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A group of 45 IT companies and enterprises has formed a group that aims to create a standard way to secure internet-based transactions that use XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

The AuthXML Working Group will develop a specification covering authentication and authorising information in XML which it will then submit to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The group includes security firms such at Check Point Software; networking vendors, such as Novell; consultancies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and end-users such as the Royal Bank of Scotland. However, the group is more interesting for who it does not include - most noticeably Microsoft, which has formed a group to develop a complementary technology.

The purpose of the AuthXML standard, which is built on XML and digital signature technology, is to provide an open framework that will allow applications and Web sites to trust security domains. However, the specification will make no provision for negotiation about trust between domains and realms or the inclusion of optional data, which will be handled separately.

The latter falls into an area which Microsoft and its partners WebMethods and VeriSign are working on through the XML key management specification (XKMS).
This is intended to make it easier for programmers to include digital signatures and encrypt data in e-commerce applications. So AuthXML will allow applications to trust domains and XKMS will embed the mechanism to do this in applications. Hmmmm.

We don't have particularly great expectations that these two technologies will dovetail neatly together. Open standards, particularly in the security arena, and Microsoft are unlikely bedfellows. Assurances that XKMS, which is already in use, "will be submitted to the appropriate Web standards bodies for consideration as an open internet standard" don't cut much ice in the face Microsoft's past history - particularly the way Redmond added proprietary extensions to Kerberos, an open standard for security originally developed by MIT.

XML can be expected to be the basis of data transmission amongst applications, and indeed services, over the Internet over the future so it's important a full, and fully open specification, comes out in the end. If Microsoft's assurances of openness don't pan out, and that remains an open question, the technology, as well as secure messages, could end up coming out scrambled. ®

Related Link

AuthXML home page

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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