Government eyes Liberty Alliance, SAML

Extending the benefit of single sign-on beyond an organization's walls is the goal of federated identity management.

With a federated identity, an authenticated user may access services from multiple domains. This ability would be a boon to federal agencies collaborating on homeland security or other intergovernmental projects. Specifications for federated identity management are emerging.

The Liberty Alliance Project (www.projectliberty.org), a consortium of government, industry and academic members, introduced its Phase One federated identity management specification in 2002. A Phase Two draft specification was released in April. The final guidelines are due in the third calendar quarter.

The specifications build on the Security Assertion Markup Language sanctioned by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. SAML, based in turn on Extensible Markup Language, provides a "security framework for authentication and authorization in Web services," according to OASIS (www.oasis-open.org).

Paul Turner, director of product management for Novell Inc.'s Nsure identity management suite, said the Liberty Alliance specification intends to "more clearly define the framework for how SAML should be used technically" as well as incorporate privacy considerations.

"The next spec...is the place where people will start deploying it," he said.

Pete Morrison, director of federal sales for Netegrity Inc., said the federal sector is interested in the Liberty Alliance specification. "This is something the government is looking at very closely with relation to the e-Authentication initiative," he said.

Microsoft Corp.'s Passport also provides federated identity capability. While observers believe Passport is more consumer-oriented, some industry executives would like to see the specs merge.

"Otherwise, we are...supporting two different specs in products," said Ron Moritz, senior vice president and chief security strategist at Computer Associates International Inc.

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