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Tech giants partner on security specs

Microsoft, IBM and VeriSign have teamed to create security specifications for Web services, a move analysts say will help drive adoption of the hyped but still emerging technology.

    NEW ORLEANS--Microsoft, IBM and VeriSign have teamed to create security specifications for Web services, a move analysts say will help drive adoption of the hyped but still emerging technology.

    The three companies on Thursday will release a new specification, called WS-Security, which will encrypt information and ensure that the data being passed between companies remain confidential. The companies, which are announcing the new security initiative at Microsoft's Tech Ed developer conference, also plan to build five more security specifications in the next 12 to 18 months that will provide additional security measures that businesses may need for Web services.

    Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems and other software makers have touted Web services as the future of software. It provides more efficient ways for companies to build software and more easily exchange data.

    But analysts say the biggest obstacle to wider adoption of Web services has been the lack of security.

    "The new WS-Security initiative appears to offer a good way forward to address this issue," said analyst Mike Gilpin of Giga Information Group. "We expect to see implementations in use starting later this year, and this could help the adoption rate of Web services in 2003. There could be easily twice as many Web services in 2003 with security, as would have been possible without it."

    WS-Security is the fourth Web services specification created by IBM and Microsoft in the past two years and follows their creation of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), an industry group charged with promoting Web services and ensuring that they are compatible.

    All their previous specifications have garnered widespread support from the industry: The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), a communications technology that glues together different computing systems so businesses can interact and conduct transactions; Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), which lets businesses register in a Web directory to advertise their Web services and find each other easily; and Web Services Description Language (WSDL), which allows businesses to describe programmatically what a Web service does.

    WS-Security merges two different security specifications that Microsoft and IBM had worked on separately with help from VeriSign, said executives from the three companies. Microsoft released a security specification, also called WS-Security, in October, but the software giant built the original without collaborating with the other companies.

    The new version of WS-Security, which combines the work of IBM, Microsoft and VeriSign, is used as part of a SOAP message. It outlines how to use existing World Wide Web Consortium specifications called XML Signature and XML Encryption.

    "It ensures the message you received is the one that was sent and was not tampered with along the way," said Bob Sutor, IBM's director of e-business standards strategy. "You want to know that the message is from me and not someone spoofing my identity and counterfeiting messages to you."

    The three companies plan to eventually submit WS-Security to an industry standards body, but have not yet decided on the timing or the body that they will work with.

    Microsoft and IBM also released a strategy for six more security specifications that the two companies plan to build in the next 12 to 18 months. The specifications are grouped in two categories. The first group includes WS-Policy, WS-Trust and WS-Privacy and makes sure information has been certified or that it is understood how the information can be shared with others, Sutor said. The policy specification allows businesses to accept purchase orders only if the message was sent with the right amount of security that a company requires. As for the privacy specification, it ensures that personal information sent to an e-commerce Web site remains private.

    The second group of specifications--WS-Secure Conversation, WS-Federation and WS-Authorization--deal with how customers connect computing systems that may use different underlying security technologies, Sutor said. It allows customers to establish a secure environment to communicate and allows someone who is verified in one company to also be verified in another, he said.

    That is important because employees' human resources records may be stored and managed by an outside firm. Because the digital ID system in a specific company may be different from the outside human resources firm, the new security standards help match the different ID systems up, so employees can get the information they need, Sutor said.

    Steven VanRoekel, Microsoft's director of Web services marketing, said the security standards IBM and Microsoft are proposing is designed to work with any online authentication system, such as Microsoft's existing Passport technology or the forthcoming rival technology by the Liberty Alliance Project, which was created by Sun. The Liberty Alliance on Thursday said it will support WS-Security and the other security specifications that IBM and Microsoft are creating.

    VonRoekel said he expects the Web services security specifications will foster new markets for companies to build new technology.

    The specifications "opens doors to new scenarios, such as sharing documents between companies. When that happens, a new industry will arise and new ISVs (independent software vendors) that write (software) that plug into it."

    Illuminata analyst James Governor agreed.

    "If the problem of authentication, authorization and encryption is solved, Web services should explode," he said. "It's about time developers had a specification to start working with for Web services security."