Since late 2016, RA21 (Resource Access for the 21st Century) has been working to resolve some of the fundamental issues that have prevented the publishing and information industry from moving beyond IP authentication as the main authentication method for subscribed content.
Now, nearly three years later, RA21 has made some serious progress for content subscribers and providers alike – and has just submitted its draft recommendation for NISO certification.
This achievement means RA21 is ready to transition from its initial phase, and will move towards a new, operational service, beta phase and a new working name: The Coalition for Seamless Access.
Read on to learn more about RA21’s accomplishments – and what the new coalition has in store.
What is RA21?
RA21’s mission has been to provide “simple, trusted access – anywhere, anytime, on any device.”
The joint initiative of STM, the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, and NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, has brought together stakeholders across industries, including corporations, academic institutions, and publishers.
For years, publishers, researchers and libraries have relied on IP addresses to authorize content access. But in today’s distributed environment, more effective solutions are needed to facilitate a seamless, intuitive and consistent user experience, ensure security, and preserve privacy.
In terms of security and authentication, RA21 has proposed the use of a federated authentication system based on Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) technology. SAML is an established standard for exchanging user authentication and authorization data. SAML is widely deployed across publishers, corporations and academic institutions, and has been chosen because “it has the ability to protect privacy and allow the user and their institution to decide what personal information, if any, is released to the content provider.”
While the underlying SAML technology is a significant improvement over IP authorization, the experience to access and retrieve resources could be improved. When users arrive at vendor websites and need to authenticate, they still come across WAYF (Where Are You From?) menus that are managed by individual organizations. To create a more consistent experience, RA21 has created a central WAYF lookup, so users will only encounter a discovery process once per browser.
These recommendations have been compiled into a draft document, and were in a public comment period through Friday, May 17.
It’s important to remember that these changes can’t happen overnight. Speaking at CCC’s Industry Forum last month, RA21’s Richard Wenger said: “IP filtering is deeply embedded, and it will take a long time to work our way out of it. What we’re trying to do here is set a new direction and begin one implementation at a time.”
RA21 to Transition into an Operational Service Beta Phase
On April 30, RA21 co-chairs Ralph Youngen, Chris Shillum and Todd Carpenter hosted an update webinar where they shared plans to build a coalition to take the RA21 project forward. The working name is the Coalition for Seamless Access.
The draft mission states:
The Coalition for Seamless Access exists to foster a seamless experience when using scholarly collaboration tools, information resources and shared research infrastructure. The Coalition promotes 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 Coalition aims to enable simple, trusted use of scholarly resources and services anytime, anywhere, and on any device.
During the beta phase of this project (commencing in mid-2019, expected to run about one year), the hope is that early adopters will begin to deploy RA21 recommended practices and integrate with services.
More details about the new coalition can be found in the full webinar recording here.