Providers Can Go Further

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2008-02-20 Print this article Print

Providers can go a lot further than phishing-resistant passwords too. You can bet that VeriSign, which plays big in the market for strong authentication, sees OpenID as an opportunity to improve authentication generally for consumers. It's certainly the best shot consumers have now.

The decision is harder for services, I suppose. As a consumer, I can choose with whom to store my OpenID credentials. A site can't decide that it will accept OpenID credentials from some OpenID sites and not others-can it? Yes it can! There are already sites that support OpenID log-ins, but are using a white list of providers they will support, like AOL and Yahoo! and VeriSign. Casual talk among techies often raves about the potential for anyone to set up an OpenID provider, but in fact, it's likely to be a provider with little support in the real world. If, for example, were ever to use OpenID as an authentication method, it wouldn't allow you to log on with (Grab that domain, it's available!)

In the formal OpenID spec, there is no actual trust model between providers and "relying parties," which are the sites to which the user is logging in. All the communication with the provider shows is that there is a user with that ID with a record at that site. In a sense it's at least as reliable as the arbitrary names and passwords you use today to log in.

The more I think of OpenID, the more I think it's in the interests of all legitimate parties. Even a site like Google that competes for users with other big sites is better off, because it becomes easier for Yahoo users to access services on Google. If all goes well, some day soon you may be able to shred that piece of paper with your passwords written on it.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's blog Cheap Hack.


Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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