What identity providers will sites support?

Paul Madsen digs deeper into the factors that will influence the choices of Internet service providers as they move towards user-centric identity.

“Often times, in trying to be clever and sarcastic, I dive too deep into the ‘satire pool’. The urge to be witty and contrarian surpasses the urge to be clear. Consequently, the ‘point’ I am trying to make can, on occasion, be buried underneath surface frivolity and snideness.
“As happened with my recent post on HealthVault‘s chosen model for OP acceptance.

“With that post, I have confused Kim, and for that I here apologize.

“I was responding to a post of Simon Willison, in which he defended HealthVault&#39s right to choose OPs selectively – and not be compelled to accept any ol’ OP coming in off the street presenting an identity claim.

“My post might have given some the impression that I disagreed with Simon. For instance, I wrote

‘I disagree’

“Admittedly, this set a tone.

“But the rest of the post was meant to point out that, while I do think the user has the right to pressure RPs like HealthVault to accept assertions from particular OPs – the appropriate mechanism for this pressure, as for many other interactions between customers and service providers (e.g. buying an OS), is through market forces. If enough users choose an OP because it is secure and privacy-respecting, or because it offers 2-factor authentication, or because it has a snazzy flash UI, the RPs will find it (if they are interested in serving their customer base).

“When the RPs do find these candidate OPs (or IDPs, the issue is of course not unique to OpenID) they will themselves do their own checking and assessment before they start accepting assertions. And of course, each RP has to ask the question ‘Is this OP appropriate for the resources I protect/manage?’. If the resources are neither privacy sensitive nor valuable, the list of OPs that are appropriate will be longer than for medical or financial information.

“HealthVault (actually probably some other audit & risk management group in Microsoft) performed this assessment and, at least initially, came up with 2 OPs that they felt were right for them. More power to ‘em. Partner selection is tough and fraught with risk – they are right to be careful.

“I smile (more a smirk really) when I hear some in the user-centric world place the sole right and responsibility of choosing an OP on the user&#39s shoulders. User&#39s can&#39t even remember their passwords, and you want them to assess the security infrastructure of an OP?

Surgeon: So, are we ready for your operation tomorrow?
Patient: Hi Doc, yes. But I was just reading about this new surgical instrument for the procedure. I really want you to try it out on me.
Surgeon: Hmmm, I don&#39t know much about it …
Patient: Oh, you&#39ll work it out as you go

“So yes Kim, I agree. Resources, and gall bladders, do have rights. “

Now it becomes clear why his original piece was called Pressure. Meanwhile, everyone should know that the last thing I would ever want to do is cast a chill over Paul&#39s satire pool. What a refreshing oasis it is!  (No pun intended.)

Resources have rights too

Paul Madsen has a knack for pithy identity wisdom.  But his recent piece on HealthVault&#39s use of OpenID made me do a double take.

“Simon Willison defends HealthVault‘s choice of OPs [OpenID providers – Kim].

“I disagree. It is I, as a user, that should be able to dictate to HealthVault the OPs from which they are to accept identity assertions through OpenID.

“Just as I, as a user of Vista, should be able to dictate to Microsoft which software partners they work with to bundle into the OS (I particularly like the Slow Down to Crawl install).

“Just as I, as a Zune user … oh wait, there are no Zune users….

“The mechanism by which I (the user) am able to indicate to HealthVault, or Vista, my preferences for their partners is called ‘the market‘.”

Hmmm.  All passion aside, are Vista and HealthVault really the same things?

When you buy an operating system like Vista, it is the substratum of YOUR personal computer.  You should be able to run whatever YOU want on it.  That strikes me as part of the very definition of the PC.

But what about a cloud service like HealthVault?  And here I want to get away from the specifics of HealthVault, and talk generically about services that live in the cloud.  In terms of the points I want to make, we could just as easily be talking about Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger or Hotmail.

As a user, do you own such a service? Do you run it in whatever way you see fit?  

I&#39ve tried a lot of services, and I don&#39t think I&#39ve ever seen one that gives you that kind of carte blanche. 

Normally a service provides options. You can often control content, but you function within parameters.  Your biggest decision is whether you want to use the service in the first place.  That&#39s a large part of what “the market” in services really is like.

But let me push this part of the discussion onto “the stack” for a moment.

PUSH

Last week a friend came by and told me a story.  One of his friends regularly used an Internet advertising service, and paid for it via the Internet too.  At some point, a large transaction “went missing”.  The victim contacted the service through which he was making the transaction, and was told it “wasn&#39t their problem”.  Whose problem was it?

I don&#39t know anything about legal matters and am not talking from that point of view.  It just seems obvious to me that if you are a company that values its relationships with customers, this kind of breach really IS your problem, and you need to face up to that.

And there is the rub.  I never want to be the one saying, “Sorry – this is your problem, not ours.”  But if I&#39m going share the problem, shouldn&#39t I have some say in preventing it and limiting my liability?

POP

I think that someone offering a service has the right to define the conditions for use of the service (let&#39s for now ignore the fact that there may be some regulation of such conditions – for example certain conditions might be “illegal” in some jurisdictions).  And that includes security requirements.

In other words, matters of access control proceed from the resource.  The resource decides who can access it.   Identity assertions are a tool which a resource may use to accomplish this.  For years we&#39ve gotten this backwards, thinking access proceeded from the identity to the resource – we need to reverse our thinking.

Takeaway:  “user-centric” doesn&#39t mean The Dictatorship of the Users.  In fact there are three parties whose interests must be accomodated (the user, the resource, and the claims provider).  At times this is going to be complex.  Proclamations like, “It is I, as a user, that should be able to dictate…” just don&#39t capture what is at stake here. 

I like the way Simon Willison puts this:

“You have to remember that behind the excitement and marketing OpenID is a protocol, just like SMTP or HTTP. All OpenID actually provides is a mechanism for asserting ownership over a URL and then “proving” that assertion. We can build a pyramid of interesting things on top of this, but that assertion is really all OpenID gives us (well, that and a globally unique identifier). In internet theory terms, it’s a dumb network: the protocol just concentrates on passing assertions around; it’s up to the endpoints to set policies and invent interesting applications.

“Open means that providers and consumers are free to use the protocol in whatever way they wish. If they want to only accept OpenID from a trusted subset of providers, they can go ahead. If they only want to pass OpenID details around behind the corporate firewall (great for gluing together an SSO network from open-source components) they can knock themselves out. Just like SMTP or HTTP, the protocol does not imply any rules about where or how it should be used…”

In a later post – where he seems to have calmed down a bit – Paul mentions a Liberty framework that allows relying parties to “outsource the assessment of… OPs to accredited 3rd parties (or at least provide a common assessment framework…)”.  This sounds more like the Paul I know, and I want to learn more about his thinking in this area.

Wide coverage of the Information Card Foundation

There has been a lot of coverage of the newly formed Information Card Foundation (ICF) in the last couple of days, including stories by mainstreet publications like the New York Times.  This article by Richard Thurston from SC Magazine gives you a good idea of how accurately some quite technical concepts were interpreted and conveyed by our colleagues in the press.

Google and Microsoft are among an extensive set of technology vendors aiming to spur the adoption of digital identity cards.

The two internet giants have helped form the Information Card Foundation (ICF), which aims to develop technologies to secure digital identities on the internet and which was launched today.

Digital identity cards are the online equivalent of a physical identity card, such as a driver&#39s license. The idea is that internet users will have a virtual wallet containing an array of digital identity cards, and they can choose what information is stored on each card. The aim is to replace usernames and passwords in an effort to improve security.

Alongside Google and Microsoft, large suppliers such as Novell, Oracle, PayPal and financial information company Equifax, have joined the ICF, as well as 18 smaller suppliers and industry associations.

“Our shared goal is to deliver a ubiquitous, interoperable, privacy-respecting federated identity layer as a means to seamless, secure online transactions over network infrastructure,” said Brett McDowell, executive director of Liberty Alliance, one of the founding members.

The idea of digital identities is far from new. But so far vendors’ efforts have been fragmented and largely not interoperable.

The ICF is proposing a system based on three parties: the user, the identity provider (such as a bank or credit card issuer) and also what it calls a reliant party (which could be a university network, financial website or e-commerce website, for example).

The ICF argues that, because all three parties must be synced in real-time for the transaction to proceed, it should be more secure.

“Rather than logging into websites with usernames and passwords, information cards let people ‘click-in’ using a secure digital identity that carries only the specific information needed to enable a transaction,” said Charles Andres, executive director of the ICF. “Businesses will enjoy lower fraud rates, higher affinity with customers, lower risk and more timely information about their customers and business partners.”

The ICF now wants to expand its membership to include businesses, such as retailers and financial institutions, as well as government organizations.

It also wants to become a working group of Identity Commons, a community-driven organization which promotes the creation of an open identity layer for the internet.

You can find thousands of similar links to the Foundation here and here.  Amazing.

Information Card Foundation Formed

It&#39s a great day for Information Cards, Internet security and privacy. I can&#39t put it better than this:

June 24, 2008 – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, United States – An array of prominent names in the high-technology community today announced the formation of a non-profit foundation, The Information Card Foundation, to advance a simpler, more secure and more open digital identity on the Internet, increasing user control over their personal information while enabling mutually beneficial digital relationships between people and businesses.

Led by Equifax, Google, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and PayPal, plus nine leaders in the technology community, the group established the Information Card Foundation (ICF) to promote the rapid build-out and adoption of Internet-enabled digital identities using Information Cards.

Information Cards take a familiar off-line consumer behavior – using a card to prove identity and provide information – and bring it to the online world. Information Cards are a visual representation of a personal digital identity which can be shared with online entities. Consumers are able to manage the information in their cards, have multiple cards with different levels of detail, and easily select the card they want to use for any given interaction.

“Rather than logging into web sites with usernames and passwords, Information Cards let people ‘click-in’ using a secure digital identity that carries only the specific information needed to enable a transaction,” said Charles Andres, executive director for the Information Card Foundation. “Additionally, businesses will enjoy lower fraud rates, higher affinity with customers, lower risk, and more timely information about their customers and business partners.”

The founding members of the Information Card Foundation represent a wide range of technology, data, and consumer companies. Equifax, Google, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and PayPal, are founding members of the Information Card Foundation Board of Directors. Individuals also serving on the board include ICF Chairman Paul Trevithick of Parity, Patrick Harding of Ping Identity, Mary Ruddy of Meristic, Ben Laurie, Andrew Hodgkinson of Novell, Drummond Reed, Pamela Dingle of the Pamela Project, Axel Nennker, and Kim Cameron of Microsoft.

“The creation of the ICF is a welcome development,” said Jamie Lewis, CEO and research chair of Burton Group. “As a third party, the ICF can drive the development of Information Card specifications that are independent of vendor implementations. It can also drive vendor-independent branding that advertises compliance with the specifications, and the behind-the-scenes work that real interoperability requires.”

The Information Card Foundation will support and guide industry efforts to enable the development of an open, trusted and interoperable identity layer for the Internet that maximizes control over personal information by individuals. To do so, the Information Card infrastructure will use existing and emerging data exchange and security protocols, standards and software components.

Businesses and organizations that supply or consume personal information will benefit from joining the Information Card Foundation to improve their trusted relationships with their users. This includes financial institutions, retailers, educational and government institutions, healthcare providers, retail providers, travel, entertainment, and social networks.

The Information Card Foundation will hold interoperability events to improve consistency on the web for people using and managing their Information Cards. The ICF will also promote consistent industry branding that represents interoperability of Information Cards and related components, and will promote identity policies that protect user information. This branding and policy development is designed to give all Internet users confidence that they can exert greater control over personal information released to specific trusted providers through the use of Information Cards.

“Liberty Alliance salutes the open industry oversight of Information Card interoperability that the formation of ICF signifies,” said Brett McDowell, executive director, Liberty Alliance. “Our shared goal is to deliver a ubiquitous, interoperable, privacy-respecting federated identity layer as a means to seamless, secure online transactions over network infrastructure. We look forward to exploring with ICF the expansion of the Liberty Alliance Interoperable(tm) testing program to include Information Card interoperability as well as utilization of the Identity Assurance Framework across Information Card deployments.”

As part of its affiliations with other organizations, The Information Card Foundation has applied to be a working group of Identity Commons, a community-driven organization promoting the creation of an open identity layer for the Internet while encouraging the development of healthy, interoperable communities.

Additional founding members are Arcot Systems,Aristotle, A.T.E. Software, BackgroundChecks.com, CORISECIO, FuGen Solutions, the Fraunhofer Institute, Fun Communications, the Liberty Alliance, Gemalto, IDology, IPcommerce, ooTao, Parity, Ping Identity, Privo, Wave Systems, and WSO2

Further information about the Information Card Foundation can be found at www.informationcard.net.

I enjoy having been invited to join the foundation board as one of the representatives of the identity community, rather than as a corporate representative (Mike Jones will play that role for Microsoft). Beyond the important forces involved, this is a terrific group of people with deep experience, and I look forward to what we can achieve together.

One thing for sure: the Identity Big Bang is closer than ever.  Given the deep synergy between OpenID and Information Cards, we have great opportunities all across the identity spectrum.

HealthVault moves forward with OpenID

Via Mike Jones, here&#39s a blog post on identity issues by Sean Nolan, chief architect of Microsoft’s HealthVault service:     

My plan had been to blog about this when the feature goes live later in the week. But there&#39s been some online discussion already, and I&#39m sitting here at the horse show in waiting mode anyway, so it seems like now is as good a time as any to join the conversation.

The deal is — as of our next release in the next few days, users will have a new way to identify themselves to HealthVault. In addition to Windows Live ID, they will be given the option of using OpenID accounts from Verisign or TrustBearer.

As we&#39ve always said, HealthVault is about consumer control — empowering individuals with tools that let them choose how to share and safeguard their personal health information. OpenID support is a natural fit for this approach, because it allows users to choose the “locksmith” that they are most comfortable with.

You can certainly expect to see more such options in the future. For example, we are in the process of building in native support for Information Cards, which provide some unique advantages, in particular around foiling phishing attempts.

But why just two providers? When we were making our plans here, Chris on our partner team asked me, “Isn&#39t this more like sort-of-OpenID?” The same question has come up online as well.*** Really, there&#39s a very simple answer here. OpenID is a new and maturing technology, and HealthVault is frankly the most sensitive relying party in the OpenID ecosystem. It just makes sense for us to take our first steps carefully.

Both TrustBearer and Verisign have taken their obligations very seriously with their OpenID implementations. Beyond basic must-have safeguards like SSL, each offers a variety of second-factor options that provide a step up over traditional passwords — through the use of physical tokens or, in Verisign&#39s case, the ability to associate an Information Card with an OpenID. This isn&#39t meant to imply that there aren&#39t other great providers out there — there are. This is just a start.

As we learn more, and as OpenID continues to mature, we fully expect to broaden the set of providers that work with HealthVault. We believe that a critical part of that expansion is the formalization and adoption of PAPE, which gives relying parties a richer set of tools to determine if they are comfortable with the policies of an identity provider.

This is exciting stuff — in a geeky way perhaps, but anything that begins to put strong identity technology in the hands of real users is a good thing, not just for those users, but for HealthVault and the Internet overall. Woo hoo!

*** BTW, I am clearly all about being cool and buzzword-compliant! :)

It&#39s great to see an architect like Sean, who lives in Internet time and has a thousand other things on his mind, paying so much personal attention to identity issues.  He&#39s showing leadership through his commitment to phishing resistant solutions (like OpenID&#39s PAPE and Information Cards).  And he clearly embraces giving people choice. 

The privacy requirements of the information he is protecting mean he HAS to do everything possible to protect peoples’ privacy.  It makes complete sense to move incrementally.  I hope the other OpenID providers who have clearly demonstrated their committment to strong security see the wisdom in this approach.  He&#39s opening doors.  And this is the beginning of a process, not the end. 

Identityblog software updated

I&#39ve updated my WordPress blogging software, and installed the nifty new PamelaWare Information Card plugin.  Pamela, congratulations to you and your colleagues for a great job on this plugin!  The install was amazingly clean.  It&#39s ready for prime time. 

Meanwhile, if anyone notices any features of the blog that aren&#39t working properly, please let me know.  So far, it seems too smooth to be true.  So congratulations to our friends at WordPress too!

 

Trends in what is known about us

We know how the web feeds itself in a chain reaction powered by the assembly and location of information.  We love it.  Bringing information together that was previously compartmentalized has made it far easier to find out what is happening and avoid thinking narrowly.  In some cases it has even changed the fundamentals of how we work and interact.  The blogosphere identity conversation is an example of this.  We are able to learn from each other across the industry and adjust to evolving trends in a fluid way, rather than “projecting” what other peoples’ thinking and motivations might be.  In this sense the content of what we are doing is related to the medium through which we do it.

Information accumulates power by being put into proximity and aggregated.   This even appears to be an inherent property of information itself.  Of course information can&#39t effect its own aggregation, but easily finds hosts who are motivated to do so: businesses, governments, researchers, industries, libraries, data centers – and the indefatigable search engine.

Some forms of aggregation involve breaking down the separation between domains of facts.  Facts are initially discerned within a context.   But as  contexts flow together and merge , the facts are visible from new perspectives.  We can think of them as “views”.

Information trends and digital identity 

How does this fundamental tendency of information to reorganize itself relate to digital identity?

This is clearly a complicated question.  But it is perhaps one of the most important questions of our time – one that needs to come to the attention of students, academics, policy makers, legislators, and through them, the general public.   The answer will affect everyone.

It is hard to clearly explain and discuss trends that are so infrastructural.  Those of us working on these issues have concepts that apply, but the concepts don&#39t really have satisfactory names, and just aren&#39t crisp enough.  We aren&#39t ready for a wider conversation about the things we have seen.

Recently I&#39ve been trying to organize my own thinking about this through a grid expressing, on one axis, the tendency of context to merge; and, on the other, the spectrum of data visibility:

Tendency of data to join and become visible

The spectrum of visibility extends from a single individual on the left to everyone in the society on the right  [if reading a text feed please check the graphic - Kim]

The spectrum of contextual separation extends from complete separation of information by context at the top, to complete joining of data across contexts at the bottom.

I&#39ve represented the tendency of information to aggregate as the arrow leading from separation to full join, and this should be considered a dynamic tendency of the system.

Where do we fit in this picture?

Now lets set up a few markers from which we can calibrate this field.  For example, let&#39s take what I&#39ve labelled “Today&#39s public personas”.  I&#39m talking about what we reveal about ourselves in the public realm.  Because it&#39s public, it&#39s on the “Visible to all” part of the spectrum.  Yet for most of us, it is a relatively narrow set of information that is revealed – our names, property we own, aspects of our professional lives.  Thus our public personas remain relatively contextual.

You can imagine variants on this – for example a show-business personality who might be situated further to the right than the “public persona”, being known by more people.  Further, additional aspects of such a person&#39s life might be known, which would be represented by moving down towards the bottom of the quadrant (or even further).    

I&#39ve also included a marker that represents the kind of commercial relationships encountered in today&#39s western society.  Now we&#39re on the “Visible to some” part of the visibility spectrum. In some cases (e.g. our dealings with lawyers), this marker would hopefully be located further to the left, indicating fewer parties to the information.  The current location implies some overlapping of context and sharing across parties – for example, transactions visible to credit card companies, merchants, and third parties in their employ.

Going forward, I&#39ll look at what happens as the dynamic towards data joining asserts itself in this model.

Federation: the promise of potentially transforming our business

Ping&#39s Andre Durand has announced an award that not only says good things about his company, but is a crystal clear indication of the importance federated identity technology will inevitably acquire as people adopt it: 

“A few days ago Morgan Stanley awarded Ping their CTO Summit Innovation Award. Ping was the sole recipient of this years award, which recognizes those which hold the  promise of potentially transforming Morgan Stanley’s business. VMware won the award in 2005 — we really like that comparison! Who knew virtualization was going to be as big as it is today 3 or 4 years ago?
   
“Every year Morgan Stanley receives around 200 applications from companies to present at their CTO Summit.  They internally vote and select 36 to present. Of these, only four ever get as far as contracts and of those, only one receives this award.  We presented Ping Identity and our product, PingFederate back in 2006 (is the ulterior motive obvious enough?).  As hoped, earlier this year Morgan Stanley became a customer, using our technology to secure and integrate their employees’ use of on-demand applications such as Salesforce.com among other things.
 
“It’s great to finally see identity federation receive the recognition it deserves for enabling companies to secure their virtual borders. It’s going to be a good year!”

Ping&#39s success doesn&#39t surprise me given the high standards it sets itself.  And we all expect Morgan Stanley&#39s CTO to be forward-thinking and “on the money”, so to speak. 

But still, this is a remarkable bellwether in so clearly recognizing the transformative nature of identity.  Congratulations are due both to Ping and to Jonathan Saxe, Managing Director, Global Chief Information Officer of Morgan Stanley.   

How to set up your computer so people can attack it

As I said in the previous post, the students from Ruhr Universitat who are claiming discovery of security vulnerabilities in CardSpace did NOT “crack” CardSpace.
 
Instead, they created a demonstration that requires the computer&#39s owner to consciously disable the computer&#39s defenses through complex configurations – following a recipe they published on the web.

The students are not able to undermine the system without active co-operation by its owner. 

You might be thinking a user could be tricked into accidently cooperating with the attack..  To explore that idea, I&#39ve captured the steps required to enable the attack in this video.  I suggest you look at this yourself to judge the students’ claim they have come up with a “practical attack”.

 In essence, the video shows that a sophisticated computer owner is able to cause her system to be compromised if she chooses to do so.  This is not a “breach”.