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Mozilla's Persona single sign-on service enters beta

Login-by-email to take on OpenID, Facebook

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The Mozilla Foundation has announced a public beta of Persona, its browser-based website login system aimed at doing away with traditional usernames and passwords.

El Reg first reported on Persona in 2011, when Mozilla launched the technology as an experimental prototype. Back then, the system was known as BrowserID, but Mozilla has since re-stamped it with more consumer-friendly branding.

"The Persona name resonates with the idea of personhood as well as online identity as a facet of our lives, and therefore strongly tied to user identity," Mozilla's Dan Mills wrote in a blog post explaining the change.

As a decentralised single sign-on service for websites, Persona is similar to OpenID, which is already offered as a sign-in option by a number of popular online services, including Facebook and Twitter. But Mozilla says Persona is superior to OpenID because the only identity token it requires is a valid email address.

Once a user has signed up for Persona and registered an email address, all it takes to login to a website that supports the service are two mouse clicks. No passwords are ever entered. The entire authentication and login procedure is handled by a process built on public-key cryptography.

The advantages of this style of login are several. For one, users no longer need to remember a separate password for each site. Furthermore, because users aren't using passwords to login to Persona-enabled websites, those sites don't need to worry about password security. There is literally no password list for an attacker to steal.

Mozilla says Persona is also superior to single sign-on based on accounts with social networking services like Facebook or Google+, because it doesn't require users to maintain a relationship with any one company. For now, users must sign up for a Mozilla account, but that will change as more email providers support the service.

In addition to the name change, Mozilla has made a number of improvements to Persona since it was first launched. In recent months, it rolled out a new and much simplified API for developers and streamlined the sign-up process for first-time users. It has made a few cosmetic changes, too, and more upgrades are in the works.

"This is the first of many beta releases, and we have some fantastic things planned for the future," Mozilla's Dan Callahan wrote in a blog post announcing the release.

For this first beta, the focus is on encouraging more developers to implement the protocol on their own sites, which will help drive adoption as Persona nears its final release. According to Mozilla's developer documentation, adding Persona to an existing site shouldn't take longer than a single afternoon. ®

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