Kantara Initiative aims to bring harmony, interoperability to ID management

The Kantara Initiative, an umbrella organization formed to address interoperability issues in identity management products and schemes, was launched today by more than 45 companies and other industry organizations.

The organization will provide a venue for cooperation in developing interoperable technologies and practices to help enable identity-based applications and interactive services. Although standards-based technologies for defining and authenticating the identity of online users already exist, a lack of interoperability between the schemes has become a stumbling block with the rapid adoption of online applications and tools such as cloud computing, Web 2.0 and social networking sites.

“There is a need for a separate, more nimble approach to the identity management space,” said Roger Sullivan, vice president of Oracle identity Management, who has been elected president of Kantara’s board of trustees.

Sullivan also is president of the management board of the Liberty Alliance, one of the movers behind formation of the new initiative. Liberty Alliance has put a lot of resources, including financial support, into launching Kantara. Sullivan said the industry now requires a collaborative approach to moving forward rather than leadership from large organizations such as Oracle or Liberty Alliance.

“Gorillas don’t carry a lot of weight in the new jungle,” he said. “We are providing a vehicle to address the problems and accelerate the deployment of these technologies today.”

The intention to form the new organization was announced earlier this year with the call for members during an identity management workshop in April. The new organization will counter a perception of competition between different ID management technologies that has encouraged development of stovepipe technologies and hindered the growth of the field.

Identity management is process by which users authenticate themselves in order to access online resources and providers of those resources control access by verifying the identity of users according to their policies. This is complicated in the digital world where users are not physically present to prove an identity and because most users have multiple identities used for different purposes.

A number of workable technologies for asserting and verifying identity exist and the development community now is working to bring them together into a single architecture. The U.S. government has been a major driver in this effort, and the Federal CIO Council has an access management committee working on the issue.

The identity management space now is broken into three broad categories:

  • Federated Identity, a trust system that allows authentication of identities across organizational boundaries, using technologies such as the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and Public Key Infrastructure.
  • Information Cards, a technique of managing multiple electronic identities for a variety of purposes, used by Microsoft Windows CardSpace, DigitalMe and Higgins Identity Selector.
  • OpenID, an open standard authentication protocol supporting multiple identities and services, usually in which the actual identity of the user is not important.

Founders of the Kantara Initiative feel that demonstrating that these different ideas can work with each other is necessary to broad adoption. The challenges have more to do with business processes, policies and trust models than with technologies.

“The challenge that customers face is, how does all of this bolt together,” Sullivan said.

The founders of the new organization, in addition to Liberty Alliance, are the Concordia Project, DataPortablity Project, Information Card Foundation, Internet Society and OpenLiberty.org

Sullivan said the initiative would not be run in the traditional top-down way, but as a grass roots operation with low bars to participation. The organization will have a bicameral structure, with a technical leadership council that will be draw from members according to their ability to contribute to the goals of the group rather than ability to pay for a membership. A board of trustees is drawn from paying members, and will oversee operational and funding activities.

Any members will be able to propose working groups and projects, which if approved will be supported by the board of trustees. Kantara will not be a standards making body, but will work with recognized industry standards groups in developing its models. The initiative will be involved in interoperability testing, however. Sullivan said the current Liberty Alliance interoperability testing program will be expanded to encompass the wider range of technologies addressed in Kantara and eventually will become a Kantara program.

The Kantara Initiative plans an introductory one-hour webcast at 11 a.m. EST June 24. Details about the organization and the webcast are available at http://kantarainitiative.org.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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