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The Liberty Alliance Project, working on XML-based specifications for federated identity, is extending its remit to tackle the threat to digital identity posed by phishing.

Liberty has launched the Identity Theft Protection Group to establish a set of best practices for technology and policy, while also educating businesses and consumers. The group will host its first identity theft workshop next month in Chicago.

The focus on phishing comes as attacks not only increase but the means of swindling individuals out of their personal information become increasingly sophisticated.

Hackers are moving beyond the fake e-mail, which asked users to submit personal details, to key logging programs built specifically to capture log-in names and passwords that are then sent to attackers. Such programs typically exploit vulnerabilities in programs like Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Consumers are not the only ones losing money from these attacks - banks are also paying the price. Gartner says 9.4 million US adults fell victim to identity theft during 2004 costing a total of $11.7bn. The analyst expects three quarters of banks will now move beyond simple password protection to more secure mechanisms for protecting customers' ID by 2007.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Liberty's Identity Theft Protection Group is being chaired jointly by American Express' vice president of internet strategy Michael Barrett and Fidelity investments vice president Alex Popowycz. Amex and Fidelity are joined by more than 40 other existing Liberty members.

Timo Skytta, a Liberty vice president, says two things are on members' minds. First, is the belief that an online system of security is required that is stronger than the current system of ID and passwords, currently used by millions of consumers to log into online bank accounts, e-mail and other services.

Members also want to ensure, though, that any new system is affordable for banks, retailers and online service providers to deploy. There is concern that today's strong authentication systems are too costly and inflexible to justify.

Skytta told The Register in an earlier interview, Liberty is in an information gathering phase, and would soon decide whether to devise its own technology and standards architecture or whether to co-operate with existing organizations like the Initiative for Open Authentication (OATH).

Liberty's track record in federated identity, at least, has been to work with the industry and end-user community to devise frameworks that draw on existing technologies and procedures.

"It's a complicated issue - it has a number of technical aspects," Skytta said. "Don't think technology is ever going to be able to completely solve these problems because there is a human aspect... you need a lot of education to change behavior. Liberty is looking at whether there is something we can do as an organization technically that can reduce the risk."®

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