OSIS User-Centric Identity Interop at Catalyst Europe

OSIS conducted the third in our series of User-Centric Identity Interop events last week at the Burton Group Catalyst conference in Barcelona. 

As in San Francisco, the Burton Group hosted and provided support for the event, and in this posting, analyst and cat herder Bob Blakley reports on what was accomplished:

There were a few differences between the Barcelona interop and the earlier event held at Catalyst North America 2007.   The most noticeable difference is that the Barcelona interop has been conducted entirely in public.  You can visit the Interop wiki to see details of the organization, planning, use cases, and participants; if you’re in a hurry, though, I’ll summarize here.

Fourteen projects and organizations participated; you can see the list here.

The participants tested 6 identity selectors, 13 identity providers, and 24 relying parties.  The Barcelona interop added a significant amount of testing of OpenID interoperability; 6 OpenID providers and 5 OpenID relying parties participated.

The participants have posted their results on the wiki, and a few words are in order about these results.  The first thing you’ll notice is that there are a significant number of “failure” and “issue” results.  This is very good news for two reasons.

The first reason it’s good news is that it means enough new test cases were designed for this interop to uncover new problems.  What you don’t see in the matrix is that when testing began, there were even more failures – which means that a lot of the new issues identified during the exercise have already been fixed.

The second reason the “failure” and “issue” results are good news is that they’re outnumbered by the successes.  When you consider that the things tested in Barcelona were all identified as problems at the previous interop, you’ll get an idea of how much work has been done by the OSIS community in only 4 months to improve interoperability and agree on standards of component behavior.

I’d like to call your attention to one more thing.  At the Catalyst North America interop in San Francisco, all the interop participants were onsite, sitting in a room together.

Here in Barcelona, as you can see in the Participant Profile table, about half the participants worked remotely.  What this means in practical terms is that a lot of the components in this interop were accessed over the Internet, in the same configuration you’d use if you deployed them in your business.

I expect that the results table will continue to evolve for a while as additional information from the event is digested and entered into the wiki; I’ll probably post another blog entry with some analysis of the significance of the results after the conference is over and I’ve gotten some sleep.  But my preliminary sense is that this interop continued to demonstrate progress toward an open, deployable, interoperable identity metasystem. Continue reading OSIS User-Centric Identity Interop at Catalyst Europe

Revealing patterns when there is no need to do so

Irving Reid of Controlled Flight into Terrain has come up with exactly the kind of use case I wanted to see when I was thinking about Paul Madsen's points:

Kim Cameron responds to Paul Madsen responding to Kim Cameron, and I wonder what it is about Canadians and identity…

But I have to admit that I have not personally been that interested in the use case of presenting “managed assertions” to amnesiac web sites.  In other words, I think the cases where you would want a managed identity provider for completely amnesiac interactions are fairly few and far between.  (If someone wants to turn me around me in this regard I’m wide open.)

Shibboleth, in particular, has a very clear requirement for this use case. FERPA requires that educational institutions disclose the least possible information about students, staff and faculty to their partners. The example I heard, back in the early days of SAML, was of an institution that had a contract with an on-line case law research provider such that anyone affiliated with the law school at that institution could look up cases.

In this case, the “managed identity provider” (representing the educational institution) needs to assert that the person visiting right now is affiliated with the law school. However, the provider has no need to know anything more than that, and therefore the institution has a responsibility under FERPA to not give the provider any extra information. “The person looking up Case X right now is the same person who looked up Case Y last week” is one of the pieces of information the institution shouldn’t share with the provider.

Put this way it is obvious that it breaks the law of minimal disclosure to reveal that “the person looking up Case X right now is the same person who looked up Case Y last week” when there is no need to do so.

I initially didn't see that a pseudonymous link between Case X and Case Y would leak very much information.  But on reflection, in the competitive world of academic research, these linkages could benefit an observer by revealing patterns the observer would not otherwise be aware of.  He might not know whose research he was observing, but might nonetheless cobble a paper together faster than the original researcher, beating him in terms of publication date.

I'll include this example in discussing some of the collusion issues raised by various identity technologies.