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VeriSign is to start selling hardware authentication tokens and is leading a group of security companies in a standards initiative. The move appears to be an effort to soften RSA Security's dominance of the authentication market. VeriSign has announced the formation of the Open Authentication Reference Architecture (OATH) alliance and is publishing the first white paper detailing such a reference architecture.

OATH will base "90 to 95 per cent" of its framework on existing standards, such as LDAP and RADIUS, VeriSign's VP of authentication services Mark Griffiths said. It will work on two areas that, he says, lack much-needed standardisation.

The group will work on standards for credential provisioning, and on a standard algorithm for generating one-time passwords. This work will be submitted to groups such as the Trusted Computing Group, the IETF and the Smart Card Alliance.

The idea is to allow buyers to pick-n-mix the best or cheapest authentication products, knowing they will interoperate. Currently, different vendors use different methods, which can lead to vendor lock-in for buyers.

OATH members are drawn from the markets that provide token-based authentication, and those that provide systems that leverage it. Named participants include Aventail, ActivCard, Aladdin, ARM, Axalto, BEA, Gemplus, HP, IBM and Rainbow.

RSA, which owns more than half the token market with its SecurID devices, is not a member of OATH. Given the amount of recurring revenue SecurID creates, the company arguably has a vested interest in keeping its methods proprietary.

VeriSign is also getting into the token business "at least for a while" in order to stimulate the market, Mr Griffiths said. VeriSign will later this year start selling two USB tokens, one based on smart card technology with a digital certificate built-in.

It seems that this business may be not core to its strategy, however. The company prefers to offer the hosted lookup services in which it specialises, and it seems its moves into authentication are also aimed at pushing this type of service.

The OATH architecture will allow for validation services to be hosted locally on a user's network, as they generally are today, or hosted elsewhere on the Internet, such as on VeriSign's ATLAS lookup processing servers.

Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor

Related research: Datamonitor, "Beyond the Perimeter Firewall", (BFTC0814)

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