Just about all the major companies in the
business are on board now, and if it's widely adopted it should make things
better for users on the Web.
If you run a Web site-let's say a storefront-that manages user information,
you need to authenticate your users. It's dangerous business, but you have to
do it and you have to do it well. Screwing up could ruin your reputation.
And yet you're also part of a big problem
for users: the proliferation of IDs. Think of all the log-ins you have all over
the Web. Some sites have you log in with a username, which is probably the same
as your username on all others. And some have you log in with an e-mail address
(a pretty good system in its day). And then you need a password. Do you use the
same one everywhere? Not a good idea; one of those sites gets compromised and
your ID everywhere else is compromised. Plus, you're not in the authentication
business, so you're probably not going to do the best job possible.
There are personal solutions available, like RoboForm
, but the Internet needs a systemic
solution, and one is available in the form of OpenID
OpenID is a standard for authentication by third parties. Instead of asking you
for your log-in, a site could ask you for your OpenID, which takes the form of
a URL, such as myname.openid-provider.net. In fact, with the newer 2.0 version
of OpenID, you may just have to provide the domain, such as yahoo.com (yes, Yahoo
supports such usage for its members).
At this point, the process is redirected through an HTTP 302 redirect to
which authenticates you by whatever means have been arranged. It could just ask
for a password, but it could be stricter than that. For instance, it could
demand two-factor authentication, such as that I discussed in a recent column.
Some sites, such as VeriSign Labs'
Ping Identity's SignOn.com
, have added
phishing-resistant log-ins with features reminiscent of Bank
of America's SiteKey
. Oh, and I have to mention VeriSign's OpenID Firefox
And there's a fair amount of excitement around OpenID among third parties,
tops of which is the news that Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and Yahoo have joined the board
of the OpenID Foundation
. The foundation doesn't own the standards of
OpenID per se, but facilitates the standards and development process. With a
board like that, OpenID is either unstoppable or doomed. I don't see why this
group would conspire against OpenID, so I'll just assume it's a good thing for
Security analysts strip away malware's armor. Read more here.
So can you trust OpenID? Paul Ferguson, a senior techie at Trend Micro, says
(in what appears to be a personal blog) no
. I know Paul from security
mailing lists and he's got a point, but I think he throws out the baby with the
bathwater. His point is that you, the user, have to trust that the OpenID
provider will securely store your credentials and handle them responsibly, and
that they could easily screw this up. Therefore, he won't be using it.
I also think that I wouldn't trust just any OpenID provider, but I would
trust, for example, VeriSign, which has
been in the OpenID provider business from the very early days
. VeriSign is high
on it, and (for what it's worth) the company even goes to the trouble of
putting an EV SSL certificate on the site.
Why do I trust VeriSign? I don't know, call me naive, but it runs trusted
authentication infrastructure for very big businesses. Seems to me the industry
as a whole has bought into OpenID in theory, and if anyone can implement it
well, VeriSign can.