Table of contents

Identity principles

‘Identity’ within these guidelines refers to how our services utilise user identities to authenticate and authorise access to services, and how we design and build services to ensure consistency and re-use.

Consistent use of identity platforms provides a foundation to develop joined-up end-to-end user journeys across our services. This enables the delivery of tailored solutions and access privileges which are linked to the user’s role and aligned to their needs.

Guidance is also provided for the secure administration and management of our platforms and services. This ensures that access granted to systems is conscious and appropriate, is granted only for the time required for the specific activity and is logged and audited.

Identity segment definitions

Consumers for the Department’s services are aligned to three main identity segments. This alignment enables standardisation across services and improves the experience for our users by enabling consistent end-to-end user journeys.

  • B2C - Identity segment for services provided for citizen users who are interacting with services in a personal capacity.

  • B2B - Identity segment for services provided for sector users who need to interact with our services due to being employed by or engaged with a sector organisation the Department deals with.

  • B2E - Identity segment for services provided for Civil Servants, contractors and managed service providers working on behalf of Government departments.

Use of the guidelines

The following guidelines are provided to guide projects and teams when creating or procuring solutions for use by the Department’s users. The guidelines will create a framework for projects to operate within and to demonstrate alignment with best practice.

The guidelines are split into 5 sections:

  1. Support Defragmentation

  2. User Experience

  3. General ID Good Practice

  4. Scalability (Future Proofing)

  5. Links With Other Standards

Alignment and exceptions to the principles will be reviewed as part of assurance processes with the security and architecture professions to streamline governance. Exceptions will be approved or declined as relevant, with all decisions tracked with rationale for future reference.

Updates or modifications to the principles can be requested initially via the Identity Management Community of Interest, and in the future with standard updates and iterations via GitHub.

Section 1: Support defragmentation

1. Align to a strategic authentication service

All systems must integrate with a strategic authentication service.


By aligning with a strategic authentication service, we simplify the end-user experience by re-using the same identity to authenticate to multiple services. Security is improved by centralising access records and managing and maintaining a single identity point.

Formal patterns are being developed at present with further information for adoption of standard services. In lieu of the formal patterns, high-level alignment to shared services is shown below:


  • Review strategic patterns for authentication services.

  • Ensure that new COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) capabilities support integration into strategic authentication services.

  • Develop using approved platforms and languages which support integration into strategic authentication services.

  • Update existing capabilities to integrate into strategic authentication services.

  • Retire capabilities which cannot support integration into strategic authentication services.

2. Support an approved authentication method

Systems must utilise modern and secure authentication protocols which are replay-resistant.


Modern authenticate protocols provide greater levels of security against common attacks and malicious activity and are supported by the strategic authentication providers.

Legacy protocols are prone to common attacks which can lead to system compromise and data loss. Ongoing use of legacy protocols will create a dependency with legacy authentication providers, and/or weaken security due to retaining support for legacy protocols.


  • Review strategic patterns for authentication methods.

  • Ensure that authentication methods are included in selection criteria for COTS products.

  • Develop using approved platforms and languages which support integration into strategic authentication services.

  • Update existing capabilities to integrate into strategic authentication services.

  • Retire capabilities which cannot support integration into strategic authentication services (as mentioned in section 1 above).

Section 2: User experience

3. Consider the user experience

Considering user needs is core to everything we do, and must therefore be considered for how we manage a user’s identity access journey.


The user experience should be considered when utilising Identity Management solutions. How will it affect the user journey? Is it a seamless experience or does it burden the user?


Follow existing guidance from the Service Manual

Work with User Researchers and Product Owners across the department and Government to understand what knowledge exists around ID. Share your users’ challenges widely to gather information and potential solutions.

4. Consider end-user autonomy and self-service

Systems should implement self-service capabilities to empower end-users and reduce support costs.


Legacy systems and operational processes rely on paper-based procedures managed by service desks to access systems and make changes. This causes delays for end-users and drives up support costs for operatives who need to manage the end-to-end process to grant and manage access to systems and data.

Modern Identity Governance and ITSM(Information Technology Service Management) platforms can automate this process either with system and data owners as gatekeepers who approve digital requests, or automatically granting access to systems and data based on an end-user’s persona, job role or organisation.

The use of digital processes and self-service for end-users:

  • increases end-user experience

  • reduces support costs

  • improves security and auditing for a system, as digital audit logs can be reviewed and governed more easily than paper-based equivalents.


  • Ensure systems support the principles outlined here to align to standard authentication and identity governance solutions and support policy-based access controls.

  • Ensure that we know who data and system owners are and that we support any approvals for self-service requests.

  • Enable integration into ITSM platforms where relevant, to allow access to be automatically granted via service tickets or as part of standard JML(Joiners, Movers, Leavers) processes.

Section 3: General identity good practice

5. Provide end-to-end encryption

Systems must protect the end-to-end communications between the system and consumer to prevent common attacks and to protect data.


Many malicious activities involve monitoring network activity with commonly available tools to gather credentials and system data. Modern protocols do not expose data as they provide a level of encryption within the authentication token. Older authentication protocols and legacy methods (username/password) could expose data which could be exploited to gain access by impersonating a user.

End-to-end encryption is common when accessing external systems but must also be implemented as standard for internal systems to protect against any insider threats within the Department.


  • Enable transport-level encryption for all communications between consumer and system and system to system.

  • Ensure the protocol used is secure and supported.

  • Ensure that ongoing support for the system includes the ongoing management of certificates and processes to renew and upgrade as necessary.

6. Provide a mature and appropriate access model

Systems must utilise a suitable access model so that it can be secured and managed appropriately.


Access models ensure administrators and consumers of a system are granted the appropriate level of access for their requirements. The levels of access and the roles provided should be appropriate to the relevant system and the data or control it grants access to.

A relatively simple system may only require user, administrator and approver roles. A system managing access to confidential data across multiple education establishments would require a rich access model to manage both role access and to segregate data access accordingly.


  • Review requirements for the access model as part of the Discovery phase, considering the data being accessed and by whom.

  • Review and agree the appropriate access model in advance with the relevant compliance teams to ensure that the model is developed in-line with the wider solution and not as a post-development activity.

  • Utilise existing measurements such as Levels of Assurance to review the appropriateness of the access model within a system.

  • Ensure that the security model is reviewed as part of the selection criteria for COTS products.

  • Ensure that COTS and in-house developed systems provide a flexible and extensible access model which can be updated and amended as required.

7. Enable just-in-time access for administrative permissions

High-privilege and high-access roles must be assigned on a time-bound basis and used appropriately and only when required.


Accounts which carry large amounts of privileged access are targets for malicious activity and inappropriate use. A malicious user who can gain access to an account which included numerous administrative roles could cause significant damage within the Department.

Assigning roles using a just-in-time(JiT) model ensures that administrators and privileged users are provided with the access required but only when required. The security for this can be further enhanced by using multi-factor authentication to ensure that administrators verify the access request appropriately.

The use of just-in-time access also instils more mature working practices, as administrators need to plan changes and use administrative permissions appropriately. It also avoids the potential of accidental misuse by ensuring that the permissions are applied explicitly rather than implicitly.


  • Ensure that COTS products are selected, and that these can either integrate into existing security capabilities which can provide JiT access, or which can support JiT access natively.

  • Ensure that internally developed products integrate into existing security capabilities which can provide JiT access.

  • Provide a support model which includes full alignment to the JiT access model with defined approvers for access requests if necessary.

8. Secure system and machine accounts

System accounts are powerful and must be managed and secured appropriately to avoid misuse or malicious exploit.


System (aka service) accounts are used for system-to-system access or to run unattended activities within a system, and often require high-privileged access to do so.

The system accounts often have a password which is set once and rarely updated. This can lead to either future exploits if this password is identified or system outage if maintenance is required but the password is no longer known.

System accounts are often assigned unnecessarily high-privileges by the system owners or developers for convenience rather than applying the correct least-privilege level of access. Due to this they are often targeted by malicious users as they can be used to gain significant levels of access without detection.


  • Ensure that system accounts are identified within system designs, along with details of the permissions assigned and usage so they can be monitored for anomalous activity.

  • Ensure that permissions assigned to system and machine accounts align to least-privilege and are not given generic administrative access.

  • Use Managed Service Accounts on Windows platforms if compatible.

  • Use complex passwords which are stored securely and not shared.

  • Do not allow interactive logins to ensure that the accounts can only be used for its intended purpose.

  • Ensure that operational processes are established for maintaining the accounts and resetting credentials on a 6-12-month basis.

9. Support relevant secure separation requirements

Data held within systems must be segregated to enable access controls and support potential future divestment or separation requirements.


Data held within systems will contain end-user identifiable and sensitive information which must be segregated and protected accordingly so that access controls can be enforced.

The architecture of the system must also support requirements for future potential separation or divestment within the Department. The separation and segregation within the system should ensure that data relating to specific organisations or providers can be identified and extracted as required.

This segregation will also support this principle to ensure the access model for a system can enforce data separation accordingly.


  • Ensure that data architecture within the system supports the separation between organisations, consumers etc.

  • Ensure that data within the application can support extraction and removal of specific data types without requiring re-architecture of the solution.

10. Consider requirements for Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Systems should utilise additional authentication factors as standard to protect against malicious activity.


MFA is often considered an additional control required when accessing systems as an administrator or when accessing high-value data which needs to be protected. However, it should be seen as a more general measure which is used to protect access to systems provided by the Department. The use of MFA has multiple benefits, not just for accessing administrative roles or high-value data.

  • MFA serves as a conscious reminder that a user is accessing a system which requires additional verification to access. This may make the user more aware of their responsibilities and consider how and where they are accessing a system.

  • Common malicious attacks against systems utilise password brute-force attacks to attempt to guess a user’s credentials and gain access. The use of MFA will stop this attack as system access will require both a username/password and an MFA challenge.

  • Users and suppliers will often share credentials for convenience, allowing multiple people to access the same system using the same username/password. The use of MFA restricts this poor practice as it provides the ‘something you have’ authentication challenge, which may be a secure token, an SMS code or a prompt on an app on a user’s mobile phone.


  • Discuss and review requirements for MFA as part of the system’s discovery phases, and review with an Information Security colleague if necessary to confirm whether it is a hard requirement.

  • Consider MFA requirements when a system undergoes a significant change to scope, such as the addition of new functionality and/or access to additional data.

  • Consider the platforms used to access the system (Principle 2) and review if MFA would be supported on all platforms. If not possible across all platforms, review a two-tier approach for access, with platforms unable to support MFA only given access to a sub-set of functionality and/or data.

11. Integration into central reporting/SIEM for auditing

Systems must integrate into the Department’s SIEM (security information and event management) platform, to provide security oversight and assurance.


Whilst individual system owners or teams have a responsibility for the security of their systems, the Cyber and Information Security division have a Department-wide responsibility to monitor for and protect against malicious activity and cyber threats. Integrating systems into the Department’s SIEM platform provides the broad visibility of the health of all systems. It also enables the ability to discover and monitor any emerging threats and vulnerabilities across the estate.


  • Alignment to Principle 1 enables integration and logging for the authentication into a system, as this is provided as part of the service.

  • Follow standard Departmental Security Assurance Model (DSAM) processes to ensure the InfoSec team are aware of any sensitive data or access within the system.

12. Support role segregation and separation of duties

Systems must utilise a role model which ensures that roles are managed and segregated appropriately.


Many systems include workflows to support processes for approval, code promotion and changes to data held within. Separation of duties (SoD) refers to the checks and balances within a process to ensure that the relevant governance and approvals are carried out.

Separating the steps of a workflow or approval process ensures that a task such as code promotion, approval of additional privilege or granting access to an application or data set, is suitably scrutinised.

Individuals should not be able to approve end-to-end lifecycle activity or promote their own access rights unless there has been a conscious decision to do so. Self-promotion or self-approval may be suitable for specific low-privilege or low-impact activities, but this must be reviewed with assurance teams to ensure it is acceptable.


  • Ensure alignment with Principle 5 to provide a mature access model which will be sufficiently granular to support SoD.

  • Review workflows and approvals required within the system and capture roles and SoD details within system designs.

  • Ensure any self-promotion or self-approval processes and workflows are reviewed and approved by assurance teams.

13. Utilise policy-based access controls

Systems should consider policy-based and attribute-based access controls to provide modern and flexible access methods.


Traditional role-based access control (RBAC) methods of managing access to systems provide granular access models and methods to ensure that access is proportionate for the end-user. However, they do require additional ongoing management to maintain the correct group membership and ensure that permissions are not being collected and retained unnecessarily.

A future move to policy-based access control systems will provide greater flexibility and adaptive controls. These will change automatically as the end-user’s attributes change (job role, provider etc).

The use of policy-based access controls requires a reliable set of master data records and therefore may not be possible for all attributes at present, but in-house development and COTS systems should consider this requirement so they can be adapted in the future.


  • Ensure that COTS and in-house developed apps can support modern policy-based and attributed-based authentication models.

  • Architect systems for delegated controls where the Identity platform provides authentication and coarse-grained access, and the application retains responsibility for fine-grained access via user attributes.

14. Adhere to least-privilege model

Roles and privileges assigned to systems must be appropriate for the user’s requirements.


Providing permissions and access which are aligned to the end-users’ requirements ensure that access to data is protected appropriately and avoids the ability for malicious activity or accidental misuse.

An administrator who is provided with full access to a system for simplicity or due to a poorly designed access model could inadvertently or otherwise cause damage to the system or access data inappropriately.

Managing access to the least-privilege model also ensures that impacts from malicious activity from a stolen or impersonated account are restricted.


  • Do not use generic built-in roles for systems (domain admin, owner, administrator etc).

  • Ensure that the security model is reviewed as part of the selection criteria for COTS products and supports least-privilege.

  • Ensure that internally developed systems provide a granular permissions model which supports least-privilege.

  • Ensure that COTS and in-house developed systems provide an extensible access model which can be updated and amended as required.

  • Manage the use of high-privilege roles appropriately, with time-bound access or with separate ‘break-glass’ accounts.

Section 4: Scalability

15. Consider and support access from multiple platforms

Systems must support strategic authentication from all platforms used to access them.


Modern systems, both COTS and in-house developed, require access from a range of device types (laptop, phone, tablet etc) and use-cases (internal, supplier, citizen etc) which will utilise different methods of access.

The system must support a consistent identity and authentication method, regardless of how it is accessed and by whom.


  • Evaluate the access requirements from persona and devices as part of the Discovery phase.

  • Ensure that access methods and use-cases are included in selection criteria for COTS products.

  • Develop systems which support the required use-cases and access methods.

  • Do not align to internally focussed authentication services (Active Directory) if the system is intended to be used outside of the Department by third party users.

16. Design the access model for growth

Systems must provide the ability to extend the access model for additional access and use-cases without re-architecting.


Systems may start with a small user community with simple access requirements. This will inevitably grow to accommodate more users with potentially more complex access requirements to segregate roles and data held within.

The business case for the relevant system should include details of the end-state which will include the potential scale and use. This should be reflected not just to the application and system architecture, but also the access model to ensure that this remains fit for purpose in the future.


  • Ensure the full scope of the system is understood and captured within the system design and as part of the selection criteria.

  • Ensure that the access model is granular where required to support future expansion of the service to accommodate additional users, use-cases and data separation.

17. Ensure access model can support multiple domains and organisations

Systems must provide the ability to enable and control access across diverse user types and organisations.


Consumers of the Department’s systems are located across multiple organisations within the Department and externally. Systems providing services must therefore support the ability to recognise different user types and to manage access appropriately. This can be done by segregating access logically within the applications and/or the data stores used by the system.


  • Ensure the architecture of the selected or developed system supports logical separation at a sufficiently robust level for the data held within.

  • Ensure the access model within the system can leverage attributes held within the Identity Management platform. This will enable it make access decisions based upon a minimum of organisation and user role.

18. Support open standards

Open Standards ease integration burden on services, enable us to move at pace for functional and security related changes, whilst ensuring teams can easily access knowledge on integrating with and maintaining ID Systems.


  • We maintain alignment with the architecture principles.

  • Open Standards ease integration burden on services.

  • They enable us to move at pace for functional and security related changes.

  • The use of open standards ensures that knowledge to integrate with and maintain ID Systems is easy to come by.


  • When building a new service, build it on the foundations of Open ID Standards such as OAuth, OIDC or SAML.

  • When buying a service, make sure it conforms to the Open Standards existing ID management software that the Department/Gov adhere to.

19. Use data responsibly

Data used within identity platforms to identify users must be used appropriately and in line with our standard principles.


  • Responsible use of our user’s data helps to build trust with the Department and our services.

  • The Department has regulatory and legislatory responsibilities to meet and demonstrate.

  • The Department should be transparent on how data is used.

  • Users should be able to update and remove their data as they see fit, controlling where it’s shared and how it is captured between systems.


Follow our existing data principles and guidance.

20. Use data masters to enable persistence and portability and reliability

Services should agree on attributes that can be used to mirror/merge/reference user data across many systems, enabling gaps to be easily bridged as users move between disparate systems.


Utilising master data sources enables consistent and joined-up user experiences as we have a better understanding of our users and their roles, and can provide appropriate services to them and manage their access appropriately.


  • Follow our existing principles for data mastering and re-use.

  • Clearly document the attributes your service holds that future services may use to join up identities.

  • Work with other service and data teams to ensure the unique attributes stored within your system align with what other services are using. This can increase the likelihood of overlapping identity attributes.