Research is more and more about collaboration, also confirmed in the Dutch NWO 2019-2022-strategy. Researchers that want to collaborate (internationally) and providers of resources who want to offer research facilities to collaborative organisations therefor face the question: how to provide secure access to resources. The SCZ project (SCZ, FIAM for collaborating researchers) tries to solve a number of issues in the field of authentication, authorization and policies. On these pages we describe what the SCZ project is about.
Simplified: we provide an Authentication & Authorisation Infrastructure-as-a-Service focused on the needs of researchers, research projects and providers of resources for researchers. It takes care of user management.
In the European AARC-project (Authentication and Authorisation for Research and Collaboration) the specific identity and access challenges researchers face are addressed, and they made a clear video about the problem:
AARC crafted a blueprint architecture that addresses those challenges. SCZ is basically doing an implementation of that blueprint.
Researchers have typical access needs that aren't taken care of by the current solutions, and they have documented them in FIM4R-documents (Federated Identity Management for Research). We address a number of those problems in the SCZ-project:
Providing access to invited people to the actual resources currently often takes a relatively long time (working with system admins of all resources, setting up 'account management', provisioning etc).
Researchers often want access to 'non-web' services (think of resources accessed via SSH or WebDAV ): those are currently not tied to their institutional accounts, which makes access revocation a problem.
Research is often international and providing people without an institutional account (eg from companies involved in the research project, 'guest-access') secure access often is a problem.
Authorization often is a problem. Group membership can be used to decide on authorization: what is a user allowed to do within a certain service? This requires a solution that can convert the group information into attributes that are subsequently consumed and interpreted by the resources to be shared (eg wikis, compute or data) for authorising users.
Currently, for every new research the wheel is reinvented to arrange for the things mentioned. Collaborations and research are delayed in the start-up phase because providing access takes time. What if there was a plug and play service?
With the SCZ project, we:
ensure that parties who want to share resources can do so by connecting the resource to the SCZ proxy (only once). The SCZ solution takes care, amongst others, of making the service available via eduGAIN.
provide an environment where institutions and collaborative organisations can quickly request a collaboration group, assign group managers and then manage that group themselves, invite people, etc.
provide a possibility to manage specific attributes per collaborative organisation.
ensure that people without an edu account can also easily be invited and access the resources, where possible with a higher 'Level of Assurance' than with a social identity.
ensure that non-web resources like SSH and WebDav can be approached via federated authentication (eg institutional account) (for the benefits of federated authentication see "Why federative"? ).
To get an extra idea of what SCZ wants to offer, here we share the 'user stories' (in broad outline) for which we want to offer a solution with SCZ.
Open Access and access regulation mechanisms often go together. Possible scenario's:
Schematically the SCZ can be drawn as follows:
The picture above shows that the research services are linked to the SCZ proxy: these services only have to make and maintain one link. The picture shows the features of the SCZ infrastructure:
Connects with eduGAIN so that research services are accessible for researchers at institutions outside the Netherlands.
Provides a mechanism (via COmanage) to invite users and manage groups and attributes (a so called 'Membership Management Service').
Provides a solution for people without an edu account to use services (such as via Google and / or other social accounts).
Provides a solution to securely unlock non-web services.
Wondering how a flow of inviting a user to access via SSH looks like? See the below video, but know this is just to get an idea as the environment is developing continuously (if the video doesn't start playing, try opening it full-screen via the icon in the top right corner. The cow-sound at the start of the video is related to the name of the company involved in work on COmanage, Spherical Cow Group of which the name is based on the usage of spherical cow, a humorous metaphor for highly simplified scientific models of complex real life phenomena):
Another way of logging in is shown in a video at the bottom of PAM Module. We've made a connection to Azure AD VM's which we show in this video.
You can also try a demo yourself.
Many federated academic services require a few user attributes to successfully complete login, usually name, email, and a persistent user identifier (called the “R&S attribute bundle”). An international program called the Research & Scholarship Entity Category (R&S) was established to meet this need. This program enables federated services serving a research or scholarly purpose to request that their national R&E federation (as InCommon is for the US) “tag” them with the R&S entity category. It also specifies how R&E federation operators vet such requests to ensure that such tags are only applied to appropriate services.
The R&S program further provides a means by which an academic IdP can automatically release the R&S attribute bundle when users login to services that have been tagged R&S, and a corresponding R&S tag to be given to an IdP to signal that it participates in this global program. This is important because some R&S tagged services will only permit a login to proceed if the user’s IdP is also tagged R&S.
It’s worth noting that releasing R&S attributes under the R&S program contributes to good privacy practice under the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). REFEDS, the international organization of Research and Education Federations, conducted a thorough analysis of how attribute release under the R&S Category addresses GDPR requirements to arrive at this conclusion.
SCZ only connects services in the R&S category. So IdP's can connect to our proxy, knowing they are compliant to the GDPR in regards to authentication (for processing personally identifiable information (PII) in services connected to our hub, the involved institutions might need extra contractual agreements, which normally are taken care of in the startup phase of research project).
We have a https://wiki.surfnet.nl/display/SCZ/Pilot+partners listing (a part of) the institutions piloting within our project and what is being piloted.
The institutions involved in pilots are expected to participate in meetings and allow the right people within the institution to test the pilot environment, provide feedback to SURF and participate in talks about new features and requirements.
Apart from pilots, we also frequently present about the project, like for the Health-RI event of Dec 8th 2017, where a poster was crafted to show the value of COmanage for collaborations like BBMRI. A generic version:
Which technical components are used?
Interested in the components used? See Technical overview of SCZ .
Curious about how you can get started in COmanage? We have organised and provide links to End user documentation SCZ COmanage .
Connecting Services to the SCZ environment describes how to services to the SCZ infrastructure. A list of connected services can be found at https://mdq.pilot.scz.lab.surf.nl/role/sp.html .
Enabling a service / resource for federated authentication means users can 'login' (authenticate) with their institutional account: as soon as they want to access a service, they are automatically forwarded to the login screen of their institution (or other organisation where they have an account, if that can be used, such as a bank). Reasons to arrange this like this:
UK JISC has created a video about federated identity:
The European AARC-project has a training-module on what a identity federation is and what its advantages are: 1. AAI Overview.pdf. More information can be found at these websites: Federation-101 and Training for service providers. See also the advantages for IdP's, SP's and users as listed for SURFconext.
The SCZ can work without institutions releasing attributes; the researcher can use social accounts etc to sign in to the SCZ. But the value for all parties increases when an institution connects its IdP to a service in the SURFconext dashboard; this makes it so the researcher can use the credentials of their home institution, which provides more certainty for the research group and resource providers.
In many Dutch institutions it takes a long time between the request from a researcher to be able to sign in to a research resource with their institutional account and the time sign in is enabled. Sometimes it never happens. Often, the researcher doesn't want to wait that long, and chooses a different solution to get access, which often turns out to be less secure, more costly etc in the long run.
The reason why it often takes that long, is that the employees tasked with connecting a service, want to make sure privacy is protected, IPR is taken care of, whether any financial flows need to be available, whether usage of the service will increase helpdesk calls etc.
Some institutions have decided researchers can carry part of the mentioned responsibility. They have started using a 'light' procedure for connecting research services:
SURF has conducted pilots to also answer this question. In May 2019 representatives of institutions advised/voted to develop SCZ into a production ready service. Our team is working on that, and we hope we will have a production ready service in the 1st half of 2020.
Due to our international relations and activities, we know GÉANT has been gearing up a new service, eduTEAMS. Both our teams have been sharing a lot of knowledge, and there are a lot of similarities. We intend to use eduTEAMS as part of our service offering to Dutch research collaborations. A nice feature is eduTEAMS also offers Hexaa and Perun as alternative Membership Management Services to COmanage (GÉANT has a comparison of the 3 systems).
We have a mailing list for this project. Feel free to sign up for that list via https://list.surfnet.nl/mailman/listinfo/projectscz-fiam . An archive of previously shared messages can be found via https://list.surfnet.nl/mailman/private/projectscz-fiam . Interested? Questions? Suggestions? Mail with Raoul Teeuwen ( email@example.com ).
If you find the SURFnet SCZ mailinglist interesting, you might also be interested in the following:
"Following some community interest, a new (not COmanage specific) list has been established: cmp-discuss. This is a discussion group for any technologies, policies, or use cases associated with collaboration management platforms, and especially general (non-product specific) topics or topics crossing multiple technologies.
You can join and manage your subscription here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!aboutgroup/cmp-discuss
(The list was set up as a Google Group to avoid associations with any particular project or community.)"
In June 2017 phase 1 of the project was completed. Phase 2 ended in May 2019 with institutions advising to develop the result of project SCZ to a production ready service. In phase 1, use cases were drawn up and coordinated with a number of cooperative organisations, an architecture was drawn up and needs were assessed. In phase 2 was dedicated to realising the various components and gaining experience through pilots.
SCZ phase 3 focuses on creating a production ready services, which includes deciding on a software stack, setting up that stack, contracting sub contractors, having experts conduct code audits/penetration tests, draft relevant contract texts/AUPs etc, design and implement support processes etc
Support questions and emails can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org .