In a white paper to be released on Monday, Microsoft calls for the adoption of an Information Card system that uses an interoperable vendor-neutral framework for identity management and provides end users with direct control of their digital identities.
"Personal information is becoming the new currency of crime," said Brendon Lynch, director of privacy strategy for Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group. "We need to look at the root causes of identity theft and see what we can do to change the game."
Key to this vision is the Information Card Foundation (ICF), an industry group that includes Equifax, Google, Deutsche Telecom, Intel, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and PayPal.
The ICF, which debuted in June, aims to promote the adoption of Information Cards, a form of digital identification designed for secure, real-time e-commerce transactions. Information Cards bring a third-party ID provider into two-party transactions. This allows authentication to be done without the transmission of user names and passwords, and it allows the ID provider to present only the necessary personal information.
The group's goal is to develop open, trusted, vendor-neutral identity infrastructure for the Internet.
"Information Cards are designed to prevent data that is shared in one context from being reused in a different context," the paper explains. "This is accomplished through creating a unique set of keys for each combination of Information Card and relaying party."
Microsoft already has already implemented its version of Information Cards, CardSpace, in its Windows Vista operating system. CardSpace can also be downloaded for Windows XP. Lynch estimates that there are already about 200 million CardSpace clients installed.
Microsoft's commitment to secure digital identities can be seen in its acquisition earlier this year of Credentica's U-Prove technology, which allows authentication without the loss of anonymity. One scenario where this might be appropriate is an age verification query posed by a Web site. Microsoft is integrating U-Prove into CardSpace and other software.
But there's still much work to be done. In its white paper, Microsoft calls for the broad adoption of Information Cards to reduce identity theft and to restore the fraying fabric of trust online. It acknowledges that there are complicated social, political, economic, and technical issues to address. And it sees governments as crucial facilitators of the public dialogue necessary to convince stakeholders that security is in everyone's interest.
"What we're trying to do is outline the need, outline some thinking on what a future solution looks like," said Lynch. "We trying to get all the various players together and talk about how to get there."