Six new authentication methods for Identityblog

Back in March 2006, when Information Cards were unknown and untested, it became obvious that the best way for me to understand the issues would be to put Information Cards onto Identityblog. 

I wrote the code in PHP, and a few people started trying out Information Cards.  Since I was being killed by spam at the time, I decided to try an experiment:  make it mandatory to use an Information Card to leave a comment.  It was worth a try.  More people might check out InfoCards.  And presto, my spam problems would go away.

So on March 18th 2006 I posted More hardy pioneers try out InfoCard, showing the first few people to give it all a whirl.

At first I thought my draconian “InfoCard-Only” approach would get a lot of peoples’ hackles up and only last a few weeks.  But over time more and more people seemed to be subscribing – probably because Identityblog was one of the few sites that actually used InfoCards in production.  And I never had spam again.

How many people joined using InfoCards?  Today I looked at my user list (see the screenshot below with PII fuzzed out).  The answer: 2958 people successfully subscribed and passed email verification.  There were then over 23,000 successful audited logins.  Not very many for a commercial site, but not bad for a technical blog.

Of course, as we all know, the powers at the large commercial sites have preferred the  “NASCAR” approach of presenting a bunch of different buttons that redirect the user to, uh, something-or-other-that-can-be-phished, ahem, in spite of the privacy and security problems.  This part of the conversation will go on for some time, since these problems will become progressively more widespread as NASCAR gains popularity and the criminally inclined tune in to its potential as a gold mine… But that discussion is for another day. 

Meanwhile, I want to get my hands dirty and understand all the implications of the NASCAR-style approach.  So recently I subscribed to a nifty janrain service that offers a whole array of login methods.  I then integrated their stuff into Identityblog.  I promise, Scout's Honor, not to do man-in-the-middle-attacks or scrape your credentials, even though I probably could if I were so inclined.

From now on, when you need to authenticate at Identityblog, you will see a NASCAR-style login symbol.  See, for example, the LOG IN option at the top of this page. 

If you are not logged in and you want to leave a comment you will see :

Click on the string of icons and you get something like this:


Because many people continue to use my site to try out Information Cards, I've supplemented the janrain widget experience with the Pamelaware Information Card Option (it was pretty easy to make them coexist, and it leaves me with at least one unphishable alternative).  This will also benefit people who don't like the idea of linking their identifiers all over the web.  I expect it will help researchers and students too.

One warning:  Janrain's otherwise polished implementation doesn't work properly with Internet Explorer – it leaves a spurious “Cross Domain Receiver Page” lurking on your desktop.  [Update – this was apparently my problem: see here]  Once I figure out how to contact them (not evident), I'll ask janrain if and when they're going to fix this.  Anyway, the system works – just a bit messy because you have to manually close the stranded empty page.  The problem doesn't appear in Firefox. 

It has already been a riot looking into the new technology and working through the implications.  I'll talk about this as we go forward.


Leaving a comment

Since one of my goals is to introduce people to Information Cards – and because I used to get mountains of spam comments and worse (!) – I require people to either write to me or use an Information Card when leaving comments on my blog. 

(This blog is hosted for me by Joyent, and it runs on open source software (WordPress, PHP, MySQL, Apache, OpenSolaris).  For Information Card support, it uses Pamelaware, an open-source project offering an Information Card plugin for WordPress and other popular programs.)

Information Cards use an “identity selector”.  Vista has the CardSpace V1 selector built right in.   (If you  don't use Vista please continue here.   Also, if you are wondering about our new beta of Windows CardSpace Geneva – V2 if you want – I'll deal with that in a separate post.)

How you register at my site

1. Click the Information Card logo or the “LOG IN” option in the upper right hand corner of the blog.  (Clicking the logo saves you the step where you can learn about Information Cards).


2. If you clicked the logo, go to step 3.  If you have clicked “LOG IN”, you will see this page and can explore the ‘Learn More’ and other tabs.  When ready, click on the Information Card logo to proceed.


3. CardSpace will start (it may be a bit slow the first time it loads).  It will verify my site's certificate, and present it t you so you can decide whether or not to proceed.  Click “Yes, choose a card to send”.


4.  If you are trying CardSpace for the first time, you don't have a “Managed” card yet.  So just create a “Personal Card” that serves a bit like a username / password – except it can't be phished and protects your privacy by automatically using a different key at every site. 


5. You'll be asked to create a Personal card.  Name it with something you'll recognize, and I recommend you put a picture on it (the picture will never be sent).  The name and picture prevent many attacks since if someone tries to fool you with a CardSpace “look-alike”, they won't know what your Cards look like and you will immediately notice your cards aren't present! 

Use an email address that you control – you will have to respond to a confirmation email.  Then click SAVE.



6.  Now you'll see your saved card, and click SEND.


7.  The information from your card will be used to log in to my site, but I'll notice you haven't been here before and send you an email that you must click on to complete registration (I want some way to prevent spammers from bothering me).


8.  The email I send looks like the one below.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  this email might be “eaten” by your spam protection software (!) , so don't overlook your spam folder to find it.  (On Hotmail, it doesn't ever get delivered – haven't sorted that out yet.  It doesn't seem to like my little mail server.)  

9.  When you click the embedded link you'll be taken back to my blog as a verification step.  Click on the Information Card logo to log in.


10.  CardSpace will come up, and will recognize my site.  Just click send.


11.  Et voila…

Press “Go to Blog” and you can leave your comment.

In the future, logging in will just be a two-step process.  Click on the CardSpace logo, click on your personal card, and you will be logged in.  No password to remember.


Drstarcat on Project Pamela is doing “A History of Tomorrow's Internet” – a dive into Information Cards, CardSpace, Higgins and now, in Part Five, The Pamela Project. The “future history” is a personal tale that is definitely worth reading.  The most recent post introduces us to Pamela Dingle herself – a woman who has played a key role – both technically and as a leader – in advancing Information Cards. 

Drstarcat writes:

“As I’ve explained more than once in this blog, a greater problem than finding reliable Identity Providers is getting the websites we know and love to become Relying Parties. That is exactly the problem that Pamela has deemed to attack with her eponymous project. As the project’s mission statement says, “The Pamela Project is a grassroots organization dedicated to providing community support for both technical and non-technical web users and administrators who wish to use or deploy information card technologies.” Given the difficulties I experienced even USING iCards as a non-technical web user, this seems like a pretty ambitious task, and as part of this post, I’m going to try to get my blog up and running. First, a few words about Pamela and the history of the project.

“Pamela first ran into the issues surrounding Identity in her role as a technology consultant in Calgary in 1999. Anyone who’s done any large-scale enterprise software installation has likely had a similar experience–try to do anything and you’ll run into a myriad of (often semi-functional) authentication and directory services before you can even get off the ground. She’d been working on Peoplesoft installations and with Oblix (an enterprise self-service password management tool later acquired by Oracle), when she attended her first Burton Identity conference in 2001. It was here she first began to think of Identity as a (the?) core technology problem, as opposed to something peripheral to what she wanted to get done. It’s a realization that, once had, can become a little consuming (trust me, I spend WAY too much time building software to be blogging about anything–especially, SOFTWARE).

“Her second “ah-ha” moment came when, if my notes serve me correctly, she was “hit on the head with a brick” by Kim Cameron at the 2002 Catalyst conference. There he drew her a brief sketch on a napkin where he showed the three party system (Subject, Relying Party, Identity Provider) that is at the core of most of the emerging identity systems. She was hooked, but it wasn’t until in 2005, when Kim added some sample PHP Relying Party code to his blog that she saw a place where she could contribute. As a sometimes PHP hacker, she took the simple code, and began to port it over to some of her favorite PHP frameworks (WordPress, Joomla, and MediaWiki). Since that time, she and about 10 other contributers have been working to get a 1.0 version of the product out, which, given Pamela’s commitment, I suspect will be about like most other project’s 2.0 release.

“Before writing about my experience installing the WordPress v0.9 plugin, a word about the seemingly self-promulgatory name of the project because I think it says a lot about Pamela as a person and the Identity movement she’s part of. According to Pamela it’s the last name she would have thought of as a woman working as a technologist. As she explains, it’s hard enough as a woman to get recognized as a serious technologist without drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Having a wife who is one the best Java engineers in NYC, but who also is regularly asked if she REALLY wrote the stunning code she produces, I can attest this is true. It’s because of this stereotype though that Pamela chose the name. She was tired, as someone who is self-admittedly “vocal”, of this kind of self-inflicted sheepishness. So in “defiance to self-regulation”, and at Craig Burton’s urging, she chose The Pamela Project…

“I’ll let you know how my experience actually USING the Pamela project goes in my next post. In the mean time, as you wait in breathless anticipation, why not go over to the project’s site and ask Pamela how you can be of use. This is a big project and they’re going to need all the help they can get.”

[More here.]

Identityblog mail configuration problem

After the recent attack on my WordPress  software, I moved identityblog to a new more powerful and securable server (I'm sticking with TextDrive – they're good guys and it is helpful for me to get a feel for what it's like to be “hosted”).

Recently I got a flock of messages like this one:

I tried again to comment using my card. It says it is sending me a mail. I waited 24 hours and nothing arrived. Are you sure your code is working and your sender address is not blocked by hotmail?

Of course I was sure – NOT.  I tested it out and my messages were definitely disappearing into a worm hole at hotmail, though getting through to a number of other mailboxes.

Yikes.  My first reaction was to wallow in the irony of it all.  But eventually reason prevailed and I started to look at the headers:

Received: by (Postfix, from userid 80)
    id 1749D1280F; Sun,  2 Dec 2007 19:43:24 +0000 (GMT)

Instead of, the header should have read

Somehow I had not succeeded in configuring the hosted mailserver on my TextDrive accelerator to use the right hostname.  Hotmail was smart enough to figure this out and give me the finger.  I guess that's why I get relatively little spam at hotmail.

Now I think I've fixed it, but it will probably take a while for the hostname to propagate.

So, my apologies to people who were trying to comment or try out Information Cards and couldn't register. 

On a side note, when I was reinstalling my blogging software to get all the latest fixes, I was reminded what a fantastic job Pamela Dingle has done in making it easy to configure the PamelaWare plugin that adds both Information Card and now OpenID support to WordPress. 

It provides the best diagnostics Ive ever seen when using certificates and something goes wrong.  I wonder if it would be possible for her plugin to send out an email message and analyse the headers to make sure they are set up in such a way that the registration messages will get through spam filters?  That would be very cool.

I guess a lot of us will be seeing her this week at the Internet Identity Workshop being held in Mountainview.  I'll see what she says.