Trying out certificate behavior

I'm trying out revocation of my www.identityblog.com certificate – and changing my site's private key.

Since we are going where few men have gone before, in the worst case this might lead to abnormal behavior for those logging in with Information Cards over the next twenty-four hours. 

Identity blog should only be used for demos with an extra dose of caveats until I report back that the test has been concluded.

Normally this would be a ten minute test.  But the task is more daunting since I run my blog in ye-olde-typical-hosted environment.  I have no direct access to the machines or web servers or configuration – or control over anyone's schedule or priorities. 

Techies will understand that when you're not used to this it makes you a bit nervous.  But of course this is the way a great many people will experience things – and that's what I'm trying to get a feel for.

 

Law of Minimal Disclosure or Norlin's Maxim?

John at IDology has posted a more detailed description of how knowledge-based authentication works.  I'll pick up part of it here.  Go to his blog to see his response to Adam's comments.  John says:

“…Let's look at this in relation to an e-commerce transaction where we are buying something on the Internet over $250.

“First, because we (the consumers) have voluntarily submitted our information with the intention of entering into a business transaction, we have given our consent for the business to verify the information we’ve presented.

“Once the business receives the information, in the interest of controlling fraud and completing the transaction as quickly as possible (avoiding a manual review of the transaction by the business), it uses an automatic system to verify that the personal information submitted is linked to a real person and that I am indeed that person.

“Enter IDology’s knowledge-based authentication (KBA) which scours (without exposing) billions of public data records to develop on-the-fly intelligent multiple choice questions for the person to answer. Our clients vary in their delivery of KBA, some reward their customer with expedited shipping for going through the process, others consider it a further extension of the credit card approval process which during the process various data elements associated with the credit card will be validated such as address verification along with the credit approval.

“The key is for a business to use a KBA system that bases its questions on non-credit data and reaches back into your public records history so that the answers are not easily guessed or blatantly obvious. Typically, consumers find credit based questions (what was the amount of your last mortgage payment, bank deposit, etc) intrusive and difficult to answer, and these type of answers can be forged by stealing someone’s credit report or accessed with compromised consumer data. Without giving away too much of our secret sauce, our questions relate to items such as former addresses (from as far back as college), people you know, vehicle information and anything else that can be determined confidentally while not exposing data from existing public data sources. Once the system processes the results (which is all real-time processing), it simply shares how many questions were answered right or wrong so that the business can determine how to handle the transaction further. The answers are not given within the transaction processing (protecting the consumer and the business from employees misusing data) and good KBA systems have lots of different types of questions to ask, so that the same questions are not always presented and one question doesn’t give away the answer to another…

“At the end of the day, the consumer, by completing this ecommerce transaction, is establishing a single pointed trusted identity with that business. The next extension is how the consumer can utilize this verification process to validate his/her identity to complete other economic transactions or have an established verified identity to make posts to a blog or enter into a conversation in a social network where participants have agreed to be verified to establish a trusted network or may be concerned with the age of someone in their verified network. To us, KBA can be an important part of establishing and maintaining a trusted identity.Let's begin by supposing this technology becomes widely adopted.”

My first concern would regard the security of the system from the merchant and banking point of view.  Why wouldn't an organized crime syndicate be able to set itself up with exactly the same set of publicly available databases used by IDology and thus be able to impersonate all of us perfectly – since it would know all the answers to the same questions?  It seems feasible to me.  I think it is likely that this technology, if initially successful and widely deployed, will crumble under attack because of that very success.

My second concern regards the security of the system from the point of view of the individual; in other words, her privacy.  IDology's approach takes progressively more obscure aspects of a person's history and then, through the question and answer process, shares them with sites that people shouldn't necessarily trust very much. 

The scenario is intended to weed out bad apples talking to good sites, but if adopted widely, infringes the security of good apples talking to bad sites – or even of good apples talking to sites whose morals are influenced by the profit motive (not that there are many of those around.)

Is this really an application of minimal disclosure?  I fear it is more an application of Norlin's Maxim:  The internet inexorably pulls information from the private domain into the public domain.  As in the case of a tree falling in a forest with no one to observe it, historical data which, despite being digital, is left alone, represents less of a privacy problem than that which is circulated widely.

I would much rather see IDology apply its resources to the initial registration of a user, and provision a service which then releases only the results of its inquest (e.g. some number between 1 and 10) as an identity claim.  This would be data minimalization in line with my second law.

I still worry that organized crime could take advantage of its access to public information to subvert even the singular registration phase, but at least the mechanisms used by IDology and like firms could include ones which attackers are unlikely to learn about (this is itself no small feat). 

Clearly, in line with the first law of identity, users would have to know what the strength of their rating is, and how to seek redress should it not be right. 

It's not my place to argue how things should be done – I'm just expressing my concerns about John's system as he has described it and I have understood it.

In short, I would much prefer a claims based approach to that of having the “secret public” information flow through untrusted relying parties.  I especially worry about teaching users to enter even more obscure information into forms appearing on free-floating web pages – which would be like enrolling them in a graduate course at the School of Blabbing Your Secrets.

Issues raised by Knowledge Verification

Adam at Emergent Chaos outlines several issues he thinks arise from IDology's approach to Knowledge Verification

I don’t like these types of systems for three reasons:

First, they are non-consensual for the consumer. Companies such as IDology make deals with other companies, such as my bank, and then I’m forced to use the system.

Second, the information that such companies can gather are probably already being gathered by Choicepoint, Axciom, Google, and others. So the assertions that “its cheap for us, and expensive for the attackers” are hard to accept as credible.

Third, if truth and your database don’t agree, then we’re forced to have a reconciliation process, in which I, or the id thief, convince the company to change its answers. How does that process work?

I hope John at IDology can respond at the same time he gives us concrete examples of how the system works in practice.

Update to PHP sample code for Information Cards

I've finally been able to come through with my promise to post an updated version of the zip file containing sample code intended to help people learn how Information Cards work, and how to implement systems compatible with Cardspace.  This includes Keith Grennan's fix.  The original post and the screen cap that goes with it is here.

Knowledge verification

Reading this post by John at IDology, I'm starting to understand how “knowledge verification” can differ from conventional uses of personal identifying information:

So I came across some interesting commentary in the blogsphere regarding verification services sparked by Jessica’s article I blogged about in my last entry (which you can now read a version of in The Charlotte Observer). In the article, Jessica describes the verification chain (which I must point out is only a brief snapshot as well as a combination of several different processes from different providers) that prompted Conor Cahill to post on the problems of verification services in general.

While I think Kim Cameron’s blogpost response helps clarify verification as it relates to Identity 2.0…

“Right now we give all our identifying information to every Tom, Dick and Harry…What if we just gave it to Tom, or a couple of Toms, and the Toms then vouched for who we are? We would ‘register’ with the Toms, and the Toms would make claims about us and the chances of having our identity stolen would drop…”

…there is still light to be shed on what a verification service is and how it in fact works today to protect consumer data from being further comprised in the event of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Conor comments: “I would hope they start to add stronger verification that the person who “knows” this stuff is actually the person who’s data is being verified…We really need to move away from knowledge of basic facts as a verification of identity, especially when many of those facts are published in one form or another.”

Yes, in some instances some verification providers are using current information, credit history and other data resources that are easy for thieves to buy, know or guess when impersonating someone. That’s why using knowledge-based information on past personal history is much more effective. This information is hard to dig up. Admittedly it’s not foolproof against our mother or spouse, but if someone that close to me steal’s my identity then there are other levels of trust issues to be discussed.

Based on Kim’s comment

“I’ve been asked so many times for the name of my first pet that I’ve had to make one up.”

I want to clarify that this form of verification does not fall in the category of what I define as knowledge based authentication. Sure, it’s based on knowledge, but it’s a knowledge we provide which is then stored in a database for when we inevitably forget our password. Considering most consumers probably use the same question/answer and passwords or combination password at several different sites, consumers are in a real pickle when a data breach occurs or a laptop with those records is stolen. The solution for this of course is very eloquently addressed in the Tom, Dick and Harry example Kim Cameron provided, but it’s important to explain that Knowledge verification services as they relate to ecommerce today and in the future for Identity 2.0, are intelligent-based and ask you questions not every Tom, Dick and Harry use or know.

It would help to understand the concepts better if John would give us some examples of how this works in practice. What kinds of questions are asked, and how does IDology know the answers?

 

WordPress vulnerability at identityblog

Sun's Rohan Pinto has spent a fair amount of time this week using a recipe that has been discussed in the Blogosphere recently to hack into my blog, which runs WordPress 2.0.1, and then apologizing for it (I appreciate that, Rohan).

He was able to use a vulnerability in WordPress to employ his “subscriber” account (which normally only grants comment rights) in order to import a fake post onto my site (I've since removed it but it is shown at the right).

The exploit used was described about three weeks ago (July 27th, 2006) when Dr. Dave published his “Critical Announcement affecting ALL WordPress Users.”  All in all, it was a fairly stern warning.  I would have upgraded to a newer version of WordPress but couldn't because I was travelling:

If you are running WordPress as your blogging platform and if you have been trusting enough to leave User registration enabled for guests, DISABLE IT IMMEDIATELY (in wp-admin >> options: make sure “Anyone can register” is not checked).

Additionally, delete or disable ANY guest account already created by people you are not sure about.

Leaving it open and letting people sign-up for guest accounts on your WordPress blog could lead to incredibly nasty stuff happening if anybody so desired. And trust me I am not exaggerating this. So don’t wait a second to disable this option and please relay the message. WordPress dev team has been notified a while back and I dare hope they will soon start acting on it, if only by relaying a similar announcement through the official channel (as well as, of course, releasing a proper patch).

Sorry for the shrill hysterical tone, but this is a big deal. However, disable that one option and you are fine, no need to panic further :)

[cheers go to Geoff Eby for discovering and bringing this insane security exploit to my attention]

Initially Rohan entitled the post that described the exploit, “Is Cardspace Secure Enough?”.  That bothered me, since the exploit had nothing to do with InfoCard or Cardspace or my PHP demo code.  Rohan was good enough to later make that perfectly clear:

Pursuant to my prior post. Please do take note of this. I would like to make it crystal clear to everybody that me logging into Kim’s blog and publishing as “him” was NOT a infocard exploit, but rather a “wordpress” exploit…

Please, please, please do note, that this IS NOT a infocard hack.

Conor Cahill read about the exploit and commented

Access Control is always going to be a responsibility of the entity managing the resource (in this case, Kim's blog is managed by a wordpress installation that he setup on his server, so his server must manage the access control).

The selection of the tool to manage the rescource will be based upon the reliability of the manager and the value of the resource.

I'm sure Kim wouldn't have put his bank account up on wordpress without a lot more testing and perhaps requiring someone else to stand behind it should there be such a problem…

All of this is true, of course, with the exception that my blog usually has more in it than my bank account.  Further, in the case of WordPress, it is the application that manages the security, not the underlying operating system or environment (in this case a LAMP stack) or hardware.

Of course, I didn't choose WordPress because it was the most secure solution in the world;  I chose it because it was an interesting blogging tool, with a lot of cool features, and would help me learn about the issues confronting people on non-Microsoft platforms so I could have a more inclusive view of identity problems.  And it has been great for those purposes.

You might think I would be abandoning WordPress.  But I won't.  I like it and want to continue to explore what it is like to work with it, and help make it better.  To me the real lesson in all of this is that the approach to remote operations used in WordPress – and almost all web-based applications – is just not adequate.  The more you know about all the exploits that are possible in the http world, the more you want to run headlong into the world of Web Services, where each transaction has its own security environment, in the sense that the security environment travels with each message and operation.  In the same way, SOA moves the control of authorization from the application to the operation definition process, so creative application authors like those who built wordpress, don't have to take sole responsibility for all the subtle security problems that will inevitably arise as we move further into the virtual world.

I take it for granted that given all my pontification about identity and security my site will be used in creative ways.  So I have no ill feeling toward Rohan.  The important thing is the conversation and the learning that come out of this.

So to rephrase Conor, in this case, the selection of the tool to manage the rescource will be based upon an analysis of the risks and benefits of using an emerging technology to reach others working on the issues. 

Identropy – Stephen Colbert, Identity and User 16006693

Ashraf Motiwala from Ash's Identity blog has contributed this illumination

Stephen Colbert had a hilarious piece on tonight's Colbert Report regarding protecting identity while searching (he suggests typing with your weaker hand, to disguise your typing patterns), in response to the AOL debacle (if you haven't heard, they released about 3 months of search histories comprising of some 20 million searches…but don't worry, they replaced people's usernames with random numbers…so we are safe, right?)
Not exactly. Paul Boutin used splunkd.com to parse the heck out of the data – and arrived at seven patterns of searchers. According to him, according to the data – people fall into one of seven searcher categories: the pornhound, the manhunter (looks up a persons name again and again), the shopper, the obsessive (the person who searches for the same thing incessantly), the omnivore (the person who searches like crazy, and doesn't really have a pattern), the newbie and the basketcase.

The most interesting way that I found to look at the data is to pick out a specific user. It's damn interesting, comical, and scary as to how much insight you might get. Take a look at User 16006693 go from politics, to retirement, to politics, to religion, to sex, quickly back to religion (repent!), to food and finally to heartburn. Classic.

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One more Paul on the federation and user centrism demo

Incredibly, I just came across a comment by another Paul.  I guess I spoke to soon about my success communicating with Pauls, since Paul Madsen seems to be a doubting Thomas – which in this case adds some variety, so I'm pleased to see it: 

Kim Cameron has a screen cap movie of a demo created by Ping ID.

Kim asserts that the demo illustrates (paraphrasing) “user-centric technologies like Information Cards are not in any way counterposed to federation technologies”.

I completely agree with the sentiment, but question whether the scenario portrayed by the demo actually demonstrates it.

In the demo, a user authenticates to a portal using CardSpace. Once authenticated, they are presented with a list of applications available to them for which SSO is possible (this presumably dependent n which I-Card they selected). For Kim, the user-centric piece (CardSpace) somehow ends at the portal, and from then on federation (SAML etc) takes over.

So, user-centric and federated technologies are shown as working together – but not at the same time. The user-centric piece hands off to the the federation piece. Federation is presented as a lower-level piece of infrastructure (which it can be) that doesn't seem to touch the user.

Hmmm.  What I'm really saying is that in the demo being shown, the user has a relationship with the portal, which offers a nice array of services.  So in terms of technology, the identity relationship is user-to-portal, not user-to-individual-service.  One could also say the “services” can be “outsourced” by the portal – and are dealing with users as proxies for the portal.  Once the user has entered the portal, there is a “magic carpet” that takes her from service to service. 

But note:  The portal could also take the user to a service with which she would have a completely independent identity relationship.  In this case, the user would again see the Cardspace interface and select her identity through it.

Paul (three) continues:

This interpretation is reinforced by Kim:

To my way of thinking, you have two more or less orthogonal technology efforts – that oriented around federation issues, and that oriented around the user’s experience.

This ignores the possibility for SAML-based technologies to provide the very same user-experience (i.e. real-time identity sharing control, IDP selection etc) that I-Cards enables. Is SAML's Enhanced Client or Proxy (ECP), as it enables similar control mechanisms, then user-centric?

Probably not, as Kim also hilites the common UI of Cardspace and its relevance

Should my experience therefore be totally discontinuous as I move from one portal to another, being organized by the portal rather than by my own system

Exactly.  Maybe I was more successful at communicating with Paul Masden than I initially thought – I think he sees my point. 

The portal just cannot know all my identity relationships (unless I were to find myself in some hiddeous “total environment” where everyone knows everything). 

So the portal, simply by virtue of the role it plays in the system, cannot organize my perception and use of identities across the board.  This is one of the key points I'm trying to make, and explains why you need user centric technologies and they are orthogonal to federation technologies even though in both cases you have claims being asserted and relied upon.

Finally, Paul asks:

If the phone manufacturers (or those of set top boxes) were to come together and agree on user-interface standards – would that be user-centric?

If they allow users and relying parties to represent and select between their multiple identities then yes, sure, exactly.  But it's not just a question of user interface (UI), it's a question of capabilities that are represented through UI.  I don't know why people reduce this to UI.

The fact that phones could deliver these new capabilities is why it makes perfect sense to put Information Cards on phones, music players, and other devices.  I first proposed putting them on computers because I happen to work in that industry.  But I know a lot of people who are interested in getting the same identity relationships to appear across all kinds of devices.

Dave Kearns takes on anonymity

 Dave Kearns of The Virtual Quill (and many other venues) has joined the anonymity scrum (even though he was already in it) :

“Anonymity as default,” which I mentioned in the previous post, is taking on a life of it's own. Now Tom Maddox has posted in his Opinity weblog, commenting on Ben Laurie's commentary about Kim Cameron's mention of Eric Norlin's post concerning David Weinberger's original thought that “Anonymity should be the default.”

(I'll just sit here and whistle for a moment while you follow that set of links)

The point I wanted to mention was Maddox’ statement:

We need to begin with anonymity/pseudonymity as the default, Laurie's ‘substrate choice’. Otherwise, whatever identity system we employ, we'll always be trying to get the cat back in the bag (or the scrambled egg back in the shell)

The fallacy here is that he seems to believe that there can be an “identity system” in which anonymity is a choice! And not only a choice, but the default choice. But without a unique identifier for each object in the system, there is no identity system. And with a unique identifier there is no anonymity within the system. Rather, the default should be PRIVACY for all objects, with any dispersal or publishing of identity attributes only done with the consent of the entity if it's sentient, and the entity's controller if it isn't.

Maddox is correct that once the data is published you can't unpublish it completely. That argument shouldn't be overlooked. But it's equally as important to realize that the “anonymity bandwagon” is out of control and headed for the cliff. Privacy is the key, and privacy should be the issue.

I have trouble with Dave's use of the phrase, “within the system”.  What is “the system” in a multi-centered world with an interpenetrating mesh of domains?  Put another way, just because an object has a unique identifier, do entities dealing with the object have to know that?

Things may have unique identifiers that are known to some identity authority / domain (even infinitesimilly small ones) but these authorities don't have to release them when identifying things to other parties. 

Would an example help? 

Suppose some company – let's call it Contoso.com – runs Active Directory as its local identity infrastructure.  Active Directory identifies all of the machines and people in Contoso's “domain” with a Security IDentifier (SID) – basically a unique id/domain pair.  But when I am dealing with someone from Contoso.com, I probably don't give a darn about their SID, no matter how useful it may be to their local AD system.  Dave, do you care about my SID? Knowing you and loving you, I think you've got better things to worry about!

In the world of web services, which will be a vast mesh where identity reaches beyond domain boundaries, the definition of what is “within the system” becomes very ambiguous. 

The SID makes sense “within the system” thought of a narrow domain manager.  It normally doesn't make sense “within the system” thought of as a connecting mesh of entities that happen to interact with many domains. 

In this bigger world, I may be interested in the fact that someone is an employee of Contoso, byt totally uninterested in anything that uniquely identifiers them as an employee – even if such unique identification is necessary for some other purpose.

For example, if I call 411, I speak with a representative of the phone company.  I don't know her or his name, or number, or location, or anything else.  I just know the person I'm talking with works on behalf of Verizon – and that is all I really want to know.

Yet knowing they are an official employee is still a matter of identity! 

Is this anonymous?  I would say so.  It “has an unknown or unacknowledged name”, as my pathetic online dictionary puts it (I'm travelling).  So it is anonymous, but it is identity.

This is all part of the notion that an authority can make claims about a subject – and that this is done through a set of assertions.  Given this, we need a name for the “empty set” of assertions. 

So far, we call it anonymity.  We believe this will ring a bell in more peoples’ heads than “empty set of assertions”.

If we now combine this thinking with the second law (minimal disclosure) – we come to the notion that if more is not needed, the identity set should be the empty set.  This is what I think people are talking about when they say the default should be anonymous.

Demo gets good reviews

Paul Toal over at Identity, Security and Me posted this to encourage you to check out the demo I put up recently.  (Just in case any of you are busy, it's only 3 minutes long!)

Picture of Britian's Paul ToalKim Cameron has posted a really good video here explaining how user-centric identity and federation can work together. His blog and associated demonstration is shown using Microsoft CardSpace and Ping Federate from Ping Identity.

I have worked with Ping Identity for some time and was happy with the product and how it, and federation works generally. However, like Paul Squires here, I was struggling to see how it fitted within a user-centric architecture. Whilst I saw the two as complimentary, I didn’t see the link.

This video has clarified this for me and shown that there is a clear interaction between the two.

As usual Kim, thanks for a great demo! If you haven’t seem the demo yet, you HAVE to view it.

Then, following Paul Toal's link to Paul Squires at Here, Now, I came across his additional comment:

This [demo…] is well worth seeing for anyone with an interest in where digital identity is going. The demo itself shows cardspace (if there’s anyone who hasn’t seen it yet!) along with interoperability between a number of applications. The guys at Ping have done a great job with this and I’d hope this brings together these various strands of identity management (it’s certainly helped me, not least from an architectural point of view). Things are starting to look very exciting!

Update: Never one to miss out on a bit of vanity, the second open tab in the browser during the demo looks very familiar!

Gee, I'm on a roll.  Just like my horoscope said, I seem to be communicating well with people named Paul.

As for Paul two's “update”, looking closely I also can see that I had been reading one of his posts the day I captured the demo.  Just think.  Some people are worried there will be no fingerprints in the digital world.  It ain't true.