Musings on Digital Identity

Category: I-names

User-Centric Identity Interop at RSA in San Francisco

33 Companies…
24 Projects…
57 Participants working together to build an interoperable user-centric identity layer for the Internet!

Come join us!

Tuesday and Wednesday, April 8 and 9 at RSA 2008, Moscone Center, San Francisco, California
Location: Mezzanine Level Room 220
Interactive Working Sessions: Tuesday and Wednesday, 11am – 4pm
Demonstrations: Tuesday and Wednesday, 4pm – 6pm
Reception: Wednesday, 4pm – 6pm

Logos of RSA 2008 Interop Participants

Information Cards, i-names, OpenID, Ruby, and Interop!

ooTao logoMy congratulations to ooTao and LinkSafe for enabling account creation and login at LinkSafe’s i-broker using Information Cards. Building on what I wrote earlier about I-names without Passwords at LinkSafe, Andy Dale recently wrote:

Working together Microsoft, LinkSafe and ooTao have developed the first Info-Card enabled i-broker. You can register for an i-name at LinkSafe and subsequently log in to any OpenID 2.0 relying party without ever entering a password. All of the security can be Info-Card driven.

We have made the Ruby RP Module deployed at LinkSafe available under BSD license along with a simple ‘hello world’ app that demonstrates driving the module.

inames logoSee Andy’s post for instructions on where to get the software and for a demo site where you can try it out.

And as long as I’m on the topic of trying out software, I thought I’d mention that the latest OSIS User-Centric Identity Interop is under way! Visit the new OSIS page and browse through the Interop Participants, the Software Solutions, and the Cross Solution Results. There’s more to come, including more participants (contact me if you’re interested!) and feature-specific tests, but I wanted to let people know that we’re out there testing our software together now, including both Information Card and OpenID implementations, with Interop demonstrations to occur at the RSA Conference in April. And of course, ooTao and LinkSafe are participating!

I-names without Passwords at LinkSafe

I’m pleased to report that ooTao and LinkSafe have recently collaborated to enable you to create and use i-names with Information Cards rather than passwords. They’ve achieved for what JanRain did for Below is a screen shot of me signing up for an i-name using an Information Card, rather than a password. Now when you see someone signed in to a site with the OpenID =me, you’ll know who it actually is! i-name signup with Information Card

User-Centric Identity Interop at Catalyst in Barcelona

Logos of Barcelona Interop Participants 2007

Last night OSIS and the Burton Group held the third in a series of user-centric identity Interop events where companies and projects building user-centric identity software components came together and tested the interoperation of their software together. Following on the Interops at IIW in May and Catalyst in June, the participants continued their joint work of ensuring that the identity software we’re all building works great together.

This Interop had a broader scope along several dimensions than the previous ones:

An excerpt from Bob Blakley’s insightful-as-always commentary on the Interop is:

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.

Be sure to read his full post for more details on what the participants accomplished together. And of course, this isn’t the end of the story. An even wider and deeper Interop event is planned for the RSA Conference in April 2008. Great progress on building the Internet identity layer together!

The Popularity of OpenID and How It Relates To “Home Realm Discovery”

Andy Dale recently made a great post titled “Adopting Evolution” in which he asked the question:

Why has OpenID grabbed so much popularity while SAML, a much more mature, academically respected, ‘robust’ specification has been largely ignored by the cutting edge web 2.0 community?

I’ll encourage you to read his post for his insightful answer.

His question reminded me of another answer to the same question that I gave during the recent Concordia meeting at DIDW: OpenID solves the “Home Realm Discovery” problem that all Federation protocols face; that is, figuring out where the person’s authentication information should come from.

There’s lots of ways this problem can be solved, many of which involve potential identity providers being pre-configured by system administrators as possible choices for specific services. Some systems have even dictated the use of a particular identity provider. OpenID’s solution to this is elegant in its simplicity: Let the user decide. When I type in an OpenID URL such as I’m telling the relying party where my identity provider for this interaction is — thus solving the “Home Realm Discovery” problem. As elegant as this is, of course, the potential downside of this solution is that it assumes that people will remember their OpenID identifiers and will faithfully type them in when a page prompts them for an OpenID.

OpenID 2.0 actually allows i-names such as =mbj or =Mike.Jones to be used as OpenIDs as well. I-names then use their own lookup protocol to discover the identity provider behind the i-name typed. This is arguably better (and is the kind of OpenID I personally use), but still relies on the user to reliably enter their OpenID identifier when prompted.

In this discussion at Concordia, others pointed out that using an Identity Selector (such as DigitalMe or CardSpace) is another means of solving the problem. Like OpenID, it also lets the user decide, but in this case, by clicking on a visual Information Card, rather than typing in a string. I personally believe that this will be an easier metaphor for many people to use once it’s commonly available than typing in an OpenID identifier.

I’ll also point out that it’s not a one-or-the-other choice between OpenIDs and Information Cards when letting the user decide. As was recently demonstrated, OpenID Information Cards can be used to deliver the OpenID identifier to the OpenID relying party, rather than having the user type it.

In conclusion, while it may seem esoteric, solving the “Home Realm Discovery” problem is essential to working digital identity deployments. And the usability of the solution chosen matters a lot. Using Andy’s terminology, I believe that its solution to this problem both accounts for some of “the juju that OpenID has” and may result in usability problems for less technical audiences that will need to be addressed if it’s to break out beyond just us geeks.

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