Single sign-on protocol gains steam as more products are certified

Eight identity management products from seven vendors -- including Microsoft, SAP and Siemens -- have earned interoperability certification for Security Assertion Markup Language 2.0.

Eight identity-management products from seven vendors have earned interoperability certification for Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML 2.0) in this summer’s round of interoperability testing by Liberty Alliance.

Microsoft, SAP and Siemens, participating for the first time this year in the testing program, were among the companies whose products were ceritfied.

“We now have every significant vendor in this program,” said Brett McDowell, acting executive director of Liberty Alliance. “The marketplace for federated single sign-on is on the rise, and SAML is the most popular protocol for that.”

This is the last year Liberty Alliance will conduct the interoperability certification and testing program, which is required by the General Services Administration for SAML products. It is being assumed by the Kantara Initiative, a broader industry organization formed this year to address interoperability issues in identity management products and schemes.

“Kantara initiative is taking on the program to expand it, building bridges between protocols,” McDowell said.

The Kantara Initiative 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 those for cloud computing, Web 2.0 and social-networking.

The SAML protocols are a technology for federated identity management, a scheme for authenticating the online identity of users across multiple providers and domains. By establishing trust relationships between providers of online services and providers of online identity credentials, a single set of credentials can be authenticated and accepted by multiple organizations so that the end user does not have to present separate credentials for authentication for each online service.

Because of the growth of online services and applications, “the demand for SAML is growing,” McDowell said.

And federated schemes by their very nature require interoperability. Although SAML is a standardized protocol, the variety of options for implementing it in products means that products are not necessarily interoperable. The Liberty interoperable program provides a level of assurance that certified products are interoperable.

The evolution of the testing program has increased that level of assurance. Testing originally was done in a five-day, on-site event in which each product had to demonstrate interoperability only with two other products. In 2007 the program expanded, with the assistance of the Drummond Group's interoperability testing lab, to a distributed full matrix test in which each product is tested remotely and must interoperate with every other product in the program. The shift to full matrix testing was made in part at the request of GSA.

A total of 20 products have been certified under the full matrix tests. Certifications are valid for two years or until the product version changes.

Products certified this year were:

  • Entrust IdentityGuard Federation Module 9.2 and GetAccess 8.0.
  • IBM Tivoli Federated Identity Manager 6.2.
  • Microsoft Active Directory Federation Services 2.0.
  • Novell Access Manager 3.1.
  • Ping Identity PingFederated v6.1.
  • SAP NetWeaver Identity Management 7.2, planned for release in the second quarter of 2010.
  • Siemens DirX Access v8.1.

Entrust, Microsoft, Novell and Ping Identity also tested their products against the newly developed eGovernment deployment profile, which was developed by Liberty Alliance with input from the U.S., Danish and New Zealand governments. It is the first of what is expected to be a series of deployment profiles developed for specific vertical markets.

The Kantara Initiative is forming an Interoperability Review Board that will run the interoperability testing program, and which expects to add at least two more protocols to the suite of tests, said McDowell, who also is Kantara’s executive director. Protocols being considered for addition to the program include Web Services Security, or WS-Security or WSS; OAuth, an open protocol to allow secure API authorization; Extensible Resource Descriptor, or XRD, a generic format for describing resources; and Information Cards, a technology for managing multiple electronic identities for a variety of purposes.

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