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MS proprietary tech undermines HailStorm – analyst

Taming Kerberos

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Microsoft's holier-than-thou standards pitch for .Net could be undermined by its insistence on using its own, non-standard version of Kerberos. And that, reckons Bloor Research in an overview of HailStorm published today here,could prove controversial.

"Unlike all the other open standards displayed throughout the .Net initiative, when it comes to authentication it looks like HailStorm is going to get proprietary on the industry," writes Bloor analyst Mat Hanrahan, aka Gryphon. "This is significant. Authentication identifies the components and authorises collaboration, without authentication the services cannot work securely."

Potentially, concludes Bloor Research, that could be "one of the biggest lock-ins the industry has seen. Effectively Microsoft will be able to exploit and leverage their client server base straight through the data-center right the way up to the cloud."

Microsoft's implementation of Kerberos gained additional notoriety last year, when the company's legal heavies demanded that Slashdot remove postings which detailed Microsoft's own proprietary extensions to the open protocol. Slashdot stood firm, and the threat petered out.

Redmond has indeed pointed out that Kerberos, which does authentication but not authorisation, is crucial to HailStorm:

"HailStorm's integral security model is based on Kerberos-based authentication," notes the white paper. "The user controls which entities can access their data, and for what purpose. Users can revoke access to data. Users can use a service or agent to manage data access on their behalf, and these services are simple enough to actually be usable."

Microsoft's Kerberos extensions hamper non-Microsoft servers' interoperability, but whether this matters much may be moot. As the history of the Microsoft file and print protocol SMB demonstrates, even if Microsoft documents something poorly or not at all, it's not necessarily the end of the world. Samba is proof that reverse engineering is sustainable: it's tracked this cunningly moving target for many years, and with enough confidence for it to be built into commodity thin servers from the likes of HP these days. Well now Redmond's PAC extensions are now out in the wild, providing an attractive challenge for um, reverse engineers.

But what would be gained from this is debatable. Microsoft says it will host the HailStorm cloud, and sees it as a profit centre. Efforts to reverse engineer the Kerberos implementation at the heart of .NET would hasten the proliferation of HailStorm on non-Microsoft clients. Something Microsoft would probably be quietly pleased to see. ®

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