Disintermediation: an Amazon parable

New York TImes Technology ran a story yesterday about the publishing industry that is brimming with implications for almost everyone in the Internet economy.  It is about Amazon and what marketing people call “disintermediation”.  Not the simple kind that was the currency of the dot.com boom;  we are looking here at a much more advanced case:

SEATTLE — Amazon.com has taught readers that they do not need bookstores. Now it is encouraging writers to cast aside their publishers.

Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.

It has set up a flagship line run by a publishing veteran, Laurence Kirshbaum, to bring out brand-name fiction and nonfiction…

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide…

Of course, as far as Amazon executives are concerned, there is nothing to get excited about:

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

But despite the sarcasm, shivers of disintermediation are going down the spines of many people in the publishing industry:

“Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,” said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher. “If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out. ” [Read whole story here.]

If disintermediation is something you haven&#39t thought about much, you might start with a look at wikipedia:

In economics, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: “cutting out the middleman”. Instead of going through traditional distribution channels, which had some type of intermediate (such as a distributor, wholesaler, broker, or agent), companies may now deal with every customer directly, for example via the Internet. One important factor is a drop in the cost of servicing customers directly.

Note that the “removal” normally proceeds by “inserting” someone or something new into transactions.  We could call the elimination of bookstores “first degree disintermediation” – the much-seen phenomenon of replacement of the existing distribution channel.   But it seems intuitively right to call the elimination of publishers “second degree disintermediation” – replacement of the mechanisms of production, including everything from product development through physical manufacturing and marketing, by the entities now predominating in distribution.  

The parable here is one of first degree disintermediation “spontaneously” giving rise to second degree disintermediation, since publishers have progressively less opportunity to succeed in the mass market without Amazon as time goes on.  Of course nothing ensures that Amazon&#39s execution will cause it to succeed in a venture quite different from its current core competency.  But clearly the economic intrinsics stack the deck in its favor. Even without displacing its new competitors it may well skim off the most obvious and profitable projects, with the inevitable result of underfunding what remains.

I know.  You&#39re asking what all this has to do with identityblog.

In my view, one of the main problems of reusable identities is that in systems like SAML, WS-Federation and Live ID, the “identity provider” has astonishing visibility onto the user&#39s relationship with the relying parties (e.g. the services who reuse the identity information they provide).  Not only does the identity provider know what consumers are visiting what services; it knows the frequency and patterns of those visits.   If we simply ignore this issue and pretend it isn&#39t there, it will become an Achilles Heel.

Let me fabricate an example so I can be more concrete.  Suppose we arrive at a point where some retailer decides to advise consumers to use their Facebook credentials to log in to its web site.  And let&#39s suppose the retailer is super successful.  With Facebook&#39s redirection-based single sign-on system, Facebook would be able to compile a complete profile of the retailer&#39s customers and their log-on patterns.  Combine this with the intelligence from “Like” buttons or advertising beacons and Facebook (or equivalent) could actually mine the profiles of users almost as effectively as the retailer itself.  This knowledge represents significant leakage of the retailer&#39s core intellectual property – its relationships with its customers.

All of this is a recipe for disintermediation of the exact kind being practiced by Amazon, and at some point in the process, I predict it will give rise to cases of spine-tingling that extend much more broadly than to a single industry like publishing. 

By the time this becomes obvious as an issue we can also predict there will be broader understanding of “second degree disintermediation” among marketers.  This will, in my view, bring about considerable rethinking of some current paradigms about the self-evident value of unlimited integration into social networks.  Paradoxically disintermediation is actually a by-product of the privacy problems of social networks.  But here it is not simply the privacy of end users that is compromised, but that of all parties to transactions. 

This problem of disintermediation is one of the phenomena leading me to conclude that minimal disclosure technologies like U-Prove and Idemix will be absolutely essential to a durable system of reusable identities.  With these technologies, the ability of the identity provider to disintermediate is broken, since it has no visibility onto the transactions carried out by individual users and cannot insert itself into the relationship between the other parties in the system. 

Importantly, while disintermediation becomes impossible, it is still possible to meter the use of credentials by users without any infringement of privacy, and therefore to build a viable business model.

I hope to write more about this more going forward, and show concretely how this can work.

How to anger your most loyal supporters

The gaming world is seething after what is seen as an egregious assault on privacy by World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most successful multiplayer role-playing games yet devised.  The issue?  Whereas players used to know each other through their WoW “handles”, the company is now introducing a system called “RealID” that forces players to reveal their offline identities within the game&#39s fantasy context.  Commentators think the company wanted to turn its user base into a new social network.  Judging from the massive hullabaloo amongst even its most loyal supporters, the concept may be doomed.

To get an idea of the dimensions of the backlash just type “WoW RealID” into a search engine.  You&#39ll hit paydirt:

The RealID feature is probably the kookiest example yet of breaking the Fourth Law of Identity – the law of Directed Identity.   This law articulates the requirement to scope digital identifiers to the context in which they are used.  In particular, it explains why universal identifiers should not be used where a person&#39s relationship is to a specific context.  The law arises from the need for “contextual separation” – the right of individuals to participate in multiple contexts without those contexts being linkable unless the individual wants them to be.

The company seems to have initially inflicted Real ID onto everyone, and then backed off by describing the lack of “opt-in” as a “security flaw”, according to this official post on wow.com:

To be clear, everyone who does not have a parentally controlled account has in fact opted into Real ID, due to a security flaw. Addons have access to the name on your account right now. So you need to be very careful about what addons you download — make sure they are reputable. In order to actually opt out, you need to set up parental controls on your account. This is not an easy task. Previous to the Battle.net merge, you could just go to a page and set them up. Done. Now, you must set up an account as one that is under parental control. Once your account is that of a child&#39s (a several-step process), your settings default to Real ID-disabled. Any Real ID friends you have will no longer be friends. In order to enable it, you need to check the Enable Real ID box.

 Clearly there are security problems that emerge from squishing identifiers together and breaking cross-context separation.  Mary Landsman has a great post on her Antivirus Software Blog called “WoW Real ID: A Really Bad Idea“:

Here are a couple of snippets about the new Battle.net Real ID program:

“…when you click on one of your Real ID friends, you will be able to see the names of his or her other Real ID friends, even if you are not Real ID friends with those players yourself.”

“…your mutual Real ID friends, as well as their Real ID friends, will be able to see your first and last name (the name registered to the Battle.net account).”

“…Real ID friends will see detailed Rich Presence information (what character the Real ID friend is playing, what they are doing within that game, etc.) and will be able to view and send Broadcast messages to other Real ID friends.”

And this is all cross-game, cross-realm, and cross-alts. Just what already heavily targeted players need, right? A merge of WoW/Battle.net/StarCraft with Facebook-style social networking? Facepalm might have been a better term to describe Real ID given its potential for scams. Especially since Blizzard rolled out the change without any provision to protect minors whatsoever:

Will parents be able to manage whether their children are able to use Real ID?
We plan to update our Parental Controls with tools that will allow parents to manage their children&#39s use of Real ID. We&#39ll have more details to share in the future.

Nice. So some time in the future, Blizzard might start looking at considering security seriously. In the meantime, the unmanaged Real ID program makes it even easier for scammers to socially engineer players AND it adds potential stalking to the list of concerns. With no provision to protect minors whatsoever.

Thanks, Blizz…Not!

And Kyth has a must-read post at stratfu called Deeply Disappointed with the ‘RealID’ System where he explains how RealID should have been done.  His ideas are a great implementation of the Fourth Law.

Using an alias would be fine, especially if the games are integrated in such a way that you could pull up a list of a single Battle.net account&#39s WoW/D3 characters and SC2 profiles. Here is how the system should work:

  • You have a Battle.net account. The overall account has a RealID Handle. This Handle defaults to being your real name, but you can easily change it (talking single-click retard easy here) to anything you desire. Mine would be [WGA]Kazanir, just like my Steam handle is.
  • Each of your games is attached to your Battle.net account and thereby to your RealID. Your RealID friends can see you when you are online in any of those games and message you cross-game, as well as seeing a list of your characters or individual game profiles. Your displayed RealID is the handle described above.
  • Each game contains either a profile (SC2) or a list of characters. A list of any profiles or characters attached to your Battle.net account would be easily accessible from your account management screen. Any of these characters can be “opted out” of your RealID by unchecking them from the list. Thus, my list might look like this:

    X Kazanir.wga – SC2 ProfileX Kazanir – WoW – 80 Druid Mal&#39ganisX Gidgiddoni – WoW – 60 Warrior Mal&#39ganis_ Kazbank – WoW – 2 Hunter Mal&#39ganisX Kazabarb – D3 – 97 Barbarian US East_ Kazahidden – D3 – 45 Monk US West

    In this way I can play on characters (such as a bank alt or a secret D3 character with my e-girlfriend) without forcibly having their identity broadcast to my friends.When I am online on any of the characters I have unchecked, my RealID friends will be able to message me but those characters will not be visible even to RealID friends. The messages will merely appear to come from my RealID and the “which character is he on” information will not be available.

  • Finally, the RealID messenger implementation in every game should be able to hide my presence from view just like any instant messenger application can right now. I shouldn&#39t be forced to be present with my RealID just because I am playing a game — there should be a universal “pretend to not be online” button available in every Battle.net enabled game.

These are the most basic functionality requirements that should be implemented by anyone with an IQ over 80 who designs a system like this.

Check out the comments in response to his post.  I would have to call his really sensible and informed proposal “wildly popular”.  It will be really interesting to see how this terrible blunder by such a creative company will end up.

 [Thanks to Joe Long for heads up]

Don&#39t take identities from our homes without our consent

Joerg Resch of Kuppinger Cole in Germany wrote recently about the importance of identity management to the Smart Grid – by which he means the emerging energy infrastructure based on intelligent, distributed renewable resources:

In 10-12 years from now, the whole utilities and energy market will look dramatically different. Decentralization of energy production with consumers converting to prosumers pumping solar energy into the grid and offering  their electric car batteries as storage facilities, spot markets for the masses offering electricity on demand with a fully transparent price setting (energy in a defined region at a defined time can be cheaper, if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing strong), and smart meters in each home being able to automatically contract such energy from spot markets and then tell the washing machine to start working as soon as electricity price falls under a defined line. And – if we think a bit further and apply Google-like business models to the energy market, we can get an idea of the incredible size this market will develop into.

These are just a few examples, which might give you an idea on how the “post fossile energy market” will work. The drivers leading the way into this new age are clear: energy production from oil and gas will become more and more expensive, because pollution is not for free and the resources will not last forever. And the transparency gain from making the grid smarter will make electricity cheaper than it is now.

The drivers are getting stronger every day. Therefore, we will soon see many large scale smart grid initiatives, and we will see questions rising such as who has control over the information collected by the smart meter in my home. Is it my energy provider? How would Kim Cameron´s 7 laws of Identity work in a smart grid? What would a “grid perimeter” look like which keeps information on the usage of whatever electric devices within my 4 walls? By now, we all know what cybercrimes are and how they can affect each of us. But what are the risks of “smart grid hacking”? How might we be affected by “grid crimes”?

In fact at Blackhat 2009, security consultant Mike Davis demonstrated successful hacker attacks on commercially available smart meters.  He told the conference,

“Many of the security vulnerabilities we found are pretty frightening and most smart meters don&#39t even use encryption or ask for authentication before carrying out sensitive functions like running software updates and severing customers from the power grid.”

Privacy commission Ann Cavoukian of Ontario has insisted that industry turn its attention to the security and privacy of these devices:

“The best response is to ensure that privacy is proactively embedded into the design of the Smart Grid, from end to end. The Smart Grid is presently in its infancy worldwide – I’m confident that many jurisdictions will look to our work being done in Ontario as the privacy standard to be met. We are creating the necessary framework with which to address this issue.”

Until recently, no one has talked about drive-by mapping of our home devices.  But from now on we will.  When we think about home devices, we need to reach into the future and come to terms with the huge stakes that are up for grabs here.  

The smart home and the smart grid alert us to just how important the identity and privacy of our devices really is.  We can use technical mechanisms like encryption to protect some information from eavesdroppers.   But not the patterns of our communication or the identities of our devices…  To do that we need a regulatory framework that ensures commercial interests don&#39t enter our “device space” without our consent.

Google&#39s recent Street View WiFi boondoggle is a watershed event in drawing our attention to these matters.

Information Cards in Industry Verticals

The recent European Identity Conference, hosted in Munich by the analyst firm Kuppinger Cole, had great content inspiring an ongoing stream of interesting conversations.   Importantly, attendance was up despite the economic climate, an outcome Tim Cole pointed out was predictable since identity technology is so key to efficiency in IT.

One of the people I met in person was James McGovern, well known for his Enterprise Architecture blog.  He is on a roll writing about ideas he discussed with a number of us at the conference, starting with this piece on use of Information Cards in industry verticals.  James knows a lot about both verticals and identity.  He has started a critical conversation, replete with the liminal questions he is known for:

‘Consider a scenario where you are an insurance carrier and you would like to have independent insurance agents leverage CardSpace for SSO. The rationale says that insurance agents have more personally identifiable information on consumers ranging from their financial information such as where they work, how much they earn, where they live, what they own to information about their medical history, etc. When they sell an insurance policy they will even take payment via credit cards. In other words, if there were a scenario where username/passwords should be demolished first, insurance should be at the top of the list.’

A great perception.  Scary, even.

‘Now, an independent insurance agent can do business with a plethora of carriers who all are competitors. The ideal scenario says that all of the carriers would agree to a common set of claims so as to insure card portability. The first challenge is that the insurance vertical hasn&#39t been truly successful in forming useful standards that are pervasive (NOTE: There is ACORD but it isn&#39t widely implemented) and therefore relying on a particular vertical to self-organize is problematic.

‘The business value – while not currently on the tongues of enterprise architects who work in the insurance vertical – says that by embracing information cards, they could minimally save money. By not having to manage so many disparate password reset approaches (each carrier has their own policies for password history, complexity and expiry) they can improve the user experience…

‘If I wanted to be a really good relying party, I think there are other challenges that would emerge. Today, I have no automated way of validating the quality of an identity provider and would have to do this as a bunch of one offs. So, within our vertical, we may have say 80,000 different insurance agencies whom could have their own identity provider. With such a large number, I couldn&#39t rely on white listing and there has to be a better way. We should of course attempt to define what information would need to be exposed at runtime in order for trust to be consumed.’

This raises the matter of how trust would be concretized within the various verticals.  White listing is obviously too cumbersome given the numbers.  James proposes an idea that I will paraphrase as follows:  use claims transformers run by trusted entities (like state departments of insurance) to vet incoming claims.  The idea would be to reuse the authorities already involved in making this kind of decision.

He goes on to examine the challenge of figuring out what identity proofing process has actually been used by an identity provider.  In a paper I collaborated on recently (I&#39ll be publishing it here soon) we included the proofing and registration processes as one element in a chain of factors we called the “security presentation”.  One of the points James makes is that it should be easy to include an explicit statement about the “security presentation” as one element of any claim-set being submitted (see Jame&#39s post for some good examples).  Another is that the relying party should be able to include a statement of its security presentation requirements in its policy.

James concludes with a set of action items that need to be addressed for Information Cards to be widely usedl in industry verticals:

‘1. Microsoft needs to redouble its efforts to sell information cards as a business value proposition where the current pitch is towards a technical audience. It is nice that it will be part of Geneva but this means that its capabilities would be fully leveraged unless it is understood by more than folks who do just infrastructure work.

‘2. Oasis is a wonderful standards organization and can add value as a forum to organize common claims at an industry vertical level. Since identity is not insurance specific, we have to acknowledge that using insurance specific bodies such as ACORD may not be appropriate. I would be game to participate on a working group to generate common claims for the insurance vertical.

‘3. When it comes to developing enterprise applications using the notion of claims, …developers need to do a quick paradigm shift. I can envision a few of us individuals who are also book authors coming up with a book entitled: Thinking in Claims and XACML as there is no guide to help developers understand proper architecture going forward. If such a guide existed, we… (could avoid repeating) …the same mistakes of the past.

‘4. I am wildly convinced that industry analysts are having the wrong conversations around identity. Ask yourself, how many ECM systems have on their 2009 roadmap, the ability to consume a claim? How many BPM systems? In case you haven&#39t figured it out, the answer is a big fat zero. This says that the identity crowd is evangelizing to the wrong demographic. Industry analysts are measuring identity products what consumers really need which is to measure how many existing products can consume new approaches to identity. Does anyone have a clue as to how to get analysts such as Nick Malik, Gerry Gebel, Bob Blakely and others to change the conversation.

‘5. We need to figure out some additional identity standards that an IDP could expose to an RP to assert vetting, attestation, indemnification and other constructs to relying parties. This will require a small change in the way that identity selectors work but B2B user-centric approaches won&#39t scale without these approaches…’

I know some good work to formalize various aspects of the “security presentation” has been going on in one of the Liberty Alliance working groups – perhaps someone involved could post about the progress that has been made an how it ties in to some of James’ action items. 

James’ action items are all good.  I buy his point that Microsoft needs to take claims beyond the current “infrastructure” community – though I still see the participation of this community as absolutely key.  But we need – as an industry and as individual companies – to widen the discussion and start figuring out how claims can be used in concrete verticals.  As we do this, I expect to see many players, with very strong participation from Microsoft,  taking the new paradigm to the “business people” who will really benefit from the technology.

When Geneva is released to manufacturing later this year, it will be seen as a fundamental part of Active Directory and the Windows platform.  I expect that many programs will then start to kick in that turn up the temperature along the lines James proposes.

My only caution with respect to James’ argument is that I hope we can keep requirements simple in the first go-around.  I don&#39t think ALL the capabilities of claims have to be delivered “simultaneously”, though I think it is essential for architects like James to understand them and build our current deliverables in light of them. 

So I would add a sixth bullet to the five proposed by James, about beginning with extremely simplified profiles and getting them to work perfectly and interoperably before moving on to more advanced scenarios.  Of course, that means more work in nailing the most germane scenarios and determining their concrete requirements.  I expect James would agree with me on this (I guess I&#39ll find out, eh?…)

[By the way, James also has an intriguing graphic that appears with the piece, but doesn&#39t discuss it explicitly. I hope that is a treat that is coming…]

Do people care about data correlation?

While I was working on the last couple of posts about data correlation, trusty old RSS brought in a  corroborating piece by Colin McKay at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.   Many  in the industry seem to assume people will trade any of their personal information for the smallest trinkets, so more empirical work of the kind reported here seems to be essential.

‘How comfortable, exactly, are online users with their information and online browsing habits being used to track their behaviour and serve ads to them?

‘A survey of Canadian respondents, conducted by TNS Facts and reported by the Canadian Marketing Association, reports that a large number of Canadians and Americans “(69% and 67% respectively) are aware that when they are online their browsing behaviour may be captured by third parties for advertising purposes.”

‘That doesn’t mean they are comfortable with the practice. The same survey notes that “just 33 per cent of Canadians who are members of a site are comfortable with these sites using their browsing information to improve their site experience. There is no difference in support for the use of consumers’ browsing history to serve them targeted ads, be it with the general population, the privacy concerned, or members of a site.”’

If only only 33% are comfortable with using browsing information to improve site experience, I wonder how many will be comfortable with using browsing information to evaluate terminating of peoples’ credit cards (see thread on Martinism)?  Can I take a guess?  How about 1%?  (This may seem high, but I have a friend in the direct marketing world who tells me 1% of the population will believe in anything at all!)  Colin continues:

‘But how much information are users willing to consciously hand over to win access to services, prizes or additional content?

‘A survey of 1800 visitors to coolsavings.com, a coupon and rebate site owned by Q Interactive, has claimed that web visitors are willing “to receive free online services and information in exchange for the use of my data to target relevant advertising to me.”

‘Now, my impression is that visitors to sites like coolsavings.com – who are actively seeking out value and benefits online – would be predisposed to believing that online sites would be able to deliver useful content and relevant ads.

‘That said, Mediapost, who had access to details of the full Q Interactive survey, cautions that users “… continue to put the brakes on hard when asked which specific information they are willing to hand over. The survey found 77.8% willing to give zip code, 64.9% their age and 72.3% their gender, but only 22.4% said they wanted to share the Web sites they visited and only 12% and 12.1% were willing to have their online purchases or the search history respectively to be shared …” ‘

I want to underline Colin&#39s point.  These statistics come from people who actively sought out a coupon site in order to trade information for benefits!  Even so, we are talking about a mere 12% who were willing to have their online purchases or search history shared.  This empirically nixes the notion, held by some, that people don&#39t care about data correlation (an issue I promised to address in my last post.

Colin&#39s conclusions seem consistent with the idea I sketched there of defining a new “right to data correlation” and requiring delegation of that right before trusted parties can correlate individuals across contexts.

‘In both the TNS Facts/CMA and Q Interactive surveys, the results seem to indicate that users are willing to make a conscious decision to share information about themselves – especially if it is with sites they trust and with whom they have an established relationship.

‘A common thread seems to be emerging: consumers see a benefit to providing specific data that will help target information relevant to their needs, but they are less certain about allowing their past behaviour to be used to make inferences about their individual preferences.

‘They may feel their past search and browsing habits might just have a greater impact on their personal and professional life than the limited re-distribution of basic personal information by sites they trust. Especially if those previous habits might be seen as indiscreet, even obscene.’

Colin&#39s conclusion points to the need to be able to “revoke the right to data correlation” that may have been extended to third parties.  It also underlines the need for a built-in scheme for aging and deletion of correlation data.

 

More news about our identity team

After my last post, it occurred to me that people would probably be interested in knowing about some of the other figures from the identity community who have joined my colleagues and I to work on identity and access – great people with diverse backgrounds who bring new depth to the increasingly important area of identity and access management. 

I&#39m going to break this up across several posts in order to keep things manageable…

Ariel Gordon

Ariel Gordon came to Microsoft recently from Orange / France Telecom.  It&#39s really key for the Identity group at Microsoft to have the best possible relationships with our colleagues in the Telecom sector, and Ariel&#39s 12 years of experience and understanding of Telecom will move our dialog forward tremendously. 

Ariel led the creation and deployment of Orange&#39s consumer Identity Management system, focusing  his staff on optimizing customer journeys and UX through Identity lifecycles.  The system currently hosts tens of millions of user identities across Europe.  

Ariel oversaw marketing work (and the development of business planning) for Identity Management and other Enablers, including User Privacy and API exposition framework.  As a key spokesperson for Orange, he unveiled several of their innovations at Industry Events including their support of OpenID and SAML for Outbound Federation at “DIDW” in Sept 2007, and support of OpenID and LiveID for Inbound Federation at “the European Identity Conference” in April 2008.

Orange played an important role in Liberty Alliance, and Ariel has a lot to share with us about Liberty&#39s accomplishments.   Listen to Kuppinger Cole&#39s Felix Gaehtgens interview Ariel on YouTube to get a real sense for his passion and accomplishments.

Pete Rowley

Many people around Internet Identity Workshop know Pete Rowley, not only for the work he has done but because he has a coolio rock-star-type web page banner and a real stone fence:

Pete has been working on identity since the mid 90’s. He contributed to the Netscape Directory Server. Later at Centrify he worked on connecting heterogeneous systems to the Active Directory infrastructure for authentication and policy applications.  Many of us met him at the Identity Gang meetings while he worked for Red Hat. There he founded the Free IPA (Identity, Policy, Audit) open source project. I remember being impressed by what he was trying to achieve:

“For efficiency, compliance and risk mitigation, organizations need to centrally manage and correlate vital security information including

  • Identity (machine, user, virtual machines, groups, authentication credentials)
  • Policy (configuration settings, access control information)
  • Audit (events, logs, analysis thereof)

“Because of its vital importance and the way it is interrelated, we think identity, policy, and audit information should be open, interoperable, and manageable. Our focus is on making identity, policy, and audit easy to centrally manage for the Linux and Unix world. Of course, we will need to interoperate well with Windows and much more.

Now he&#39s working on evolving the Identity Lifecycle Manager (ILM).

Mark Wahl

Mark Wahl has been well known to identerati ever since the early days of LDAP.  In 1997 he published RFC2251, the famous Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (V3) Specification with Tim Howes and Steve Kille.  Of course it was fundamental to a whole generation of directory technology.

People from the directory world may remember Mark as Senior Directory Architect at Innosoft International, and co-founder and President of Critical Angle.  This was great stuff – his  identity management, directory, PKI, messaging and network middleware systems were deployed at many large enterprises and carriers.

Mark was also a Senior Staff Engineer and Principal Directory Architect at Sun Microsystems,  and later  developed and taught a one-year course on information assurance and computer security auditing at the University of Texas.

His passion for auditing and risk assessment technologies for the enterprise identity metasystem led him to create a startup called Informed Control.  You get a good feeling for his thorough and no-holds-barred commitment by browsing through the  site.

Mark is now applying his creativity to evolving the vision, roadmap and architecture for the convergence of identity and security lifecycle management products.

[To be continued…]

Virtual Corporate Business Cards

Martin Kuppinger is one of the key analysts behind the amazing European Identity Conference just held in Munich.  This was “User Centric Meets Enterprise Identity Management” with a twist: our European colleagues have many things to contribute to the discussion about how they fit together…

For a taste of what I&#39m talking about, here is a posting that I found dazzling.  There are no weeds encumbering Martin&#39s thinking.  He&#39s got the story:  Virtual Corporate Business Cards.   

Yes, I know – it is a little redundant talking about “corporate” and “business” in the context of virtual cards. But it is one of the most obvious, interesting and feasible business cases around Identity 2.0.

What do I mean by that term? My idea is about applying the ideas of Identity 2.0 and especially of InfoCard to the business. Provide every employee with an InfoCard or even some of them and you are better suited to solve many of today’s open issues.

How to issue these cards

I have this in mind for a pretty long time. I remember that I had asked Don Schmidt from Microsoft about the interface between Active Directory and CardSpace some time before EIC 2007. Active Directory might be one source of these cards. Just provide an interface between AD and an Identity Provider for InfoCards and you are able to issue and manage these cards based on information which still exits in the Active Directory. For sure, any other corporate directory or meta directory might work as well.

Today these technical interfaces are still missing, at least in an easy-to-use implementations. But it won’t take that long until we will see them. Thus, it is time to start thinking about the use cases.

How to use these cards

There are at least three types of cards I have in mind:

  • Virtual business cards: They are used when someone represents his company. How do you ensure today that every employee provides current and correct information when he registers with other web sites? How do you ensure that he acts in the web like you expect him to do? How do you ensure that he enters the correct title or the correct information about the size of your business when registering? InfoCards are the counterpart to your paper-based business cards today, but they can contain more information. And there might be different ones for different purposes.
  • Virtual corporate cards: They are used for B2B transactions and interactions. Add information like business roles to the cards and you can provide all these claims or assertions which are required for B2B business. These cards can be an important element in Federation, providing current information on the role of an employee or other data required. For sure there can be as well several cards, depending on the details which are required for interaction with different types of business partners.
  • Virtual employee cards: They are used internally, for example to identify users in business processes. Again, there might be a lot of information on them, like current business roles. You might use them as well to improve internal order processes, identifying the users who request new PCs, paper, or what ever else.

With these three types I might even have to extend the name for the cards, I assume. But I will stick with the term I have in the title of this post. The interesting aspect is the flexibility which (managed) InfoCards provide and the ability to manage them in context with a leading directory you have.

Due to the fact that you are the Identity Provider when applying these concepts you can ensure that no one uses these cards after leaving the company. You can ensure as well that the data is always up-to-date. That’s by far easier than with some of today’s equivalents for these future type of cards.

I will blog these days about two other ideas I have in mind in this context: The way the concept of claims Microsoft’s Kim Cameron is evangelizing will affect end-to-end security in business processes and SOA applications in general and the idea of using InfoCards for all these personalization and profiling ideas which have been discussed many years ago. I’m convinced that Identity 2.0 concepts like InfoCards and claims are a key element to solve these threats and bring these things to live.

There is a lot of business value in these concepts. And they will affect the way businesses cooperate, because they are much easier to implement and use than many other approaches.

I&#39m with you 100% Martin.  That&#39s the most concise and comprehensible description of enterprise Information Cards that I&#39ve seen.  

Can women detect idiot researchers better than men?

According to an article in The Register

“Women are four times more likely than men to give out “passwords” in exchange for chocolate bars.

“A survey by of 576 office workers in central London found that women are far more likely to give away their computer passwords to total strangers than their male counterparts, with 45 per cent of women versus ten per cent of men prepared to give away their login credentials to strangers masquerading as market researchers.

“The survey, conducted outside Liverpool Street Station in the City of London, was actually part of a social engineering exercise to raise awareness about information security in the run-up to next week’s Infosec Europe conference.

“Infosec has conducted similar surveys every year for at least the last five years involving punters apparently handing over login credentials in exchange for free pens or chocolate rewards.

“Little attempt is made to verify the authenticity of the passwords, beyond follow-up questions asking what category it falls under. So we don’t know whether women responding to the survey filled in any old rubbish in return for a choccy treat or handed out their real passwords.

“This year’s survey results were significantly better than previous years. In 2007, 64 per cent of people were prepared to give away their passwords for a chocolate bar, a figure that dropped 21 per cent this time around.

“So either people are getting more security-aware or more weight-conscious. And with half the respondents stating that they used the same passwords at home and work, then perhaps the latter is more likely.

“Taken in isolation the password findings might suggest the high-profile HMRC data loss debacle had increased awareness about information security. However, continued willingness to hand over personal information that could be useful to ID fraudsters suggests otherwise.

“The bogus researchers also asked for workers’ names and telephone numbers, ostensibly so they could be entered into a draw to go to Paris. With this incentive 60 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women handed over their contact information. A similar percentage (61 per cent) were happy to hand over their dates of birth. ®

This report is fascinating – not because it is good or bad but because it makes us question so much.

The people being studied don’t understand how our systems operate.  [In my view this is our worst problem.]  They’ve been shut out of knowing why things work the way they do.  So if they can be tricked, should we be surprised?  And does it mean they are “stupid”??? 

I feel a lot of people are simply sick and tired of naive and stupid questions from naive and stupid researchers.  Example:  I was just called to the door of my hotel room and asked what my major problems were…  Guess what?  I said that I was an architect and thus disqualified from discussing any such issues.  Sugar freaks will be happy that this qualified me for several  free chocolates, as well as some more idiosyncratic pastries…

Flickr, Windows Live ID and Phishing

We talk a lot in the identity milieu about opening up the “walled Gardens” that keep our digital experiences partitioned between Internet portals.  Speaking as a person who dabbles in many services, it would be really great if I could reuse information rather than entering it over and over again.  I think as time goes on we will get more and more fed up with the friction that engulfs our information.   Over time enough people will feel this way that no portal will be able to avoid ”data portability” and still attract usage.

Even so, many have argued that today’s business models don’t allow more user-centric services to evolve.  That’s why it has been fascinating to read about the new Flickr Friend Finder.  I think it is tremendously significant to see organizations of the stature of Flickr, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft working closely together so people can easily associate their pictures on one site with their friends and colleagues from others.

Once people decide to share information between their services, we run smack dab into the “how” of it all.  In the past, some sites actually asked you to give them your username and password, so they could essentially become you.  Clearly this was terrible from a security and identity point of view.  The fact is, sharing requires new technology approaches.

Windows Live has moved forward in this area by developing a new “Contacts API“.  Angus Logan gave us a great overview on his blog recently, taking us through the whole experience.  I recommend you look at it – the design handles a lot of fascinating issues that we’ll be encountering more and more.  I’ll just pick up on the first couple of steps:

Go to the Friend finder

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Select Windows Live Hotmail (you can also select Yahoo! Mail and GMail) – I’d imagine soon there will be Facebook / LinkedIn / insert social network here.

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If you aren’t already authenticated, use your Windows Live ID to sign in (IMPORTANT: Notice how you are not sharing your Windows Live ID secret credential pair with Flickr – this is a good thing!)

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If you have followed my work on the problems with protocols that redirect users across web contexts, you will see there is a potential problem here.  

If Flickr plays by the rules, it will not learn your username and password, and cannot “become you”.  It really is a step forward.

But if a user gets used to this behavior, an unreputable site can pretend to send her to Windows Live by putting up a fake page.  The fake can look real enough that the user gives away her credentials.

A user called davidacoder called this out on Angus’ blog:

I think this whole approach will lead to many, many, many hacked Windows Live ID accounts. If you guys seriously believe that average users will be able to follow the rule “only type in your credentials on login.live.com” your are just naive. AND your own uber-security guy Kim Cameron is telling that very story to the world for years already. I wouldn’t mind so much if a Live ID was a low-value asset, but you bring people to associate some of their most valuable assets with it (email, calendar, contacts). I find the whole approach irresponsible. I just hope that at some point, if someone looses his credentials this way, he will sue you and present Kim Cameron’s blog as evidence that you were perfectly aware in what danger you bring your users. And to make a long story short, I think the Live ID team should fix the phising problem first (i.e. implement managed infocards), before they come up with new delegation stuff etc that will just lead to more attack surface. Very bad planning.

I admire David’s passion, although I’d prefer not to be used in any law suits if that is OK with everyone.  Let’s face it.  There are two very important things to be done here. 

One is to open up the portals so people can control their information and use it as they see fit  I totally endorse Angus’ work in this regard, and the forward-looking attitude of the Windows Live team.  I urge everyone to give them the credit they deserve so they’ll continue to move in this positive direction.

The other is to deal with the phishing problems of the web. 

And let me be clear.  Information sharing is NOT the only factor heightening the need for stronger Internet identity.  It is one of a dozen factors.  Perhaps the most dangerous of these is the impending collision between the security infrastructure of the Internet and that of the enterprise.  But no one can prevent this collision – or turn back the forces of openness.  All we can do is make sure we apply every effort to get stronger identity into place.

On that front, today Neelamadhaba Mahapatro (Neel), who runs Windows Live ID, put up a post where he responds to David’s comment:

Earlier this week a comment was left on Angus Logan’s blog, it got me thinking, and I want to share what we are doing to create phishing resistant systems.

  • We are absolutely aware of the dangers of phishing on the Internet.
  • We understand the probability of attack goes up when the value of the asset that is being protected is higher than the strength of authentication protecting that asset – watch this video by Kim Cameron to see OpenID phished.
  • We have put certain measures in place to counteract phishing attempts which are listed below.

Self Issued InfoCards

In August 2007 we announced beta support for self issued InfoCards with Windows Live ID (instead of username/password). The Windows Live ID team is working closely with the Windows CardSpace team to ensure we deliver the best solution for the 400 million+ people who use Windows Live ID monthly. Angus’s commentor, davidacoder, also asked for the Windows Live ID service to become a Managed InfoCard provider – we have been evaluating this; however we have nothing to announce yet.

Authenticating to Windows Live ID with CardSpace.

Additional Protection through Extended Validation Certificates

To further reduce the risk of phishing, we have implemented Extended Validation certificates to prove that the login.live.com site is trustworthy. I do however think more education for internet users is required to help drive the understanding of what it means when the address bar turns green (and what to do when it doesn’t). When authenticating in a web browser, Microsoft will only ask for your Windows Live ID credential pair on login.live.com – nowhere else! (See this related post).

login.live.com with the Extended Validation certificate. 

Neel continues by showing a number of other initiatives the group has taken – including the Windows Live Sign-in Assistant and “roaming tiles”.  He concludes:

We’re constantly looking for ways to balance end-user security/privacy and user experience. If the barrier to entry is too high or the user experience is poor, the users will revolt. If it is too insecure the system becomes an easy target. A balance needs to be struck Using Windows CardSpace is definitely a move forward from usernames & passwords but adoption will be the critical factor here.

And he’s right.  Sites like Windows Live can really help drive this, but they can’t tell users what to do.  The important thing is to give people the option of using Information Cards to prevent phishing.  Beyond that, it is a matter of user education. One option would be for systems like Live ID to automatically suggest stronger authentication to people who use features like data sharing and off-portal authentication – features that put password credentials more at risk.

Microsoft says, “U-Prove it”

Ralf Bendrath chided me yesterday for bragging about having proven Bruce Schneier wrong in his concern that there is not a “viable business model” for the Credentica technology.  (In my defense, Bruce had said, “I&#39d like to be proven wrong.”, and I was just trying to oblige him.)

Anyway,  I think Joe Wilcox&#39s article in eWeek&#39s Microsoft Watch provides some unbiased analysis of the issue.

Sometimes, Microsoft really spends its money well, such as last week&#39s acquisition of U-Prove technology from Credentica.

This is a damn, exciting acquisition. It&#39s strategic and timely.

U-Prove is, simply put, a privacy/security protection mechanism. The technology works on a simple principle: Enable transactions by revealing as little information as possible.

Credentica&#39s Stefan Brands, Christian Paquin and Greg Thompson have joined Microsoft, where they will work as part of the Identity and Access Group. Microsoft also acquired associated U-Prove patents.

Brands is a well-regarded cryptographer and author of “Rethinking Public Key Infrastructures and Digital Certificates; Building in Privacy,” which explains the principles behind U-Prove. The book is available for free download, courtesy of MIT Press. He brings a somewhat radical approach to cryptography: Disclose or collect little—ideally no—private information during any transaction process. During most transactions, whether online or offline, too much personal information is exposed.

I vaguely recall Brands from Zero-Knowledge Systems, where he went in early 2000. About six months earlier I consulted Zero-Knowledge Systems’ chief scientist for a story about an alleged cryptographic flaw/back door in then unreleased Windows 2000.

Brands, his colleagues and U-Prove will first go into Windows Cardspace and Windows Communications Foundation. Microsoft&#39s Brendon Lynch explained in a Thursday blog post:

“Credentica&#39s U-Prove technology will help people protect their identities by enabling them to disclose only the minimum amount of information needed for a transaction—sometimes no personal information may be needed at all. When this technology is broadly available in Microsoft products (such as Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Cardspace), enterprises, governments and consumers all stand to benefit from the enhanced security and privacy that it will enable. We look forward to a world where people have more control of their personal information and are better protected from harms of online fraud and identity theft.”

Kim Cameron, Microsoft&#39s identity architect, does a wonderful job explaining Brands’ “minimal disclosure” approach in a Thursday blog post and how the company may apply it. The basic concept: to use other cryptographic means to verify identity “without revealing the signature applied by the identity provider.”

Microsoft has made one helluva good acquisition, whose potential long-term benefits I simply cannot overstate. The company has been trying to tackle the identity problem for nearly a decade. Early days, Passport acted as a single sign-on for multiple services, a heritage Windows Live ID expanded. But U-Prove departs from Microsoft&#39s past identity efforts. The idea is to identify you without, well, identifying you.

Microsoft online services would look dramatically different with an identity mechanism that truly protected privacy and security on both sides of the transaction all while guaranteeing both parties that they are who they say they are, without necessarily saying who they are.

The best conceptual analogy I can think of is Swiss or offshore banking, where an account holder presents a numerical token or tokens that verify his or her right to account access but not the individual&#39s identity or necessarily the token&#39s issuer. Such a mechanism could be a boon to business and consumer confidence in online transactions as well as reduce petty fraud.

Microsoft&#39s money would be better spent on more acquisitions like this one, rather than frittering away valuable resources on Yahoo. Microsoft is operating on the false premise that Google&#39s huge search lead also puts it ahead in advertising—too far to catch up without a means of leaping ahead. Yahoo is the means.

But Microsoft is mistaken. Online activities and transactions are more complex than that. Search is one strategic technology, but there are others that Google doesn&#39t control. If Microsoft could take a strategic lead protecting identity around transactions, the company could better enable all kinds of Web activities, and in so doing raise its online credibility. Privacy concerns have dogged Google.

I think Microsoft should take half of its proposed Yahoo offer and spend it on more acquisitions like Credentica&#39s U-Prove technology. I&#39m not the first to suggest that Microsoft spend $20 billion on smaller companies. But I will say that U-Prove is an example what Microsoft should do to bolster its online technology portfolio in more meaningful ways, without taking on the hardship of a large, messy acquisition like Yahoo.