FPKI Certification Authorities Overview
A certification authority is a system that issues digital certificates. These digital certificates are based on cryptography and follow the X.509 standards defined for information security.
The Federal PKI (FPKI) is a network of certification authorities (CAs) that are either root, intermediate, or issuing CAs.
Any CA in the FPKI may be referred to as a Federal PKI CA. The two highest level CAs in the FPKI hierarchy are the FPKI Trust Infrastructure CAs, which are operated and managed by the Federal PKI Management Authority (FPKIMA) Program Office:
- Federal Common Policy Certification Authority
- Federal Bridge Certification Authority
- All Federal PKI Certification Authorities
COMMON serves as the root and trust anchor for the intermediate and issuing CAs operated by federal government Executive Branch agencies.
Public trust for websites
A new effort is in the planning stages to establish another federal government root and issuing CAs dedicated to Public Trust Transport Layer Security (TLS) device certificates. Follow or contribute to the development of the federal government's new certificate policy for this public trust effort at https://github.com/uspki/policies.
Federal Common Policy Certification Authority
The Federal Common Policy CA may be referred to as the FCPCAG2, or as COMMON in documents. As the FPKI root and trust anchor for the federal government, the FCPCAG2 supports government person trust and a small number of agency intranet enterprise devices, including Personal Identity Verification (PIV) credentials. The FCPCA’s design enables any certificate issued by any FPKI CA to validate its certificate path to a single root CA.
A few commercial vendors include the FCPCAG2 root certificate in the commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products’ trust stores. This enables federal government systems to trust person and enterprise device certificates issued by FPKI CAs. It is possible to add the FCPCAG2 root certificate to trust stores for government-managed devices and servers, if it’s not available by default.
The FCPCAG2 root certificate is included in the trust stores for some platforms such as Adobe. Other platforms, such as Microsoft, Mozilla, and Apple, do not include the FCPCA by default.
Federal Bridge Certification Authority
The current Federal Bridge Certification Authority (FBCA) is the Federal Bridge CA G4.
The FBCA is a PKI bridge or link between the FCPCA and other CAs that comprise the FPKI network and that may operate under comparable but different certificate policies. The FBCA provides a means to map these certificate policies and CAs and allow certificates to validate to the FCPCA root certificate.
The CAs with certificates signed by the Federal Bridge CA G4 are cross-certified. These CAs have established a trust relationship with the FPKI and are audited annually for conformance to the certificate policies. This cross-certification process has extended the reach of the FPKI well beyond the boundaries of the federal government.
All Federal PKI Certification Authorities
A CA that is part of the FPKI is called a participating certification authority.
For historical records, we might label or identify CA systems using a category that shows when the system was established and for what types of communities it is or was used.
We realize all the acronyms and labels may be confusing and welcome your input to help us improve, add information over time, and simplify where needed.
|Certification Authority Category||Description|
|PKI Shared Service Provider (SSP) Certification Authorities||An SSP CA operates under the Federal Common Certificate Policy and offer federal workforce credentialing services. Any certificate that an SSP CA creates, signs, and issues to people or devices is in the FCPCA trust chain. An SSP must adhere to strict federal IT security standards and requirements. The SSPs are granted a FISMA Authority to Operate (ATO) by GSA, undergo continuous monitoring, and are contracted by the federal government to issue certificates to federal employees and contractors as well as devices that are deployed in federal agency networks. The primary certificate type issued by a PKI SSP are the certificates on a PIV card. There are some PKI SSPs authorized to issue Common PIV-I.|
|Non-Federal Issuer (NFI) Certification Authorities||A Non-Federal Issuer or NFI is a private sector CA that is cross-certified with the Federal Bridge CA. These organizations provide business identity services for persons who do business with the federal government, but are not part of the federal workforce. Federal agencies may refer business partners to an NFI provider if the agency requires digital signatures and in some limited circumstances PKI authenticators. PIV-I along with other PKI credentials are issued by NFI providers. For more information on NFI PIV-I, see the PIV-I Playbook. An NFI must adhere and receive 3rd party independent audits to validate equivalent operations and practices to the Federal Bridge Certificate Policy. A federal agency must configure their systems to validate NFI certificates by installing the Federal Bridge trust chain.|
|Bridge Certification Authorities||Bridge CAs connect member PKIs and are designed to enable interoperability between different PKIs operating under their own certificate policies. A bridge CA is not a root and are part of a non-government PKI trust framework through the Federal Bridge. A PKI Bridge must adhere and receive 3rd party independent audits to validate equivalent operations and practices to the Federal Bridge Certificate Policy. A federal agency must configure their systems to validate PKI Bridge certificates by installing the Federal Bridge trust chain.|
|Federal Agency Certification Authorities||A very small amount of government agencies self-operate CAs connected to the Federal PKI Trust Framework. These agencies include the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, the Government Printing Office, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.|
Certificate Types within the Federal PKI
The overarching policy of the Federal PKI is the Federal Common Policy Framework or the Federal Bridge Certificate Policy. For federal agencies that utilize a PKI Shared Service Provider, this is a list of common certificates types available from all PKI Shared Service Provider. Please check with your individual provider if they support your specific need.
|Certificate Type||General Purpose||Authenticator Format|
|PIV Certificates||The PIV Card contains up to five certificates with four available to a PIV card holder. See PIV Certificates to understand more about PIV certificates on a PIV Card.||FIPS 201 Approved Smart Card (AAL3)|
|Common PIV-I Certificates||The Common PIV-I card contains up to five certificates with four available to the Common PIV-I card holder. See the PIV-I Playbook for more information on a Common PIV-I card.||FIPS 201 Approved Smart Card (AAL3)|
|Digital Signature||Sign documents such as a PDF or word document.||Software (AAL2) or Hardware (AAL3)|
|Encryption (Key Management)||Encrypt files.||Software (AAL2) or Hardware (AAL3)|
|Derived PIV Authentication||Person authentication for mobile devices based on proof of possession and control of a PIV Card. Derived PIV credentials are typically used in situations that do not easily accommodate a PIV Card, such as in conjunction with mobile devices.||Software (AAL2) or Hardware (AAL3)|
|Device||Issued to any type of device for authentication||Software (AAL2) or Hardware (AAL3)|
Code signing certificates are not allowed under the Federal Common Certificate Policy.