IBM Takes On InfoCard with 'Higgins'

IBM endorsed an open source alternative to Microsoft's InfoCard initative Monday, announcing that it would join Novell and Parity Communications in donating code to a project dubbed "Higgins." The system is being developed atop a concept originally proposed by Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Microsoft demoed InfoCard at the RSA Conference earlier this month. InfoCard is intended to replace Passport, and would make password-based authentication obsolete. Furthermore, the system would allow sites to request separate InfoCards, each individually secure from one another.

InfoCard even received the backing of an unlikely ally, VeriSign. The company said its VIP network would work with InfoCard seamlessly. What remains to be seen is if IBM can garner similar big-name support for its own open source initiative.

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Project Higgins would be managed by IBM's Eclipse foundation. The effort would mark the first time an identity management solution would be open-sourced, IBM said. The group also pointed to the fact that such a system would be operating system agnostic.

"Our aim is to construct an open and widely accessible software framework that puts the individual at the center of the identity management universe," Berkman Center senior fellow John Clippinger said. "For in the end, security is not just technological, but social."

Higgins would let the computer user choose where to make parts of their identity visible. This is done by breaking the data into "services," or small bits of data. The rules for how this data is shared is set by the consumer, or by a third-party provider who would act on their behalf. Web sites could then build support for Higgins into their own services.

"The Internet has changed the way consumers think about privacy, and Higgins will help change the way people manage their personal identity information," said Dale Olds, Distinguished Engineer at Novell.

The project gets its name from the Tasmanian long-tailed Higgins mouse, reflecting the "long tail" of micro-markets that complement traditional industries, and how these entities would benefit from better collaboration, IBM said.

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