IBM and Friends Fight Identity Theft with 'Project Higgins'
Published: March 1, 2006
by Alex Woodie
A new IBM-backed identity management initiative named after a Tasmanian rodent could result in a new Web services framework for people to control the release of personal information, prevent identity theft, and to authenticate themselves on the Internet. The open-source "Project Higgins" initiative, unveiled Monday, could also spell trouble for the big dog on the block, namely Microsoft and its nascent Windows-only identity management technology, called InfoCards.
Project Higgins was formally launched Monday by IBM, Novell, Parity Communications, and Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The software vendors contributed code to the project, which is being managed by the Eclipse organization, while the Berkman Center came up with the concept that Higgins was founded on, namely that people don't have a single identity, but multiple identities, and they need a way to share that information in an appropriate way.
Unlike server-based identity management tools, Project Higgins will be implemented as part of an overall framework, and people will retain control over their particular information, as opposed to an administrator with a server (or Microsoft and its ill-fated Passport service). Once there are Project Higgins development kits and interfaces available, ISVs and Web site operators will be encouraged to add support for Project Higgins-based identity management services to their applications.
There are many fine uses of Higgins, its proponents say. For example, a person could use the service to delegate who can see certain parts of their medical records, how much information to share with their cable company, or change their passwords across all their banking and brokerage accounts. If Higgins sees widespread adoption, the vendors say it will create new channels of communication between individuals and companies, and could make people feel more comfortable sharing finer-grained information about themselves--a potential boon to marketers.
Higgins' proponents say open-source is the way to go with this type of software. "To move online security to the next level, there has to be fundamental resolve among consumers, government, and business to quickly adopt a system where the individual has more control over how information about them is managed and shared," said John Clippinger, senior fellow for the Berkman Center. "Our aim is to construct an open and widely accessible software framework that puts the individual at the center of the identity management universe."
Higgins, when it becomes available, will run on Windows, Linux, and any other operating system, the vendors say. The software will also easily integrate with third-party identity management systems, such as IBM's Tivoli.
The apparent target of Higgins, Microsoft's emerging InfoCard technology, by contrast, will only run on Windows. Microsoft's InfoCard technology is being built into Windows Vista and, possibly, Windows Server "Longhorn," and is described by Microsoft as an "end-user experience Microsoft is creating in support of the vision of an identity 'metasystem,' and to make the end-user experience around using digital identity simpler and safer."
The open-source initiative is named after the Tasmanian long-tailed Higgins mouse. The project's backers say the name reflects the "long tail" of micro-markets, and the fact that those markets will benefit from greater online collaboration.