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4/16/2009
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RSA: Microsoft Pushes 'Geneva' In War On Passwords

Formerly known as Zermatt, the claims-based access platform is a framework for granting people access to information.

A year after Microsoft chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie urged the technology industry to come together to create a more trustworthy Internet, the company's vision of End to End Trust is starting to take shape.

At the RSA Conference this year, Scott Charney, Microsoft's corporate VP of Trustworthy Computing, plans to deliver a progress report on his company's campaign to move beyond the password as a means of authentication.

Microsoft's End to End Trust plan calls for hardware, operating system, data, and people to operate as a trusted stack, one that allows easy authentication, without the weaknesses of passwords or the risk of personal information disclosure.

Passwords are secrets that must be shared. And that's not an ideal situation. "The problem with shared secrets is they really aren't secret," explained Brendon Lynch, director of privacy strategy at Microsoft. "If the cybercriminals can get a hold of those, and they're doing so ... they can go and reuse those credentials."

Microsoft's alternative is a technology called CardSpace, introduced in Windows Vista, which allows identity claims to be mediated by digital tokens, a scheme that fosters privacy, even as it enhances security, because it obviates the need to share personal information.

The technology hasn't been widely adopted, in part because the back end has been missing. That changed in November when Microsoft delivered a beta version of Geneva, formerly known as Zermatt.

Microsoft calls Geneva "a claims-based access platform." It is, in other words, a framework for granting people access to information. It provides tools for granting access in conjunction with privacy protections and policy rules.

Geneva encompasses authentication services, federation services, and access policy control.

"It is a platform that simplifies access [to applications] and provides security-enhanced access," said Doug Leland, general manager of Microsoft's identity and security division. "In today's world where increasingly there's a desire for organizations to collaborate and transact with other business partners ... there is a necessity to do that in a secure fashion."

Geneva includes a framework for building .Net applications that weigh digital token "claims" to make access decisions, a server-based digital token service, and Windows CardSpace as a graphic interface that presents access decisions to users.

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