Specs Upgrade Safety of Web Services

Developers get framework for linking applications to security platforms.

A group of Web services heavyweights has announced a new set of security and policy specifications based on the Web Services-Security road map developed last April to help enterprises share information securely.

The first in the set of specifications introduced by IBM and Microsoft Corp., along with BEA Systems Inc., RSA Security Inc., VeriSign Inc. and SAP AG, includes WS-Trust, which defines a framework for managing, setting up and assessing trust relationships to enable Web services to securely interoperate—a common way to access security services.

The specifications also include WS-Secure- Conversation, which defines a framework to set up a secure context for parties that want to exchange multiple messages without having to continually reauthenticate, and WS-SecurityPolicy, which defines general security policies that can be associated with a service, according to Karla Norsworthy, director of dynamic e-business technologies at IBM, in Somers, N.Y.

The six specifications, announced last month, fall into two categories: the first set of three, which build on technical issues in Microsoft and IBMs road map; and those that focus on implementing business policies in Web services.

Scott Collison, director of Web services management at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., said the specifications are based on accepted standards in the areas of the Simple Object Access Protocol, security, transactions and discovery to provide a framework for implementing business policy and security for a broad set of applications.

"Were delivering additional specifications that are part of our ... overall Web services vision to allow companies to have broadly interoperable Web services regardless of the platform," Collison said.

"These are initial versions of the specs, so customers still need to give their feedback," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, based in Cambridge, Mass.

New WS-Security Specifications

  • WS-Trust sets stage for managing trust relationships among Web services
  • WS-SecureConversation provides secure context for Web services
  • WS-SecurityPolicy describes security policies associated with a Web service
  • WS-Policy enables users to define requirements and access services
  • WS-PolicyAttachments provides way to attach requirement and capability statements to Web services
  • WS-PolicyAssertions describes general policies associated with a Web service
Steve Anderson, a product architect at OpenNetwork Technologies Inc., based in Clearwater, Fla., said that for developers "the new specs provide a common framework so that the applications they are building can be translated into any security platform."

For end users, the specifications "provide a universal standard for Web services and transaction security," further mitigating the risks of doing business over the Web, Anderson said.

The second set of specifications includes WS-Policy, which outlines a way for Web services senders and receivers to communicate their requirements and capabilities, including the ability to search for and discover the information they need to access the service; WS-PolicyAttachments, which provides a standard mechanism for attaching requirement and capability statements to a Web service; and WS-Policy- Assertions, which describes general policies that can be affiliated with a service. BEA, IBM, Microsoft and SAP authored these specifications.

"Policy is important across a broad set of disciplines," IBMs Norsworthy said. "I might want to express policy that tells what human language interface a Web service would need to expose to be appropriate for a particular end user. Or I might want to express policy that tells what version of a standard like HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] that a service in the medical space needed to conform to."