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7/6/2009
05:09 PM
Sara Peters
Sara Peters
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Kantara Initiative: Another Effort To Get Identity 2.0 Out Of The Gate

We've been saying for a while now that better identity management -- more so than secure Web app coding or even more secure browsers -- could fuel a quantum leap in Web security. The "Identity 2.0" community can be credited with wonderful research and truly significant advancements in identity management technology. In many ways, we're poised for an identity revolution. However, the efforts have been hampered by a lack of public awareness, a lack of interoperable standards, usability concerns, a

We've been saying for a while now that better identity management -- more so than secure Web app coding or even more secure browsers -- could fuel a quantum leap in Web security. The "Identity 2.0" community can be credited with wonderful research and truly significant advancements in identity management technology. In many ways, we're poised for an identity revolution. However, the efforts have been hampered by a lack of public awareness, a lack of interoperable standards, usability concerns, and a fundamental chicken/egg problem.Enter the Kantara Initiative, a comprehensive, collaborative effort created to further unite and mobilize the identity community, to collaboratively tackle all the challenges, and to provide these efforts with more funding. (Yippee!) I recently spoke with Roger Sullivan, newly elected president of the Kantara Initiative, about the Initiative's purpose, structure, and plans. (Sullivan's also president of the Liberty Alliance and VP of identity management for Oracle.)

If you haven't yet, take a look at the Kantara Initiative's Web site. I'm cautiously optimistic, particularly because of the distinguished cast of characters. As Sullivan put it, "All the ones that count are here."

During our conversation, Sullivan graciously took the scenic route with me to answer some of my questions about privacy, and why the Kantara Initiative needed a working group on privacy.

The idea behind Identity 2.0 (claims-based identity, information cards, etc.) is that online businesses don't really need all of the information they request from their users. All they need is a small amount of information to do business with the user, and assurance the information provided is valid.

For example, if I'm running an online bookstore, all I really need to know is what book you want and that you can pay me for it. I don't necessarily need your address because I'm not actually bringing it to your door; the only one who really needs your address is the postal or parcel service. And I don't necessarily need your credit card information. All I need is for your bank to say, "Yes, this user has an account with us, and, yes, this user can pay for this item, and while we're at it, here's the money, I'll just put that in your account."

So I figured that Identity 2.0 inherently protects privacy far better than the current status quo, in which each user is required to prove themselves by ponying up his name, address, credit card number, user name, password, Social Security number, mother's maiden name, pet's name, first school, favorite color, favorite one-liner from Star Wars, SAT scores, baby pictures, etc., etc., etc.

And I'm right about that.

However, privacy versus security gets a bit hairier when you have to make technology and protocols that are internationally interoperable -- and, thus, able to accommodate a spectrum of laws and cultural ethics.

Further, the privacy/Identity 2.0 questions are also plenty complicated when your organization wants/needs to offer multiple privacy profiles for the same individuals. Do you treat different types of business relationships differently, and how?

On one hand, the security and compliance team might be very happy to protect customers' privacy, possibly reduce the amount of credit card fraud, and (the part that's the most fun) decrease the amount of personally identifiable information you have to lock down.

On the other hand, a customer may want her online music store or bookstore to keep enough information about her and her purchases to recommend other music and books, and to offer discounts; the store would, no doubt, be delighted to sell the customer more products.

This kind of service could be made opt-in -- but how do you handle that on the back end? Must you maintain separate customer databases? Could just using this new technology for online purchases adequately limit the amount of customer data you have so that you can maintain one database, give customers their personalized perks, and still significantly reduce your security risks and compliance responsibilities? When could you realistically institute such a plan, considering you have to give your customers/users time to start using the Identity 2.0 technology? How can you give them incentives to convert and/or make the process easier for them?

Some of these issues are not exclusive to Identity 2.0. How are you handling the multiple business relationship problem now? Inquiring me wants to know.

Sara Peters is senior editor at Computer Security Institute. Special to Dark Reading. Sara Peters is contributing editor to Dark Reading and editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad of other ... View Full Bio

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