose the appropriate entity category for the resource and outcomes they desire. The first document from the toolkit was the Entity Category Use Case Scenarios released last year.

Today, the Contract Language Working Group is happy to release its Model License Agreement with Commentary document for comments. The Model License is presented in the form of a contract, with sections specific to Federated Authentication issues and commentary from the authors highlighted with purple text for ease of identification.

From the introduction to the document:

This Model License Agreement (“MLA”) has been prepared to assist information professionals, executives, and others who offer or acquire digital content in a library or similar setting. The intent of this MLA is to present a sound and realistic template of the key issues involved in negotiating a license to acquire or use digital content, specifically as it relates to the world of Federated Authentication & Authorization.

Comments may be left directly on the Google Doc until March 31. We will be revising the document as we move forward in our work and towards the release of the 1.0 version of the Model License as well as the full Contract Language Toolkit. We look forward to your feedback.

Events

With travel and conferences resuming, here are some opportunities to meet us in person:

Drop a line if you’re planning to attend these events. We would be delighted to meet up!

ALA committee on Federated Authentication

Core, a division of the American Library Association, has created a new Federated Authentication Committee that will focus the library community’s efforts in understanding, evaluating, and implementing federated authentication as an access mechanism for library resources. Part of the responsibilities of this committee will be to assign a member to be a liaison to the SeamlessAccess governance committee and be a voice for the library community in the broader federated authentication conversation.

We at SeamlessAccess are very excited about having additional library voices as a part of our work.

SeamlessAccess 1.6.2 in Beta

Back in the fall of last year, we called on your help for translations to make SeamlessAccess available in multiple languages - something that we feel is very important given our focus on usability and the diverse, international user base that we serve. Translations are still very welcome if you’d like to contribute to the project in this way (for instructions on how to do that, see our October newsletter).

We’re delighted to announce now that SeamlessAccess 1.6.2, including internationalization, is available in Beta. We kindly ask you to test the release at https://use.thiss.io/, and let us know if you encounter any problems or issues via GitHub.

For more detail, please see the release notes.

Wolters Kluwer and Mark Allen Group implement SeamlessAccess

We’re thrilled to announce that two more publishers have integrated with SeamlessAccess this month.

Wolters Kluwer have integrated SeamlessAccess on their OVID platform, giving a prominent place to the SeamlessAccess button in the top-right of the article landing page. “Wolters Kluwer is excited to now provide our customers with the opportunity for a simplified login experience through SeamlessAccess. Starting on March 1 we’ve made authentication and access easier for our Ovid journals experience users as a pilot for the WK organization. We look forward to implementing SeamlessAccess within other products in the future.”, says Nicole Caputo, Senior Product Manager, Ovid.

Mark Allen group, a family-owned, independent media communication company, have completed an advanced integration with the support of their platform host Atypon. “Mark Allen is delighted to have integrated SeamlessAccess into our MAG Online Library site. Ease of access is vital for our diverse audiences, so enabling SeamlessAccess on the site promises to be a significant step forward.”, says Tom Pollard, Product Director, Digital Resources at Mark Allen Group.

We are delighted to have these organizations on board and expect other publishers to join soon!

For a list of (known) SeamlessAccess integrators, please see https://seamlessaccess.org/stakeholders/for-service-providers/.

Welcome Inge Schoutsen

At the end of January we announced that SeamlessAccess was looking for a lead UX designer. We’re very happy to let you know in this newsletter that we have found that person! Inge Schoutsen has joined the team to carry on this important work for SeamlessAccess. She will be focusing on providing design guidance and help SeamlessAccess deliver a streamlined access experience for researchers around the globe as well as plan and help execute ongoing validation of existing and evolving design recommendations. She will also work closely with the development team and our stakeholders from multiple organizations.

Inge is an allround UX/Product Designer & Strategist with 20+ years of experience working at digital design agencies, tech companies and scholarly publishers. Next to her design practice, she is an artist represented by Josilda da Conceição gallery in Amsterdam, where she is based.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Events

SeamlessAccess was included in two webinars back in December:

  • 8 Dec: STM Solutions Seminar, featuring a presentation by Matthew Keen (IOP Publishing) on SeamlessAccess
  • 14 Dec: Atypon webinar, featuring Heather Staines talking about SeamlessAccess (amongst other topics)

Looking ahead, the SeamlessAccess team is planning a new integrator workshop as well as continuing our series of SeamlessAccess for scholarly publishers - stay tuned!

REFEDS Entity Categories

The REFEDS community is currently working through existing Entity Categories, two of which having been originally proposed by the SeamlessAccess Entity Category Working Group, to bring them up to the necessary precision for this type of specification. These specifications must be very specific and targeted in scope, describing exactly what data attributes are to be released when these Entity Categories are used. The question of how and when a service provider should use these attributes, however, is out of scope for a specification.

Entity Categories are important because they make the process of attribute release much easier to manage. They help match the data and privacy requirements of the Identity Provider with the requirements of the service itself. They also allow administrators of identity management systems to have easy-to-use configuration guidance that supports appropriate information sharing between parties. Entity Categories also offer business units within the institution the opportunity to refer to these descriptions in their contractual language with Service Providers.

All changes ultimately must be approved by the community. If you would like to stay abreast of public consultation announcements for these and other REFEDS specifications, please join the REFEDS consultation mailing list.

Approach towards refreshing local browser storage

We are happy to announce that, with the next release, SeamlessAccess’ central discovery service will start to refresh information kept in the user’s browser local store.

SeamlessAccess is all about making the login experience as intuitive, easy, fast and stable as possible. To realize this, SeamlessAccess maintains a searchable database of metadata about Identity Providers (IdP’s), and stores that metadata for often-used IdP’s in the user’s browser local storage. Thanks to this persistence mechanism, SeamlessAccess can display the user’s IdP preferences without having to communicate with a central infrastructure - making the system both robust and fast.

While information about IdP’s does not change very often, changes do occasionally occur and SeamlessAccess has been working on a way to keep this information up to date. Because of the distributed nature of how metadata is stored in each browser, this is actually not a straightforward problem for SeamlessAccess to solve!

The next release will offer a first step towards solving this challenge. In future releases, we will also start to clear out IdP metadata that cannot be refreshed or that has been deleted from the metadata service. We will be working with advanced integrators to plan for this change in order to make sure users are not affected in a negative way.

Welcoming Wendy Shamier

Wendy Shamier has joined the SeamlessAccess team as Business Development Manager this January. She will be focusing on business aspects of SeamlessAccess’ transition from the current beta phase to a fully production-level service, including the development of a sustainability plan and a pricing model. She will also work closely with other SeamlessAccess staff on defining and developing processes for full life-cycle customer engagement.

Wendy has a background in IT consulting, most recently as Service Level Manager and Research IT advisor for SURF, the collaborative organization for information and communication technologies in Dutch education and research. In addition to this she has a decade of experience in academic publishing, working as a Publisher for Brill and Elsevier. Wendy is based in Amsterdam and can be contacted at wendy@stm-solutions.org.

Lead UX designer vacancy

SeamlessAccess is looking for a strategically minded senior UX practitioner to join our team!

Are you interested in taking a lead role to provide design guidance and help SeamlessAccess deliver a streamlined access experience for researchers around the globe? Check out the job description on our vacancies page.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

SeamlessAccess is looking for a Lead UX designer and strategist

Seamless Access is looking for a strategically minded senior UX practitioner to join our team! Are you interested in taking a lead role to provide design guidance and help SeamlessAccess deliver a streamlined access experience for researchers around the globe? Check out the job description on our vacancies page.

Extending the benefits of SeamlessAccess to a new audience

SeamlessAccess hit an important milestone recently with the addition of our most recent service provider, The HistoryMakers.

While over the last years we’ve seen growing traction with global publishers of science, technical and medical content, the benefits of more seamless access are just as relevant and important to the broader community.

The HistoryMakers is a non-profit research and educational institution committed to preserving and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans. SeamlessAccess makes it easier than ever for students, educators and researchers to access The HistoryMakers Digital Archive, an internationally recognized archival collection of thousands of African American video oral histories.

The addition of The HistoryMakers also marks a valuable new use case for SeamlessAccess, with a user’s stored organisational affiliation used to streamline library card authentication in addition to federated authentication. This extends the benefits of SeamlessAccess outside traditional academic communities to a broader range of library users around the world.

“Simplifying access is essential to our mission of making the HistoryMakers Digital Archive accessible to researchers and educators. By removing barriers to access, SeamlessAccess helps us showcase the breadth and depth of the accomplishments of individual African Americans”, said Julieanna Richardson, Founder and President of The HistoryMakers.

About The HistoryMakers

The HistoryMakers is a national 501(c)(3) non-profit research and educational institution committed to preserving and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans. Through the media and a series of user-friendly products, services and events, The HistoryMakers enlightens, entertains and educates the public, helping to refashion a more inclusive record of American history. Learn more at https://www.thehistorymakers.org/.

Events

Here are two past events with recordings that we highly recommend: Heather Flanagan spoke about “Browser Changes and the Impact on Federated Identity” at IAM online on Nov 11. A video recording is available here. Heather Staines gave an overview of both SeamlessAccess and GetFTR as part of the PubFactory Virtual Series 2021 on Oct 15; the recording can be found here.

And there’s more coming up!

Internationalization - calling on your help!

Given the international character of research, it is not surprising that many of the digital products that integrate with SeamlessAccess serve a diverse and international user base. Several of these offer internationalization options, giving their users a choice in language that they would like to see and interact with. SeamlessAccess is devoted to providing users with an easy, intuitive access journey - which also means that we want to support the user in their language of choice.

Internationalization has been on our roadmap for some time, and today we are very pleased to announce that we are ready to start supporting other languages - and we are calling on your help to offer SeamlessAccess in your local language. If you are willing to support this effort, you can do that by contributing to the set of translations in our GitHub repository. If the language you would like to contribute to is not available yet, please create a .json file in the translations repository, where is the ISO 639-1 two-letter language code. For translation strings, please refer to the English version in the en.json file.

Extending the benefits of SeamlessAccess

SeamlessAccess is delighted with the recent adoption of the service by The HistoryMakers, a non-profit research and educational institution committed to preserving and making widely accessible the untold personal stories of both well-known and unsung African Americans.This integration is a significant milestone because it exemplifies how SeamlessAccess can provide value to a broad range of library users around the world and in a variety of use cases.

“Simplifying access is essential to our mission of making the HistoryMakers Digital Archive accessible to researchers and educators. By removing barriers to access, SeamlessAccess helps us showcase the breadth and depth of the accomplishments of individual African Americans”, said Julieanna Richardson, Founder and President of The HistoryMakers. Read more about it in our recent blog post.

Understanding Where-Are-You-From (WAYF) Challenges

The WAYF Entry Disambiguation Working Group has written a short white paper describing when and how users might be confused by the IdP Discovery WAYF service. Establishing the challenges in this space is the first step towards determining potential solutions for what will become a larger issue as federated authentication services proliferate.

Updates to Terms of Service

We’re making two minor changes to SeamlessAccess’ terms of service for reasons of transparency. First, we have added a sentence to clause 4.3 to more clearly describe the user experience review process before a new integration is released. This process helps to make sure that researchers will have a clear and consistent user experience when using SeamlessAccess across different applications. In addition, we’ve added “This is subject to change” to clause 6.7 to more clearly indicate that SeamlessAccess retains the freedom to move away from the current model of offering the (Beta) service for free to Service Providers in the future.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Upcoming (and Past) Events

On October 14, Heather Flanagan will be speaking about SeamlessAccess and related topics at “Cyber Security in Higher Education”, sponsored by SNSI. Register here

On 24 September, Heather Staines spoke about SeamlessAccess in the webinar “Identity in Research Infrastructure: An overview of how identity is managed in scholarly infrastructure” during Peer Review Week 2021. A recording of the session is available here.

Emerald integrates with SeamlessAccess

Emerald Publishing has implemented SeamlessAccess on the Emerald Insight platform, making it easier for researchers to seamlessly access research from any place and any device. The implementation was done through an integration with LibLynx’s identity & access solution.

In a joint Press Release, Hylke Koers underlined the network effect that underpins the value SeamlessAccess in delivering to users, and how every new integration strengthens this: “We are delighted that Emerald has integrated the SeamlessAccess service on its Insight platform, helping researchers enjoy easy and safe access to content from any location. SeamlessAccess remembers the user’s institutional choice across different publishers’ websites, which means that publishers who join SeamlessAccess – in addition to receiving direct benefits - also contribute to a broader network effect that improves access experiences for researchers across the scholarly web.”

FAQ on Browser Privacy Changes and Library Resource Access

Earlier this year, we already spoke and wrote about upcoming changes to the way that browsers work that are bound to have a significant impact on how researchers access online resources. This is relevant not only for federated authentication (the mechanism that SeamlessAccess builds upon) but also for IP-based access mechanisms, which are still in wide use today in the research community.

The feedback that we have received tells us that the information we shared was found to be really valuable, but equally that there is a significant gap in knowledge and awareness about these changes. In order to help close this gap, we have put together an FAQ on Browser Privacy Changes and Library Resource Access. While the FAQ is primarily intended for librarians and IT departments, we expect that many others will find it useful as well.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Upcoming Events

On 24 September, Heather Staines will be talking about SeamlessAccess in a webinar entitled “Identity in Research Infrastructure: An overview of how identity is managed in scholarly infrastructure” as part of Peer Review Week 2021. You are cordially invited, please register here.

SeamlessAccess and the User Journey

SeamlessAccess is all about providing a seamless, intuitive user experience, with the ideal being that it “just works” with as little user interaction as possible. Interestingly, that also means that it is not always obvious to users what exactly SeamlessAccess is doing for them, and how their user experiences would be different without it. To explain the value of SeamlessAccess in a visual and easily digestible way, we have created a series of videos that are available on our Learning Center.

The latest video in this series, just released, is called “SeamlessAccess and the User Journey”. It offers a step-by-step description of the access user journey from a researcher point of view, demonstrating how SeamlessAccess is making the whole process of accessing a journal article much more straightforward. Check it out here.

Feedback from Integrator Workshops

Over the summer period, we organised three workshops for SeamlessAccess integrators and federation operators. Collectively, these were attended by close to 100 individuals which meant that we were able to get a lot of valuable feedback from different angles on SeamlessAccess’ current offering and our plans for the future.

By and large, the feedback suggested that we have the right items on our current roadmap. In particular, IdP filtering and internationalization were confirmed as priorities, and the team is actively focusing on these topics at the moment. Additional items that we will be taking on board include branding (especially for federation operators) and thinking through the options to include non federated IdP’s such as social in the central discovery service. We always value further feedback: We have a SeamlessAccess Slack channel for general discussions with our community, and any concrete issue reports or feature requests can be submitted as an issue via GitHub.

Once we’re done implementing internationalization, we will be looking for contributions for translations - stay tuned!

Apple’s iCloud Private Relay impacting IP recognition

Even though SeamlessAccess focuses on Federated Authentication as the best technology to enable researchers to access digital resources in a user-friendly and secure way, we realize that for many organisations and for many use cases IP-recognition is still an important access mechanism. With that in mind, we’d like to raise awareness within our community for ongoing work at Apple (dubbed “iCloud Private Relay”) that will anonymize IP addresses for Safari users on both iOS and MacOS. Very recently, Apple published a document that provides guidance for network administrators to prepare their institutions on how to deal with these changes.

These developments at Apple fit into a larger story as changes in legislation and expectations with regard to user privacy are driving significant changes at browser vendors over the next few years - with potentially huge impact on the scholarly web and services like SeamlessAccess. If you’d like to know more about what’s happening in this space, we highly recommend a recent webinar “Web browsers, privacy, and your publishing platform webinar” by Heather Flanagan.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Upcoming Events

On 15 July 2021, the STM Association will be hosting a free webinar on “Web browsers, privacy, and your publishing platform webinar.” In this session, we’ll discuss the changes browser vendors are making to prevent ad networks from tracking users without notice.

SeamlessAccess and Browser Changes

Above, we mentioned the webinar scheduled for 15 July 2021. The changes on the browser roadmap are particularly important to organizations that support controlled access to online resources. The changes on the roadmap for all browsers, while important for privacy, are also impacting browser features used to support federated authentication and even IP address authorization. SeamlessAccess is watching this space closely and will provide regular updates and recommendations to our community so we can adapt to whatever changes are implemented by the browser vendors.

Read more about this in our recent blog post: Web browsers, privacy, and federated identity

The SeamlessAccess Product Roadmap

Work on SeamlessAccess is an ever-evolving set of activities. Over the next few months, we expect several features to be released, including progressive scrolling on the Standard IdP discovery page and various internationalization improvements. Much of our planning and development work is focused on improving how we signal to a user that a given IdP is more or less likely to work with a given service provider. The roadmap is now available on our website and will be updated regularly.

Staff Change

As of July 1st, Hylke Koers has taken over the baton from Heather Flanagan as SeamlessAccess’ Program Director. Hylke recently joined the STM Association as CIO for it’s new STM Solutions initiative, which has access as one of its priorities. Hylke is excited to be part of SeamlessAccess and looks forward to working with the SeamlessAccess community and helping shape its future direction.

Heather Flanagan will continue to stay involved as Technical Liaison, working on an optimal coordination and collaboration between SeamlessAccess and relevant other community groups as well as contributing to the more technically-focused Working Groups.

Eefke Smit, Director S&T of STM and one of the long-term sponsors of SeamlessAccess, says:

“Heather came as a gift from heaven to the project - a woman with exactly the right expertise, the right network and a well-fitting skill set. She took a key role in developing it from RA21 (Resource Access in the 21st Century) into SeamlessAccess.org. This was now 5 years ago. The rest is history – our gratitude for her contributions live on. Her new role will be equally valuable for the future of the project, with SeamlessAccess now ready to go operational."

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Web browsers, privacy, and federated identity

Dr. Jane Smith is a postdoc at a major research institution. Overnight, she upgraded her Apple Macbook to the latest version of Apple’s MacOS. While in her lab she powers up her Macbook and connects to the campus WiFi network. She reads an email from a colleague containing a link to a recently published journal article. She clicks the link, which launches the Safari browser on her Macbook, but receives a message from the publisher’s website saying she doesn’t have access to the article. Strange. She browses to a journal on another publisher’s website that she reads on a regular basis, and also finds she doesn’t have access. Really strange. She asks a colleague in the lab if he is having trouble accessing journal articles. Access from his Windows laptop is working just fine.

This scenario could begin to happen at campuses across the globe in the not-so-distant future. Browser vendors are beginning to signal changes they plan to make that will bolster privacy but could also cause unintended disruption. On June 7, 2021 during Apple’s WWDC conference, Apple announced that subscribers to their iCloud+ service will have their IP address obfuscated from website operators. This is a strong signal regarding Apple’s thoughts on how to protect privacy, and this kind of feature will almost certainly make its way to the rest of Apple’s products (like Safari). While Apple is making this move (and others) to protect user privacy, for an industry that has leveraged IP address recognition as the predominant means of authorizing access to scholarly resources, the potential for unintended disruption is massive.

Even more recently, Google has recommitted to removing support for third-party cookies in 2023. While that is a delay from their original timeline, again we’re seeing browser vendors move in the direction of supporting consumer privacy, potentially at the expense of other legitimate use cases.

Services like SeamlessAccess and even the underlying federated authentication infrastructure utilize various means of exchanging information across website operators. The significant challenge the browser vendors face is trying to distinguish between legitimate use cases and those that are more suspect. The browser vendors would all likely agree that exchanging information among trusted third parties for the purpose of facilitating access to scientific and scholarly resources is quite different from tracking users’ website visits for the purpose of facilitating targeted advertising. However, both of these situations use the same underlying features.

It’s important to note that some of the potential changes under discussion could disrupt usage patterns in common use today. Over twenty years ago, IT architects and visionaries put together ideas for single sign-on (SSO) services that now span the Internet. They developed the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and began organizing the other various systems components to make SSO function. As mobile devices became more prevalent, the limits of SAML led people to develop OAuth, and from there, OpenID Connect. (If you’ve logged into a website using your Google account, you’ve used OpenID Connect.) And, through all of this innovation and development, the most common medium for users to log in and access services and content was via the World Wide Web.

SSO services that use a third-party’s account information are known as “federated.” An individual’s federated identity is their identity information, hosted at one organization like their school, employer, or favorite social media service. Federated identity is used by various service providers to let a user login without creating a new account. The benefits to this arrangement include fewer passwords for a user to keep track of, improved privacy when the user does not need to offer personal information to create an account, and fewer ways for a hacker to compromise service providers. If the service provider doesn’t store the password, the password can’t be hacked through their systems. Federated authentication also supports an additional benefit of allowing for granular release of information about the user (i.e., this site gets this information about the user, while that site gets different information), which, if used properly, can add to privacy and anonymity of the user.

Several pieces of functionality in web browsers enable the features that support federated single sign-on. One of those features are browser cookies. Cookies come in various types, but what they all have in common is that they put a small bit of data in a user’s web browser. That data can serve many different purposes: it can let a site know whether or not a user is logged in, it can be used to store information that will allow a service to personalize services in some manner, and, most infamously, it can be used to track what sites a user visits as they surf the web. That last part is how digital advertising networks collect (sometimes personal) information about users to deliver targeted ads. From the browser’s perspective, though, one cookie looks just like the next. The browser cannot tell the difference between a cookie that lets a service know the user is authenticated from a cookie that allows an advertiser network to track a user around the web. That’s a problem when cookies come under fire because of their role in user tracking.

As the world becomes more aware of and concerned with the privacy implications of engaging on the web, and as legislation like GDPR come into effect, browser vendors like Google (Chrome), Apple (Safari), and Mozilla (Firefox) are trying to figure out how to protect user privacy (e.g. by preventing hidden tracking, obfuscating IP addresses, etc.) while also supporting legitimate use cases like federated single sign on.. Since the tools used by both are technically the same, this is a tricky problem to solve! SeamlessAccess, which does not use third-party cookies and does not track a user in any way, relies on information written into the browser’s storage to streamline the Identity Provider Discovery step in federated authentication. Services like this will also break as browsers restrict sites to reading only the information they themselves have written into the browser’s local storage.

Some browser vendors have already taken steps to block third-party access to information in the browser’s local storage. Apple’s Safari is at the forefront of blocking hidden tracking. But as a result, Safari and other browsers running on iOS and iPadOS are also platforms where services like Microsoft Teams just won’t work anymore. Mozilla’s Firefox has partly implemented the limits on third-party cookies but is actively looking for ways to do this more efficiently. And Google is actively developing their Privacy Sandbox but has realized that deprecating third-party access without a plan for federated single sign-on is a problem and may even open them up to anti-trust lawsuits. As the different vendors diverge on how they support what has been basic functionality on the web, there is a potential for users to be restricted to services only working with a specific browser vendor and their ecosystem.

Several proposals are being explored as potential ways to preserve federated single sign-on while preventing hidden tracking. Still, for right now, they are all just proposals. No one has a solution at hand, not even (or perhaps especially) not the browser vendors themselves. Since there is no solution ready outside of prototypes, the question of when third-party cookies will go the way of the Flash protocol is still open. A new community group in the W3C is forming to consider this challenge in depth - stay tuned to learn more about what happens from here.

SeamlessAccess is monitoring these developments closely and is seeking to provide a vehicle for our community to engage in these issues, since they will have a big impact on libraries, publishers, and anyone else who uses federated identity on the web.

Entity Category Use Case Scenarios

The SeamlessAccess project has a number of initiatives that are designed to improve the wider world of federated authentication beyond just the SeamlessAccess service. Recognizing that existing solutions weren’t suitable for many of the use cases that libraries and publishers have in today’s information landscape, SeamlessAccess has led a number of efforts to improve the flow of authentication and authorization.

The first of these was the Entity Category working group. Entity categories represent agreements between identity providers (libraries or IT departments) and content providers (publishers or vendors) on the nature of user accessing a service. This working group proposed new Entity Categories for use in the configuration of federated authentication systems that outline which attributes about the user are passed from a subscribing organization to a service provider. These two new Entity Categories (Anonymous and Pseudonymous), which were approved by REFEDS earlier this year, give libraries and service providers the technical specifications needed to manage attribute sharing and protect user privacy. But, as we know, technical solutions aren’t always enough, and we discovered that there was a dearth of useful contract language currently that addresses federated authentication at all, much less specifies these new Entity Categories as the standards for technical implementations.

To help in this area, SeamlessAccess convened the Contract Language Working Group, whose job it is to build on the Entity Category work to produce a toolkit for use in contracts between libraries and service providers (and for service providers to have as a reference for library requirements). This group is working to develop model language that can be used to update contracts and documentation to help libraries and providers choose the appropriate entity category for the resource and outcomes they desire.

Today, the Contract Language Working Group is happy to release its Entity Category Use Case Scenarios document for comments. From the introduction to the document:

The goal of this document is to outline the various use cases in order to determine the overlap between user access, authentication and authorization, attribute release, and entity categories used in the federated authentication communication between the Identity Provider and the Service Provider. These use cases will be used to ground the contract language in real world examples.

Comments may be left directly on the Google Doc, and we will be revising as necessary as we move forward in our work and towards the release of the full Contract Language Toolkit. We look forward to your feedback.

Upcoming Events

If you’re interested in a different perspective on federation, education, and research, GÉANT’s TNC21 conference, June 21-25, is always a great source of information. It is also free and entirely virtual this year. More information is available at https://tnc21.geant.org/.

ALA Annual runs from June 23-29, and always has excellent content for the library community. This year, Jason Griffey (NISO) and John Felts (Coastal Carolina University) are presenting a case study on SeamlessAccess to show how one library has approached the use of federated identity as part of their services.

Sharing the User Experience Research

Best practice guidance from SeamlessAccess comes from research into what users find most useful. We share that guidance with the community in the hopes that others will find it useful as they design their own federated authentication workflows. Most recently, we have completed and published a Click Test Research Report which presents the results of user experience tests across four different sites, focusing on what worked (and what did not) in helping the user through the workflow. See more on our User Research Insights documentation page (scroll down to the Click Test Research report at the bottom).

The SeamlessAccess Product Roadmap

Work on SeamlessAccess is an ever-evolving set of activities. Over the next few months, we expect several features to be released, including progressive scrolling on the Standard IdP discovery page and various internationalization improvements. Much of our planning and development work is focused on improving how we signal to a user that a given IdP is more or less likely to work with a given service provider. Below is a copy of our roadmap, which shares our goals and target dates (though the target dates will likely change as real-world activities impact our efforts). We will keep you informed via the newsletter as new features are released!

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This service is governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries, identity providers, and federation operators. We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Welcome, Dr. Hylke Koers, CIO of STM Solutions Dr. Hylke Koers joins STM from a strong background in education, research, and scholarly publishing. He will serve on the SeamlessAccess governance committee as STM’s representative. More information on Dr. Koers and STM Solutions is available on the STM website.

Upcoming Events

On April 27, the STM Association’s Society Day will include a session on SeamlessAccess and GetFTR. The event is free for STM members, and only USD$50 for nonmembers. See more information on the meeting website: https://www.stm-assoc.org/events/stm-spring-conference-society-day-2021/.

If you’re interested in a different perspective on federation, education, and research, GÉANT’s TNC21 conference is always a great source of information. It is also free and entirely virtual this year. More information is available at https://tnc21.geant.org/.

The New REFEDS Entity Categories

Last year, the SeamlessAccess working group on Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles sent a proposal to REFEDS for three new entity categories: Authorization Only, Anonymous Authorization, and Pseudonymous Authorization. The purpose of an entity category is to make a simpler and more standardized way for both Service Providers and Identity Providers to request and share a very specific set of information about a user. While the Authorization Only category was not approved by REFEDS as conflating authentication (the ability to log in) with authorization (the access control information) is poor security practice, Anonymous Authorization and Pseudonymous Authorization were approved unanimously by the REFEDS Steering Committee after the community consultation. A blog post on the approved entity categories is available on the REFEDS blog. See https://refeds.org/a/2558.

Identity Provider Filtering in SeamlessAccess

Thoughts on architecture

By Leif Johansson, Head of Infrastructure Services for SUNET and architect for SeamlessAccess

Today SeamlessAccess presents a single view of all the identity providers it knows about - a single set of IdPs is available for searches to whatever SP is calling the discovery service.

This presents a problem because of the reciprocity problem inherent in how identity federations based on SAML federations work. In this blog post, we will describe the problem and how we propose to solve it.

The reciprocity problem means that Identity federations where technical trust is based on public-key signatures of shared configuration information (aka metadata), while highly scalable, suffer from a basic asymmetry of technical trust: An IdP can choose to trust an SP without any guarantee or even knowledge that the SP will reciprocate and trust the IdP. This causes a fundamental usability problem; A user may be offered an IdP as a possible login choice that will recognize the SP.

In enterprise deployments, this doesn’t happen because establishing trust between SPs and IdPs is always a manual process that is guaranteed to be reciprocated. This approach does not scale however which is why larger federations for decades have been willing to accept a certain amount of pain resulting from the lack of reciprocity of trust inherent in relying on signed metadata to scale federations.

The obvious solution is to always present the user only with such IdPs, that SP made its service available to. In the classical single-federation case (ie when there are no interfederations in place) this is still pretty easy because the federation operator will typically deploy a discovery service configured using the shared SAML metadata of both IdPs and SPs.

With interfederations in play, things become a lot more complicated; an SP may or may not be present in a particular interfederation. This information needs to affect the subset of IdPs available to the discovery service.

A case that is recently affecting many users of SeamlessAccess is that OpenAthens is part of the set of metadata trusted by SeamlessAccess. Some SPs using SeamlessAccess trust OpenAthens (e.g., publishers) and some do not. Because SeamlessAccess can’t tell the difference between these two types of SPs, it will present OpenAthens IdPs even to the users of SPs that do not trust OpenAthens. The result is a very confusing user experience.

Since SeamlessAccess will continue to serve multiple federations we need to be able to present a set of Identity Providers tailored to each SP. A commonly used term of art for the ability to present a tailored set of IdPs to users of a particular SP is to filter the set of IdPs. Filtering implies SP presenting a set of parameters to the SeamlessAccess discovery service that is used to tailor the user experience when presenting IdPs.

There are three basic problems we have to solve when designing filtering for SeamlessAccess:

What parameters/capabilities are needed to express the common use-cases? How are filtering parameters communicated to the discovery service? How is filtering signaled to the user?

The user interface is (unsurprisingly) the hardest problem. Usability is a core value for SeamlessAccess and our UX team is working on methods for signaling filtering with the user through UX elements. The major issue is that the trust profile of an SP is often at odds with the expectations of the user. Let’s look at an example to illustrate this:

Kenny from Podunk University typically uses the Podunk University IdP for accessing all his services. As a result, all of Kenny’s browsers have the PU IdP in browser local storage for SeamlessAccess and when visiting SPs, Kenny’s browser always presents his default choice of IdP.

All is well.

Unfortunately, PU has not yet implemented MFA (multifactor authentication) and one day Kenny is invited to authenticate to a service that requires MFA. The service is using the new filtering capabilities to signal that only IdPs that are capable of MFA, and are tagged as such in metadata, should be presented to the user.

The UX challenge, in this case, is this: what should be presented to Kenny? Should the button be empty (appear as non-configured) because the IdP does not belong to the set of permitted IdPs for the SP? Or should it present the next working IdP choice from users’ browser local storage? How should the discovery service behave when Kenny nevertheless tries to search for “Podunk University”. Remember that Kenny may not even be aware that the SP in question requires MFA and may be quite surprised (irked even) when Podunk University fails to appear as expected in search results.

The objective of this exercise is to get Kenny to a fallback IdP that supports MFA, or in the worst case to inform Kenny that he won’t be able to authenticate to the SP at all. The thing we want to avoid at all costs is sending Kenny on a frustrating wild goose chase through various helpdesks only to find out that he won’t be able to login that day. We want Kenny to succeed or to fail quickly - and hopefully to understand why.

The choice of filtering parameters is the subject of an ongoing dialog within the SeamlessAccess community. We are relying heavily on feedback from federation operators, publishers, and research infrastructure providers (e.g., in the AEGIS community). The basic set of parameters seems to include selecting based on (combinations of):

  • federation membership
  • explicit listing of IdPs
  • capability of the IdP (e.g., by entity attributes)
  • source of the federation

Finally providing filtering parameters to the discovery service can be done in basically two ways:

  1. via the front-channel, by providing filtering parameters in the discovery service protocol request. This is best represented by a proposal from the AEGIS group.
  2. via the backchannel, by providing filtering parameters as configuration to the discovery service on a per-SP basis.

Modern web architecture would suggest (1) as an obvious choice - developers typically have no problem calling web-based APIs, especially those that are based on HTTP redirects.

However most SAML (and OpenID Connect (OIDC)) stacks are hidden from developers and the discovery process is typically not initiated by the application but by the SAML/OIDC stack which is separated from the application and sometimes even running as a separate infrastructure component on a different VM/kernel than the application itself - e.g., part of a TLS concentrator or frontend cluster.

In the case of commonly used software like Shibboleth, AzureAD, ADFS, SimpleSAMLPHP, or pySAML2 the discovery service is called from deep into the library code; adding parameters for doing filtering is difficult at best and impossible in many situations.

Option (1) is really only fully available to federation proxies where the discovery process is fully under the developer’s control. This represents a relatively small number of deployments and would leave the majority of SPs without a mechanism for filtering IdPs.

On closer scrutiny, other problems with option (1) are revealed: Sending parameters in the front-channel will affect the cache-friendly property of the current application which could have a pretty severe impact on SeamlessAccess scalability and the SeamlessAccess application could probably no longer be delivered entirely as an SPA.

There are related proposals (e.g., from AEGIS) covering issues related to proxies that rely on sending additional parameters via the front-channel that are relatively easy for SeamlessAccess to implement and are strongly being considered for inclusion in the SeamlessAccess filtering roadmap. These proposals are not affected by this argument. We will come back to those and other future directions for SeamlessAccess in other posts.

Filtering via the backchannel - option (2) above - means finding some way of conveying filtering parameters for an SP to SeamlessAccess independent of the discovery service request.

Fortunately, there is already a mechanism for providing such configuration information about SPs: SAML metadata. The solution SeamlessAccess is working on currently is to extend SAML metadata with information about which sets of IdPs are trusted by an SP. We are currently working on a specification we hope to present to the SeamlessAccess community and relevant standards bodies for consideration and in parallel, we are working on an implementation.

A downside of using SAML metadata is that it often takes a long time for SAML metadata extensions to be available in the tooling used by federation operators and that it increases the size of metadata. Our plan is to reduce this pain by providing a mechanism whereby SPs can annotate metadata at SeamlessAccess site (aka, “pixie dusting”).

Our roadmap for filtering looks something like this:

  1. Communicate and get feedback from the SeamlessAccess stakeholders on filtering parameters and UX/UI
  2. Specify a metadata extension for representing reciprocal trust information that can be used by early adopters
  3. Identify and implement a possible extension to MDQ that are needed to effectively communicate filtering to the SeamlessAccess frontend
  4. Implement the chosen UX/UI solution for filtering
  5. Begin roll-out
  6. Provide a pixie-dusting service

As soon as we have deployed a mechanism for filtering, we plan to open SeamlessAccess to subscribe to arbitrary metadata feeds - this could be your federation feed (including entities not provided to edugain) or a set of private metadata that is only relevant to a single SP. If it is possible for SeamlessAccess to fetch and update metadata we will make every effort to do so.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. We’re back from a short hiatus in newsletter writing, and the last few months have seen quite a bit of work happening within SeamlessAccess and in the broader federated identity community! We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Upcoming Events

On 16 March, OpenAthens is hosting a session at their Access Lab 2021 event that includes a case study on one library’s experience with SeamlessAccess, Shibboleth, and OpenAthens. Registration is now closed, but the content will be publicly available from 1 July 2021. More information is available on the Access Lab page: https://openathens.org/access-lab-2021/.

On April 27, the STM Association’s Society Day will include a session on SeamlessAccess and GetFTR. See more information on the meeting website: https://www.stm-assoc.org/events/stm-spring-conference-society-day-2021/.

If you are interested in learning more about federations around the world, REFEDS will be hosting a free webinar on 1 April that examines the results of the most recent REFEDS Annual Survey. It’s an excellent opportunity to see how different federations are structured, their priorities, and their challenges. Registration is available here: https://events.geant.org/event/581/.

NISO Plus Roundup

The SeamlessAccess session at NISO Plus was a fun and engaging session! Discussion, particularly in the Q&A after the event, was active, with librarians, federation operators, and publishers all involved in better understanding the technologies behind SeamlessAccess. If you missed the session, you can see the recording here: https://nisoplus2021.cadmore.media/Title/dcddde5b-cef9-45dd-a932-cd546c84760b.

New REFEDS Consultation - eduPerson Analytics ID The REFEDS Schema Editorial Board’s subcommittee, the eduPerson Analytics Code subcommittee, has proposed a new attribute to be added to the eduPerson schema – a common schema for identity metadata used globally by education and research organizations – that would provide a way for an institution to send through a set of reporting codes as part of the authentication transaction that a Service Provider could then use to create segmented usage reports. The primary use case captures the need of a publisher/library scenario where data is needed to understand the use of a given resource and be able to classify that resource into buckets (such as internal billing codes). This happens outside the authentication/authorization transaction and so is not itself an entitlement. If you would like to know more about this proposed attribute and the type of information that it would contain, please see the REFEDS Consultation page: https://wiki.refeds.org/display/CON/Consultation%3A+eduPersonAnalyticsID.

This consultation is open from: 4 March 2021 15:00 CET to 5 April 2021 17:00 CET.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. We’re back from a short hiatus in newsletter writing, and the last few months have seen quite a bit of work happening within SeamlessAccess and in the broader federated identity community! We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Events The NISO Plus conference is happening this week, February 22-25, and SeamlessAccess is on the agenda! Come join us on Monday, February 24 for an Introduction to SeamlessAccess as well as a more in-depth conversation, SeamlessAccess - a Conversation between Service Providers and Librarians. Registration is available here: https://niso.plus/register-for-niso-plus-2021/

And on March 27, the STM Association’s Society Day will include a session on SeamlessAccess and GetFTR. See more information on the meeting website: https://www.stm-assoc.org/events/stm-spring-conference-society-day-2021/

Call for Participation: WAYF Entry Disambiguation Working Group

SeamlessAccess focuses on the Where-Are-You-From (WAYF) aspect of the Federated Identity Management (FIM) workflow. The metadata that sources the list of Identity Providers (IdPs) to users is often aggregated from several sources in order to get the broadest list possible. While providing the user as much choice in IdPs as possible is usually a good thing, we are seeing significant confusion when an institution has two IdPs with the same Display Name. Most commonly to date, this is found when an institution has a campus IdP and a library-specific IdP service (although this issue could arise with any organization where multiple IdPs might be implemented).

For example: WAYF disambiguation example

From the user’s perspective, these are the same. From a technical perspective, however, these are different. One point to ‘https://login.bc.edu/idp/shibboleth' and the other points to ‘https://idp.bc.edu/openathens'. We are beginning to see this area of potential confusion more frequently, and the above example is just the first that we identified.

This problem touches on every stakeholder in the FIM workflow, from the end users, the librarians, the service providers, the identity providers, and the federations. SeamlessAccess is in a good position to bridge all these groups, and to that end we are forming a new working group to specifically look at this problem and come up with some best practice guidelines. If you are interested in participating, please reach out to contact@seamlessaccess.org to get involved!

#Monitoring the Services The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. We’re back from a short hiatus in newsletter writing, and the last few months have seen quite a bit of work happening within SeamlessAccess and in the broader federated identity community! We’re excited to bring you up to date on the latest news.

Upcoming Events

The NISO Plus conference will be a wholly online event this year from February 22-25, and SeamlessAccess is on the agenda! Come join us on Monday, February 24 for an Introduction to SeamlessAccess as well as a more in-depth conversation, SeamlessAccess - a Conversation between Service Providers and Librarians. Registration is available here: https://niso.plus/register-for-niso-plus-2021/

LIBER’s Federated Identity Management for Libraries

LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche – Association of European Research Libraries) is the voice of Europe’s research library community, and hosts the Federated Identity Management for Libraries (FIM4L) working group. FIM4L released their first set of recommendations, “Federated Access to Online Resources: Principles & Recommendations for Library Services.” From the abstract:

“Publishers and suppliers of licensed online resources want to provide authorized users of institutions for higher education and research with access to their services in a controlled way. This document aims to function as a reference for libraries and publishers who want to set up an SSO connection.”

Please feel free to join the conversation. More information about FIM4L is available here: https://www.fim4l.org

Kicking off the First Integrator’s Workshop

Service Providers who have a SeamlessAccess integration in production met in December to discuss various aspects of the user experience, share best practices, and discuss the SeamlessAccess project road map. The group focused on evolving aspects of the user experience, among them, the varied approaches implementers have taken for displaying when there is an IdP choice stored in the browser but that institution either is not configured for federated access or does not provide access to the content or service. The participants also reviewed user experience recommendations for notifying the user about what is being saved in their browser and what entity is doing the saving.

These discussions were exploratory in nature; the goal is to work together to refine the best practices based on the real-world experience these implementers bring to the table. Our goal is to have these meetings once a quarter. Any changes will ultimately be reflected in our documentation and in the implementations themselves.

Lead UX Designer - job posting

And speaking of integrations and user experience, we have posted a contract position on our website for a Lead UX Designer. Please share in your networks! https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-12-31-lead-ux-designer/

An Update on the Proposed Entity Categories As is common with these kinds of diligent standardization processes, it has taken some time, but the final step for approval of the proposed entity categories is expected this month as the REFEDS Steering Committee votes on whether REFEDS will accept the entity categories as revised through the consultation process.

See our blog post, https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-07-08-entitycategories/, for more information on the entity categories and the consultation process.

Contract Language Working Group - Update

The Contract Language working group is working together to put together language that libraries, Identity providers, and Service providers can use to ease the burden of agreeing on contract terms in the face of new federated authentication efforts. Traditional contracts in use by libraries and publishers have focused on IP authentication, and the language needed to allow for federated authentication is very different. Our goal is to produce a toolkit that different players in the authentication efforts can use to have some standard understanding and language to use as federated authentication becomes more and more prevalent in the information ecosystem.

To this end we have thus far agreed on a set of use cases that fit library and publisher needs in regards to information exchange, limiting information exchanged to the minimum necessary for the service in question by using the work of the Entity Category standards mentioned above. The next stage of our work is the development of the toolkit itself, which will take place through at least summer of 2021. .

Monitoring the Services

The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

Lead UX Designer & Strategist (part time)

SeamlessAccessLead UX Designer & Strategist – estimated .25 FTE for 6-12 months; Location: remote

SeamlessAccess seeks a strategically minded senior UX practitioner familiar with UX research and design activities to continue the evolution and adoption of SeamlessAccess services among a range of groups and organizations that support the research and education community. SeamlessAccess is actively collaborating with service providers who are implementing the service’s persistence service and/or central identity provider discovery service in a Beta Phase. The UX designer is expected to take a lead role providing design guidance and consulting with the UX teams of implementing organizations, as well as plan and help execute ongoing validation of existing and evolving design recommendations, including usability testing, user research, and analytics.

Success in this role will require close collaboration with the small development team and a diverse set of stakeholders from multiple organizations.

Main tasks:

  • Advocate and articulate the SeamlessAccess design principles, patterns, and recommendations to product teams at implementing organizations.
  • Understand implementers’ use cases and design constraints and make appropriate design recommendations that will work across a broad-spectrum of implementation use-cases.
  • Facilitate workshops, design reviews, and other collaborative working experiences.
  • Define appropriate methods to validate the value and usability of design solutions.
  • Serve as the advocate for the end user by performing user research, conducting user task analysis, developing use cases, and communicating user needs to stakeholders.
  • Update and maintain UX guidelines documentation (see Seamlessaccess.org/documentation).
  • Participate in regular design reviews: provide, and engage with, constructive feedback.
  • Effectively convey design elements and interactions to the development team, including mobile first visual design and CSS specifications as needed.
  • Ensure solution meets accessibility standards.
  • Design and help implement aspects of the branding, information site, and other collateral for the service.

Skills and experience:

  • Eight or more years of industry experience in UX design, interaction design, information architecture, UX strategy, user research, or similar field.
  • Strong portfolio of work demonstrating experience applying user centered design, user analysis techniques, and responsive web design. Experience creating and applying design patterns a plus.
  • Demonstrated experience leading complex projects with multiple stakeholders.
  • Able to produce design artifacts with tools such as Adobe XD, Sketch, Photoshop, etc.
  • Experience designing to meet WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards; ability to interpret and validate that a product meets global accessibility standards.
  • Able to take complex information and communicate it clearly, concisely, and accurately.
  • Excellent presentation skills.
  • Ideal candidate has experience in technologies relating to scholarly communications or publishing. Experience with or understanding of authentication and identity management technologies a plus.
  • Fluent in English.

Employment conditions:

This position will be subject to a temporary consultancy contract with the International Association of STM Publishers (STM) against a fixed or not-to-exceed fee and will not entail an employment contract. The first contract will be for 6 months at 0.25 FTE, open to further extensions and possibly at a different work-factor as the project requires.

About SeamlessAccess:

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

To apply:

To apply, please email your resume and a cover letter highlighting your relevant skills and experience and how it applies to the role and requirements outlined, to (contact@seamlessaccess.org).

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. The last two months had quite a bit of work happening behind the scenes, and we’re excited about bringing you up to date on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.

Welcome, Wiley Online Library

Wiley Online Library, through their platform provider Atypon, is the newest implementer of SeamlessAccess. You can see their implementation by clicking on “Read the full text” for any article.

For the full list of advanced and standard implementers, see our Service Provider page.

SeamlessAccess Code Updates

Over the last few weeks, SeamlessAccess has improved our core search function to support internationalized searches. Also the most recent release for the Identity Provider (IdP) Discovery Service includes a checkbox that allows users to choose not to have SeamlessAccess store their selected IdP in their web browser.

Webinar Links

The International Association of STM Publishers offered a webinar on SeamlessAccess and GetFTR: slides are available at https://www.stm-assoc.org/events/implementing-seamless-access-and-getftr-a-free-webinar-from-stm-and-atypon/ and the recording can be found here; the passcode is: W1Nm*1cA The Springer Nature Summit, “The State of SeamlessAccess,” included a keynote by Jason Griffey (NISO) as well as a panel discussion with Laird Barrett (SpringerNature), Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign), Linda Van Keuren (Georgetown University Medical Center), and Heather Flanagan (SeamlessAccess). The recording is available online (free registration required): https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/1844935841431907341?sap-outbound-id=1019B1E80F53147016374421B51AA68614D665F7

Status - Entity Categories

The work to establish new entity categories, initially proposed by the SeamlessAccess Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group, is currently in review by the REFEDS Schema Editorial Board, maintainers of federation-level entity categories.

What is an entity category?

“Entity Categories group federation entities that share common criteria. The intent is that all entities in a given entity category are obliged to conform to the characteristics set out in the definition of that category.

While Entity Categories have multiple potential uses, they were initially conceived as a way to facilitate IdP decisions to release a defined set of attributes to SPs without the need for detailed local review for each SP. The decision by the IdP would instead be based on the criteria detailed in each SP entity category specification. Categories were also conceived for IdPs to indicate support for the SP categories; SPs would use this information to tailor discovery and other aspects of the user experience.” - REFEDS Entity Categories home page

More information on the proposed entity categories can be found on our blog post: https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-07-08-entitycategories/

#Community Engagement The Contract Language Working Group is continuing its efforts to define and promote language that may be used in contracts that include provisions for Federated Access. While the group is working through existing examples, finding those examples has proven challenging. There is a great deal of improvement to be offered in this space! The working group expects its work will continue through the end of the year, with a public report to be developed in Q1 2021.

#Monitoring the Services The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. The last two months had quite a bit of work happening behind the scenes, and we’re excited about bringing you up to date on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.

Welcome, ScienceDirect

Since our last newsletter, Elsevier has implemented SeamlessAccess in its ScienceDirect journal. See our announcement: https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-07-28-sciencedirect/

SeamlessAccess v1.3 - New Features!

On 8 September, SeamlessAccess rolled out a new feature for the Identity Provider (IdP) discovery service that supports a user’s choice for allowing SeamlessAccess to store their choice of IdP in their browser. This feature is available by default in the Standard and Limited integrations, and must be implemented directly by the Service Provider (SP) for the Advanced integration.

Upcoming Webinar

Two industry initiatives focused on improving access to scholarly information, SeamlessAccess and GetFTR, have made much progress this year, seeing uptake from major publishers and platforms and growing usage.

Providing streamlined, easy-to-use access to remote users is now even more important due to the global pandemic.

Come hear about the latest developments from both initiatives. Atypon has recently released support for both initiatives on their platform and will be discussing their experience with the projects, as well as providing practical advice on how to activate these features if you use their platform.

Registration is free: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/implementing-seamless-access-and-getftr-a-free-webinar-from-stm-tickets-118367102189

Consultation Period - Entity Categories

The consultation period for the three proposed entity categories closed on 31 August 2020. Originally announced on 6 July 2020, the consultation process included several webinars geared towards a variety of stakeholder groups. A recording of the NISO webinar, geared towards librarians and publishers, is available on the NISO website: https://www.niso.org/events/2020/08/seamless-access-presents-entity-categories-and-attribute-bundles

The next step for these entity categories falls to REFEDS, the home for entity categories like these. The REFEDS Schema Editorial Board will consider the comments received and determine what, if any, any revisions and approvals are required.

More information on the proposed entity categories can be found on our blog post: https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-07-08-entitycategories/

Community Engagement

The Contract Language Working Group kicked off in August with twenty participants from around the world and across different sectors. The goal of this group is to define and promote language that may be used in contracts that include provisions for Federated Access. Outputs from this group will be shared publicly. Stay tuned for more information!

Monitoring the Services

The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

ScienceDirect integrates SeamlessAccess to provide improved remote access options for researchers

We are happy to announce that ScienceDirect, Elsevier’s large platform of peer-reviewed scholarly literature, is the latest service provider to go live with SeamlessAccess.

Researchers will now see the SeamlessAccess ‘Access through your institution’ button clearly marked on ScienceDirect article pages. When they click on the button, if their institution has an authorized subscription to ScienceDirect, they are authenticated by their institution and can use ScienceDirect services in the usual way. Elsevier expects that this will provide researchers with more convenient and secure institutional access to its site, anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

ScienceDirect joins the increasing number of services which have implemented SeamlessAccess. By providing a consistent user experience via the SeamlessAccess button across multiple services, we hope to increase user understanding and smooth access to the critical information resources researchers need at a time when their work is more important than ever.

“The impact of coronavirus means the ability to easily work from home is now more important than ever for researchers around the world. The integration of SeamlessAccess on ScienceDirect provides a way for researchers to be able to do this effortlessly on our platform, safe in the knowledge that they are doing this securely, and that their privacy and data is protected. ScienceDirect is the biggest integrator of SeamlessAccess so far, and we look forward to having more publishers and electronic resource owners integrate the service so that we can collectively improve the access experience to many more resources for the research community,” said Gaby Appleton, Managing Director Researcher Products, Elsevier.

More information can be found on Elsevier’s website.

Outreach Survey

A report on the results of the recent surveys of academic IT and library staff to better understand the issues around the implementation of federated authentication is now available: https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-06-23-surveyresults/.

ORCID

SeamlessAccess recently announced the extension of its beta phase at least through the end of this calendar year. ORCID, one of the founding partners of the SeamlessAccess coalition, is currently focusing its efforts on improving core services and adding value to its stakeholders whilst it is in the process of seeking a new Executive Director to lead the next stage of the organization’s development. As a result, ORCID has decided not to participate in the SeamlessAccess coalition during the extension. The other founding partners, GÉANT, Internet2, NISO, and STM have renewed their commitment and continue to support and extend the service during the beta period. ORCID wishes SeamlessAccess continued success and will be following the results of the beta with interest.

Consultation Period

The Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group has concluded its work and submitted its proposed specifications to REFEDS. These specifications exist to provide common language for Identity Providers and Service Providers to use when describing exactly what information should be released (if any) to enable access to online materials.

A blog post is available that offers links to the consultation process and the registration page for a NISO webinar on August 10, 2020, where we will discuss these entity categories in more detail. See: https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-07-08-entitycategories/

#Community Engagement With the work of the Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group now in the hands of the broader community, it is time to spin up a new working group that defines and promotes language that may be used in subscriber contracts with provisions for federated access. Contact Jason Griffey for more information!

Monitoring the Services

The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between four organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

In order to encourage the clear and consistent operation of federated authentication between Service Providers (such as scholarly publishers), Identity Providers (such as campus IT administrators), and other stakeholder groups (such as librarians), the SeamlessAccess Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group has proposed three specifications that aim to provide a common set of terms and definitions for use when describing exactly what information should be requested by the Service Provider as well as what should be released (if any) by the institution to enable access to online materials.

These specifications, called Entity Categories, are offered to allow administrators of identity management systems to have easy-to-use configuration guidance that supports appropriate information sharing between parties. These entity categories also offer business units within the institution the opportunity to consider these descriptions as input into their contractual language with Service Providers.

Because these entity categories impact the metadata managed by identity federations, SeamlessAccess has asked REFEDS, the Research and Education Federation community organization, to become the custodians for these entity categories. This includes running the consultation process and managing any subsequent changes to the specifications. NISO will be following this process as well, and will be co-signing these recommended practices as a part of their standards work and work as a member of the SeamlessAccess coalition. All stakeholders in the federated identity management ecosystem are encouraged to offer their comments during this consultation period.

The three entity categories are:

  • Authentication Only - this use case covers authentication only; the Service Provider does not want any attributes (specific pieces of data about an authenticated user) from the Identity Provider, only a confirmation that the authentication was successful.

  • Anonymous Authorization - this use case supports authorization decisions through the sharing of additional information such as entitlement data (e.g., faculty versus student), while keeping the user completely anonymous to Service Providers.

  • Pseudonymous Authorization - this use case supports authentication, authorization, and allows for personalization per Service Provider through the sharing of a per-service user identifier without requesting any personal information such as name or email address.

The public comment period starts on July 6, 2020, and will run for eight weeks until August 31, 2020. Information on how to participate in the consultation is here: https://wiki.refeds.org/display/CON/Consultations+Home. Each entity category has its own consultation page.

NISO will be hosting a webinar on Monday, August 10, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. EDT (14:00 UTC) geared towards librarians and publishers to discuss these entity categories; registration information is available here: http://www.niso.org/events/2020/08/seamless-access-presents-entity-categories-and-attribute-bundles.

The SeamlessAccess Outreach Committee recently conducted surveys of academic IT and library staff to better understand the issues around implementation of federated authentication.

The overall results indicate that there is room for improvement in the communications between academic libraries and their institutional IT departments.

While the surveys were developed to inform our outreach activities, we believe the results will be of interest to the wider community and are sharing our findings. Research questions addressed in the surveys include:

  • How many libraries have implemented federated authentication for library resources?
  • How well do libraries and IT understand federated authentication?
  • How well do libraries and IT communicate about federated authentication?
  • How much do libraries and IT know about the NISO RA21 recommendation?

Responses were received from 290 library and IT professionals.

We encourage readers to download our Summary of Findings (9 pages) and explore the results themselves. This document includes information about the survey methodology and response demographics, but comments from survey participants have been excluded to preserve anonymity.

If you have feedback or would like more information about these survey results, please contact SeamlessAccess at contact@SeamlessAccess.org.

We’re excited to announce the publication of the first in a series of videos designed to support learning and education around the SeamlessAccess service.

A key part of our mission is to improve understanding of the technologies that support our SeamlessAccess experience. To date, a significant proportion of our outreach activity has been in-person presentations at meetings and conferences. Given the current circumstances, and our desire to engage audiences that don’t have access to the same opportunities, we are developing a series of educational videos.

The first two video titles focus on addressing questions and concerns about federated authentication, the technology underlying the SeamlessAccess service. Both are designed to provide accessible overviews for a non-technical audience:

  • How Federated Authentication works provides a conceptual understanding of how this technology enables more seamless and privacy-preserving access, including definitions of key terms, such as Service Provider, Identity Provider, and Identity Federation.

  • Privacy, Attributes, and Why They’re Important builds on the previous video to describe the role that Attributes play in preserving user privacy, and the particular challenge that libraries face in configuring library access.

Future videos will address other core topics around the use of the SeamlessAccess service, as well as implementation guides covering the various user communities, such as libraries, technical departments, and publishers.

Over time, we will also expand the range of video features available, including subtitles in multiple languages to improve accessibility.

Our video series can also be found at the SeamlessAccess YouTube Channel.

We welcome your input - please email us at contact@SeamlessAccess.org if you have feedback or suggestions for future videos.

Extension of the Beta Phase

With so many communities learning new ways to function, the governance committee for SeamlessAccess has made the decision to extend the beta period for SeamlessAccess through at least the end of this calendar year. This will allow us to continue to consult with our stakeholder communities on what’s working, and what isn’t, before we announce this as a full production service.

Learning Videos

The SeamlessAccess Outreach Committee has kicked off a video series designed to explain some of the details of federated identity to the world. ‘How Federated Authentication Works’ and ‘Privacy and Attributes’ are available on the new SeamlessAccess YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHVM4zXwtO3mKgGxBAwVVaQ. Future videos will include explanations on how SeamlessAccess works, from the user, service provider, and library perspectives, as well as an explanation around the challenges of IP address authorization.

Outreach Survey

Last month, the SeamlessAccess outreach committee sent out a survey to campus libraries and IT support teams to gain a better understanding of the technical environment in which they work. A working group continues to analyze the survey results, and intends to have a report posted on the SeamlessAccess blog by the end of June 2020.

Community Engagement

The Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group is wrapping up its recommendations for three new entity categories. The goal of these entity categories is to help ease the burden of configuration on the part of the Identity Providers; ultimately, it is the Identity Provider that will decide whether or not to support these entity categories in their systems. The current list is:

  • Authentication Only - this use case covers authentication only; the Service Provider does not want any attributes from the Identity Provider
  • Anonymous Authorization - this use case supports authorization in addition to authentication while keeping the user completely anonymous to the Service Provider
  • Pseudonymous Authorization- this use case supports authentication, authorization, and allows for personalization per SP

All proposed entity categories will go through a public comment process, and will ultimately feed into a new working group that will focus specifically on appropriate contract language to define the terms of attribute release between a library and a publisher. A notice will be sent to this announce list and through social media when the public comment period starts with information on how to review the entity categories.

Monitoring the Services

The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between five organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), ORCID, and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This is the monthly update for March 2020 where we catch up on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.org.

SeamlessAccess in the News

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe (U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Ralph Youngen (American Chemical Society) are the presenters of the next IAM Online webinar on 13 May 2020. Information on federated access and the tools to enable it (including SeamlessAccess!) are the topics of the session. For more information, and a calendar link, see “Simplifying Federated Access to Scholarly Content and Services” on the IAM Online website: https://www.incommon.org/academy/webinars/

And in other news, have you read The Scholarly Kitchen article, “Guest Post – Seamless Remote Access During a Global Pandemic: An Indispensable Necessity”? The article touches on many of the challenges and opportunities to improve access to scholarly content immediately, given the current global pandemic that has closed the physical doors to campuses and research organizations everywhere. SeamlessAccess has played an important role in this for the American Chemical Society; the article is worth a read!

Outreach Survey

Last month, the SeamlessAccess outreach committee sent out a survey to campus libraries and IT support teams to gain a better understanding of the technical environment in which they work. A working group is currently analyzing the survey results, and intends to have a report posted on the SeamlessAccess blog by the end of May 2020.

Community Engagement

The Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group is almost ready to release its recommendation for three new entity categories. The goal of these entity categories is to help ease the burden of configuration on the part of the Identity Providers; ultimately, it is the Identity Provider that will decide whether or not to support these entity categories in their systems. The current list is:

  • Authentication only - this use case covers authentication only; the Service Provider does not want any attributes from the Identity Provider
  • Anonymous - this use case supports authorization in addition to authentication while keeping the user completely anonymous to the Service Provider
  • Pseudonymous - this use case supports authentication, authorization, and allows for personalization per SP

The group considered whether a fourth category, one that explicitly supported sharing personal information with a particular type of Service Provider, was appropriate. The decision was to not create an entity category for that - any such sharing should be a more explicit, one-on-one discussion between a Service Provider, an Identity Provider, and the user.

All proposed entity categories will go through a public comment process, and will ultimately feed into a new working group that will focus specifically on appropriate contract language to define the terms of attribute release between a library and a publisher.

Monitoring the Services

The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can sign up for alerts for outages or to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between five organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), ORCID, and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This is the monthly update for March 2020 where we catch up on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.org.

SeamlessAccess in the News

Choice, one of the publishing units at the Association of College & Research Libraries (a division of the American Library Association), released a series of podcasts last month on digital access to scholarly content. The podcasts feature interviews with Heather Flanagan, Program Director for SeamlessAccess, and Laird Barrett, Digital Product Manager at Springer Nature. All four episodes are available now at https://www.choice360.org/librarianship/podcast.

SeamlessAccess will be featured on an IAM Online webinar on 13 May 2020. Keep an eye on the IAM Online website for more information: https://www.incommon.org/academy/webinars/

Outreach Survey

Two surveys were administered between February 10-March 27. One survey was aimed at academic IT staff, the other at academic library staff. The purpose of these services is to help SeamlessAccess better understand the diverse situations in academia for accessing online scholarly content. We received 290 responses: 159 from libraries, and 131 from academic IT. Responses were received from 20 different countries, however, the majority were from the US and Europe. More information on the findings from these surveys will be made available on the SeamlessAccess blog later this month.

Community Engagement

The Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group is currently reviewing proposals for four new entity categories. The names are not final; we’re focusing on the intent for now. The working group will discuss whether it is appropriate to propose all four categories; this list is not final.

  • Authentication only - this use case covers authentication only; the Service Provider does not want any attributes from the Identity Provider
  • Anonymous - this use case supports authorization in addition to authentication while keeping the user completely anonymous to the Service Provider
  • Pseudonymous - this use case supports authentication, authorization, and allows for personalization per SP
  • Explicit - this use case supports authorization and personalization by default.

The goal of these entity categories is to help ease the burden of configuration on the part of the Identity Providers; ultimately, it is the Identity Provider that will decide whether or not to support these entity categories in their systems.

All proposed entity categories will go through a public comment process, and will ultimately feed into a new working group that will focus specifically on appropriate contract language to define the terms of attribute release between a library and a publisher.

Monitoring the Services

The availability of the SeamlessAccess services is publicly viewable at https://status.seamlessaccess.org. You can also sign up for alerts to be notified when software updates are made to the services.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between five organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), ORCID, and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This is the monthly update for March 2020 where we catch up on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.org.

SeamlessAccess in the News

Choice, one of the publishing units at the Association of College & Research Libraries (a division of the American Library Association), is releasing a series of podcasts this month on digital access to scholarly content. The podcasts feature interviews with Heather Flanagan, Program Director for SeamlessAccess, and Laird Barrett, Digital Product Manager at Springer Nature This is a four-episode series, and the first two episodes are available now at https://choice360.org/librarianship/podcast/episode-114 and https://choice360.org/librarianship/podcast/episode-115.

In addition to the podcasts, you may be interested in the collaborative session notes from the NISO Plus session, “Seamless Access — A Conversation between Service Providers and Librarians.” These are community-authored notes from the 90-minute session presented by Ralph Youngen (ACS) and Lisa Hinchliffe (University of Illinois).

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yUcsV063WieEkyNS83rCyDwgUQwhTzUMXNMEfKUcivQ/edit#heading=h.sedijqflf15

If you find these notes interesting, you’ll be even more interested in an upcoming webinar, currently scheduled for May 13. Additional details will be provided in next month’s SeamlessAccess newsletter.

Outreach Survey

The SeamlessAccess Outreach Committee has created a survey to help us better understand how federated identity management is implemented at higher education institutions. The survey is available online and will remain open until 27 March 2020:

https://seamlessaccess.org/posts/2020-02-21-surveys/

#Community Engagement

The Entity Categories and Attribute Bundles Working Group is currently reviewing proposals for three new entity categories:

  • Anonymous access - indicating the Service Provider does not want any attributes from the Identity Provider
  • Access with pseudonymous identifier/entitlement/affiliation - indicating the information required by the Service Provider to allow for authorization decisions
  • Access with personal data/entitlement/affiliation - indicating a request to include personal data

The goal of these entity categories is to help ease the burden of configuration on the part of the Identity Providers; ultimately, it is the Identity Provider that will decide whether or not to support these entity categories in their systems.

All proposed entity categories will go through a public comment process, and will ultimately feed into a new working group that will focus specifically on appropriate contract language to define the terms of attribute release between a library and a publisher.

Stay tuned for more information next month, where we will talk about monitoring services and future webinar opportunities!

SeamlessAccess.org is a service, governed as a coalition between five organizations: GÉANT, Internet2, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), ORCID, and the International Association of STM Publishers. Participants include researchers, service providers, libraries and identity providers and federation operators, vendors, publishers.

SeamlessAccess intends to improve the way people from universities and colleges around the globe access content and services. To better understand the diverse situation in these institutions we have constructed two short surveys, available till March 27th 2020:

Please either fill out the survey or forward it to mailing lists, websites, or other forums followed by people working in academic libraries or IT.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This is the monthly update for February 2020 where we catch up on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.org.

Upcoming Conference Sessions

NISO Plus (February 23-25, 2020)

Tim Lloyd (CEO, LibLynx) will offer an introduction to SeamlessAccess for those new to the service, and Ralph Youngen (Director, Publishing Systems Integration, American Chemical Society) and Lisa Hinchliffe (Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) will kick off a more in-depth conversation about SeamlessAccess and its implications in the research and library communities.

Community Engagement

The Entity Category and Attribute Bundle working group, a group of librarians, service providers, and federation operators, continues their efforts to define appropriate mechanisms around attribute release. Attributes are the information that an identity provider such as a library or research laboratory may share with a service provider, and can include signaling when no attributes at all should be released, when specific attributes should be optional, or when specific attributes are required. The group is currently working through various use cases to determine what makes sense and where the commonalities are when it comes to what attributes are required, and when. So far, the use cases suggest the need for two new categories:

  • An entity category to signal a common set of attributes when required by an SP.

  • A no-attribute tag, indicating no attributes at all should be released.

After this working group produces its recommendations, a new group that focuses on how to incorporate those recommendations into contracts will kick-off.

Outreach Survey

The SeamlessAccess Outreach Committee has created a survey to help us better understand how federated identity management is implemented at higher education institutions. The survey is available online and will remain open until 27 March 2020:

https://bostoncollege.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0Vv0iXWMLZMd9VH

Website Update

A new and improved website for https://SeamlessAccess.org will be published later this month. We hope you will find it significantly easier to navigate! Feedback will be most welcome.

Advanced Integration for Service Providers

There are several levels of integration possible with the SeamlessAccess service:

  • Limited - lets you use the SeamlessAccess discovery service for users to find and sign into their preferred Identity Provider, but doesn’t integrate this service into your site
  • Standard - lets you use the SeamlessAccess service to display the button on your site, and use the SeamlessAccess discovery and persistence services as integrated components on your site
  • Advanced - provides you with the SeamlessAccess persistence service while giving you greater control over the appearance of the service on your site, and what Identity Providers (IdPs) you include in your discovery service

An email went out last month to all Advanced Integration service providers to offer some clarifications about this level of integration, based on what we’ve learned so far through the implementations during the beta phase. You can read that message here: https://seamlessaccess.org/general/2020/01/13/clarifications/.

Following feedback before and during the Internet2 Technology Exchange, the Seamless Access program is reviewing the permissible use of the stored Identity Provider (IdP) preference information when using some of the SeamlessAccess.org integration models (see our “Getting Started” page for more information about the different integration models).

What we realized is that in its current form, authorized Service Providers (SPs) using the advanced integration model may be able to access stored IdP choices before a user logs into that SP’s service. When a website authorized to use SeamlessAccess connects their Federated Identity Management (FIM) service, the website can see the user’s previous choice of IdP before any user authentication occurs. This design choice was originally made to enable full flexibility of the user interface for advanced integrators, for example, to display the preferred IdP in the interface. Further, integrators using the limited and standard integration models are unable to access stored IdP choices.

We now understand that the current situation has some privacy implications that take the service beyond what SeamlessAccess has been promising. For example, a SeamlessAccess-authorized SP could potentially collect information about exactly which IdPs are preferred by the user (which is often correlated to a person’s affiliation) without the user being aware. While the persisted choice of IdP is not considered personally identifiable information (see the WAYF Cloud and P3W Security & Privacy Recommendations from RA21 for more detail) the exposure of any information outside of what matches a more traditional authentication flow runs counter to the principles of SeamlessAccess.

The SeamlessAccess Governance Committee is currently evaluating several options to remediate this unintended possibility, including, but not limited to:

  • Changes to the advanced integration API which make it impossible to access the stored IdP choices while still allowing the UI customization and integration with local discovery services for which this model was originally intended.
  • A UI mechanism to allow users to grant permission to SPs to access their stored IdP preference information.
  • Clear prohibition in the Terms of Use of SeamlessAccess of utilization of stored preference information in any way that is not intended.

In order to become an authorized SP for the advanced integration model using our production service, the SP has to follow a process that includes a review of their proposed integration with SeamlessAccess. The SeamlessAccess governance committee is currently working with appropriate legal counsel to develop a strong Terms of Service and Privacy Statements that will be part of authorizing any new SP. A link to the onboarding process and appropriate policies will be made available on the SeamlessAccess website as soon as they are complete.

As we have more information and documentation on how to integrate with SeamlessAccess, we will let you know.

SeamlessAccess.org is a service designed to help streamline the online access experience for researchers using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. This is the monthly update for January 2020, where we catch up on the latest activities within SeamlessAccess.org.

Upcoming Conference Sessions

ALA Midwinter (January 24-28, 2020) Jason Griffey (Director of Strategic Initiatives, NISO) will share the lessons being learned to date from the beta testing of SeamlessAccess, the best practices and policies developed by the existing working groups, and describe what libraries and librarians need to know in order to deliver a simpler, privacy-preserving access experience for users.

NISO Plus (February 23-25, 2020)

Tim Lloyd (CEO, LibLynx) will offer an introduction to SeamlessAccess for those new to the service, and Ralph Youngen (Director, Publishing Systems Integration, American Chemical Society) and Lisa Hinchliffe (Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) will kick off a more in-depth conversation about SeamlessAccess and its implications in the research and library communities.

Community Engagement

The Entity Category and Attribute Bundle working group, a group of librarians, service providers, and federation operators, is working to define appropriate mechanisms around attribute release. Attributes are the information that an identity provider such as a library or research laboratory may share with a service provider, and can include signaling when no attributes at all should be released, when specific attributes should be optional, or when specific attributes are required. The group is currently working through various use cases to determine what makes sense and where the commonalities are when it comes to what attributes are required, and when. After this working group produces its recommendations, a new group that focuses on how to incorporate those recommendations into contracts will kick off.

Terms of Service

The official “Terms of Service” that sets the policies around the use of the SeamlessAccess service is still in progress. We are currently working with legal counsel on that, and the final copy will also be made public once complete.

This guide is for non-technical people who want to understand how attribute release enables secure and privacy-preserving access to online library resources using federated identity management. If you first want to read up on what federated identity management is, you can find a basic introduction here.

What are attributes?

Attributes contain information about an end user that are passed to a publisher or service provider after authentication. Think of a name, email address etc.

An end user working or studying in the Research & Education (R&E) sector often has a user account with their institution. Their institution is the ‘identity provider’ of the user, commonly abbreviated as IdP. During an online authentication workflow, the IdP can often provide additional attributes about the user1 to the organization initiating the process (also known as the Service Provider or SP).

Why are attributes important?

Attributes can be used to transfer information about the end user from the IdP to the service a user wants to access. For example, attributes are commonly used for:

Use Example
Access control e.g., only allow users who are full-time staff
Cost control e.g., only allow users with a certain role, or from a certain department
Risk control e.g., avoid the need for (i) users to separately register a username/ password and (ii) 3rd parties to store credentials
Convenience e.g., save search results for subsequent access. And avoid the user having to provide duplicative information to the SP that their IdP already holds

Attributes and attribute release can be very helpful in ‘doing business’ and enabling users to do their work. To protect user privacy and comply with data protection legislation, it is important to limit the release of personal data.

Types and examples of attributes

These attributes can be classified according to the amount of information they reveal to the SP about the user:

Anonymous identifier:

  • Some services want to receive an identifier, for example because they technically need one. The IdP can generate identifiers2 that are unique for every visit and SP
  • Real identity unknown (anonymous)
  • Does not allow for personalization

Pseudonymous identifier

  • IdP-generated identifier3 unique per person/SP-combination
  • Real identity unknown by the SP (pseudonymous)
  • Personalization possible

Organizational

  • Home organization, Entitlements, Role, Department, Location, etc.4

Personal

  • Name, email address

How does attribute release work?

In general, the flow goes as follows: a user lands on a web page of a service (an SP), often via a search engine like Google, and clicks a login button that brings them to their IdP, while the SP specifies what attributes it would like to receive. The user signs in at their IdP. After successful authentication, the IdP redirects the user back to the service, while providing zero or more attributes. Graphically:

Attribute Release Workflow Diagram

The IdP is always in control of what attributes are released to an individual SP, and has a responsibility to limit attribute release and protect the users privacy. Depending on the national legislation, IdP’s should check to see whether they need a contract between the IdP and SP to release personal information that defines, amongst other things, what other attributes are necessary and how the privacy of the user is protected.

RA21 and recommendations

RA21 has adopted the GÉANT Data Protection Code of Conduct (DPCoCo), an R&E-led initiative that defines behavioural rules for SPs that want to receive user attributes from IdPs. The DPCoCo sets the stage for compliance with the principles behind the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

RA21 recommends:

  • For SP’s:

    • Only request the least intrusive set of attributes; what you need, not what you want.
    • If the service thinks it has good reasons to request more information from the user, the service should provide a profile page in the service, so the user can, on an individual basis, enter more information (like a name, an email address etc).
    • Do not retain any extra attributes that you receive.
    • Do not use attributes for non-access purposes without prior consent or proper legal basis.
    • Delete or anonymize all attributes when no longer needed for service access.
  • For IdP’s:

    • Limit attribute exchange during authentication.
    • People from IT and libraries to start working together, to discuss attribute release, minimizing attribute release, and informing users about what data is exchanged, why and on what grounds
  • For both:

    • Only share anonymous or, if necessary, pseudonymous attributes.
    • Make sure there is a proper lawful basis for exchanging attributes.

Here are some example scenarios showing how attribute release can enable different levels of personalization for the user:

Scenario Attributes
Users access a website or resource that is access controlled by provides full-text articles with no options for personalization Anonymous attributes
Users access a website that provides personalised get content recommendations in its UI based on prior visits/history Pseudonymous ID
Faculty have the ability to purchase ebooks using library funds Pseudonymous ID, User role
Clinicians receive email confirmation of Continuing Education credits received Pseudonymous ID, User email address (with user consent)

See also: VIDEO: How Federated Authentication Works provides a conceptual understanding of how this technology enables more seamless and privacy-preserving access, including definitions of key terms, such as Service Provider, Identity Provider, and Identity Federation.


FOOTNOTES:


  1. Technically, an organization can be (one of many) attribute providers for a user, without also being their identity provider. Typically, an R&E institution acts as both identity provider as well as the main (or only) attribute provider. ↩︎

  2. As an example: in SAML the ‘NameID’ attribute can be used to communicate a transient id. The Shibboleth wiki has a nice overview of identifiers. ↩︎

  3. As an example: in SAML the ‘Pairwise Subject Identifier’ is the current state of the art identifier (while in older configurations ‘eduPersonTargetedID’ and SAML 2.0 ‘persistent NameID’ is still being used). ↩︎

  4. Not all federations release the same set of attributes. But there is a core set which most can supply. ↩︎

Taking the findings of the RA21 initiative to the next level, SeamlessAccess.org intends to support a streamlined federated authentication experience when using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources, and shared research infrastructure. The service will promote digital authentication leveraging an existing single-sign-on infrastructure through one’s home institution, while maintaining an environment that protects personal data and privacy. The service aims to enable simple, trusted use of scholarly resources and services anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

As part of our efforts to encourage organizations that support federated authentication, including publishers and platform providers, we are hosting a hackathon for developers. A hackathon is a hands-on developers meeting that offers individuals an opportunity to sit at a table with the architect or lead developer of a code base and get hands-on support in implementing the open-source software behind SeamlessAccess.org. A hackathon is not a tutorial, nor is it a presentation or conference session, and it is not suitable for non-developers.

Your organization is invited and encouraged to send members of your development team to the event to engage in understanding and developing code (bug fixes, feature enhancements, etc) against either the metadata query system and/or the code behind SeamlessAccess.org (thiss.io). This is a critical time in setting the direction of the service, and understanding how publishers and platform providers expect to integrate with the service is key.

There will be a second T&I Hackathon in the US on 10-11 December 2019, concurrent with the Internet2 Technology Exchange 2019 conference in New Orleans. The SeamlessAccess.org service will be at a different point in its development, and the questions and issues to be discussed are likely to be quite different at the second hackathon.

Participants in the hackathon will need to have the ability to access a test/dev environment for where they can install and test integrations with SeamlessAccess.org. We will provide the Internet connections, the power, and the platform source code.

Registration for the hackathon is part of the overall NORDUnet Technical Workshop. The NORDUnet Technical Workshop (NTW) is is held every two years in Copenhagen. The main event (24-26 September 2019) features a series of workshops on subjects related to research and education networks, including a full day of trust & identity workshops. The NTW brings together 150-200 practitioners from research and education networking communities in the Nordic countries and beyond. The event is held a 5-minute metro ride from Copenhagen airport, 10 minutes from central Copenhagen.