The European e-Identity Conference

I don't often mention my speaking agenda, but next week I'll be giving the opening keynote at a conference in Paris that looks like a great opportunity to exchange information.  It is hosted by EEMA (which has morphed into the European Association for eIdentity and Security) and ENISA (the European Network and Information Security Agency).  If you've been sitting on the fence, it looks like the conference has really come together. Here's the program.

One track is called “managing identity” (in the largest sense) with presentations about architecture and application development approaches by Siemens, SEALED and SAP.  It includes roundtables on interoperability, security-identity interfacing and SOA. 

The other track is on “social networking” with presentations on Netlog and Facebook, and a fascinating series of roundtables on a nice taxonomy of reputation issues.

And that's just day one!  Day two is huge. 

Nick Shelness on CardSpace

The strangest thing just happened.  I was following a link that had just appeared from  – a site published by Volker Webe.  An interesting site, for sure – and on it, I read this piece by Nick Shelness:  

Establishing identity and authenticating on the web are a mess. I doubt I’m alone in using the same user id and password over and over again. If they’re hacked once they can be employed a hundred times over. Yeah, some sites make you change your password at regular intervals, but how do you remember them? I write them down, and carry them with me. OK, they’re somewhat encoded, but …

For some time now, there has been the possibility of improvement under the “Identity 2.0” banner. To the surprise of some (many?), a significant chunk of Identity 2.0 innovation has come from Microsoft, and no, no, no, it’s not “Passport”. It is expressed in two seminal papers: The Laws of Identity and The Identity Metasystem, both by Kim Cameron.

But this is not all. There is a Microsoft product. It’s called “CardSpace” (it used to be called “Info Card”). It ships as part of Vista. It also ships as an automatic XP upgrade, and there are a host of alternatives, including open source ones.

CardSpace and its analogues, on their own, are not a solution. They are a component, albeit a key one, of an Identity Metasystem. What needs to come next is for web sites (“Relying Parties”) to start requesting and employing CardSpace-managed security assertions. This in turn will create a demand for Identity Provision (yes, this is where ActiveDirectory and son of Passport come in).

Will this happen? It’s too early to say. But by seeding the digital world with CardSpace, Kim and Microsoft have taken us a long first step down this path, and IMHO done us all a big favor.

It took me a minute to click in to the name Nick Shelness.  He is a great visionary – CTO at Lotus and later an IBM fellow (now with his own practice in the UK).  His support means a lot to me. 

As for his “will it happen?” question, I've asked it too on a hundred ‘bleak and dreary days’.  But I continue to think there are historical inevitabilities at work here.  

Distributed computing is dammed up behind a wall of identity friction.  The one good thing about the friction is that it limits phishing and cyber crime as much as it limits business.  Remove the friction with something like single sign-on and you massively increase the attraction of the digital honeypot, providing a one-stop attack surface for evil.  The more consolidated identity initiatives succeed, the more they will fail – unless there is a paradigm change like CardSpace that compensates for risk aggregation.  

Few may understand these dynamics through theory alone, but Professor Reality will come to tutor them before too long.  Meanwhile, there are more and more people with enough vision that they don't have to “go over Niagra Falls in a barrel to know it hurts.” 

Day after day, week after week, month after month, CardSpace “sockets” are appearing on desktops.  One day – not too far into the future – it will be present on 50% of them.  Then on 75%!  Meanwhile the software will get slicker and slicker, with multiple versions and choices by people like our friends at Higgins running on Mac and Linux.  This is a historic thing we are doing together, and we can't be impatient.  But this baby is going to light up big time.

Unifying the experience of online identity

Jon Udel zeros in on the problem of web sites that introduce “novel” authentication schemes once these schemes start to proliferate.   I had the same concerns when I set out the seventh law of identity (consistent experience).  Jon says:

Several months ago my bank implemented an anti-phishing scheme called Site ID, and now my mortgage company has gone to a similar scheme called PassMark. Both required an enrollment procedure in which I had to choose private questions and give answers (e.g., mother’s maiden name) and then choose (and label) an image. The question-and-answer protocol mainly beefs up name/password security, and secondarily deters phishing — because I’d notice if a site I believed to be my bank or mortgage company suddenly didn’t use that protocol. The primary anti-phishing feature is the named image. The idea is that now I’ll be suspicious if one of these sites doesn’t show me the image and label that I chose.

When you’re talking about a single site, this idea arguably make sense. But it starts to break down when applied across sites. In my case, there’s dissonance created by different variants of the protocol: PassMark versus Site ID. Then there’s the fact that these aren’t my images, they’re generic clip art with no personal significance to me. Another variant of this approach, the Yahoo! Sign-In Seal, does allow me to choose a personally meaningful image — but only to verify Yahoo! sites.

These fragmentary approaches can’t provide the grounded and consistent experience that we so desperately need. One subtle aspect of that consistency, highlighted in Richard Turner’s CardSpace screencast, is the visual gestalt that’s created by the set of cards you hold. In the CardSpace identity selector, the images you see always appear together and form a pattern. Presumably the same will be true in the Higgins-based identity selector, though I haven’t seen that yet.

I can’t say for sure, because none of us is yet having this experience with our banks and mortgage companies, but the use of that pattern across interactions with many sites should provide that grounded and consistent experience. Note that the images forming that pattern can be personalized, as Kevin Hammond discusses in this item (via Kim Cameron) about adding a handmade image to a self-issued card. Can you do something similar with a managed card issued by an identity provider? I imagine it’s possible, but I’m not sure, maybe somebody on the CardSpace team can answer that.

In any event, the general problem isn’t just that PassMark or Site ID or Sign-In Seal are different schemes. Even if one of those were suddenly to become the standard used everywhere, the subjective feeling would still be that each site manages a piece of your identity but that nothing brings it all together under your control. We must have, and I’m increasingly hopeful that we will have, diverse and interoperable identity selectors, identity providers, relying parties, and trust protocols. But every participant in the identity metasystem must also have a set of core properties that are invariant. One of the key invariant properties is that it must bring your experience of online identity together and place it under your control.

The “novel authentication” approach used by PassMark and others doesn't scale any better than the “pocket full of dongles” solutions proposed by Dongle queens or – for that matter – than conventional usernames and passwords. 

So far Information Cards are the only technology that both prevents phishing and avoids the novel authentication and multiple dongle problems.

By the way – if what Jon calls the “dissonance” problem that arises from the use of different images and questions on web sites were to be overcome by reusing the same images and questions everywhere, things would only get worse!

Once sites begin to share the same “novel authentication” model, you no longer have novel authentication. 

In fact you return full circle to the deepest phishing problems.  Why? 

If you went to an evil site and set up your reusable images and questions, you would have taught the evil site how to impersonate you at legitimage sites.   Thus in spite of lots of effort, and lots of illusions, you would end up further behind than when you started.

Denial mobs & the Cyberwar on Estonia

Ross Mayfield of Socialtext writes more explicitly about the same possible social-technical phenomena I hinted at in my recent piece on Cyber-attack against Estonia:

The latest thread of the Cyberwar attack against Estonia, as covered in the NY Times, an interview in Cnet with an expert from Arbor Networks and a post Kim Cameron raise an interesting question.  It is unlikely that the Russian government can be directly linked to the massive coordinated and sophisticated denial of service attack on Estonia. It is also possible that such attack could self-organize with the right conditions.  Is a large part of our future dealing with hacktavists as denial mobs?

Given the right conditions that make a central resource a target, a decentralized attack could be decentralized in its coordination as well.  Estonia may be the first nation state to be attacked at the scale of war, but it isn't just nations at threat.  The largest bank in Estonia, in one of the top markets for e-banking, has losses in excess of $1M.  Small amount relatively, but the overall economic cost is far from known.

If a multinational corporation did something to spark widespread outrage, such an attack could emerge against it as a net-dependent institution.  Then we would be asking ourselves if the attack was economic warfare from a nation or terrorist organization.  But it also could be a lesser, and illegal, form of grassroots activism.  None of this is particularly new, but less in concept.

But what is new are tools, that cut both ways, for easy group forming and conversation. 

Identity management survey

Marcus Lasance has a sterling reputation in identity management, having contributed to its evolution for many years now.  

He was well known as managing director of MaxWare (recently acquired by SAP) and is now involved with Siemens.  For those not familiar with the European landscape, both of these companies have done extraordinary identity work.

Marcus has put together an identity management survey that I promise isn't an advertising gimmick, and has offered to share the results with the blogosphere, so why not help out?  I did.  Now I'm going to pass the URL on to some of my friends in the Microsoft IT department, since they will have more relevant answers than I do as an architect.  You may want to answer it directly, or pass it on to your IT colleagues.

UPDATE:  Many people have reported problems with the first version of this link (which apparently thanked me for my survey response…  At least you know I tried it!)  I think the new link fixes the problem.   

Roland Dobbins on DDoS attacks and mitigations

Roland Dobbins has written to point out that the recent Russian cyber-attacks on Estonia are not the first launched by one state against another (he cites incidents during the Balkan confict, as well as China versus Japan).

Then he gives us an overview of DDoS attacks and mitigations:

DoS attacks are easy to trace as long as Service Providers (SPs) have the proper instrumentation and telemetry enabled on their routers – NetFlow is the most common way of doing this, along  with various open-source and commercial tools (nfdump/ nfsen, Panoptis, Arbor, Lancope, Narus, Q1).

Most DDoS attacks these days aren't spoofed, because a) there's no need, given the zillions of botted computers out there available for use as attack platforms and b) because many SPs have implemented antispoofing technologies such as uRPF, iACLs, etc.

However, antispoofing (BCP38/BCP84) isn't universally deployed, and so the ability to spoof combined with DNS servers which are misconfigured as open recursors means that attackers can launch very large (up to 25gb/sec that I know of) spoofed DDoS attacks, due to the amplification factor of the open DNS recursors.

There are various mitigation techniques employed such as  destination-based (destroys the village in order to save it) and/or source-based remotely-triggered blackholing (S/RTBH), plan old iACLs, and dedicated DDoS mitigation appliances; there's a lot of information-sharing and coordinated mitigation which takes place in the SP community, as well.

But there isn't nearly enough of any of these things, especially in the developing world.

Russian cyber-attacks on Estonia

Here is a report from the Guardian on what it calls the first cyber assault on a state. 

Whether it's the first or not, this type of attack is something we have known was going to be inevitable, something that was destined to become a standard characteristic of political conflict.

I came across the report while browsing a must-read new identity site called blindside (more on that later…).  Here are some excerpts from the Guardian's piece:

A three-week wave of massive cyber-attacks on the small Baltic country of Estonia, the first known incidence of such an assault on a state, is causing alarm across the western alliance, with Nato urgently examining the offensive and its implications.

While Russia and Estonia are embroiled in their worst dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a row that erupted at the end of last month over the Estonians’ removal of the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial in central Tallinn, the country has been subjected to a barrage of cyber warfare, disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies.

Nato has dispatched some of its top cyber-terrorism experts to Tallinn to investigate and to help the Estonians beef up their electronic defences.
“This is an operational security issue, something we're taking very seriously,” said an official at Nato headquarters in Brussels. “It goes to the heart of the alliance's modus operandi.”

“Frankly it is clear that what happened in Estonia in the cyber-attacks is not acceptable and a very serious disturbance,” said a senior EU official…

“Not a single Nato defence minister would define a cyber-attack as a clear military action at present. However, this matter needs to be resolved in the near future…”

Estonia, a country of 1.4 million people, including a large ethnic Russian minority, is one of the most wired societies in Europe and a pioneer in the development of “e-government”. Being highly dependent on computers, it is also highly vulnerable to cyber-attack.

It is fascinating to think about how this kind of attack could be resisted:

With their reputation for electronic prowess, the Estonians have been quick to marshal their defences, mainly by closing down the sites under attack to foreign internet addresses, in order to try to keep them accessible to domestic users…

Attacks have apparently been launched from all over the world:

The crisis unleashed a wave of so-called DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, attacks, where websites are suddenly swamped by tens of thousands of visits, jamming and disabling them by overcrowding the bandwidths for the servers running the sites…

The attacks have been pouring in from all over the world, but Estonian officials and computer security experts say that, particularly in the early phase, some attackers were identified by their internet addresses – many of which were Russian, and some of which were from Russian state institutions…

“We have been lucky to survive this,” said Mikko Maddis, Estonia's defence ministry spokesman. “People started to fight a cyber-war against it right away. Ways were found to eliminate the attacker.”

I don't know enough about denial of service attacks to know how difficult it is to trace them. after the fact.  But presumably, since there is no need to receive responses in order to be successful in DOS, the attacker can spoof his source address with no problem.  This can't make things any easier.

Estonian officials say that one of the masterminds of the cyber-campaign, identified from his online name, is connected to the Russian security service. A 19-year-old was arrested in Tallinn at the weekend for his alleged involvement…

Expert opinion is divided on whether the identity of the cyber-warriors can be ascertained properly…

(A) Nato official familiar with the experts’ work said it was easy for them, with other organisations and internet providers, to track, trace, and identify the attackers.

But Mikko Hyppoenen, a Finnish expert, told the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that it would be difficult to prove the Russian state's responsibility, and that the Kremlin could inflict much more serious cyber-damage if it chose to.  (More here…)

There was huge loss of life and bitterness between Russia and Estonia during the second world war, and there are still nationalist forces within Russia who would see this statue as symbolic of that historical reality.  It is perhaps not impossible that the DOS was mounted by individuals with those leanings rather than being government sponsored.  Someone with a clear target in mind, and the right technical collaborators, and who could muster bottoms up participation by thousands of sympathizers could likely put this kind of attack in place almost as quickly as a nation state.

Age verification roundup

by Tateru NinoTateru Nino at Second Life Insider has done a roundup of age verification issues arising from Second Life's experiment in controlling access to adult content. 

There's a lot of talk about age/identity verification going on, so I've done a pile of reading of material and logs (thanks for everyone who has provided links, logs and other information to source from) and condensed them into a not inconsiderable bulleted list, below the fold.Longer than your hand, people. Grab a cup of coffee.

  • Credit cards do not provide proof of age. In some areas and with some card providers you can obtain a credit card compatible card before you can talk.
  • Verification costs. It will be available at a token fee for premium account holders, but the brunt of the verification costs apparently will be borne by basic account holders. Linden Lab is passing along the costs of verification.
  • Mobile phones do not provide proof of age. In the UK, more children under 12 possess a mobile phone than adults over 18. In the USA, almost 50% of children have a mobile phone.
  • Driver's licences are not as widely held as you might think. Particularly the old, infirm or handicapped may not possess them. Areas with highly developed public transport systems, or poorer nations may have low penetration of these credentials.
  • Online verification does not verify the person, only the validity of the documentation that person provides. The person need not provide their own documentation for verification to be successful. Therefore, this system can only realistically be used to shift blame and does not constitute a method of verification or trust.
  • The status of a minor who has provided false verification information can (apparently) no longer be contested. If it says they're of a certain age, would it be harassing behavior to attempt to challenge that?
  • Linden Lab is apparently wishes to use a third-party company to keep verification costs down, and to prevent access to or storage of verification information by Linden Lab employees.
  • The age at which you are considered to be permitted to access ‘adult content’ varies from country to country. In most, the age varies between 12 and 25. A very few jurisdictions do not permit it under any circumstances. In most US Jurisdictions the age for the apparent class of adult content Linden Lab intends to grant access to would be 21, not 18.
  • Having taken steps to attempt to verify the age of a user, and then granted them access to adult content, does Linden Lab them become liable if you are still not eligible to be transmitted adult content in your jurisdiction? Does it even matter if the age/identity is accurate or not?
  • The verification provider may not demand or require any information from you. However, they are under no obligation to provide verification for you if you do not willingly provide it.
  • Integrity Services was initially given as the verification provider, however there is good cause to believe that the provider will change before plans go ahead.
  • Merely requesting an SIN identification from a Canadian citizen constitutes a legal offense. This policy may extend to other forms of identifying information in various countries.
  • Linden Lab provides only very vague guidelines for what does and does not constitute ‘adult content’. These are “adult content is that which is overtly, graphically, or explicitly sexual in nature or intensely violent”, which obviously leaves a lot of open questions.
  • The guidelines of most nations are vague on what constitutes adult content. In some cases, certain kinds of political content may fall under this classification. In India, “scenes that are a threat to the integrity to the nation, and those which disturb the friendly peace between nations” are classifiable as adult content.
  • Flagging parcels that contain adult content is mandatory.
  • Adult content flagged parcels must be within Mature sims.
  • It is inevitable that the judgement of an individual based on their own society's and community's standards and norms will unintentionally disagree with the judgement of one or more other residents or Linden Lab staff members. What will happen then? Will Linden Lab exercise editorial control, or assign punishments or penalties?
  • Verification may not be accessible to Linden Lab or verification service employees but must be archived for a period of time that may changed or extended by law before that that period expires. Can it be extended by other means (eg: Company policy?).
  • Archived verification data may be accessed during an audit. Who can initiate an audit of this data, and under what circumstances?
  • Will this archived verification data be subject to the European Union's DPA legislation, as would be required if any EU citizen's data is stored/archived?
  • Do you know what your nation's policy is on providing your passport number to overseas third parties?
  • The Second Life website already requests that users state using a check box that they are over the age of 18. By checking this box, users are making a statement that may be held as truth in a court of law. In short, they can and will be held responsible if this statement is later shown to be untrue. Why is it necessary for Linden Lab to perform an expensive operation like this that appears to only increase their overall legal exposure? What are we missing?

The author concludes:

Whew. What did I miss?

Jeff Bohren on role of CardSpace

Jeff Bohren at BMC Software has an interesting take on CardSpace and TEG – as well as other related matters.  And in this posting he says that BMC Software will be participating in the interoperability event at the next Burton Catalyst.  This really adds to the momentum. 

There will be a User Centric interoperability event at the next Burton Catalyst in SF. This will bring together several IdM vendors and open source projects to demonstrate interoperability between different implementations of Cardspace/InfoCard and OpenID. BMC Software will be participating. We will also have a hospitality suite the following night. I will be there so if you want to drop by I would be glad to talk with you about IdM issues.

Mike Jones from Microsoft has some great Cardspace/InfoCard resources on his blog. If you are interested in this area, you should definitely check this out. You should also check out Pamela Dingle’s introduction to Cardspace.

Microsoft has recently announced that they have sold over 40 million copies of Vista in the first 100 days since its release. Obviously not all of those are installed and in use, but this still a lot of users. And every one of them is a potential Cardspace user.

If IE isn’t your cup of tea, there are several other option available. has a plug-in for Firefox. I gave it a try, but for some reason I could not use it to do InfoCard authentication to Kim Cameron’s blog, which you can obviously do with CardSpace.

There has been a recent spurt of debate over at the TEG mailing list about Cardspace. I don’t want to waste TEG bandwidth on what is really a tangential issue, so here is my take on the value of Cardspace/InfoCard.

The best way to think of the value of Self-Issued InfoCards is to think of them as analogous in feature to end-user SSL client certificates. In essence they are a holder-of-key style authentication that can be used by itself or in conjunction with a password based authentication to dramatically improve the security of the authentication process. Like client certificates, InfoCards authenticate the computer the user is on, not the user. They further have the advantage of presenting a very user friendly graphical mechanism to select what identity should be used.

While all InfoCard implementations have this value, Cardspace goes further and adds additional features to thwart phishing, man-in-the-middle-attacks, and software key loggers. If the US banks where smart, they would adopt InfoCard as their solution to comply with FFIEC guidance for on-line banking. Cardspace/InfoCard could be used as a second factor of authentication to use for financially sensitive transactions. Not as a replacement for passwords, but as a supplement. And best of all (to the bank) there is zero cost on a per user basis.

For enterprises there is an important potential value for InfoCards, and it has nothing to do with internal authentication. The value is by using InfoCards, an employee of a company can easily choose different identities depending on whether he is representing the company in a specific transaction or not. It has to do with separating personal from professional personas. A company could issue a managed InfoCard to each employee for use for their professional persona and establish best practices for using their self-issued InfoCards for personal business. Now you can do this without InfoCards by creating multiple IDs, but as a practice no one does that.

Update 5-24-07

Shibboleth just announced that they will add support for Cardspace/Infocard in the Shibboleth architecture. Kim Cameron's thoughts about it are here and Mike Jone's comments are here. This is a great development. The Shibboleth project has a great deal of respect and mind share in the identity community.

I'm not sure I agree that InfoCards authenticate the computer the user is on, and not the user.  I think that depends on whether they are combined with a challenge such as a one-time password.  I hope Jeff writes more about what he means by this.

Separation of powers

Paul Madsen is being his amusing self over at ConnectID:

Doesn't the principle of ‘Separation of Powers‘ forbid Kim playing both the legislative and judicial roles, i.e. writing the ‘laws’, and then adjuticating on compliance?

Certainly makes for efficient government.

To which Eric Norman replies:

Well, it never stopped Murphy from sitting in judgement about his law.

Of course this is all about what I claim are laws of computer science, not legal edicts, and the phenomena described are measurable.  We should really end up agreeing about how systems behave, even if we finally disagree about how they should behave.