JanRain – identities for social networks

06.08.2010 by Martin Kuppinger

Amongst the different vendors I’ve spoken recently, JanRain is definitely one of the most interesting ones – and will most likely make it into the list of next year’s Hidden Gem vendors. JanRain has had some popularity as one of the initiators of OpenID and with their OpenID libraries and other related services. However, they have made an interesting move during the last years and now provide what they call a “user management platform for the open web”. In fact, they provide products for web sites and social networks to enhance the user experience around registration and the services which deal with user data.

Amongst these products are solutions which enable web site developers to quickly integrate registration features which rely on social networks such as Facebook – use your Facebook account to register… There are several other services on top of this. But there are as well capabilities for stepping up in the authentication depending on the types of interactions and transactions someone is doing.

JanRain has managed to find an appealing and obviously successful business model around identity services. They are not focused on any particular type of authentication like Information Cards or OpenID but provide the frameworks to deal with all these different approaches. And that is exactly what most organizations need today when building their online presence: Flexibility in dealing with different online identities and an user-centric approach which allows users to quickly and easily register. JanRain definitely is worth a look for any web developer and especially for all the people responsible for online marketing.


Beyond LDAP – have a look at system.identity

20.06.2010 by Martin Kuppinger

LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is well established. It is the foundation for today’s Directory Services, which support LDAP as a protocol and which usually build their data structure on the associated LDAP schema. There are many interfaces for developers to use LDAP, from the LDAP C API to high-level interfaces for many programming environments.

Even while LDAP is well established, it is somewhat limited. There are several restrictions – two important ones are:

  • The structure of LDAP is (more or less) hierarchical. There is one basic structure for containers – and linking leaf objects (think about the association of users and groups) is somewhat limited. That structure is a heritage of X.500, from which LDAP is derived – with LDAP originally being the lightweight version of the DAP (Directory Access Protocol) protocol. X.500 was constructed by telcos for telcos, e.g. with respect to their specific needs of structuring information. However anyone who ever has thought about structuring Novell’s eDirectory or Microsoft’s Active Directory knows that there is frequently more than one hierarchy, for example the location and the organizational structure. The strict hierarchy of LDAP is an inhibitor for several use cases.
  • LDAP is still focused on the specific, single directory. It doesn’t address the need of storing parts of the information in fundamentally different stores. But the same piece of information might be found locally on a notebook, in a network directory like Active Directory, in a corporate directory and so on. How to deal with that? How to use the same information across multiple systems, exchange it, associate usage policies, and so on? That is out-of-scope for LDAP.

I could extend the list – but it is not about the limitations of LDAP. LDAP has done a great job for years but there is obviously the need to do the next big step. An interesting foundation for that next big step comes from Kim Cameron, Chief Identity Architect at Microsoft. He has developed a schema which he calls system.identity. There hasn’t been much noise around before. There is a stream from last years Microsoft PDC, there is little information at the MSDN plus a blog post, there is the Keynote from this year’s European Identity Conference. But it is worth to have a look at that. The approach of system.identity is to define a flexible schema for identity-related information which can cover everything – from local devices to enterprise- and internet-style directories, from internal users to customers and device identities, including all the policies. It is, from my perspective, a very good start for the evolution (compatibility to LDAP is covered) well beyond LDAP and today’s directories.

I’ve put the concept under a stress test in a customer workshop these days. The customer is thinking about a corporate directory. Most people there are not directory guys, but enterprise IT architects. And they definitely liked the path system.identity is showing. It covers their needs much better than the LDAP schema. That proved to me that system.identity is not only for the geeks like me but obviously for the real world. Thus: Have a look at it and start thinking beyond LDAP. The concept of system.identity, despite being early stage, is a very good place to start.


Why we need claims in Windows

21.04.2010 by Martin Kuppinger

Microsoft has introduced the concept of claims-based securitywith it’s “Geneva” project. Claims are sort of attributes which are provided by identity providers in the form of tokens and consumed by applications. In fact they are one way to make federation easier and more user centric. “Geneva” provides the tools at all levels to work with claims. The concept of claims is used by some other groups at Microsoft and we probably will see several Microsoft applications with support for claims within the next months.

However, the biggest impact might be on the Windows operating system itself. Claims could make that much more flexible from a security management perspective than today’s mainly ACL-based security model. ACLs are too static and too complex in management to really fulfill the customer needs today. Not only in Windows, but in other operating systems as well. If you think about an operating system which consists of services (Service Providers, Relying Parties) and relies on Identity Providers to provide claims, the entire Security Management can become much more efficient. Based on Policies, using dynamically provided claims. Authorization might be done by the services based on policies and claims or by specialized authorization engines within the operating systems on behalf of the services (the latter not yet being part of “Geneva”).

It is, without any doubt, not that easy to perform such a fundamental change. ACLs are at least somewhat understood, claims are new. There has to be a migration path and compatibility. But if we look at all the options we have, claims appear to be the most promising concept for the future security at the operating system level. One interesting side effect is that the same policies might be applied to other elements in the security infrastructure as well – external access management tools and so on.

Meet me at European Identity Conference 2010 and Cloud 2010 Conference, Munich, May 4th to 7th.


Facebook, Xing, and the question of copyrights…

18.02.2009 by Martin Kuppinger

Some time ago I blogged about the “rise and fall of social networks“. My main point was that today’s social networks lock-in the information of their customers – but if I participate in Xing, LinkedIn, Facebook or other platforms, I enter my data there. With some networks, it’s virtually impossible to export my own network. And if I want to use more than one of these networks, there is no way to just move my existing network to the new platform. The interfaces (in most cases) as well as the standards (in any case) are missing.

Yesterday, the discussion gained further momentum because Facebook has changed its policies. Facebook now claims an unlimited right to use the information which someone has entered – even when the user cancels his Facebook account. Interestingly, the general terms and conditions aren’t (or at least haven’t been) fully translated into German. Some German lawyers claim that they are thus invalid, because German law requires them to be in German.

Overall, the recent discussion an the overall situation is pretty interesting from two perspectives:

  • Legal: Which of the general terms and conditions of providers are valid? Given that Facebook doesn’t act in Germany (and most other countries), but from the US, the contract is between an US company and a German (or other) user, that is a very interesting question. It is, by the way, a general issue in the Internet. Most companies will face the same problem once they start using the cloud (and some have experienced these issues in outsourcing). Another question is about copyright and intellectual property rights – are rules like the ones of Facebook or Xing really valid? I have to grant them unlimited rights without any restrictions. I can’t cancel the contract. Once I have agreed, I’ve lost my rights. Besides this, it is as well an interesting question whether the change of general term and conditions affects information which has been in the network before that change and whether or not someone has to agree explicitly to that change. I’m no lawyer but I think that these are interesting questions.
  • Data ownership: Again, it is my network. I really don’t like to have this lock-in.

In another area, the customer relationships, we have a somewhat comparable situation. Vendors have a lot of information about me – and I don’t really know what they know about me. In German law, I can request that they provide me with the information they have stored about me (which might provide reasonable workload if many customers ask for that information). But there are other approaches. The concept of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) which has been intensively discussed at last year’s European Identity Conference tries to change the play. The customer manages his vendor relations and controls which information he provides to whom. Like I have stated in my older post on social networks, these concepts might be applied to new type of social networks. I’m not quite sure about the business model. But as long as I have to act with vendors which have business models that – like they claim – only work if I give away any control and rights about my information I think it is really worth to consider a switch in that area.

I think that companies like Facebook and Xing with their general terms and conditions are digging their own grave. That won’t happen very fast, but once the users have an option which provides them more rights and more privacy, that might happen.


Information Cards going public…

26.06.2008 by Martin Kuppinger

Yes, I know – Information Cards (or Infocards) and their incarnation in Microsoft Windows CardSpace have been around for a while. But it was mainly the inner circle of Identity Management (and especially of user-centric Identity Management) who was really aware of this. With the recent announcement of the Information Card Foundation (ICF), Microsoft and others are trying to improve the visibility of Information Cards as a core element of Identity Management in the so called cloud.

There has been some discussion around the announcement in blogs and forums in the Internet. One of the most interesting aspects discussed is the necessity to educate the broader public about the concepts and value of Information Cards and the entire “Identity Management for the cloud” (aka user-centric Identity Management, aka Identity 2.0). That must be a main target of ICF, but as well of all the other players in this emerging market.

First of all, I’m convinced that Information Cards as well as OpenID will become central standards in the Internet and for Identity Management. Given that at least OpenID isn’t that far away from reaching the critical mass and that Microsoft Vista adoption (which makes it easier to use CardSpace) is happening pretty fast, as well as some important Open Source initiatives working on these topics, that might happen earlier than most expect today.

Nevertheless it is important to explain the concepts for everyone – and to address the privacy and security concerns many will have. There are so many things which can be done using these technologies, from Single Sign-On and Profile Management in the web up to Corporate Business Cards. But they require an accepted concept.

Thus, the idea of ICF is great, when it goes beyond technical discussions around use cases and implementations issues and really focuses on education as well. On the other hand the member list of ICF proves that there is strong interest and support in the industry for Information Cards. You can bet that no one is in there who doesn’t expect that the use of Information Cards won’t support his business – otherwise they wouldn’t invest time and money into ICF.

ICF is a great thing from my perspective. It will drive Information Cards forward – and thus the Identity Management for the cloud.


Infocards, Personalization, Profiling, VRM, Privacy

29.04.2008 by Martin Kuppinger

I have a personal history in the areas of personalization and profiling. And there might be some good chance for these ideas to become reality now – in the context of Infocards and to the sake of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management).

The threat in personalization and profiling is to know what the person really wants (personalization) or is/has (profiling). The one who knows best is the person itself.

(Managed) infocards can transport virtually everything. They might provide profile information for personalization. A trusted identity provider might offer a service which stores profile information it retrieves from the users and provides it in a controlled way (the basic idea of user-centrism) to web sites which shall provide a personalized experience to the user.

Bring in things like U-prove and that site doesn’t need to know the exact data but can “ask” the Identity Provider about relevant aspects and retrieve a yes/no decision. For sure the service provider/relying party in that equation will know some things but the amount of this knowledge can be limited – and thus privacy can be maximized.

I’m convinced that there is a business model for Identity Providers. Users might pay for a trustworthy handling of privacy information. Relying parties might pay for the ability to personalize information. There might also be approaches where the service is for free but the privacy is limited – the relying party might pay more if she learns more about the user. Both approaches might work.

VRM fits perfectly into this. It is the use of these approaches for vendor relationships, providing information for buying decisions via Infocards. For me, VRM, infocards and technologies like U-Prove are the pieces of a puzzle which, when ready, shows personalization and profiling as the picture.


Virtual Corporate Business Cards

27.04.2008 by Martin Kuppinger

Yes, I know – it is a little redundant talking about “corporate” and “business” in the context of virtual cards. But it is one of the most obvious, interesting and feasible business cases around Identity 2.0.

What do I mean by that term? My idea is about applying the ideas of Identity 2.0 and especially of InfoCard to the business. Provide every employee with an InfoCard or even some of them and you are better suited to solve many of today’s open issues.

How to issue these cards

I have this in mind for a pretty long time. I remember that I had asked Don Schmidt from Microsoft about the interface between Active Directory and CardSpace some time before EIC 2007. Active Directory might be one source of these cards. Just provide an interface between AD and an Identity Provider for InfoCards and you are able to issue and manage these cards based on information which still exits in the Active Directory. For sure, any other corporate directory or meta directory might work as well.

Today these technical interfaces are still missing, at least in an easy-to-use implementations. But it won’t take that long until we will see them. Thus, it is time to start thinking about the use cases.

How to use these cards

There are at least three types of cards I have in mind:

  • Virtual business cards: They are used when someone represents his company. How do you ensure today that every employee provides current and correct information when he registers with other web sites? How do you ensure that he acts in the web like you expect him to do? How do you ensure that he enters the correct title or the correct information about the size of your business when registering? InfoCards are the counterpart to your paper-based business cards today, but they can contain more information. And there might be different ones for different purposes.
  • Virtual corporate cards: They are used for B2B transactions and interactions. Add information like business roles to the cards and you can provide all these claims or assertions which are required for B2B business. These cards can be an important element in Federation, providing current information on the role of an employee or other data required. For sure there can be as well several cards, depending on the details which are required for interaction with different types of business partners.
  • Virtual employee cards: They are used internally, for example to identify users in business processes. Again, there might be a lot of information on them, like current business roles. You might use them as well to improve internal order processes, identifying the users who request new PCs, paper, or what ever else.

With these three types I might even have to extend the name for the cards, I assume. But I will stick with the term I have in the title of this post. The interesting aspect is the flexibility which (managed) InfoCards provide and the ability to manage them in context with a leading directory you have.

Due to the fact that you are the Identity Provider when applying these concepts you can ensure that no one uses these cards after leaving the company. You can ensure as well that the data is always up-to-date. That’s by far easier than with some of today’s equivalents for these future type of cards.

I will blog these days about two other ideas I have in mind in this context: The way the concept of claims Microsoft’s Kim Cameron is evangelizing will affect end-to-end security in business processes and SOA applications in general and the idea of using InfoCards for all these personalization and profiling ideas which have been discussed many years ago. I’m convinced that Identity 2.0 concepts like InfoCards and claims are a key element to solve these threats and bring these things to live.

There is a lot of business value in these concepts. And they will affect the way businesses cooperate, because they are much easier to implement and use than many other approaches.


OpenID – finally set?

19.02.2008 by Martin Kuppinger

With the recent announcements of Yahoo to fully and Google to partially support OpenID and the now official engagement of IBM, Microsoft, Verisign, and other key players of the market in the OpenID Foundation it seems obvious that OpenID is now THE standard for user centric identity management.

I agree – partially. OpenID is A standard for user centric identity management which definitely will, with some advancements, will influence the way people act in the internet. But I’m, for example, convinced that it won’t replace Microsoft’s Infocards (as the technical basis). These two things are two different as well from the use cases as from their capabilities. There might be an OpenID 3.0 or something which in fact is sort of a combination of both. But there will be many things from the outside which influence today’s OpenID.

That’s, by the way, no surprise. Virtually any new standard started small and with limited capabilities and grew over time to a more complete, more sophisticated solution. While the original creator’s of OpenID will focus on ease of use, the new supporters will focus more on “sophistication”.

And the end there will be some OpenID which is much more secure and supports many more use cases than today’s standard – but which is as well a little more complex. But I’m convinced that it will be a major pillar for user-centric identity management over the next years. Together with CardSpace and it’s incarnations. By the way: We support Infocards at our website right now and OpenID and CardSpace will, for sure, be major topics at the European Identity Conference 2008, with speakers like Kim Cameron.


6,5 billion GBP spent for social networks in UK

23.01.2008 by Martin Kuppinger

Some days ago I received a press release which stated that in UK the cost of social networks is around 6,5 GBP – at least a recent study claims it to be that high. Such numbers are always questionable, for sure. Which are the real costs of someone maintaining his own social network? Difficult to calculate… But: Even 1 billion would be too much.

There is some value in social networks, especially in business networks. But it is obvious that it takes a lot of time to maintain contacts, find people you know and especially to do this multiple times for different networks. I personally have chosen to limit myself to three networks: Xing, LinkedIn, and StayFriends. And I really hate it to do the same work in Xing and LinkedIn.  I could easily split half my own “costs” for maintaining social networks if I easily could exchange information between these networks. User-centric IAM approaches applied to social networks thus might cut the costs significantly. One more reason to doubt the future of today’s social networks.


OpenID and the critical mass

23.01.2008 by Martin Kuppinger

Even while it isn’t real news, being known for some time, it is an important announcement: Yahoo will support OpenID. All 289 million users may use OpenID beginning end of this month as an ID to access other OpenID websites as well – like this blog. This is definitely a breakthrough for OpenID as approach for an universal identifier in the internet. Even while it will take some time for adoption through the Yahoo user’s and for support of OpenID on other websites this announcement is a major step towards the critical mass which is required for broad adoption of any new standard and technology.

And, an interesting coincidence, I heard these days some interesting rumors that there will be some major announcements about Microsoft CardSpace/Infocard implementations soon. No more details right now – but it proves the increasing interest in the technologies of user-centric identity management.

I might still take some time from these announcements to achieve the critical mass for a broad adoption of these both technologies. But it is obvious to me that user-centric identity management is close to the predicted success. Thus everyone should think about the implications for himself personally as well as for his business. User-centric identity management is a business technology, with implications going far beyond of what most people expect today to happen (how about your corporate internet business card?).

By the way: Between writing and posting this blog entry Google announced OpenID support as well. Even while limited to their Blog tool it seems like OpenID support is starting to become a differentiator between competitors. That’s definitely a good sign for the future of user-centric Identity Management.


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