IBM, Harvard Law Schools Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Novell and Parity Communications on Feb. 27 announced that they are contributing code to an open-source initiative, code-named the Higgins Project, which will help give people more control over their personal online identity information.
The Higgins Project announcement, which comes just weeks after Microsoft announced a similar initiative, called InfoCard, at the RSA Conference, is for a user-centric identity management system where users actively manage and control their online personal information for things like bank accounts, telephone and credit card numbers, or medical and employment records, IBM officials said.
The open-source Eclipse Foundation is heading up the effort and is promoting the use of open standards, so Higgins will support Linux as well as Windows or any operating system, or any identity management system, IBM officials said.
IBM and Parity Communications contributed software code to the Eclipse Higgins project, and Novell has pledged its support for the effort and will contribute code of its own. Other companies are expected to join the project. The SocialPhysics.org group at Harvards Berkman Center initiated the project at Eclipse.
"To move online security to the next level, there has to be fundamental resolve among consumers, government and business to quickly adopt a system where the individual has more control over how information about them is managed and shared," said John Clippinger, senior fellow for The Berkman Center, said in a statement.
"Our aim is to construct an open and widely accessible software framework that puts the individual at the center of the identity management universe. With this framework in place, it will be easier for society to begin the migration to more secure online environments, where trusted networks can not only be easily formed, but effectively enforced. For in the end, security is not just technological, but social."
Higgins breaks up users identity information into pieces, or "services," and enables them to determine who can access what parts of their identity information, based on privacy guidelines and laws. Moreover, because people will be able to make pieces of their identity information available as they choose, Higgins is expected to facilitate a new generation of Internet services, where people form affinity groups and collaborative networks based on preferences and interests.
The effort also could help to move business-to-consumer and business-to-business interaction to a new level, with merchants reaching out to consumers, or other businesses, that choose to be reached through digital "clues" or information about themselves, IBM officials said. Companies will be able to build support for Higgins into their applications, Web sites and services.
The project is named after the Tasmanian long-tailed Higgins mouse. It reflects the Web 2.0 theory of the "long tail" of micro-markets that complement traditional industries, IBM officials said.
Anthony Nadalin, distinguished engineer and chief security architect at IBM, said in a statement: "Security is the next frontier for open source software. Open source ensures that there will be easy access to the technology, so that developers can innovate around it. It also means that customers wont be locked into a proprietary architecture when they adopt user-centric identity management systems."
IBM plans to support Higgins with commercial Tivoli identity management software next year, with added support by independent software vendors and IBMs consulting services division.