Sun Leads Authentication Alliance

A group of A-list businesses is proposing an industry standard for online authentication that could compete with Microsoft's Passport.

Sun Microsystems is leading a group of A-list businesses inproposing an industry standard for online authentication that could compete with Microsoft's Passport. Among the 33 companies backing the so-called Liberty Alliance Project are Bank of America, Nokia, Real Networks, and General Motors.

The organization aims to create specs for a standard that rides on top of digital-signature software. These products are supposed to make sure that people online are who they say they are. Sun and its partners didn't specify the technology that the project will employ, but one Sun exec indicated the Liberty Alliance has found Lightweight Directory Access Protocol to be a useful protocol for authentication over the Internet. Other companies and organizations, such as the open-source Apache Foundation, could provide software development as well.

GM IS exec Tony Scott says no deadlines for the standard have been set yet, but "there is a sense of urgency." Scott says lack of a standard is the biggest barrier to "meaningful" E-commerce. Other members of the group have said that the Liberty project is not merely an effort to stifle Microsoft's Passport authentication software for Web sites. But they admitted discomfort with a single company setting the standard for what promises to be a prominent feature of E-commerce. "Microsoft hasn't made an attempt to open authorization," says Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technical evangelist.

Project members also said development efforts they coordinated will closely match the functions of Passport, which is a planned component of Microsoft's XP operating system. Ultimately, they see a standard that covers interactions via everything from PCs and credit cards to TVs and dashboard computers.

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