Liberty Alliance touts early plans
The Liberty Alliance, consisting of Sun, AOL, General Motors, Nokia, Vodafone, Mastercard, Visa, and just about anyone else you could care to mention, bar Microsoft, this week revealed initial plans for its web identification program. This version, number 1, hopes to address the problems associated with the much vaunted single sign-on process, and is therefore tackling account management. It looks like very interesting stuff but there is a long way to go before it reaches maturity - and a lot of problems to overcome en route.
The stated goals of the Liberty Alliance are :
- To allow individual consumers and businesses to maintain personal information securely.
- To provide a universal open standard for single sign-on with decentralized authentication and open authorization from multiple providers.
- To provide an open standard for network identity spanning all network devices.
In other words, it's trying to produce a common, universally accepted method for identifying individuals online across multiple domains. It's very much like Microsoft's Passport. But without the bite. When Liberty was first launched by Sun it was billed as a direct competitor to Passport, which caused quite an affray. But nowadays it's more of a federation, an alliance, of companies and organisations with similar aims - to make web trade more effective.
The idea is that you could, for instance, log into IT-Director.com, click on an advert for Compaq, make a purchase and then go straight through to your bank to check your balance without the need to sign-on again. It's a lovely idea. And that's what this release of the Liberty proposal is edging towards.
The Liberty Version 1 specifications focus on interoperability between systems. In the first instance this has covered options like:
- Account linking - giving people the opportunity to decide to link services into the Liberty system.
- Simplified sign-on - giving, effectively, single-sign-on processes for any service that has been opted into the Liberty process.
- Authentication Context - which will cover the range of authentication required by the members.
- Global Log-out - which will enable all of the accounts that have been opted in to be logged out in one fell swoop.
- Liberty Alliance Client - which is the client side solution to the whole affair.
This isn't where it ends though. The Liberty Alliance, in combination with this announcement, also revealed some supporters, including Sun, Entrust and Novell, that are preparing to launch Liberty enabled products and services. It also made a point of mentioning that it was already well under way with developments for Version 2.
The crucial difference between Liberty and Passport however, is that Passport is easy. Microsoft is rolling Passport across its own operations, making data management and authentication comparitively easy. Liberty on the other hand will operate as a federated collection of supporters that are physically and commercially no closer than a signature on a contract. That means that there is going to be a long hard battle to get this right - especially once other devices like mobile phones are considered. But let's keep our fingers crossed.
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